This study examined the relationship between feed efficiency and performance, and feeding behavior, blood metabolic variables, and various ultrasonic measurements in finishing beef heifers. Within-animal repeatability estimates of feed intake and behavior, performance, feed efficiency, ultrasonic body measures, and plasma analytes across the growing and finishing stages of the lifespan of the animal were also calculated. Fifty heifers previously ranked as yearlings on phenotypic residual feed intake (RFI) were used. Animals [initial BW = 418 (SD = 31.5) kg] were offered a TMR diet consisting of 70:30 concentrate and corn silage on a DM basis (ME 10.7 MJ/kg of DM; DM 530 g/kg) for 84 d. Feeding duration (min/d) and feeding frequency (events/d) were calculated for each animal on a daily basis using a computerized feeding system. Ultrasonic kidney fat and lumbar and rump fat and muscle depths were recorded on 3 equally spaced occasions during the experimental period. Blood samples were collected by jugular venipuncture on 4 occasions during the experimental period and analyzed for plasma concentrations of IGF-I, insulin, and various metabolites. Phenotypic RFI was calculated for all animals as the residuals from a regression model regressing DMI on ADG and midtest BW(0.75). Repeatability was calculated for several traits both within and between production phase using intraclass correlation and Pearson correlation coefficients as appropriate. Overall ADG, DMI, G:F, and RFI were 1.17 kg/d (SD = 0.19), 10.81 kg/d (SD = 1.02), 0.11 kg of BW gain/kg of DM (SD = 0.02), and 0.00 kg of DM/d (SD 0.59). Daily feeding events and eating rate tended to be positively correlated (P = 0.08) with RFI. Ultrasonic kidney fat depth tended to be related to G:F (r = -0.28; P = 0.07), and kidney fat accretion tended to be related to RFI (r = 0.29; P = 0.08). Plasma urea (r = 0.38; P < 0.01), β-hydroxybutyrate (r = 0.40; P < 0.01), and insulin (r = 0.23; P = 0.07) concentrations were correlated with RFI. Plasma glucose (r = -0.25; P = 0.07), glucose:insulin (r = 0.33; P < 0.05), and insulin (r = -0.30; P < 0.05) were associated with G:F. However, systemic IGF-I was unrelated (P > 0.10) to any measure of feed efficiency. Repeatability estimates within the finishing period for DMI, feeding duration, feeding events, feed intake/feeding event, and eating rate were 0.34, 0.37, 0.60, 0.62, and 0.56, respectively. Repeatability estimates (P < 0.001) between the growing and finishing phases for DMI, G:F, and RFI were r = 0.61, r = 0.37, and r = 0.62, respectively. Moderate to strong repeatability values (ranging from r = 0.40 to 0.76; P < 0.001) were obtained for feeding behavior traits between the yearling and finishing phases. We conclude that RFI and feeding behavior are repeatable traits and that some plasma analytes may be potential indicators of RFI in beef cattle.
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