Original article by Mark Phelps, Queensland Country Life

Reducing the methane emissions produced by cattle results in increased productivity and ultimately profitability.

That’s the finding of University of Sydney research which shows new-generation supplements not only reduce green house gas emissions, but used strategically can also result in more calves, heavier weights, fewer mortalities, and hefty profits.

The breakthrough lies in micro-encapsulating methane-busting technology in high palatable feed supplements developed by nutrition company AgCoTech, which ensures livestock consume the active ingredients at the required dosage levels.

Professor of Sustainable Livestock Production, Luciano Gonzalez, from the University of Sydney said the result was increased productivity and reduced green house gas emissions (GHGE).

His research is based on a 3000 head herd of breeding cows in northern Australia and assessed five different scenarios to estimate potential productivity gains and reduction of green house gas emissions.

The five scenarios included: an unsupplemented herd with a 55 per cent weaning rate; a supplemented herd with a 65pc weaning rate, 15pc higher weaning weights (from 165kg to 190kg), and a 2pc reduction in mortality rates; resultant heavier heifers joined at a younger age; heavier heifers joined at a younger age plus feed supplements to reduce methane emissions by 10pc without impacting production or feed intake; and heavier heifers joined at a younger age with supplements reducing emissions by 10pc.

“Results from predictions suggest that feed supplementation in scenario two could increase production of liveweight by 55pc and reduce the intensity of GHGE by 24pc,” Prof Gonzalez said.

“That equates to an abatement of 3533 tonnes CO2e/yr compared to the same unsupplemented herd.

“Predictions from scenario three indicated that production of liveweight could be increased by 83pc and the intensity of GHGE could be reduced by 34pc, equating to an abatement of 5891 tonnes CO2e/year compared to the unsupplemented herd.

“Scenario four and five produced the same amount of liveweight as scenarios two and three. However, the reduction of intensity of GHGE was of 31pc and 42pc, equating to an abatement of 4568 and 6954 tonnes CO2e/yr, respectively.”

The findings also show a big lift in profitability, with GHGE abatement generating an extra income above that of the unsupplemented herd of $42,435, $70,694, $54,812 and $83,449, respectively, at a CO2 price of $12/t. The research also found the increase in liveweight sales result in additional income of up to $820,227.

MDH's Julie McDonald.

 MDH’s Julie McDonald.

Early consumption trials underway

The McDonald family’s Cloncurry-based beef company MDH is currently conducting early stage trials to visually assess consumption rates of AgCoTech’s new GHG blocks.

The technology has been developed with the aim of reducing methane production by enabling the rumen of cattle to better process lower quality pastures, without the use of urea, in line with international GHG reduction standards.

Significant research has also already been carried out in South East Asia to develop and assess the medicated molasses blocks in extensive pastoral systems.

Julie McDonald said MDH was looking to decrease emissions through increased productivity. The company is working with Professor Julian Hill from RMIT to calculate net emissions to understand where they are best able to be targeted.

“The starting point is understanding where we stand on emissions and what is our baseline,” Ms McDonald said.

It is hoped a whole-of-industry toolbox can be developed showing practical ways emissions can be reduced to increase productivity.

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