Is it possible to reduce the carbon footprint of livestock?

About 40 percent of livestock emissions consist of enteric methane. Nitrous oxide and methane from fertilizer management are other emissions from livestock. Although it seems very difficult to control these two resources that arise as a result of a natural process, alternative solutions are also developing rapidly. Some studies are showing that changes to be made especially in the nutritional diets of animals decrease this rate. In this article, you can find some of these solutions developed by the industry’s leading organizations. Besides, genetic studies and vaccines stand out as research areas related to alternative solutions.

By Derya Yıldız
We hear the concept of global warming very often nowadays. Global warming is caused by the greenhouse effect created by gases released into the atmosphere. In fact, the greenhouse effect is beneficial for the world. Thanks to the greenhouse effect, the Sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere, heating the Earth throughout the day. Some of these rays are reflected into the void of space after hitting the Earth. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and nitrous oxide absorb some infrared rays reflected from the Earth into the atmosphere, reflecting these rays back to the Earth. This process, which is called the greenhouse effect, allows the world to remain at a habitable temperature.

The cause of the major environmental problem, which we call global warming, is that the gases in question reach very high levels and increase the warming effect. Greenhouse gases that increase uncontrollably in the atmosphere cause more solar radiation to be reflected on the Earth. This increasing greenhouse effect leads to global warming and climate change. Because of global warming, glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, large bodies of water on the Earth evaporate and enter the atmosphere, and strong winds occur due to the difference in temperature and pressure. This brings with it heavy rains, storms, and tsunamis.

In fact, for a habitable world, everything must remain in its natural balance. The extra gases created by human beings disrupt the balance in nature and threaten the continuity of life on the Earth.

The gases that have the highest impact on global warming are carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the greenhouse gas with the greatest potential for heat retention. The rising rate of carbon dioxide (CO2) due to reasons such as the increase of fossil fuel-powered motor vehicles and power plants, population growth, and the decrease in green areas is one of the most important reasons for the increase in the greenhouse effect.

Methane gas is the second greenhouse gas effective in global warming. A significant portion of methane gas is released into the atmosphere from natural sources. But methane gas emissions are increasing every day due to the increase in livestock production on an industrial scale, some agricultural activities, the use of fossil fuels, and uncontrolled waste.

Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas. Artificial fertilizer production and some industrial and agricultural activities are the cause of the increase in nitrous oxide in the atmosphere.

Apart from these, there are gases that are formed entirely due to the human factor and gases of natural origin. But their effects on global warming are lower than those of these three greenhouse gases.

Regional emissions. Regional total emissions and their profile by commodity are shown. Results do not include emissions allocated to non-edible products and other services.
Source: FAO, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM), Result,

According to the report entitled “Expert meeting on climate change, land use and food security” published by the FAO and IPCC, climate change will affect crop production, livestock, fisheries, and aquaculture in many ways. Negative effects, especially caused by heat and water stress, are based on solid evidence.

For example, yield losses are expected to increase in key grains such as wheat and corn due to heat and water stress, albeit it depends on the region. There is also evidence of a decrease in the quality, ie protein and nutrient content, of crops grown under high CO2. It is believed that this situation, which also affects feed quality, will affect farm animals and also new problems will arise in terms of food safety.

The FAO and IPCC report cites the effects of climate change on livestock and aquaculture as follows: “Livestock is the most significant user of land-based food systems and its contribution to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people cannot be understated. There is also a large heterogeneity in livestock production, ranging from mixed crop livestock, pasture-raised livestock, and rangeland systems to industrial livestock production. Climate change impact on livestock can be direct (e.g. heat stress, disease) or indirect (e.g. water, feed, biodiversity, and loss of habitat). Climate change can also reduce genetic diversity and limit adaptive capacity.

Furthermore, global warming is expected to alter the nutritional composition of food, including the protein value of livestock products as a result of changes in forage quality and the effects of heat stress on animals.

Climate change impacts aquaculture and inland fisheries directly as a result of the rise in sea level, salinity of water, drought, floods, water scarcity, and changing rainfall patterns, all of which depend on location. Climate shocks can cause substantial loss of fish stocks, extinction of species, and loss of infrastructure, all of which lead to dependent populations becoming particularly vulnerable. There is far less research into climate impact on inland fisheries and aquaculture compared with major crops. Moreover, there is a need to better understand the links between climate impacts on inland fish species and nutrition.”

The impact of animal husbandry on climate change is evaluated in two ways. One of these is the effect caused by the destruction of forest areas and the expansion of land to obtain more production areas. The other is the effect of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide gases, which develop depending on production and management practices and increase due to enteric fermentation, fertilizer management, feed production, and energy consumption.

The impact of animal husbandry on climate change is evaluated in two ways. One of these is the effect caused by the destruction of forest areas and the expansion of land to obtain more production areas. The other is the effect of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide gases, which develop depending on production and management practices and increase due to enteric fermentation, fertilizer management, feed production, and energy consumption.

