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Reduce Methane Production And Keep Food Efficiency

29 September 2009

Can methane production be reduced without compromising feed efficiency? The Australian Beef CRC investigates.

The Australian Beef Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) is developing live microbial and/ or bioactive products that either alone, or in combination, restrict the production of methane by rumen microbes and also maintain desirable levels of feed digestion.

Beef CRC have an obligation outlined in the Commonwealth agreement that by 2012, CRC research will result in a range of bioactive or management interventions that reduce methane emissions by as much as 20 per cent and increase the dietary energy captured for animal growth by as much as 10 per cent.

The products could be administered to cattle in a variety of ways, for example, as a drench or feed additive.

Why does the industry need to reduce methane generation?

There is a global focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing our environmental footprint. Cattle are among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. In fact, it is estimated that livestock contribute more than 12 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gases in the form of methane. These gas emissions eliminate up to 10 per cent of the energy consumed by an animal.

Studies have indicated that by reducing enteric methane generation while simultaneuosly increasing dietary energy capture will provide significant financial benefits to beef industries (particularly in Australian and New Zealand climates).

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle will also assist countries in meeting greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

How will the industry use the bio-active agents?

Producers will be be able to use a live microbial drench and or/ a bio-active drench and/ or a food additive to reduce methane and improve feed efficiency of their cattle. Beef CRC would also develop a knowledge package on management strategies that can be used by beef industry sectors to simultaneously reduce methane emissions and improve feed efficiency.

What progress is being made?

Researchers are currently developing new knowledge about the expression of methanogenesis genes, regulatory genes and critical metabolic and environmental control points and alternative genetic pathways for hydrogen utilisation. These genes and control points are very likely to comprise related families of methane-producing bacteria, which makes the job especially challenging. If one type of organism is suppressed, but suppression does not affect its cousins and other related families, it’s very likely that another group of methane producers will simply step up to take the place of the one they suppressed.

Another key aspect to the research is finding a way to recycle the hydrogen released during feed digestion in the rumen without producing methane. Beef CRC scientists are examining the alternative hydrogen using pathways that exist in cattle and trying to identify the non-methaneproducing microbes responsible for them. CRC scientists are also establishing links between animal methane output (microbiology), feed efficiency (nutrition) and animal genetics.

September 2009

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