Offset options for beef and dairy


Building on previous research conducted in Canada and Australia, researchers in both countries are undertaking a collaborative research project to further investigate ways to reduce the carbon footprint of milk and beef products.

The beef cattle component will be conducted in Alberta, Canada, and the dairy component will be conducted at Ellinbank, Australia. The project was initiated by PICCC, which brought Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada together with researchers from AV and UM in order to address the lack of commercially available offset options for the dairy and beef industries.

Project outline

Researchers are studying a number of stock feed additives and supplements already proven to reduce methane emissions, to determine the longer term impact on both emissions and animal performance.

Feed options being investigated include:

Whole farm systems modelling will be a vital aspect of the research to ensure its relevance to farmers in both Alberta and Victoria. A modelling framework will be developed and tested in both countries at the start of the project, and further refined as data become available. The Holos model will be used in Alberta and the DGAS framework in Australia.

The research will determine the mitigation potential of each option, including in the long term; the synergies between the feed options; and the management considerations necessary for using feed additives and diet mitigation in commercial feedlots or dairies. Importantly, the effect on animal performance in terms of improved feed efficiency or increased production, so that the full benefit: cost ratios of implementing the feed options are clear.

The information will enable registration of the two feed additives for commercial beef producers, and development of offset methodologies for both countries.

Results to date

Studies in Canada to determine the optimum dose of NOP as a feed additive in backgrounding and finishing beef cattle diets indicate that NOP reduced methane emissions by up to 23% and 45% for cattle on high-forage and high-grain diets, respectively. The dose response was largely linear, and there were no negative effects on feed intake. A subsequent study is currently investigating the effects on performance of feedlot cattle when NOP is fed in combination with monensin.

The Canadian team is also leading an encapsulated nitrate study with beef cattle. Initial results indicate a reduction of up to 18% in methane emissions, with no toxicity observed.

The researchers based at AV in Ellinbank have completed a study on the emissions and production effects of feeding different grains to dairy cattle. The grains studied differ in degradability, testing the hypothesis that rapidly digested starches reduce methane emissions. The experiment found that methane emissions from cattle offered wheat were significantly lower than from cows offered barley or corn. The persistency of wheat’s inhibitory effect on methane emissions is being studied in an ongoing experiment.