Breeding could mitigate methane production in dairy cows
A new study on how to reduce methane production in dairy cows, which is a goal of the world's livestock industry, is published.
A new study on how to reduce methane production in dairy cows, which is a goal of the world’s livestock industry, is published.
Greenhouse gas production is one of the current concerns of livestock farming around the world. Therefore, animal science researchers are working to decrease methane (CH4) production in dairy cows. In 2018, 827 million tons of milk were produced worldwide, which is 2% more than in 2017. This increase, in turn, demands dairy systems that consider sustainable production goals.
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A new study on methane production in cows
Recently, a paper was published in the Journal of Dairy Science, where the authors investigated how the breeding process can help mitigate methane gas production. The paper was titled “Breeding for reduced methane emission and feed-efficient Holstein cows: An international response” In total, 14 authors from different institutions around the world has participated in the study.
According to the authors, animal selection can enable cows to emit less methane through permanent and cumulative genetic changes. By selecting animals that have a record of low methane production, good-performing cattle breeding is obtained.
For this study, the authors analyzed 15320 methane production records from 2990 cows. These animals were in Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and Denmark. The researchers recorded data, such as dry matter intake, body weight and condition, milk production, feed conversion. At the same time, they recorded methane production. Some parameters evaluated were methane yield, methane intensity and residual methane production, among others.
Promising results of breeding for methane reduction
The researchers found that the analysis of residual methane is an important parameter to consider during breeding. In other words, for animal breeding processes, the measurement of residual methane produced is a key data point. This information allows to select and breed animals that produce less methane and at the same time have optimal production yields. The authors found that when cows produce little residual methane, they also generate economic advantages in their performance.
In addition, the authors mention that the calculation of residual feed intake (RFI) is a parameter that contributes to decrease methane production in cows. Residual feed intake is a measure that evaluates the feed conversion rate. This RFI has the advantage that it does not depend on body condition or growth rate. Animals with a low RFI are very efficient in feed conversion and therefore produce little methane.
Future challenges for dairy farming
One of the current difficulties in implementing these study findings relates to the cost. Methane measurement has evolved favorably with very accurate modern equipment, but it is still expensive. Therefore, it is expected that in the coming years the world’s livestock institutions and associations will aim to reduce methane production in dairy cows. In that case, genetic evaluation on methane production would be done routinely.
Now, this study has succeeded in establishing a genetic database that will allow future comparisons with other animals. With this, it is possible to implement breeding methods for animals that produce less methane and, at the same time, have good production parameters.