Focus on feed to cut farm methane


Hannah Turner

Farmer Ben James with one of the bull calves on his family’s farm in Hyden, Western Australia.

Feed alternatives for cattle may be the answer for reducing greenhouse gases emitted from Australia’s agricultural industry.

The Western Australian Primary Industries and Regional Development Department said feed additives or supplements offer one approach to cutting methane emissions from livestock.

Department spokesman Rob Sudmeyer said the University of Western Australia was currently researching the topic.

“They have been working on this for several years in WA, they have been measuring emissions and experimenting with different shrub diets,” he said.

“Some supplements are being used now on farms and there is a way that you can receive carbon credits for using it.”

Cattle produce significant amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive process and direct livestock emissions account for around 70% of greenhouse gas emissions by the agricultural sector.

Australia’s livestock is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the energy and transport industries.

USC climate change researcher Kate English said farmers should be aware that the agricultural industry directly affects climate change.

“Anyone who is working with natural resources should be very concerned about climate impacts in the future and the farming industry is one of those,” she said.

Methane reducing feed additives and supplements can be formed of synthetic chemicals, natural supplements and compounds, such as seaweed, and fats and oils.

A study from the Western Australian Primary Industries and Regional Development Department found that feeding one type of seaweed, as three percent of the diet of cattle, resulted in an up to 80% reduction in methane emissions.

Fats and oils in the study showed the most potential for real-world application and has been shown to reduce up to 20% of emissions.

The feed alternatives are most effective when grain and hay are also added to livestock’s diet, especially in cattle feedlots.

Farmers can enjoy several advantages for using the feed alternatives.

Some of the shrubs offer quality feed in seasons when grass-based feed is not thriving.

Most are deep rooted and can help control the water table and dryland salinity and their inclusion in farming systems can help improve the ecosystem.

There are also risks associated with the feed additives and supplements.

The amount of additives eaten by livestock is hard to regulate while grazing in paddocks and can lead to illness.

Long term effects have not yet been found and these results are seen as necessary for widespread commercial application.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of climate.