Traditional vs modern: Role of breed type in determining enteric methane emissions from cattle grazing as part of contrasting grassland-based systems

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Abstract

Ruminant livestock turn forages and poor-quality feeds into human edible products, but enteric methane (CH4) emissions from ruminants are a significant contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs) and hence to climate change. Despite the predominance of pasture-based beef production systems in many parts of Europe there are little data available regarding enteric CH4 emissions from free-ranging grazing cattle. It is possible that differences in physiology or behaviour could influence comparative emissions intensities for traditional and modern breed types depending on the nutritional characteristics of the herbage grazed. This study investigated the role of breed type in influencing CH4 emissions from growing beef steers managed on contrasting grasslands typical of intensive (lowland) and extensive (upland) production systems. Using the SF6 dilution technique CH4 emissions were estimated for a modern, fast-growing crossbred (Limousin cross) and a smaller and hardier native breed (Welsh Black) when grazing lowland perennial ryegrass (high nutritional density, low sward heterogeneity) and semi-improved upland pasture (low/medium nutritional density, high sward heterogeneity). Live-weight gain was substantially lower for steers on the upland system compared to the lowland system (0.31 vs. 1.04 kg d-1; s.e.d. = 0.085 kg d-1; P<0.001), leading to significant differences in estimated dry matter intakes (8.0 vs. 11.1 kg DM d-1 for upland and lowland respectively; s.e.d. = 0.68 kg DM d-1; P,0.001). While emissions per unit feed intake were similar for the lowland and upland systems, CH4 emissions per unit of live-weight gain (LWG) were substantially higher when the steers grazed the poorer quality hill pasture (760 vs 214 g kg-1LWG; s.e.d. = 133.5 g kg-1LWG; P<0.001). Overall any effects of breed type were relatively small relative to the combined influence of pasture type and location.

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Fraser, M. D., Fleming, H. R., & Moorby, J. M. (2014). Traditional vs modern: Role of breed type in determining enteric methane emissions from cattle grazing as part of contrasting grassland-based systems. PLoS ONE, 9(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107861

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