This news comes from research into strategies to reduce methane emissions in northern Australian beef herds.
The study, which was carried out under the Climate Clever Beef project, supported by MLA in its first phase, revealed that management decisions that improve beef productivity in most instances improve on-farm greenhouse emissions.
“This is a win-win for most northern producers, with the potential to improve business’ productivity and profitability, their environmental sustainability and to position themselves to take advantage of any carbon trading opportunities,” said Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries sustainable grazing scientist Dr Steven Bray, who led the research scheme.
Three key areas where producers can improve environmental outcomes while increasing profitability have been outlined.
Assess your business
The research indicated that even though broad farm management principles apply for improving productivity and emissions performance, each property is different.
Every business ought to be assessed individually to analyse what works best and to ensure that any management changes are cost-effective.
“This is particularly so when talking about how animal genetics best suit certain types of country and also what turn-off strategies work best,” commented Bray.
“It pays for grazing businesses to work with the strengths and limitations of their environment.”
According to the scientist, for the majority of grazing businesses the benefits of reducing emissions will come in the form of improved productivity and profitability, as well as being able to demonstrate to their surrounding community that they are playing their part in improving the environment.
“Emissions Reduction Fund methodologies are available to generate carbon income from changing that emissions performance; however, participation needs to be carefully considered to ensure the additional income – taking into account carbon price fluctuations – will cover the costs of being involved, which presently is unlikely without very large herds.”
Improve reproductive efficiency
The study shows that it is important for a business to make “every cow count”.
Increased weaning rates allow breeders to be more productive over their lifetime by producing more calves or kilograms of beef for their total methane emissions.
Pregnancy testing has been recognised as being a powerful tool for identifying low-performing breeders.
By pinpointing and culling empty cows or out-of-season calvers, producers will be able to grow more kilograms of beef per hectare as well as conserve valuable pasture and water for the more productive animals.
By culling unreliable breeders, the maternal genetics of the herd are also improved, leading to better reproductive performance in the future.
Go for growth
Improving growth rates, according to Bray, through targeted supplementation or by providing better-quality feeds, will lead to a higher proportion of feed intake contributing to growth.
“In practical terms this can mean running a lower stocking rate, enabling livestock to select a better-quality diet and/or being able to better match stocking rates to feed on offer and a property’s long-term carrying capacity,” explained Bray.
“Both of these strategies will help reduce turn-off times for heifers and steers and reduce overall emissions.”
Improved forages such as legumes and oats and supplements can contribute towards improved livestock growth rates, as well as reducing their turn-off time, thereby reducing the number of days cattle are emitting methane.
Dividing herds into stock classes, such as weaners/lactating cows/dry cows is also another useful strategy, as well as prioritising their feed management.
This will improve growth, alongside helping breeder cows get back in calf within a 12-month cycle.
Whereas pasture improvement is an option, establishing legumes such as leucaena or stylos, can deliver significant productivity gains whilst lowering a herd’s emissions intensity.
According to Bray, a previous MLA-funded research programme showed that leucaena improved liveweight gain, reduced turn-off times and increased a property’s average annual livestock turn-off.
“Leucaena has also been shown to have anti-methanogenic properties potentially reducing methane emissions per head per day,” he said.