Central Queensland Research into Delivery of Methane-Inhibiting Supplements to Paddock Cattle
Agriculture in Australia is responsible for around 13% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year. About 70% of these emissions are due to methane, most of which is produced by cows and other livestock.
Given Australia’s dedication to climate change initiatives, including achieving net zero by 2050, there is a need to find a practical solution to the issue.
Against this backdrop, Central Queensland University’s Precision Livestock Management team is conducting research into the delivery of methane-inhibiting supplements to cattle including those animals in paddocks.
- Agriculture in Australia is responsible for around 13% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year.
- About 70% of these emissions are due to methane, most of which is produced by cows and other livestock.
- Central Queensland University’s Precision Livestock Management team is conducting research into the delivery of methane-inhibiting supplements to cattle including those animals in paddocks.
- The research will happen in four stages, including finding the ideal supplement to use, and testing the feeding of animals in pens, small paddocks, and large commercial paddocks.
The team, under research fellow Dr Diogo Costa, is working alongside agtech company Direct Injection Technologies. This company makes medication systems that allow remote monitoring and controlling.
Brazilian born Dr Costa has had a successful research career so far and has spoken of his excitement about being involved in finding a solution to the challenge of providing the supplements to grazing cattle on huge Australian cattle properties.
What does the research involve?
Some of the supplements involved in the research have already shown effective methane reducing properties. Distributing them in medicated drinking water is also believed to work as medication drinking water systems are already used in the industry.
Cows, and other livestock, drink to their body weight. This means that the technology used can accurately calculate the amount of supplements to be delivered. It’s also able to measure emission reductions to enable the awarding of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs).
All of this is simple enough to do with feedlot cattle although there is work to do on finalising systems through the research.
The problems really start when attempting to dose paddock cattle due to the expansive area of land that is covered by paddocks.
This new research aims to consider reliable water medications to make it possible to successfully deliver the supplements to feedlot cattle and those in paddocks.
This will provide one solution to the challenge of reducing methane emissions in Australian agriculture. Given the high contribution that agriculture makes to methane emissions overall, achieving this solution will be of substantial benefit.
Dr Costa received a grant to fund the research from the 2021 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship awards.
The doctor has explained that without trials into methods of dispersal technologies it would not be possible to deliver the supplements and make a positive impact on methane emissions in Australian agriculture.
The research work of Dr Costa and his team will involve looking at different supplements that can reduce enteric methane, a by-product of the digestive system that livestock expel by burping.
This is the main way that methane is released into the atmosphere by cattle. The supplements being considered include active compounds of asparagopsis seaweed such as bromoform and 3-NOP as well as some ionophores, lipids, nitrates, algae, tannins, and essential oils.
Some of these supplements are already proven to be effective in the reduction of methane emissions in livestock, others are not. Dr Costa has explained that his team does not want to discount any potentially valuable tools in the early stages of research.
The most important features of any compounds to be used are that they are water-soluble and stable so that they can be distributed using a water medication system. It could be that the best solution identified is not a single compound but several ingredients.
Four stages of the two-year research project
The research project at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton will be completed over four stages. Each stage will be measured and assessed before the research programme continues.
This stage will involve identifying suitable compounds or mixtures of various compounds in terms of solubility and stability.
This will be about using compounds that have already been identified as useful as well as determining whether any previously undiscovered solutions can produce valuable results.
Once the first stage of the research process is complete there will be a monitored feeding trial involving animals in pens. During this second stage the health status of the animals will be checked closely as will the effect on rumen microbes.
Once the safe efficacy of the supplements has been established, the research team will be in a position to scale up their work and move on to the next stage of the research process.
The third stage of the process will take place at Belmont Research Station where animals in a small paddock will be exposed to water medication using the supplements identified. Their health, and the effects of the supplements, will be closely monitored.
This is the first stage that involves establishing the effectiveness of the distribution system as well as the supplements. It’s a final opportunity to iron out any issues before moving on to large-scale distribution of the supplements using water medication systems.
This is the final part of research. It will involve monitoring the use of water medication systems to distribute the supplements to animals in large commercial paddocks across grazing sites in northern Australia.
If this stage is completed successfully, the research team will have shown that methane reducing supplements can be distributed to livestock even when they are grazing in large paddocks.
It’s hoped that once the research is complete, Australian agriculture will have an efficient way of reducing the methane emissions from cattle and other livestock. This will be beneficial to the planet and will not have a detrimental effect on the animals.
Of course, this does not provide an immediate solution to Australia’s emission issues overnight but it is a positive step forward as an efficient means to greatly reduce the country’s methane emissions.
It’s also another way that the agriculture industry can show its dedication to addressing the issue of climate change.
The National Farmers’ Federation has already declared its support for the net zero target and is keen to lead the way in attempting to stem the flow of climate change in Australia. This is not surprising given the disruption that the effects of climate change has caused to Australian agriculture.
Now, the results of this research by Dr Costa and his team could deliver a further opportunity for the agriculture industry to really make a difference.