Decreasing methane emissions by feeding grazing ruminants: a fit with productive and financial realities?
Pacheco, D., G. Waghorn, et al. (2014). "Decreasing methane emissions from ruminants grazing forages: a fit with productive and financial realities?" Animal Production Science54(9): 1141-1154.
Ruminants contribute to human food supply and also anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. An understanding of production systems and information on animal populations has enabled global inventories of ruminant GHG emissions (methane and nitrous oxide), and dietary strategies are being developed to reduce GHG emissions from ruminants. Mitigation strategies need to consider the management/feeding systems used to ensure that these strategies will be readily accepted and adopted by farmers. Housed systems allow diets to be formulated in ways that may reduce GHG production, but the challenge is much greater for systems where animals graze outdoors for long periods. A methane mitigation option in the form of fresh forage would be desirable in livestock production systems with high reliance on grazing. A brief summary of New Zealand research, carried out on fresh grasses, legumes, herbs and crops, suggest that we have an incomplete understanding of the feed characteristics that define a ‘high’ or a ‘low’ methane feed. The variation in methane emissions measured between feeds, individual animals and experiment is large, even in controlled conditions, and the dynamic nature of sward-animal interactions will only exacerbate this variation, creating challenges beyond the identification of mitigants. Furthermore, implementation of knowledge gained from controlled studies requires validation under grazing systems to identify any trade-offs between methane reduction and animal productivity or emission of other pollutants. Therefore, investment and research should be targeted at mitigation options that can and will be adopted on-farm, and the characteristics of temperate grasslands farming suggest that these options may differ from those for intensive (high input/output) or extensive (low input/output) systems.