Article Summary: Breeding climate-friendly cows is one way to reduce methane emissions; it represents a cumulative, long-term way for you to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Several countries are already implementing breeding programs to reduce the impact of sheep on the environment, and now the dairy sector is not far behind in this research. New Zealand is leading the way in developing low-methane-emitting cows, with climate-friendly cows potentially coming to your farm soon, thanks to innovative research and the discovery of genetic links to methane production. Read on for more plus easy-to-adopt tips to reduce your farm’s gas emissions.
As a dairy farmer, cows are the backbone of your business. They provide milk, cheese, and other dairy products that sustain you and your family. But did you know that cows also significantly impact the environment? Cows produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. This blog post explores the possibility of breeding more climate-friendly cows and how it can benefit dairy farmers in Australia and New Zealand.
The environmental impact of cows
Cows are known for their unique and complex digestive system, which allows them to extract nutrients from fibrous plants. However, this system also produces a lot of methane, which is released into the atmosphere through burps and flatulence. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, cows are responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from methane production. In New Zealand, the figure is around 35% for all ruminants, which includes cows and sheep.
It is significant and a cause for concern. Luckily, there is an opportunity to reduce this, which we’re about to discover.
The impact of methane is significant. Methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. As a result, reducing methane emissions from cows is an essential step in mitigating climate change.
The amount of methane a cow or bull emits relates to the food it eats and how much. In short, the more an animal eats, the more methane it produces. However, new research by scientists in New Zealand, care of a research programme funded by the country’s top breeding organisations, LIC and CRV, suggests something else is at play. That after recording and accounting for variations in bulls’ feed intake variations, scientists found a generic variation in methane emissions. This means some animals are lower-methane emitters, and others will produce higher levels, depending on their genetic makeup. It is this knowledge that scientists are using to begin breeding cows that emit lower levels of methane.
Breeding climate-friendly cows
Breeding climate-friendly cows is one way to reduce methane emissions; it represents a cumulative, long-term way for you to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Several countries are already implementing breeding programs to reduce the impact of sheep on the environment, and now the dairy sector is not far behind in this research. Of course, New Zealand is leading the way in developing low-methane-emitting cows.
Although, in its early stages, the programme mentioned earlier aims to breed cows that produce less methane without compromising their productivity. The program uses genetic selection to identify cows with lower methane emissions and breeds them to produce offspring with the same traits. Their goal is to reduce methane emissions from cows by 10% by 2030, a long-term strategy giving NZ farmers another solution to curb their farm emissions. And if you can reduce your carbon footprint and methane emissions without impacting your milk production, you can ensure a more profitable and sustainable farm operation.
Similarly, Australia is also investing in breeding more climate-friendly cows. The Australian Government supports the research and development of low-emission livestock technologies through the Rural Research and Development for Profit program. This program aims to develop livestock that produces fewer emissions, including cows that produce less methane.
Benefits of breeding climate-friendly cows
Breeding climate-friendly cows has several advantages for dairy farmers like you. With the scientific advances in this area, having it as an option for growing your herd isn't far away. Here are a few examples of the key benefits of breeding climate-friendly cows:
Reduced greenhouse gas emissions: By breeding cows that produce less methane, dairy farmers can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to mate change.
Lower operational costs: Cows that produce less methane require less feed, which can reduce the cost of feeding them. The savings of reduced feed over time will have significant positive financial impacts on a farm’s bottom line.
Improved productivity: Breeding cows that produce less methane can lead to better productivity. Methane production competes with energy that could be used for milk production, so reducing methane production can increase milk yields. This means that a cow’s energy is better spent producing milk than gases, which has only a positive effect on the planet and you, the farmer.
Improved herd health: Excessive methane production can indicate an inefficient digestive system in cows. Breeding cows that produce less methane can lead to healthier digestive systems, which mitigates the need for veterinary intervention and treatment programs. Cows with efficient digestive systems will contribute to overall better herd health.
Are there any other ways to reduce methane emissions in ruminants?
Yes, you can via several methods.
The first is via feeding. Changing to easily digestible grains can help, as can adding certain nitrates to your feed at specified ratios to optimise rumen fermentation. It will also change the hydrogen within the gut to produce ammonia rather than methane. The benefit of this method is tri-fold; you can reduce methane emissions and improve animal performance through better digestion and save on potentially pricey breeding programs. The costs of implementing breeding programs are not fully known yet; however, purchasing and distributing particular nutrients will also incur costs.
For more information on optimising your herd’s diet to reduce methane emissions, it is best to get in touch with your local herd nutritionist.
Manure management can also help. You can capture the methane from your cow's manure and use it as a renewable energy source, reducing emissions and saving you energy costs. Composting your manure is also a good option, as it allows for the controlled breakdown of organic matter, which can reduce emissions.
Adopting AgTech and better livestock management practices can also make a difference. For example, rotational grazing, where cows are moved between paddocks regularly, can improve pasture quality and reduce methane emissions.
A grazing management system like Pasture.io can help you select pasture types, manage grazing plans and yield, maintain and improve soil fertility and use growth measurements to help you make the most of your resources and reduce your emissions.
Breeding more climate-friendly cows is an excellent solution for dairy farmers who want to reduce their environmental impact and improve their bottom line. Several countries are already implementing breeding programs to reduce methane emissions from cows, with promising results. Breeding climate-friendly cows have several benefits, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, lower costs, improved productivity, and improved herd health.
You can contribute to a more sustainable future by breeding more climate-friendly cows as a dairy farmer and incorporating a smart tech-powered farm management system to take the guesswork out of managing your herd. For more info, head to our website, Pasture.io.
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2023-02-28