International team of researchers found positive effects of supplement added to the feed of high-producing dairy cows reduced methane emissions by 30 percent and could have ramifications for global climate change.
The findings are noteworthy because methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Globally, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture emits 44 percent of the methane produced by human activity.
The study conducted over the course of the 12-week at Penn State’s dairy barns, cows that consumed a feed regimen supplemented by methane inhibitor 3-nitrooxypropanol (3NOP) – gained 80 percent more body weight than cows in a control group. Significantly, feed intake, fiber digestibility and milk production by cows that consumed the supplement did not decrease.
“We tested methane-mitigation compounds using animals with similar productivity to those on commercial farms because the nutrient requirements of high-producing dairy cows are much greater than those of nonlactating or low-producing cows,” said lead researcher Alexander Hristov, professor of dairy nutrition.
Methane expulsion through burping represents a net loss of feed energy for livestock, Hristov noted, adding that a high-producing dairy cow typically emits 450 to 550 grams per day of methane produced by fermentation. The spared methane energy was used partially for tissue synthesis, which led to a greater body weight gain by the inhibitor-treated cows.
The 48 Holsteins in the study received varying amounts of the inhibitor in their feed and were observed at regular daily intervals over three months. Their methane emissions were measured when the cows put their heads into feeding chambers that had atmospheric measurement sensors, and also through nostril tubes attached to canisters on their backs.
If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and adopted by the agricultural industry, this methane inhibitor could have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector, Hristov suggested.
The team of researchers consisted of Pennsylvania State University, animal scientists from the Department of Zootecnia at the University of Estadual de Maringá, Brazil, the agriculture research division in the Department of Economic Development Jobs Transport and Resources, Australia and DSM Nutritional Products. The research was partially supported by the company.