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We prove that genetic selection and feeding can reduce methane emissions from dairy cattle by 20%

  • NEIKER achieved these results with the METALGEN project, in collaboration with the Spanish National Institute for Agricultural Research and Experimentation (INIA), the Technical University of Madrid and the National Confederation for Spanish Friesian Cattle (CONAFE)
  • 1,500 cows were genetically tested and feed trials were performed to assess the effect of different nutritional additives on methane emissions

Genetic selection can reduce methane emissions from dairy cattle by 20% in 10 years, according to research done by NEIKER and the Technical University of Madrid within the framework of the Metalgen project, in collaboration with the National Confederation for Spanish Friesian Cattle (CONAFE). Feed may also play a significant role. According to the project’s results, diets including flaxseed flour rich in Omega 3 yielded a more than 20% decrease in digestion-related methane emissions.

The METALGEN project used genetic data with more than 4,500 parameters from 1,500 cows on commercial farms. Feed testing was also performed to assess the effect of different nutritional additives on methane emissions.

Improving feed efficiency and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions are two of latest high-priority concerns in the European Union’s livestock sector and genetic and nutrition research is a key factor to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – the primary cause of climate change – and tackling the target set by the EU for 2030.

According to the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report, power generation is responsible for 80.7% of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, in turn, contribute 10.1%, industrial processes and product usage 8.72% and waste management 2.75%.

Within this framework, the METALGEN project was created to solve two related problems: feed efficiency and methane emissions caused by ruminant enteric fermentation, a digestive process exclusive to these kinds of animals. The first steps were established to use genetic selection to modulate the ruminal microbiome.

The methane produced as a result of feed fermentation in one of the stomachs, the rumen, is considered the primary greenhouse gas caused by ruminants. On top of the carbon footprint, there is also the economic impact, as methane production entails a 5-7% loss of gross energy intake for the animals. Ruminants’ microbial flora has a great deal of influence on food digestion and therefore methane production and its characteristics are in turn determined by the animal’s feed and genetics.

METALGEN Project

METALGEN is a research project funded by the Ministry of Economy and Finance with reference number RTA2015-00022-c03. The partners on the project were the Spanish National Institute for Agricultural Research and Experimentation (INIA), NEIKER and the National Confederation for Spanish Friesian Cattle (CONAFE).

More information: www.metalgen.es