Bull's-eye: Cattle That Bulk Up On Less Food

SACRAMENTO — Rancher John Barnum is trying to build a herd of cattle that sounds like something out of a dieter's nightmare: They eat less, but they still get fat.
calendar icon 2 November 2007
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That trait is increasingly seen as a key to staying in business for ranchers reeling from the effects of high-priced corn.

"We're hoping it'll make us more profitable in the long run," said Barnum, 23, who manages a family ranch in the rangelands of northeastern California.

Last year, the ethanol boom drove the price of corn up nearly 65 percent over six months, sending feed, the cattle business's main expense, soaring. Meanwhile, the price of those animals at slaughter has hardly budged.

In response, many ranchers are hoping to trim their costs by looking at "feed efficiency," a measure of how effectively an animal turns grass or corn into muscle and fat. Ideally, with a higher-efficiency herd, a rancher saves on feed costs but ends up with the same amount of marketable beef.

It's yet another way that high prices for global commodities, from petroleum to grains to milk powder, are altering the economics of food production.

And it's accelerating a move away from a 50-year trend toward larger but generally less-efficient animals.

Source: MontereyHerald
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