2013-03-08 xml

GreenCow Project

Researchers at Scotland’s Rural College have found the breed of the animal makes very little difference to the level of greenhouse gas emissions from cattle.

However results from initial studies, using SRUC’s award winning GreenCow facility outside Edinburgh, indicate the methane output from different animals can depend on the bulls used within a breed. This confirms there are opportunities for breeding programmes for improved efficiency to also reduce the impact ruminant animals have on climate change.

Progress on Climate Change Event

Progress on Climate Change Event

The results were explained at a special “Progress on Climate Change” event, attended by David Barnes, Scottish Government, Deputy Director of Agriculture & Rural Development and Iain Patton, CEO of The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), the organisation that presented SRUC with a Green Gown (Research) award for the work carried out within the GreenCow project.

The six respiration chambers forming part of the GreenCow facility have been used to make detailed measurements of methane and other emissions from cattle or sheep, with accurate data collected of feed intake. This adds to our knowledge of ruminant emissions and is helping us to develop valid, cheaper, measurement equipment for use in the field or on farm.

Speaking at the event Professor Geoff Simm, SRUC Vice Principal/Research said:

“The work so far carried out on cattle identifies that methane production from the progeny of different sires can vary as much as plus or minus 25%. It suggests there would be benefits from a breeding programme producing not only stock with lower methane emissions but with related feed efficiency.”

Other results offer some evidence that methane emissions were also related to the composition of the community of microbes in the rumen. It is these microbes that ruminant animals like sheep cattle and goats use to release the nutrients contained in the plant material they graze on. The research suggests methane emission levels are related to an inter relationship between the genetics of the stock and the microbes in the rumen which could also inform breeding programmes.

One innovative investigation into the effect of disease on GHG emission was carried out with small groups of sheep carrying a worm burden. Results so far seem to indicate that while individual measurements show no significant difference between the methane output per kg of feed between wormy and healthy sheep, disease does contribute to GHG emissions as animals take longer achieve the same productive output. For example it takes them a week more to produce a 25Kg lamb. There is an additional environmental impact however, as wormy ewes produced about 20% more faeces than healthy ewes, an effect not previously considered.

Scotland’s Rural College is working in partnership with other institutes at home and abroad, principally RINH (Rowett), James Hutton Institute, Moredun, BIOSS, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Rothampstead Research.

Dr Tony Waterhouse, of SRUC’s Future Farming Systems research group told the “Progress” meeting audience that researchers were beginning to think about the next stage of their work.

“The target is constantly moving. We are progressing from the basic measurements to testing new mitigation approaches. We will also focus on developing the alternative, on-farm measurement methods.”

The GreenCow unit, which was opened in March 2011 by the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, is a world class facility, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the Scottish Government and (then) SAC. The research involves inter-linking projects funded by Scottish Government, DEFRA and devolved administrations, together with EBLEX, representing some £2m of attracted investment.


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