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How feed impacts your farm’s methane output

  • Dietary intervention to reduce enteric methane emissions focuses on two areas: what farmers feed their cattle and cattle feed preparation.

  • High-quality feeds are more digestible and can improve production.

  • Finer grain that is cracked and ground, and smaller feed particle sizes are easier on digestion. 


How feed impacts your farm’s methane output
Ruminant dietary intervention is a heavily investigated category in methane emission mitigation and is a critical area of innovation to build a sustainable food system. Dietary intervention studies focus on two areas: what farmers feed their cattle and cattle feed preparation.

Feed nutrients
Putting a focus on what is fed to ruminants is critical because high-quality feeds are more easily digested and have the potential to improve production. Studies have found that feed additives, such as probiotics, micronutrients, and antioxidants can boost intake, digestion, health, and overall productivity.

In turn, some feed additives can work directly to inhibit methane production, while others can limit how much hydrogen and carbon dioxide are available in the rumen, lessening methane production

Additive Advantages Challenges
Probiotics Large variety, may have additional benefits on production or health Diet-dependent, unknown long term effectiveness
Plant extracts​ Natural, large supply  Diet-dependent​, unknown long term effectiveness
Nitrate Compounds Natural, effective in vivo Not approved in the U.S., need adaptation
Ionophore​ Existing product, strong technical proof Existing product, improves feed efficiency, widely used in feed yard
Organic acid​ May have additional benefits on production or health Need high dosage, expensive, decrease animal intake

When you are evaluating these additives, otherwise known as rumen modifiers, here are a few questions to consider:

1) What is the research method?

In vitro testing could be used for additive screening; however, the in vivo method is needed for validating the effect on methane and evaluating the effect on productivity.

2) How long did the in vivo trial last?

Rumen microbes adapt; an additive’s effect on methane can diminish over time.

3) What is the animal and dietary condition?

Difference species may respond to additives differently under various diet conditions. Results concluded from one animal and dietary condition may not apply here.

4) What is the effect on productivity?

Decreasing methane while improving productivity is challenging. In the past five years, no additive successfully decreased methane production in vivo and increased productivity.

5) What is the effect on rumen fermentation?

Good rumen fermentation could potentially lead to improvements in productivity. However, it needs to be validated in vivo.

Feed preparation
Similarly, how the feed is prepared can influence animal productivity. For example, finer grain that is cracked and ground, and smaller feed particle sizes can ease digestion. Overall, a cattle’s diet greatly impacts how the feed is digested in the rumen; therefore, focusing on nutrition and feeding management can have a significant impact on methane emission reduction. 

Feed is often the greatest expense farmers face. Implementing successful feed strategies requires a knowledgeable partner that can share resources, such as feed lab analyses, manure testing, accurate diet formulation systems, and on-farm trials to closely monitor feed’s impact on animal performance to ensure optimal feed efficiency.

At Cargill, we believe that agriculture is how we will feed future generations more sustainably and we aim to deploy a holistic approach to methane mitigation to support farmer efforts in combatting on-farm methane emissions. To learn more visit here.


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