He Waka Eke Noa – what does this have to do with animal health?

He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN), the farming sector’s climate action partnership with Government and Māori, has been established as an alternative to pricing agricultural emissions through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS).

HWEN is recommending a farm-level pricing system for emissions as part of a broader framework to encourage emissions reductions.  In addition, they are asking that recognition is applied to short- and long-lived gas emissions when levies are applied.

Methane survives in the atmosphere for around 12 years, where long lived gases like nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) remain for 100’s and 100’s of years. Around 80% of our on-farm emissions come from methane, 15% comes from N2O, and the remainder from CO2.

Total agricultural emissions have been stable in NZ since 2005 and the intensity of agricultural emissions (per kg or product produced) have been reducing by about 1% per year since 1990.  This is generally due to improved pasture utilisation, species, and animal genetic improvements. Click HERE to see what He Waka Eke Noa is recommending. 

On dairy farms 95% of methane comes from cows burping as they chew their cud and breakdown their feed, 5% comes from dung and urine.

All who work in the farming world are acutely aware there are no immediate options to address drastic lowering of methane apart from farm-system change, and we are also aware there are several potential research programmes in play.

These include possible feeds that reduce methane output in the form of forage rape (25% reduction), fodder beet (high percentage of diet required), and some high cereal diets are showing promising results. The question for changes in diets to reduce emission must be how the adoption fits into the farm system, what the implications are for animal welfare and husbandry, and are there any unintended consequences in changes in feeds.

There are also potential animal genetic traits that result in lower methane output. Research has shown that there are divergent lines found in sheep which results in a 5% reduction in methane. This trait has generally been from a smaller rumen and a faster throughput of feed with less time to convert to methane. This work is also being investigated in cows.

Methane inhibitors which act on the microbes to limit the production of methane in the ruminant animal are being researched and this includes Bovaer®, DSM’s 3-NOP (methane inhibitor). This inhibitor has been shown to significantly reduce methane output when feed at a rate in every mouthful of feed. However, this may work more effectively in total mixed ration diets, but less effectively in pastoral systems. DairyNZ is researching delivery mechanisms such as in-paddock feeders, rumen bolus use, and early life intervention.

Other inhibitors that are being researched are the use and effectiveness of red seaweed and its active ingredient bromoform, on methane output and animal welfare implications.

However central to all these new ideas being effective are animal health outcomes including improved reproduction, reduced replacement rates, and improved productivity.

Farms where animals have higher productivity and live longer have lower emissions than those with a higher turn-over and lower producing stock.

In our October edition, gains from applying current knowledge will be explored in more detail.

Visit He Waka Eke Noa HERE.