Burping cows targeted in gene study

By Alana Christensen

They’ve already added heat tolerance and feed efficiency to the Australian Breeding Values, but an Agriculture Victoria dairy scientist believes methane production may be the next big thing to be added to the index.

After a number of years of research, animal production sciences senior research scientist Peter Moate said work was now under way identifying specific genetic markers found in dairy cattle that emit low levels of methane while still producing high amounts of milk.

The Agriculture Victoria research has examined 500 dairy and beef cattle, using a device to record how much methane is emitted by each animal.

With the average cow emitting 20 grams of methane per kilogram of feed, Dr Moate said identifying the genetic markers in low methane producing cows could have a number of benefits.

The average cow emits 500g of methane each day, although this ranges from as low as 250g in some cows to as high as 750g in others.

‘‘What we’re looking at is targeting those cows that produce low levels of methane but have high milk production,’’ Dr Moate said.

‘‘Methane is a potent greenhouse gas ... but also represents lost energy, with something like six per cent of energy received from food wastefully burped out.

‘‘If we can reduce the level of methane emitted and save that energy, then it might be able to go into production.’’

The research found that on average each litre of milk produced by a dairy cow sees 19g of methane released into the atmosphere.

Yet some cows recorded levels as low as 12g per litre of milk produced.

Although work to identify the genetic markers is still continuing, Dr Moate said he was hopeful the research would filter through the industry within the next five to 10 years.

‘‘We’re hoping methane production will be the next cab off the rank (to be added to the ABVs),’’ he said.