The Future of Feed Efficiency

The Cal Poly Bull Test Enterprise was awarded a $750,000 grant from the USDA

What is the Cal Poly Bull Test?

Each year more than 100 bulls are consigned to the student-run program from all over the country, arriving at Cal Poly’s Escuela Ranch in May. Using targeted genetic and performance testing, students seek to improve beef cattle herds across the western United States by providing the beef cattle industry with top-notch, performance-ready bulls. The bulls, which are used for breeding, are sold at an annual auction in October to ranchers throughout the country. Each year more than 50 Cal Poly students take part in the enterprise course in the spring and fall quarters, doing everything from daily health assessments and monthly weight checks to herd management and working with consigners and potential buyers.

Eight miles north of Cal Poly’s main campus, more than 100 bulls are cared for by a team of students on the sprawling rangeland of the Escuela Ranch. The cattle are part of a long history at Cal Poly, serving as a source of tested and proven genetics that provide a valuable resource to ranchers throughout the state and beyond.

The Cal Poly Bull Test started in 1956 and was one of the earliest performance bull tests in the country. It was designed to be a proven source of range ready bulls available for sale to commercial cattle producers, provide valuable management experience for students, and as a service to the beef cattle industry. Sixty-six years later, the Cal Poly program is the only student-run bull test of its kind in the country.

A recent grant for $750,000 from the USDA Capacity Building Grant program will increase the research opportunities for students and assist the program in evolving to meet the future challenges of ranchers who face growing concerns about drought and their ability to feed herds.

“We want to shift our focus from not only thinking about growth and genetic potential of bulls to researching the most efficient way to feed cattle,” said Zach McFarlane, who has managed the Cal Poly Bull Test for five years. “With the continued environmental pressures in California and throughout the country, feed efficiency is one of the most important traits we can research moving forward.”

The grant is in partnership with Chico State and the University of Wyoming with the goal of increasing the program’s research and teaching focus by creating student exchanges among the partner universities to further understand the future of bull development and management in varying regions, from behavioral traits to genetics and fertility characteristics.

“This collaborative effort will bring together students who are interested in learning more about several aspects of beef cattle management,” said Kasey DeAtley, associate professor of animal and range science at Chico State. “Students can expect to create a network, gain research experience, learn about ranching in multiple ecosystems, and gain management skills in cattle production.”

The research will help provide improved cattle management techniques to ranchers who are facing increased environmental pressures such as California’s record-breaking drought.

“There is a lot of uncertainty,” said McFarlane. “The drought makes it difficult for ranchers to know how much forage availability they will have to maintain their herds. Add increased feed and gas costs and other economic challenges on top of that and it becomes increasingly harder each year. This grant will allow us to provide a better service to consumers through a multi-pronged approach. We can’t continue to do things the same way as before; we need to improve and to think outside the box for beef producers to stay in business.”


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