A long-term route to lower cattle methane production could be to screen and select the most efficient or “green” cattle, according to the results of an on-farm study.

A collaborative project between Rothamsted Research and the University of Bristol has underlined the fact that poorly performing cattle produce disproportionately large amounts of methane.

  • Three areas of farm used
  • 30 Charolais cross Hereford-Friesian cattle on each farm
  • Cattle monitored from weaning to slaughter
  • Winter housing follows grass finishing
  • Liveweight targets are 555kg for heifers and 620kg for steers
  • Sometimes second housing period is required

The study stressed the importance in analysing individual animals and not just calculating emissions at a herd level.

The article published this week in the Journal of Clean Production details the Rothamsted method, which identifies “green” cattle that produce lower emissions per kilogramme of liveweight gain.

See also: Feed supplement that cuts livestock methane emissions launched

This “promises more sustainable farming” and has been trialled on the North Wyke Farm Platform in Devon, Rothamsted’s 63ha study farm.

Lead researcher Taro Takahashi, senior lecturer in sustainable livestock systems and food security at Bristol Veterinary School, said the findings were both good and bad.

He said: “In the short term, many carbon footprint estimates currently available are probably too low, which is clearly bad news for the industry.

“But long term this also means that mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions originating from ruminants could be easier than traditionally thought—if we are able to select the right animals through the right screening methods. And this is precisely what we are trying to achieve at North Wyke.”

Dairy cows