Breeding low-GHG emission-burping cows

Breeding low-GHG emission-burping cows
Jun 06, 2023

Based on research from the University of Guelph, a project to breed low-methane burping cows will reduce GHG emissions without affecting milk production.

By Andrew Joseph,; Photo by Ryan Song on Unsplash

We are always looking for ways to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

It is believed that some 14 percent of all such emission is the result of burping livestock via methane (CH4). Methane has 32x more global warming impact than carbon dioxide.  

While some researchers are looking at livestock feed as a possible way to reduce the passing of gas by livestock, others are looking at animal genetics. And, how about using both methodologies?  

Researchers at the University of Guelph have helped create a tool for national genetic evaluation that will help ag scientists around the world build a better cow.
The research will help select low-methane dairy cows, which will, it is expected, reduce GHG gas emissions without affecting milk production.  

The tool is now being used to estimate how much methane will be produced by each of the roughly 700,000 registered dairy cows on farms across Canada.

The new tool means breeders can now predict which cows will produce calves that, when fully grown, will ultimately belch out fewer GHG emissions, but will continue to produce as much or more milk as current animals.  

Dr. Christine Baes, Chair of the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, said that genetic identification to create methane efficiency in cattle breeding is not only a world first but is also a big win for food security and the environment.

She said that while Canadian cattle are already quite feed-efficient, “this new evaluation will help us select the most environmentally efficient animals for breeding purposes.”

Combining that measure with genetic traits for feed efficiency—how effectively a cow turns feed into milk—Braes said it will enable farmers to contribute to maintaining a more sustainable dairy operation. 

Breed testing is currently ongoing.