Ways to Reduce Methane Production in Cattle

Ways to Reduce Methane Production in Cattle

photo of cattle feeding on hayReducing the amount of methane produced by the livestock industry offers economic benefits to producers in addition to the environmental benefits. At the heart of methane production is the microbes that reside within the rumen.

Diet can be used to alter microbial populations in the rumen and in turn increase animal performance and reduce methane emissions. Dietary factors such as type of carbohydrate, fat inclusion, processing of forages and level of feed intake has been shown to influence methane emission in cattle.

Cattle fed diets high in carbohydrates typically have a higher rate of gain. Highly digestible feeds like corn and distillers grains are more easily digestible than grass or hay.

The microbes involved in digesting cellulose-rich diets (grass or hay) or carbohydrate-rich diets (corn or distillers grains) are different and will result in different levels of methane produced. Less methane will be produced in carbohydrate-rich diets due to the fact that propionate production will remove H2 away from methane production (propionate is a hydrogen sink).

Cattle on carbohydrate -rich diets with high intake will produce less methane as a percentage of dietary gross energy.

Grinding and pelleting of forages increases passage rate and reduces methane emitted by the animal.

Fats are a high energy source that can be included as part of the diet and have been shown to have an inhibitory effect on methane production as fat can be toxic to methane producing microbes. Unsaturated fat will remove H2 away from methane production to saturate the fat (H2 sink).

Producers can increase the profitability of their operation by incorporating carbohydrates in a cattle diet, increasing feed intake, processing forages and offering a diet that includes unsaturated fat. Each of these factors has been shown to improve feed efficiency and reduce methane production.

figure showing 4 elements in reducing methane production in cattle


February 2014

Mandi Jones
Extension Assistant
University of Nebraska–Lincoln