Effects of timing and duration of test period and diet type on intake and feed efficiency of Charolais-sired cattle.
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Objectives of this experiment were to: 1) determine appropriate test length, timing, and repeatability of DMI, ADG, and efficiency over different biological time points; 2) determine the efficacy of using decoupled performance and intake data to generate accurate feed efficiency measures; and 3) determine the relationship between forage-and grain-feed efficiency measures. Over 2 yr, Charolais crossbred heifers ( = 308) and steers ( = 320) were fed for two 70 d periods and DMI, ADG, and 12th rib fat thickness were recorded. Steers were fed grain-based diets during the growing and finishing periods to determine the effects of test period and timing on DMI and feed efficiency. Heifers were fed forage during the growing period and grain during the finishing period to test the effect of diet type on measures of DMI and feed efficiency. For each 70 d test period, individual DMI was recorded using the GrowSafe (Airdrie, AB) system. Residual feed intake (RFI) was calculated for each test period. Total feeding period ADG (FP_ADG) was calculated for steers by regressing all weights taken from feedlot arrival to final BW, which was calculated by dividing HCW by a standard dressing percentage (63%). Dry matter intake and RFI were correlated (r 0.56; < 0.01, and 0.63; < 0.01, respectively) for the growing and finishing periods of grain-fed steers. Average daily gain was not repeatable ( = 0.11; 0.06) across both test periods for steers. However, growing and finishing ADG were correlated ( = 0.58; < 0.01, and = 0.69; < 0.01, respectively) to FP_ADG. To assess the potential of shortening the intake test, DMI was analyzed in 7 d increments for grain-fed steers during the growing and finishing periods. Regardless of test length, from 7 to 70 d, DMI was strongly correlated ( 0.87; < 0.01) to total DMI during the growing period. Heifer forage DMI was correlated ( = 0.58; < 0.01) to grain DMI; subsequently, forage and grain RFI were moderately correlated ( = 0.40; < 0.01). This study suggests that DMI is repeatable across varying stages of maturity in cattle, and accurate feed efficiency measures can be obtained in either the growing or finishing period. The relationship of forage and grain DMI and efficiency in heifers suggests that measures of DMI and feed efficiency in heifers are relevant, regardless of diet fed. Intake evaluation periods can be shortened with minimal effects on the accuracy of predicting individual animal DMI.