Farmers have felt the real impact of extreme weather events—especially from intensifying cases of severe heat and drought. As a result, many are ready to act. For example, this year’s Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll shows that over half of the respondents were worried about the impact of climate change on their operations, and 60% were ready to take steps to protect against those negative impacts.
Even dairy and meat trade associations are seeking out ways to avoid the worst projections of climate scientists. On November 9th, the North American Meat Institute announced a purposeful goal to “…deliver independently approved science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets in line with the Paris Climate Agreement goals by 2030.”
What can cattle and dairy farmers do to contribute to the fight against climate change and avoid the most disastrous repercussions? Based on some observations across the industry, here’s how to reduce methane emissions, cut carbon emissions and undertake steps now to put your cattle operations or dairy farm on more sustainable footing.
One of the husbandry practices that can increase the efficiency of your operations also has the added bonus of reducing methane emissions. Researchers pouring over 50 years of data on California dairy farms made a surprising find: Between 1964 and 2014, the amount of enteric methane emissions released as a byproduct on 1 kg. of energy and protein corrected milk (ECM) dropped by 55.7%.
The cause? Dairy cattle had been intentionally bred with greater enteric feed efficiency in mind, which also happened to decrease their methane production. Other researchers and cattle producers see information like this as an opportunity to watch for patterns of productivity among different breeds of cattle to improve the feed conversion ratio (FCR) of their herd over time.
Cattle breeds such as Limousin, Charolais, Simmental, Hereford and Angus have been noted for their higher-than-average FCRs. Though there are other considerations that need to be kept in mind while breeding the next generation of resilient cattle (post-weaning gains and mature cow size among them), you can make choices that not only enhance your cattle feed efficiency but your eco-footprint as well.
How dairy and cattle farmers handle their organic waste can have a massive impact on their eco-footprint as well as their access to all-natural, nutrient-rich fertilizers. When organic waste is sent to a landfill and buried, anerobic bacteria dominate decomposition, producing high amounts of methane in the absence of oxygen. Eventually, the methane rises from the soil into the atmosphere, adding a greenhouse gas with warming effects that are 56 times worse than CO2.
Though most farmers have familiarity with composting, there’s a difference between small-scale and large-scale composting. For those looking to start a composting business, Malcolm Beck, a life-long organic farmer, has some recommendations, most of which are applicable for producers looking to create more effective and efficient cattle operations. Here are a few:
Following these and other composting best practices will go a long way in enabling you to cut emissions and effectively harness the natural resources already at your disposal.
For dairy or cattle farmers, livestock themselves are one of the most substantial sources of methane emissions. The bacteria involved in the normal digestive function of ruminants produces methane as a byproduct, which is released into the atmosphere from belches or flatulence. Domesticated livestock produce more methane than wild ruminants (if you want a quick comparison of the data, check out this blog), which shows there can be a positive impact on climate change by reducing methane emissions from dairy cows and beef cattle.
A number of high-profile stories have shown the ways in which seaweed feed supplements for animals can contribute to the fight against climate change. When provided with a precise amount of seaweed in their feed regimen, the methane emissions released by cattle were reduced by as much as 80%. This allows cattle and dairy producers to make their living while lowering their impact on the environment. It’s a win-win for producers and the planet.