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Feed efficiency the key to less livestock GHG emissions

An animal nutrition researcher says feed efficiency and genetics are keys to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

Dr. Mike VanAmburgh from Cornell tells Brownfield many around the world want farmers to reduce the amount of methane produced by a cow’s digestive system. “I think that’s a noble opportunity, but how we’re really going to win this battle is, we really have to figure out how to make a cow more productive. We have to figure out how to get more milk, more butterfat, more protein out of that cow per unit of feed intake.”

VanAmburgh says the dairy industry has made some progress toward that goal, but he says it will take a new way of thinking about cow diets because methane is not the only greenhouse gas farmers will have to deal with in the future. “The system as it is right now, it’s not just methane, but nitrogen is becoming a much bigger player in this space, right, and figuring out how reduce the fugitive methane per unit of milk produced is also something that we need to get on our radar.”

Van Amburgh tells Brownfield improving feed efficiency will help get the most milk with the least feed. “Their amino acid requirements are probably a little bit higher than we’ve given them credit for. I’ve got pretty good data to demonstrate that. And, some of the other components of the diet, right, in terms of digestibility of the forage, maybe the right fatty acid profile.”

Van Amburgh says advancements in dairy cattle genetics have already greatly improved the quantity and quality of milk. “Holsteins have the capacity to be at 5% butterfat. There’s Holsteins in the state of New York at a dairy I work with where the first lactation animals are averaging 5% butterfat and 85 pounds of milk and they’re on a good diet but not what I’d call a special diet.”

Van Amburgh says the dairy industry might have to reconsider changes to forage digestibility and the fatty acid profile to get productivity to the next level. 

Van Amburgh spoke to Brownfield during the University of Wisconsin’s National Workshop for Dairy Economists and Policy Analysts.

AUDIO: Mke Van Amburgh from Cornell University discusses dairy cattle feed efficiency and other topics with Brownfield’s Larry Lee

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