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Is seaweed a sustainable solution to livestock production

09 December 2021

With ruminant livestock like cattle and sheep producing just over 10 percent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions, scientists at the University of New England (UNE) are continuing to find innovative ways to reduce methane in food production to ensure we can have our steak, and eat it too.

As the call for a sustainable solution grows louder by the day, Senior Lecturer in Livestock Production Fran Cowley says UNE is in a strong position to make a positive difference within the industry.

“With the largest methane research capacity globally for intensive and grazing environments, UNE has been collaborating with industry leaders on a range of projects aimed at lowering methane emissions in sheep and cattle through feeding practices,” says Dr Cowley.

“Through our research, we want to help position the Australian agricultural industry as one of the leaders in climate action.”

Could seaweed be the answer?

Dr Cowley has been working with research fellow Dr Amélia de Almeida on several large projects in this space, including a recent world-first research collaboration between UNE, FutureFeed, Woolworths Group and Australian Country Choice.

Dr de Almeida says this involved the first commercial trial of super seaweed Asparagopsis as a methane mitigant in cattle.

The paper outlining the full results is yet to be published, but we observed an enormous methane reduction with no negative effects on the animals.

“In our 77-day trial at UNE SMART Farm's Tullimba Feedlot, 64 cattle were fed a typical feedlot diet, with half receiving a small amount of seaweed,” says Dr de Almeida.

“The paper outlining the full results is yet to be published, but we observed an enormous methane reduction with no negative effects on the animals.”

Asparagopsis is a red seaweed that naturally prevents the formation of methane by inhibiting a specific enzyme in the gut of livestock during digestion.

Dr de Almeida says it could be a solution to the industry’s high methane production levels.

“As part of our research, we undertook a number of tests to see whether the performance or wellbeing of the animals was affected, and we found that there were no impacts on the animals, which is great news for the commercial opportunities,” she says.

“As consumers are increasingly opting for sustainable alternatives, the next step is for the commercialisation of the product in feedlots and eventually in grazing systems.”

What other options are there?

Dr de Almeida says the super seaweed isn’t the only additive producers can turn to for reducing emissions. Last year, UNE partnered with Meat and Livestock Australia and European company DSM Nutritional Products to test the effectiveness of a proprietary product called Bovaer 10® in reducing methane produced by Angus steers.

By feeding the steers a small amount each day, we found it had the potential to lower methane levels by more than 90 percent.

“This was the first research using Australian feedlot diets and the results were very promising,” says Dr de Almeida.

“Bovaer 10® is a feed additive that contains 3-nitrooxypropanol, which is a molecule that has been found to lower methane production in beef and dairy cows.

“By feeding the steers a small amount each day, we found it had the potential to lower methane levels by more than 90 percent.”

UNE to continue to drive the push

Dr Cowley says UNE will continue to make waves in this space, with several trials aimed at reducing greenhouse gases in animal production in the pipeline for 2022.

“This such an exciting and important space to be working in at the moment,” she says.

“With UNE’s state-of-the-art facilities for methane research, we will continue to find sustainable and practical solutions to reducing the impact of agriculture on climate change, and produce Rural Science, Agriculture and Animal Science graduates at the forefront of sustainable livestock production.”

TheCattleSite News Desk



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