Feed additive may reduce methane emissions

The GreenFeed Emission Monitoring System was used to measure methane from cattle during a two-year, large-scale trial in Alberta beef cattle studying a feed additive called 3-NOP. | Supplied photo

Agriculture Canada and Alberta Cattle Feeders Association participated in a two-year trial that studied the technology

A novel feed ingredient may soon provide a breath of fresh air to livestock producers and the environment.

A two-year, large-scale trial in Alberta beef cattle has demonstrated that a feed additive called 3-NOP, added to commercial feedlot diets, can reduce methane emissions by up to 80 percent without negative impacts on animal health, performance or carcass characteristics.

According to a report from Royal DSM, a global science-based company that developed the additive, it reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 1,500 tonnes of CO2-equivalent (C02e) in a trial with 15,000 cattle, which it said is comparable to taking 500 cars off the road for a year.

“In every single study that has been conducted, both on the research setting and now at a commercial scale, there has always been a positive response. There’s always been a methane reduction and the magnitude, of course, depends on the type of diet and the dose,” said Agriculture Canada research scientist Karen Beauchemin.

“But it’s consistent, which is very positive and there’s no negative effect on performance of the animals.”

Beauchemin, a ruminant nutritionist, is developing ways to improve cattle productivity and fight climate change through diet changes.

The trial was a collaboration between Agriculture Canada, Feedlot Health Management Services, Viresco Solutions and DSM Nutritional Products, with support from the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.

Emissions Reduction Alberta invested $1.5 million in the $3 million project.

“DSM had research projects all around the world on sheep and ruminants in general, done by third-party research institutions, universities, etc. But this was really a big deal for them because this is the first time they were able to test it at a commercial feedlot setting,” said Karen Haugen-Kozyra, president of Viresco Solutions and project leader of the trial.

About15,000 cattle in a Nanton, Alta., feedlot were included in the trial, which represents the largest single evaluation conducted on methane reduction technologies for ruminants.

According to a federal report, agriculture accounts for eight percent of Canada’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with cattle (including dairy) contributing about 40 percent of that, or 3.3 percent of all emissions through methane they naturally exhale.

The ingredient 3-NOP (3-nitrooxypropanol) is considered to be breakthrough technology that inhibits methane formation by changing fermentation in the rumen.

“It destabilizes the last enzymatic step in the methane producing bacteria in the rumen. It doesn’t kill the bacteria, it just suppresses that enzymatic pathway,” said Haugen-Kozyra.

Beauchemin and her team measured methane emissions from various pens while Feedlot Health Management Services personnel measured the performance of the animals.

Three diets were evaluated. Within each they measured methane emissions and animal performance — how fast cattle grew, how much they ate and the feed-to-gain ratio.

A variety of instruments were used to measure methane emissions from cattle pens. | Supplied photo

The first trial group was given a steam-flaked or dry-rolled barley finishing diet with 125 milligrams per kilogram of 3-NOP in powder form. Measurements indicated an average 70 percent reduction in enteric methane emissions.

In steam-flaked, corn-based finishing diets, a reduction in the range of 31 to 80 percent at the 125 mg/kg dosage of the feed ingredient was observed.

The third trial evaluated higher forage or backgrounding diets. Increasing the dose of the feed ingredient from 150 to 200 mg/kg decreased the yield of methane by 17 to 26 percent compared with control animals.

Measuring methane emissions in a typical outdoor feedlot environment came with challenges, compared to the climate-controlled setting inside a research centre.

Using laser technology and meteorological techniques, researchers focused on the air moving over a pen of 250 animals. They looked at the background concentration of methane coming into the pen and the concentration of methane coming from the pen, and then calculated the wind dynamics.

“At the edge of the feedlot they’d have three pens of treatment and then three pens of control. And they would compare the relative emissions coming from the treatment versus the control pens,” said Beauchemin.

A second method involved smaller pens of 25 animals each, using a system where individual animals with ear tags put their heads into a specialized feeder that measures methane emission.

“Over the course of the day, a week, multiple weeks, we get an estimate of methane from an animal. We know which animal goes in there, how long it’s in there, we know the methane. So we build an average curve for an animal over a period of several weeks,” she said.

Researchers used drones to sample the air above the feedlot. | Supplied photo

While the substance hasn’t been commercialized, Beauchemin and Haugen-Kozyra think 3-NOP will be added to the diets of dairy cattle and sheep in New Zealand and dairy cattle in Europe in the near future.

“Definitely a game changer if it is available to producers in terms of reducing methane emissions, especially for a feedlot where we’re already using a highly managed feeding system.

“It’s going to be a lot more challenging to provide something like that to a grazing animal, but certainly for a dairy cow or feedlot animal, it would be a very simple incorporation into the diet,” said Beauchemin.

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