Global estimates of emissions by species. It includes emissions attributed to edible products and to other goods and services, such as draught power and wool. Beef cattle produce meat and non-edible outputs. Dairy cattle produce milk and meat as well as non-edible outputs.
Source: FAO, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM), Result,

According to the FAO and IPCC report, most deforestation and the conversion of natural ecosystems take place as a result of agriculture expansion. Emissions from such activities amount to between 8.4 to 10.3 gigatonnes of CO2 per annum. Gas emissions that relate to agricultural production are dominated by non-CO2 gases, mostly from agricultural soils, enteric fermentation, manure management, and rice cultivation.

There are several emissions hotspots in the world, typically tied to livestock (including enteric fermentation and manure management emissions), forests (including emissions from fires, deforestation, and wood harvesting), and crops (including paddy rice, cropland soil, and croplands over drained histosols). Emissions are elevated around the Congo Basin (deforestation and livestock), in the Rift Valley (livestock), and in South Asia and Southeast Asia (rice paddies). In the southeastern part of South America and on the Indo-Gangetic Plain, there are crop-related emissions.

Global emission intensities by commodity. All commodities are expressed in a per protein basis. Averages are calculated at global scale and represent an aggregated value across different production systems and agro-ecological zones.
Source: FAO, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM), Result,

Emissions intrinsic to soils are found in the Midwestern United States, Western Europe, parts of South Asia, and part of East Asia, where fertilizer and manure applications are significant as a consequence of the rapid growth in meat and dairy consumption during the last four decades. While all types of meat consumption are increasing, monogastrics such as pork and poultry show the strongest rise. Unlike ruminants, emissions associated with monogastrics depend primarily on manure management.

Aquaculture produces over 55 million tonnes of fish and shellfish annually, generating high amounts of nitrous oxide emissions. These emissions are predicted to make up approximately 6 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions by 2030, representing a major new source of gas to monitor. Likewise, the expansion of shrimp culture has resulted in a significant loss of mangroves (approximately 38 percent) where massive amounts of carbon are stored in the sediments, more than any forest ecosystem in the world. This loss is the most rapid of any type of forest in the world, in some cases, in the order of 2−7 percent per annum.

About 40 percent of emissions from farm animals consist of enteric methane. Nitrous oxide and methane from fertilizer management are other emissions from livestock. It is also very difficult to control these two resources, which arise as a result of a natural process. Especially the growth in the world population and the rise in the demands for animal proteins indicate that these emissions will continue to increase in the coming years.

Mitigation potential of the global livestock sector. The mitigation potential estimate excludes changes between farming systems and assumes the overall output remains constant.
Source: FAO, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM), Result,

According to the FAO and IPCC report, overall improvements in food security, poverty reduction, climate change adaptation, and economic performance in many developing countries take precedence over greenhouse gas reduction. In developed countries, greenhouse gas reduction can become attractive to farmers when combined with animal productivity and farm productivity.

The mentioned report provides important clues about what can be done to reduce greenhouse gases from livestock. This report states the following on the subject: “It is evident that alternative innovative technologies are required to decrease net GHG emissions. Substantial research and pilot tests are being carried out by the Global Research Alliance relating to best practices for animal feed and nutrition, animal genetics and breeding, and rumen modification. Substantial information is available on dietary changes to reduce methane (e.g. lipids, cereals, sugar concentration), all of which have a modestly positive effect, although the long-term effects remain unknown. The key challenge, however, verified by a small number of farmers who have adopted such measures, is the practicality and economics of the technology. To induce farmers to adopt innovative technologies with mitigation co-benefits, it is essential to demonstrate their economic benefits in the form of productivity and long-run profitability potential. Mitigation benefits in the form of reduced emissions alone are not enough to secure farmers buy in.

There are limited options to reduce emissions from livestock in rangelands, unless animal stocks are limited which, in turn, will negatively affect household incomes, especially those of the poor.

There are few options to reduce methane by the live weight gain of ruminant animals through better flock management or improved feed quality. One option is to reduce the breeding herd overhead (i.e. number of non-producing animals needed to sustain the herd) and introduce improvements to animal health, husbandry, and forage quality to bring down mortality rates and increase fertility. Another option would be to restore degraded rangelands and as such increase the availability of feed and thus livestock productivity.

Such intervention would need to go hand-in-hand with incentives to keep animal numbers low. A major source of GHG emissions in rangelands of the savannah is the burning of savannah grass, a tradition that is practiced to improve the quality of the land. This practice, however, produces methane and nitrous oxide and its control has the potential to mitigate them. A change in the mix of animals is an alternative that comes with co-benefits. Replacing cattle with sheep, goats, or camels, which are more adaptive to drought conditions, may provide a win-win solution for informal livelihood protection and emissions sequestration.”

