Mitigating Methane Emissions on Your Dairy
The dairy industry knows that methane emissions are impacting the planet’s climate. What we might not know is that there are strategies for mitigating cattle’s methane production. Through improving the animal’s productivity, a reduction in methane emissions per unit of milk and meat can be achieved, along with long-term economic gain for your dairy.
The most effective and ready to apply strategies to reduce its intensity (CH4/kg of milk or meat) are:
1. Genetic approaches that surge productivity – Reduced enteric methane emission and improved ruminant productivity both go hand in hand. Since 2009, the genome sequence of cows has been known and used to advance the species efficiency. Genetic selection is increasingly being used to expand the rate of genetic progress for production traits (e.g. milk, meat yield, and quality). This strategy reduces both enteric and manure CH4 production and offers farmers an opportunity for both continuous and permanent improvement.
2. On-farm management practices that increase average production per animal – Refining how we take care of our animals is the most valuable strategy to farmers because it has the greatest impact while costing the least amount of money. By heightening the herd’s productivity, enteric methane production per kg of milk or meat is reduced.
Best practices can include:
- Increasing the average age of lactating dairy cows on a farm. This increases the number of older cows, who are often the highest milk producers on a farm.
- Combating any form of stress to the animal by ensuring a ventilated and comfortable environment for living, gentle handling and interactions between humans and cattle, as well as space and freedom.
- Using technology and knowledge to breed cattle at the optimal time so they reach their highest production potential.
3. Improved animal productivity through feeds, feeding management, and nutrition – Raising animal productivity through feeding has two parts to it.
Part one pertains to what farmers feed. High quality feeds are more digestible and could improve production of milk and meat. Feed additive products, such as essential micronutrients, pro-biotics, and antioxidants can boost intake, digestibility, health, and productivity.
Part two pertains to how cattle feeds are prepared and fed by the farmer. For example, finer grain that is cracked and ground and smaller feed particle sizes are easier for digestion. Farmers likewise need access to feed lab analyses, manure testing, a precise and accurate diet formulation system, and on-farm trials to monitor the effect of their current diet on animal performance and to ensure optimal feed efficiency.
4. Rumen modifiers - Furthermore, additives like rumen modifiers can directly reduce methane emissions. Remember methanogens, the methane producing microbes? Some rumen modifiers can work to directly inhibit the growth or function of methanogens, the others can limit how much H2 and CO2 are available in the rumen, which lessens CH4 production.
Some modifiers can promote the creation of certain nutrients over others. For example, volatile fatty acids, acetate, propionate, and butyrate are nutrients created by microbe fermentation. A byproduct of acetate production is H2, while propionate actually uses available H2 for its creation. Modifiers can promote production of propionate while inhibiting acetate. Research in this area has looked at the possibility of introducing new microbes into a cow’s rumen that use enteric methane for nutrient production, reducing the amount expelled by cows and within the atmosphere.
Although these changes may sound simple, we must remember that implementation requires research and financial investment by dairy and beef producers. Farmers ultimately take on the capital risks of raising and feeding livestock along with the fluctuations of milk, corn, and soybean prices. Therefore, economic benefit of farms needs to be considered when implementing methane mitigating strategies. Providing incentives and monetary value could help relieve some of these risks and accelerate progress in reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. Farmers have access to the resources, knowledge, and technology to get started. However, for industry wide CH4 reduction many new technologies still need support for research and for farmers to adopt.