Characterization of feeding behavior traits in steers with divergent residual feed intake consuming a high-concentrate diet.
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The objective of this study was to examine the differences in feeding behavior patterns of steers with divergent phenotypes for residual feed intake (RFI). Three trials were conducted with 508 Angus-based composite crossbred steers (body weight [BW] = 309 57 kg) fed a high-concentrate diet in pens equipped with electronic feed bunks (GrowSafe System). Initial and final carcass ultrasound measurements (intra-muscular fat, backfat depth, and rib-eye area) were collected on days 0 and 70, and BW measured at 14-d intervals. Individual dry matter intake (DMI) and feeding behavior traits were collected for 70 d, and RFI calculated as the residual from the regression of DMI on average daily gain (ADG) and mid-test BW0.75. Steers were ranked by RFI and assigned to low-, medium-, and high-RFI classes based on 0.5 SD from the mean RFI within the trial. The feeding behavior traits evaluated in this study included frequency and duration of bunk visit (BV) and meal events, head-down (HD) duration, mean meal length, time-to-bunk interval, the maximum nonfeeding interval, and the day-to-day variation of these traits, defined as the root mean squared error (RMSE) from linear regression of each trait on the day of trial. Additionally, three ratio traits were evaluated: BV events per meal, HD duration per BV event, and HD duration per meal event. Low-RFI (feed-efficient) steers consumed 16% less (P < 0.01) DMI, while BW and ADG were not different compared with high-RFI steers. Low-RFI steers had 18% fewer and 21% shorter (P < 0.01) BV events, and 11% fewer and 13% shorter (P < 0.01) meal events per day compared with high-RFI steers. Furthermore, low-RFI steers exhibited less (P < 0.05) day-to-day variance in DMI, as well as in frequency and duration of BV and meal events and HD duration compared with high-RFI steers. Differences in feeding behavior traits due to RFI were minimally affected by covariate adjustment for DMI, indicating that steers with divergent RFI have distinct feeding behavior patterns that are largely independent of differences in DMI. These results suggest that feeding behavior traits may be useful biomarkers for the prediction of feed efficiency in beef cattle.