In recent years, very serious work has been done to reduce the release of greenhouse gases, especially methane, from livestock. It has been found that some changes in the feeding diets of animals, especially cattle, have reduced the rate of methane gas. In addition, some feed additives that affect intestinal activities are also considered to be effective in this regard. The most important point in these studies is that the developed solutions, on the one hand, should improve production efficiency and performance, and on the other hand, contribute to the reduction of methane release. Otherwise, the applicability and acceptability of these solutions are eliminated. Of course, studies on this issue have not yet revealed very long-term results, but short-term data provide hope for a sustainable livestock industry.

Let’s briefly look at some of the solutions put forward to reduce gas emissions from livestock:

Two products developed by Alltech Inc., one of the major global players in the animal nutrition industry, are particularly ambitious in reducing carbon emissions: Yea-Sacc® and Optigen®.

Yea-Sacc is a yeast culture that allows producers to increase productivity in dairy and beef herds while simultaneously lowering emission intensity. Yea-Sacc stimulates fibre-digesting and lactic acid-utilising bacteria, which optimises fibre digestion and nutrient utilisation with less potential energy being wasted to the environment. Backed by almost four decades of research with consistent performance responses, Yea-Sacc has been helping producers to address emissions since before it became acknowledged as a global problem.

Optigen® is a non-protein nitrogen source that can reduce the global warming potential of a diet by up to 17%. One tonne of Optigen can replace eight tonnes of soya and also allows for more homegrown forages — which carry a low-carbon weight — to be utilised in the diet.

Increasing the efficiency of rumen nitrogen capture, which can be achieved with Optigen, leads to less wasted nitrogen and greater benefit to producers and the environment.

Alltech has a variety of services, especially to manage the efficiency and environmental impact duo correctly. Alltech E-CO2, Feeds EA™, Alltech IFM, Dairy EA™ are some of them.

Swiss feed additives manufacturer Agolin SA prefers plant-based ingredients in its products. The company’s feed additive called Agolin Ruminant is also ambitious in reducing methane emissions in cattle.

Agolin® Ruminant is a blend of high quality plant extracts that has been shown to reduce methane production and improve efficiency in dairy cows and beef cattle.

According to scientific studies the feed additive leads to reduced methane production in ruminants that, in turn, leads to better energy use and consequently improved productivity in the animals.

Research trials demonstrate AGOLIN’s potential to positively influence the rumen microbiota. In addition to increased productivity, animal wellbeing is improved and feed costs for farmers are reduced. According to an independent opinion, which is based on a meta-analysis, the use of AGOLIN within an average diet reduces enteric methane emission by 14 % per liter of milk or 10 % per animal.

Biomin, one of the important companies in the field of animal nutrition and performance, stands out with its additive Digestarom®. Digestarom® is a specifically formulated phytogenic product designed to support digestion and feed efficiency by combining unique flavoring properties with biologically active properties.

Better feed digestibility means higher milk production without a negative energy balance (NEB). NEB adversely affects health and fertility, depending on the ration energy density, feed digestibility and feed intake. Digestarom® increases feed efficiency resulting in better milk yield and energy balance, whereas Levabon® improves feed digestibility by acting on the rumen. Improved feed efficiency and milk yield also correlates with lower methane (CH4) emissions.

Bovaer® is a feed additive for cows (and other ruminants, such as sheep, goats, and deer) researched and developed over 10 years by Netherlands-based nutrition and health company DSM. Just a quarter teaspoon of Bovaer® per cow per day suppresses the enzyme that triggers methane production in a cow’s rumen and consistently reduces enteric methane emission by approximately 30%. It takes effect immediately and it’s safely broken down in the cow’s normal digestive system. As soon as the additive is not fed anymore, full methane production resumes and there are no lasting effects in the cow. The feed additive Bovaer® therefore contributes to a significant and immediate reduction of the environmental footprint of meat, milk and dairy products.

The solution has recently been featured by the World Resources Institute as one of the ten global break-through technologies that can help to feed the world sustainably.

The Swiss-based company Mootral has developed a feed supplement with the same name as the company, based on garlic and lemon extracts, to reduce enteric emissions.

Mootral is a natural feed supplement that significantly reduces methane emissions from the enteric fermentation of ruminants and is the result of extensive research and development. The product is based on a proprietary combination of active compounds from garlic and flavonoids derived from citrus.

Research shows a nearly complete inhibition of emitted methane in laboratory experiments (in vitro) that reaches up to 38% reduction (dependent on animal breed, age, farm conditions and feed regime) under real farm conditions (in vivo).

Mootral can be easily integrated into the feed chain to suit the needs of different farming systems.

1. FAO-IPCC Expert meeting on climate change, land use and food security, Meeting Report, January 2017
2. FAO, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM),
3. FAO, TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE THROUGH LIVESTOCK, A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities
4. UNEP – The United Nations Environment Programme,
5. IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
6. Alltech & Alltech E-CO2, ,
7. Agolin Sa,
8. Biomin,
9. Royal DSM,
10. Mootral,