South African Journal of Animal Science
On-line version ISSN 2221-4062
Print version ISSN 0375-1589
Selection for residual feed intake (RFI) as a trait to improve production efficiency was proposed as early as 1963. A low RFI value indicates a more efficient animal and heritability estimates of between 0.28 and 0.58 have been reported for RFI in the literature. It is also reported that a 13.38 g/d reduction in methane emission was associated with a 1 kg/d reduction in the Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) for RFI, with low-RFI steers emitting 25% less methane daily. The difference in methane production in high and low RFI animals cannot be explained by the difference in feed intake alone. Possible reasons could be digestion of feed, protein turnover and overall tissue metabolism (mitochondrial function, body composition, Insulin Growth Factor-I (IGF-I) and cortisol levels), activity, thermoregulation and growth. Low-RFI animals tend to digest feed better than high-RFI animals, and as intake increases there is a tendency for digestion to decrease. The correlation between RFI and dry matter (DM) digestibility has been determined to be r = -0.33. A positive correlation exists between metabolisable energy for maintenance (ME) and RFI, as well as between ME and protein turnover. Thus protein secretion in low-RFI animals are the same as high-RFI animals, but the breakdown of protein in low-RFI animals is less. Clear differences can be observed in heat production, with low-RFI animals producing up to 21% less heat than high-RFI animals. Selection for low-RFI animals may thus reduce the carbon footprint of beef cattle.
Keywords : Body composition; production efficiency; carbon footprint; protein turnover; selection indices; methane emission.