How to reduce methane emissions from cattle with better management?
Cow methane emissions can be reduced by reducing the age at first calving, by increasing the production per lactation, by increasing the number of lactations per cow and by improving the health of the herd.
If dairy cows calve at an earlier age, they produce less cow methane up to the moment they start producing milk. Research by the ILVO showed emission of methane from cows per kg of milk produced is reduced by 3.1% if the age at first calving the dairy herd is reduced by 2 months.
Dairy cows produce a fixed level of cow methane to produce energy for maintenance, regardless of their production level. If the amount of milk production per lactation goes up, the cow methane production for maintenance is “diluted” over more kilograms of milk. Increasing the milk production per day by 3 kg will reduce cow methane emissions per kg of milk produced by up to 8.4%.
If the number of lactations per cow goes up, a similar effect occurs; cow methane produced during the rearing phase is “diluted” over more lactations. If next to increasing milk production by 3 kg per day, the culling rate is reduced by 5%, emission of methane gas from cows per kg of milk produced will be reduced by 11.7%.
If dairy cows are not healthy, feed efficiency is being reduced. The immune system of dairy cows uses a lot of energy which as a consequence cannot be used for milk production. It is estimated that 30% of the production potential of dairy cows is wasted because of health issues. This means that healthy dairy cows have lower cow methane emissions per kg of milk produced.
There is a connection between the 4 aforementioned parameters. The age at first calving can be reduced by an intensive rearing programme with high levels of milk feeding during the first 12 weeks of a calf’s life. It has been shown that such a programme also increases the milk production per lactation and the number of lactations per cow, thus resulting in a reduction of cow methane. A good transition management programme for dairy cows will lead to a further increase of milk production per lactation and number of lactations per cow. As most of the health problems of dairy cows are related to poor transition, a good transition programme will also improve health. This will reduce the production of methane from cows on the dairy farm.
Reducing cow methane emission from manure
Next to reducing enteric cow methane emissions with feed additives to reduce methane emissions from cows, there is the option to improve cow methane capture in manure. Cows produce manure and urine separately, but once the 2 are mixed in the manure pit, a chemical reaction starts that results in the production of cow methane from manure. One way to reduce the production of methane gas from cows via their manure is to keep urine and manure as much as possible separated from each other. Next to that, there are feed additives to reduce methane from manure.
How to meet targets for reduction of cow methane emissions
How to reduce methane emissions from cattle while reaching targets that have been established by authorities and milk processors without increasing costs of milk production is certainly challenging. Reduction targets for cow methane emissions can’t be reached by switching to Selko IntelliBond only. However, the use of Selko IntelliBond is a positive, cost-effective step in the right direction. Meeting targets for reduction of methane from cows will require an integrated approach combining improvements in nutrition, cow management, cow comfort, cropping systems and manure management. Taken together these approaches, challenging targets for reduction of cattle methane emissions can be achieved, while preserving the financial well-being of the producer.