Grazing – feed
Livestock release methane as a byproduct of digestion. Methane is approximately 34 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and methane released from animal digestion (known as enteric methane) is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions around the world.
Feeding animals energy-rich, easily digestible cereal grains can reduce the amount of methane that’s released.
Improvements in livestock feed could be applied to nearly one and a half billion head of cattle around the world.
Improving feed for livestock could prevent the release of 204 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (MtCO2e/year). That’s comparable to the emissions from 43 million passenger vehicles per year.
One of the main challenges to improving livestock feed will be to tailor new practices related to feed quality to local conditions. This will involve issues related to feed availability and economic returns.
Beyond feed itself, there may be opportunity for feed additives or treatments to be applied to reduce enteric methane emissions. More research is needed to explore the scientific and economic aspects of these approaches, and whether they might have unintended consequences for animal health or food safety.
Due to the economic hurdles of changing existing feed practices in many regions, this pathway will likely be a moderate- to high-cost option per ton of carbon. While there are opportunities to further develop new feed-improvement techniques and tools, many feed improvements are available immediately – and in fact, many ranchers already provide improved feed to their livestock.
Spotlight: Fodder Trees in East Africa
Milk and meat consumption is predicted to grow rapidly in Africa as the population rises. Already, Africa’s livestock producers are unable to meet the rising demand. Across the continent, researchers, organizations and policymakers are working to address that problem by improving feed.
In East Africa, the World Agroforestry Centre and partners have introduced the use of leguminous fodder trees into crop-livestock systems. The trees are nutritious for livestock, easy to grow and help improve soil fertility. In the highlands of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, more than 200,000 farmers use a variety of these trees. As a result, milk yields and local incomes of rural smallholders have increased.
Similar approaches will be important throughout the developing world, where poor-quality feeds can be common.