Grazing – animal management
Livestock are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, but improved efficiency can help to curb those emissions. Reducing the total number of livestock needed to meet the demand for meat and dairy products will reduce the amount of carbon released by ranching.
Proper animal management techniques include choosing improved livestock breeds, increased reproductive performance, lower mortality and increased weight gains. By implementing these animal management techniques, livestock will feed growing populations more efficiently.
Proper livestock management could be applied to nearly one and a half billion head of cattle worldwide.
Animal management could prevent the release of 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (MtCO2e/year). That’s comparable to the emissions from 13 million passenger vehicles per year.
There are economic barriers and capital costs that can make it difficult for ranchers to purchase new livestock breeds and change other existing management practices. In addition, more research is needed to understand the best methods for improving animal management.
Due to the capital costs associated with changing animal management practices, this is a moderate- to high-cost pathway per ton of carbon. Despite the economic and logistical hurdles to improve animal management, however, more efficient processes often provide economic benefit to the ranchers.
Many ranchers are already applying animal management strategies such as using breeds that gain weight rapidly or using reproductive management practices that yield high conception rates. Such techniques are available now and ready for wider implementation.
Spotlight: Southern Africa Goat Value Chain Program
The nonprofit organization Heifer International has several projects aimed at improving animal management, including improved breeds. The Southern Africa Goat Value Chain Program is one such program, with a goal of improving food and income security among small-scale ruminant producers.
Initially, the program is focused on 350,000 goat-farming families in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa, with a potential to expand in the future. The program involves integrated interventions to improve production, productivity and market access.
Similar opportunities for improved animal management exist across Africa and the developing world. In most developed countries, livestock are already well managed so there is less opportunity for improvement.