As part of a multibreed cattle project for studying genetic variation between breeds, four adult females from each of five breeds of cattle were kept for up to 2 years in a non-pregnant, non-lactating state on each of four feeding levels. The breeds, which were Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Dexter, British Friesian and Jersey, provided a wide range of genetic potential for body size and milk yield. The feeding levels were arranged to make the weight of lipid in the whole body about 0·05, 0·15, 0·25 and 0·35 times body weight. After an animal had been assigned to a fixed daily intake, its body weight and condition score were monitored over a period varying from 6 to 18 months until an equilibrium body weight and body composition had been established.
For standard adult body weight, Akg, and for an equilibrium body weight, Wkg, and an associated metabolizable energy intake, f/MJ, the maintenance efficiency of a breed adjusted for breed size was defined as Em = W/fA0·21. The ‘lactability’ of a breed, that is, its genetic potential lactation yield, Ykg, adjusted for breed size, was defined as Y = Y/A. The between-breed regression of Em on Y had a coefficient of -0·043 (s.e. 0·007). There was, thus, a highly significant dairy-beef gradient in the equilibrium maintenance efficiency of these non-pregnant, non-lactating adult females.
An expected value for the equilibrium maintenance requirement, of a breed or individual as a function of its lactability was estimated to be:
which implies that the maintenance requirement of dairy breeds is about 0·2 times greater than that of beef breeds, a result which was strongly supported by a literature survey, although mean estimates from feeding trials and fasting trials were anomalous.
Combining this result for milk yield with published results on growth rate, leads to the hypothesis that the greater the maximum gross efficiency of a breed for meat or milk production, the less efficiently it maintains itself, not because of any difference in fasting metabolism, but because of a reduced efficiency of food utilization for maintenance.