Methane emissions from beef cattle bred for low residual feed intake

University of Alberta – John Basarab

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Edmonton, AB

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The primary purpose of this project is to use cutting-edge gas-sensor technology and other techniques to measure, in real-world Alberta beef production settings, methane emissions from beef cattle measured for residual feed intake (RFI) and bred for low RFI. Methane is a potent GHG that results from the natural digestive processes in the animal stomach (rumen). Researchers will be able to measure precisely the amount of methane produced from animals bred for low RFI compared with the average animal. A second objective is to determine the reliability of alternative, less costly techniques to identify low-methane emitting animals. A third objective is to examine the use of indirect biometrics, such as feeding and drinking behaviours and other parameters in relationship to methane production and yield.

In a simulation study researchers reported that after 25 years of selection for low RFI, GHG emissions were 0.844 tonnes CO2e per cow per year lower compared with the average herd, or 1.64 million tonnes CO2e/year lower for Alberta’s roughly 2 million beef cows and bred heifers. The potential improvement is dramatic, but to confirm these model estimates, rigorous emission measurements are needed in real-world beef production conditions.

Alberta is one of the largest beef-producing regions in North America, and reducing cow herd methane emission is crucial to improving the carbon footprint of beef production Cattle are significant producers of methane. The comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. This project will use non invasive techniques to accurately measure the methane mitigation potential of low-RFI herds in real-world settings without disrupting the animals’ feed intake and feeding behavior.

ERA funded this project through the Biological GHG Management Program, administered by Alberta Innovates. Project partners include Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency.