National livestock methane program
The National Livestock Methane Program (NLMP) was developed to coordinate national research to reduce methane emissions from livestock while increasing productivity.
NLMP was coordinated by MLA and funded by the Department of Agriculture, under the Filling the Research Gap Program and support from the following collaborating organisations: Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI); Australian Wool Innovation; CSIRO; Dairy Australia; Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transports and Resources, Victoria (DEDJTR Vic); Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales (NSWDPI); Ridley’s Agriproducts; Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT); University of New England (UNE); University of Western Australia (UWA).
NLMP includes 16 projects led by major research groups in Australia with expertise in the science of rumen biology and livestock management, collaborating to develop practical on-farm options for reducing methane emissions from livestock while at the same time increasing productivity. The program began in July 2012 and was completed in July 2015.
- develop practical on-farm options to achieve a significant reduction in methane emissions from livestock
- quantify the level of abatement achievable while at the same time increasing productivity
- provide the science to underpin methodologies developed under the Emission Reduction Fund
Outcomes from the 2012-2015 National Livestock Methane Program are featured in the publication More meat, milk and wool: less methane (published in July 2015)
Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) Factsheets:
- Participating in the ERF
- Feeding nitrates to beef cattle
- Savanna fire management
- Sequestering carbon in soil in grazing systems
- Beef cattle herd management
Tips and Tools - Best management practices for feeding nitrates to cattle
Coordination of the NLMP
Lead organisation: Meat & Livestock Australia
The National Livestock Methane Program has been developed to provide Australian livestock producers with practical strategies and tools to help them increase productivity and profitability and at the same time lower methane emissions.
It will also provide the scientific basis for the development of methodologies under the Carbon Farming Initiative and the future Emissions Reduction Fund, potentially allowing producers to claim carbon credits for adopting new practices.
Measuring methane in the rumen under different production systems as a predictor of methane emissions
Lead organisation: CSIRO
This project is developing and testing a new electronic sensor to measure the level of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced by cattle. The device is placed in the animal’s rumen (stomach) and has been designed to rapidly, accurately and safely quantify the concentration of methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen gases. It uses wireless technology to send measurement data to a nearby computer network, allowing for the instant processing of information about GHG emissions from individual animals. The device can be used without altering the behaviour of animals in any production system and can operate continuously for a few weeks.
This technology will help researchers and farm managers to assess the effectiveness of different strategies aimed at reducing methane emissions, such as genetic selection or the use of special forages and supplements. It will also provide a cost-effective alternative to current measurement methods, which generally only assess a few animals at a time and can be time-consuming and expensive.
Development of gas selective membranes (for intra ruminal capsules)
Lead organisation: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
An important step in reducing methane emissions from livestock is to develop an accurate and reliable method to measure the gas. Work is already underway on a new electronic sensor that quantifies greenhouses gases (GHG) produced in the animal’s rumen (stomach) This project is focused on developing a critical part of that device – a membrane that allows only specific gases to pass through and be measured, while restricting others that may corrode the sensor’s sensitive electronics.
This technology is helping create a robust measurement device that allows researchers and farm managers to assess the effectiveness of different strategies aimed at reducing methane emissions, such as genetic selection or the use of special forages and supplements. The sensor is placed in the stomach of cattle and transmits information on the concentration of methane to a remote recorder.
The sensor has the advantage that it will be able to measure methane emissions from cattle under any production system. The new sensor provides a cost-effective alternative to current measurement methods, which generally only assess a few animals at a time and can be time-consuming and expensive.
Evaluation and optimisation of Greenfeed Emission Monitoring units for measuring methane emissions from sheep and cattle
Lead organisation: University of New England (UNE)
Accurate and efficient measurement of greenhouse gases (GHG) is an essential part of testing strategies aimed at reducing emissions from livestock. However most current methods are laboratory-based and there are few designed to measure methane and carbon dioxide in the field.
This project will address this gap by validating and optimising a new paddock-based system developed in the US for measuring emission from cattle, the GreenFeed Emission Monitoring (GEM) unit. It will confirm the accuracy of the unit as well as ensuring it is suitable for Australian conditions, including long-term use in remote grazing environments.
In addition, this project will develop a GEM unit specifically designed for measuring emissions from sheep. This will be an important breakthrough as there are currently few tools available to accurately measure emissions from these animals.
Genetic technologies to reduce methane emissions from Australian beef cattle
Lead organisation: Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales
This project will provide new knowledge about the genetic variation of methane production in
Australian cattle. By assessing the methane production of animals from the major cattle breeds the project will identify the relationship between methane production traits and other traits typically sought after in breeding cattle, such as growth rate and feed conversion efficiency.
This will allow for the first time methane emissions to be costed into the profit indices used in the national genetic evaluation system BREEDPLAN®, which is used by cattle producers to describe the genetic merit of cattle.
Understanding methane reducing tannins in enteric fermentation using grape marc as a model tannin source
Lead organisation: Australian Wine Research Institute
Grape marc, the leftover skins and seeds from the winemaking process, contains tannin and lots of it. When fed, as a dietary supplement, to cattle or other ruminant animals, grape marc has been shown to reduce methane emissions, and has been linked to increases in liveweight gain.
The project will characterise different types of grape marc and assess their performance and suitability as a methane-reducing feed supplement, while measuring their impact on productivity. An additional objective is to identify if there are potential risks associated with agrochemical residues within grape marc for the livestock industries.
So far, the project team at the AWRI has developed and refined analytical techniques and methods that enable tannin levels and composition to be understood and quantified in grape marc. These analytical techniques have revealed the incredible diversity of both tannin type and tannin concentration in grape marc. The next stages of the project will use digestion simulation methods to quantify the methane suppression and productivity enhancing properties of different tannin types.
Development of algae based functional foods for reducing enteric methane emissions from cattle
Lead organisation: CSIRO
Rich in minerals, vitamins, proteins, and polysaccharides, macro-algae (sea weeds) have excellent potential to be used as a supplement for livestock feeds. In addition, they have also been shown to increase the efficiency of feed conversion and reduce the production of methane in cattle and sheep.
This project will evaluate the potential of up to 20 different kinds of algae for their nutritive value and for their effect on reducing methane emissions in beef cattle. The algae species being used in this study were selected due to their natural abundance in local aquaculture systems or intertidal reefs around Townsville and their potential to be cultured under controlled conditions.
For species of algae that show strong potential, the project will undertake more detailed analysis to identify the precise quantities and combinations required to produce specific levels of methane reduction, while maintaining the efficiency of feed utilisation.
Supplementation with tea saponins and statins to reduce methane emissions from ruminants
Lead organisation: CSIRO
No fact sheet available
View the project R&D report
Strategic science to develop dietary nitrate and defaunation as mitigation methodologies for grazing ruminants
Lead organisation: UNE
The provision of nitrogen for the growth of rumen (stomach) microbes is increasingly recognised as a crucial element for sound ruminant nutrition. Recent research has shown that nitrate supplements can reduce rumen methane emissions as well as provide valuable nitrogen for livestock.
This project will advance the science behind the use of nitrate supplements to mitigate methane, so it becomes a safe, sure and commercially favourable strategy among Australian livestock producers.
Researchers will investigate the physiological pathways leading to nitrate reduction in the rumen of cattle and sheep fed nitrate supplements. They will establish the parameters for the safe use of nitrate, as well as assessing the impact on productivity and methane reduction.
The findings will help determine the optimum strategies for using nitrate supplements safely and effectively.
Practical and sustainable considerations for the mitigation of methane emissions in the northern Australian beef herd using nitrate supplements
Lead organisation: Ridleys Agriproducts
In northern Australia, where the quality of forage during the dry season is generally low, livestock producers commonly provide additional nitrogen – in the form of urea – to improve pasture consumption and productivity in cattle. Research has shown that using nitrate salts instead of urea may provide a similar productivity benefit while generating lower methane emissions.
The feeding of nitrate to cattle can, however, be toxic in some circumstances. This project will therefore determine whether nitrate salts can be used as a practical and safe alternative to urea for low quality diets. It will attempt to identify an effective dose to lower methane emissions without compromising animal productivity or safety in both a controlled (penned) and uncontrolled (paddock) environment.
Enteric methane mitigation strategies through manipulation of feeding systems for ruminant production in southern Australia
Lead organisation: Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria
This project will quantify the potential of novel feeds supplements, forages and feeding strategies to reduce methane emissions from livestock in southern Australia, while maintaining or improving production and productivity.
A range of supplements not considered ‘mainstream’ by the dairy and sheep industry will be investigated, including citrus pulp, almond hulls and grape marc, as well as wheat fed at a higher level of intake than currently used on farm or treated to change its rate of digestion. The methane reducing potential of forages such as perennial ryegrass, brassica forages, plantain and chicory will also be explored.
Researchers will consider how any potential new supplements and strategies can be integrated into current sheep and dairy production systems in southern Australia.
Impacts of leucaena plantations on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration in northern Australian cattle production systems
Lead organisation: CSIRO
Leucaena is a tropical and sub-tropical legume fodder crop that has been shown in laboratory studies to improve live weight gain and reduce methane emissions in cattle. This project will quantify, for the first time, the productivity gains and methane reductions achieved by using leucaena in commercial-scale cattle production systems. It will assess the effectiveness of both irrigated and non-irrigated leucaena systems and compare this against standard pasture systems for these regions.
The project will also monitor the microbial changes in the stomach (rumen) of cattle that underpin the reductions in methane at different levels of leucaena feeding. This information will assist current and future research groups to better understand the link between methane reduction and improved digestive efficiency in the rumen.
Best choice shrub and inter-row species for reducing emissions and emissions intensity
Lead organisation: University of Western Australia (UWA)
It has been known for some time that certain Australian shrubs and introduced grazing species can lower methane emissions in livestock. Past research has shown three-fold reductions in emissions intensity from sheep grazing a shrub-based forage system compared to a mature autumn pasture with supplementary grain.
This project will quantify the impact of a selection of native shrubs with ‘anti-methanogenic’ potential (i.e. producing less methane) grown in association with anti-methanogenic legumes on both methane emissions and productivity in grazing systems in south west Western Australia.
The project will conduct laboratory-based analyses of 10 shrub and pasture species to get a detailed understanding of the precise nutritive value and anti-methanogenic potential of each species. Field trials will quantify changes in methane emission and productivity at the farm scale.
The mechanism of antimethanogenic effects of bioactive plants and products on methane production in the rumen
Lead organisation: UWA
Whilst a number of plants have been shown to reduce methane production in the stomach (rumen) when consumed by the livestock, scientists are still not clear about the precise extent of this action, or the mechanism by which it takes place. This project will answer many of these questions.
The project will aim to isolate and identify key plant compounds responsible for reducing methane in the rumen and the biological pathways by which they act by looking at plants already recognised as ‘anti-methanogenic’ (i.e. lowering methane production). The project has already identified a number of tannins, as well as compounds from eremophila, biserrula and melaleuca plant species that have been shown to reduce methane production in the rumen.
Once the compounds and their actions are known, it will become more feasible to apply them in livestock production systems to lower methane emission. It will also be easier and quicker to find other plants or substances that also contain those compounds, which will potentially offer greater selection of plants and additives for producers to use in their production systems.
Efficient Livestock and Low Emissions from southern grazing systems
Lead organisation: UWA
There is currently little information about methane-reducing potential of the Australian temperate pasture feed-base. This project will identify pasture species that can be used to reduce methane emission in southern grazing systems.
Forty commercial and experimental species have been assessed in order to create the first database of information about annual growth patterns, the methane-reducing potential and nutritive characteristics of temperate pasture species. Plants tested will include annual and perennial pasture legumes and grasses.
A sub-set of 10 of the most promising species will undergo further analysis to quantify more precisely their impact on methane emission and productivity in different environments.
Culture independent metagenomic approaches for understanding the functional metabolic potential of methanogen communities in ruminant livestock
Lead organisation: CSIRO
This project is delivering a better understanding of the life-cycle of methanogens - the microbes responsible for producing methane in the rumen (stomach) of livestock.
Our current understanding of how methanogens operate in the rumen is limited. Knowing how methanogens work is crucial for developing strategies that can directly target and control their activity levels, and therefore control methane production.
This project is providing a detailed description of the diversity, physiology and biochemistry of key methanogens in northern Australian beef cattle grazing a range of tropical grasses and legumes.
Using a suite of novel approaches, researchers are sequencing the genomes of these methanogens to get a better understanding how the microbes survive, thrive and adapt to changes in their environment. This knowledge will help pinpoint why certain dietary interventions are successful in reducing methane output from cattle.
Comparative analyses of rumen microbiomes to mitigate methane and improve feed utilization
Lead organisation: CSIRO
This project is using advanced gene sequencing to better understand the populations of methane-producing microbes that exist in the rumen (stomach) of livestock. This ‘genetic blueprint’ will be critical knowledge for scientists aiming to reduce methane emissions through strategies that target methane producing microbes and their metabolic pathways.
The project will first deliver a detailed model of microbial populations in ‘low’ and ‘high’ methane emitting animals. In other words, identifying the microbes most critical to low methane emissions. It will then pinpoint the functional genes responsible for the growth and persistence of these critical microbes in the rumen. This will assist future research by helping scientists better understand and target the microbes that do most of the methane-related ‘work’ in the rumen.
Data from this project will be augmented with genetic information of livestock produced by North American, European and New Zealand scientists, helping build a global database of livestock microbe genetics.