Carbon farming: cattle breeding for lower greenhouse gas emissions

Page last updated: Thursday, 8 November 2018 - 9:38am

There is potential to reduce methane greenhouse gas emissions from cattle by selecting for higher feed conversion efficiency, or by using bulls with low methane emissions. Cattle with better feed conversion produce less methane per unit of feed, and are generally more profitable.

Why we should reduce livestock emissions

In Australia, direct livestock emissions account for about 70% of greenhouse gas emissions by the agricultural sector and 11% of total national greenhouse gas emissions. This makes Australia’s livestock the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after the energy and transport sectors. Livestock are the dominant source of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), accounting for 56% and 73%, respectively, of Australia’s emissions.

Benefits of selecting cattle for low methane emissions

Carbon benefits

There is not an approved methodology for this activity under the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Co-benefits of breeding cattle for lower methane emissions

There are several benefits, including:

  • selecting for low residual feed intake also selects for lower methane emissions and better feed conversion efficiency
  • selecting for low emission cattle can increase production from available feed.

Opportunities from this activitiy include:

  • progeny of low methane emission bulls produced up to 24% less methane than control groups in trials
  • breeding for low methane emissions is a win–win for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing agricultural productivity.

Risks of selecting cattle for low methane emissions

There are several risks:

  • This activity is not eligible for ‘additionality’ status in the Emissions Reduction Fund (additional to normal production practices).
  • Measuring methane emissions is difficult.
  • Heritability of low methane emissions is moderate, and genetic gains are likely to be less than 1% per year. Selection on other criteria produces larger production gains.
  • The income benefits to smaller enterprises may not be high enough to justify adoption of the practice.
  • Increased feed conversion efficiency may result in an increased stocking rate, which may then increase methane emissions in total.

Contact information

Rob Sudmeyer
+61 (0)8 9083 1129