Feeding canola oil to beef cows could be one way to reduce their enteric methane emissions and increase feed efficiency.
FCC sees calmer waters ahead on input market
Glacier FarmMedia – Farmers can breathe a sigh of relief knowing crop input prices have stabilized as the world adapts…
University of Guelph researchers adopted unique technology to investigate the link between feed efficiency and enteric methane emissions. Feed-efficient cattle reduce farmer costs, and lower enteric methane can help with greenhouse gas emission issues, creating a win-win for farmers and the environment.
Why it matters: Enteric emissions from cattle are recognized as significant contributors to greenhouse gas. Governments and academics are devoting resources in efforts to lessen the climate effects.
At Guelph’s Elora Research Station, a doctoral student under the supervision of Katie Wood, associate professor in Beef Cattle Nutrition and Physiology, is testing the addition of canola oil to the ration for groups of heifers previously classified as either high or low methane emitters. Canola oil is known to reduce enteric gas emissions.
“The thought behind (this study) is that perhaps not every individual in the herd will need to be fed a feed supplement to reduce methane emissions,” Wood said.
“Perhaps those that are already low emitters will not benefit from additional and likely expensive feed supplements.”
Another student is exploring whether methane emissions stay stable throughout the season and throughout the day. Enteric methane from cattle is known to vary throughout the day, but the Beef at Guelph research team aims to fine-tune that knowledge.
The project “is looking at the relationships between feed efficiency and gas emissions over the entire production cycle – yearlings, lactating cows and dry cows – and relationships to fibre digestibility of the feed,” said Wood.
Through monitoring this year, Wood’s team has confirmed that “methane is really tied with feed efficiency. Animals that are more feed efficient produce less methane.”
In 2019, the University of Guelph’s beef research team bought a portable enteric emissions monitoring station, in conjunction with the $15.5-million upgrade of its Elora Research Station facilities. It is now paying dividends.
During a Sept. 21 research field day hosted by Beef at Guelph, Woods outlined work underway using theNGreenFeed apparatus from North Dakota-based C-Lock.
Wood told Farmtario in an interview that, thanks to financial contributions from Beef Farmers of Ontario and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the university was able to buy the equipment as part of the massive 2019 research barn upgrade.
The Ontario Beef Research Centre now includes two 5,530 square-metre research barns and 200 acres of land to produce feed and provide pasture.
The C-lock measures methane and metabolic carbon dioxide emissions from ruminants such as cattle to provide farmers and ranchers with real-time data to document improvements in feed efficiency and methane emissions.
The trailer with a solar-powered automated feed dispenser releases pelleted feed when the cow, equipped with a radio-frequency ear tag, puts its head near the feed bowl. An air intake apparatus collects the cow’s burps and measures air quality parameters eight times per second.
After approximately 30 visits to the feed station, the Guelph researchers have a level of confidence in the emission quality and quantity results to set a benchmark for that cow.
It can take that long for the cow to become familiar enough with the apparatus that its behaviour remains constant.
Quick calibration in the field makes the GreenFeed valuable, says Wood. In various other experimental settings, animals are put in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations, which increases the likelihood that the results don’t match real-life beef barn or pasture situations.
Wood said daily enteric emissions from cattle on the Elora research station’s pastures varied significantly. The cattle are all from Angus genetics and vary from a high of approximately 300 grams per day to a low of approximately 100 grams per day. As the leader of the four-year, multi-partner Efficient Dairy Genome Project, as well as overseeing other methane-efficiency research in dairy and beef, Baes noted this type of insight fits well with work underway by a number of the university’s students.
Planned future research projects that incorporate enteric methane monitoring on pasture include a comparison of continuous grazing versus rotational grazing and the effects of grazing a pasture with elevated legume content.
Wood says one pasture plot on the Elora farm will be planted to a pasture mix with 60 per cent bird’s foot trefoil for the legume-based trial.