Changing the diet of cows and sheep to include foods such as maize silage, naked oats and high-sugar grasses could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research funded by DEFRA.

Changing the diet of cows and sheep to include foods such as maize silage, naked oats and high-sugar grasses could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research funded by DEFRA.

Changing the diet of cows and sheep could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research funded by DEFRA.Agriculture contributes approximately 9% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions and half of this comes from sheep, cows and goats. Recent figures show that farming accounts for 41% of the UK’s overall methane emissions.

The study, carried out by Reading University and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), aims to help farmers cut their contribution to climate change.

Results of the study show that it is nutritionally possible to reduce methane emissions and nitrogen excretion from cattle and sheep.

For example, it claims:

  • Increasing the proportion of maize silage from 25% to 75% in a short-term trial was found to reduce methane emission per kg of milk by 6%;
  • High-sugar grasses could reduce an animal’s methane emissions by 20% for every kilo of weight gain;
  • Naked oats could reduce methane emissions from sheep by 33%; and
  • Crushed rapeseed could reduce methane production from dairy cows by 20% per litre of milk produced.

However, in the longer term, any benefits gained by changing animals’ diets would need to be considered against other environmental impacts, as well as how practical or costly they are to implement.

 

Image ©iStockphoto.com/andrescuenca
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