Could the development of high-quality, improved oats help reduce gaseous emissions from livestock? This is the question being asked by IBERS’ head of plant breeding, Athole Marshall.

Initial research findings from an in-vitro Rumen Fermentation System found high-oil naked oats (with up to 16% oil) decreased methane production by 35.4% compared to wheat, without reducing degradability.

Consequently, high-oil oats are currently being developed by Aberystwyth University in the Sustainable Arable LINK project (QUOATS).

With the livestock industry under increasing pressure to reduce the environmental impact of production, modifying plant composition to reduce livestock emissions, without reducing animal productivity or health, could be part of the answer.

The five-year project aims to develop novel oat lines that combine high oil and low lignin and test their effect on gaseous emissions from ruminants and poultry. QUOATS also aims to improve the agronomy of what is already a low-input crop.

“The aim is to help reduce gas emissions from animal production systems and provide the industry with a high-energy cereal that fits into livestock diets,” explains Dr Marshall.

As ruminants can use fibre as an energy source, husked oats are more appropriate for feeding to ruminants, but naked oats are more suited to monogastrics such as poultry. In a preliminary study in vitro, IBERS also demonstrated that husks low in lignin were 73.2% digestible in ruminants compared to 23.6% for the husks of conventional oats, and there was still a 25.7% reduction in methane emissions.

Based on 2005 UK data, high-oil/low-lignin oats could reduce UK methane emissions from enteric fermentation from 749.5kt to 561.7kt.

“We know oats have valuable animal nutritional attributes such as high energy conferred by high oil and high essential amino-acids. With increased cost of feed wheat, oats could be used as an economic alternative for wheat in the feed ration,” he says.

Initial trial work has been carried out in vitro, but will be extended to include sheep and dairy cows.

Expected benefits of developing high-oil/low-lignin oats on ruminants

• Less pollution

• Provide a valuable ingredient, higher in energy than wheat, which could be used in least cost-formulated diets

• Increased feed efficiency

• Oats are easily homegrown and require much lower inputs than wheat

• Inclusion of oats can reduce milk fat and saturated fatty acid content