Reducing carbon footprint of swine production

May 12, 2020

University of Agriculture Division of Agriculture Research and Extension photo

By Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Fast facts
Nitrogen compounds in swine manure can oxidize into nitrous oxide (N2O)
Greenhouse effect of N2O nearly 300 times that of carbon dioxide
Substituting feed grade amino acids for crude proteins reduces nitrogen in manure
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Animal scientists at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture have demonstrated that replacing crude proteins in hog diets with feed grade amino acids can reduce the carbon footprint of swine production.
Commercially available amino acid
supplements also help reduce feed costs while maintaining animal health and production,said Charles Maxwell, professor of swine nutrition and management for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture, and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas.
Nitrogen compounds derived from excess amino acids in crude protein ingredients in swine feed end up in the manure and urine, Maxwell said. Those excreted nitrogen compounds can be oxidized by soil and air, and some of it is released into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide.
“Nitrous oxide has a greenhouse gas effect that is 298 times that of carbon dioxide,” he said. “It has the next largest impact on global warming after CO2 and methane.”
Hogs and pigs add $56 million to Arkansas’ agricultural economy, according to the 2019 Arkansas Agricultural Profile, published by the Division of Agriculture ( Maxwell thought reducing its carbon footprint was worth studying.
Maxwell and research associate Tsung Cheng Tsai devised experiments to evaluate whetherreformulating swine feed with amino acid supplementscould mitigate greenhouse gas emission from swine production systems and still meet the nutrition requirements of nursery and grow-finish diets.
Nitrogen production is the result of excess amino acids introduced to animal metabolisms by crude protein in feed, Maxwell said. These sources in swine feed are typically corn and soybean meal.
Amino acids are essential for proper tissue development in animals, Maxwell said. A number of these are particularly critical, includinglysine, valine, isoleucine and histidine, among others. They are called “limiting amino acids” because insufficient concentrations of them can impair growth performance.They are present in naturally occurring concentrations in crude protein but are not balanced for swine and other animals.
When crude proteins are mixed in feed to provide sufficient lysine, for example, they will also add excessive amounts of other amino acids. Those excesses are converted to nitrogen by the animal’s metabolism and excreted in urine and manure.
“Replacing some of the crude protein ingredients with feed grade amino acids allows us to balance limiting amino acid requirements more precisely, and that can reduce the amount of nitrogen that would be excreted,” Maxwell said.
He added that the cost of these supplements is relatively low, helping to reduce feed costs.
The trick, Maxwell said, is to replace as much of the crude protein as possible with supplements of limiting amino acids without disrupting the total nutritional needs of the pigs.
Maxwell and Tsai designed five experiments — two nurserystudies and threegrow-finishstudies —in an attempt to define thepractical limits for replacement of crudeproteins inswine diets with feedgrade amino acidswithout impairinggrowthperformance or carcass composition.The experiments were carried out at Division of Agriculture wean-to-finish swine facilities at the Savoy Research Complex in Washington County.
The studies showed successful ratios for replacing crude protein with feed grade amino acids at multiple stages of pig growth from nursery through finishing, Maxwell said. “It saves money on feed costs as well as reducing excreted nitrogen.”
“The goal was to develop high inclusion of amino acids in diets that would achieve the same gain and efficiency as feeding protein-based diets,” Maxwell said.“We think we have achieved that up to the seventh limiting amino acid.”
To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch and Instagram at ArkAgResearch.
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