For the first time, breeding bulls are being marketed for their efficiency, not just their size and pedigree, said David Daley, a cattle expert at California State University, Chico. “We started realizing that there’s also the issue of how much feed does it take to get all those pounds, and maybe big isn’t better,” said Glenn Nader, a livestock adviser with University of California Cooperative Extension. The potential for improvement is dramatic. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found that some steers beat the average by nearly 30 percent, though others have found improvements closer to 10 percent. Jim Oltjen, a UC Davis animal nutrition expert, said a typical steer will eat 20 to 25 pounds of feed – mostly corn – and gain 3 to 4 pounds during each day of the typical three- to four-month stay at a feedlot. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! By Jim Downing SACRAMENTO BEE SACRAMENTO – Susanville 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. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.That trait is increasingly seen as a key to staying in business for California 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 that recently moved to the rangelands of northeastern California after generations in Calaveras County. 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.