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Cattle could be bred to be more environmentally friendly, Aberdeen Uni study finds

Monday July 8th 2019 at 6:11 AM

An Aberdeen University study has found it cattle could be bred to be more environmentally friendly.

The research looked at 1000 cows across Europe, finding some had naturally smaller stomachs and so produced less methane – a trait which passed on to their calfs.

Cattle are one of the highest contributors to the levels of greenhouse gasses in the world.

Professor John Wallace from the University of Aberdeen said: “A relatively small number of key species in the rumen, which were heritable, i.e. controlled by the host animal’s genetics.”

Cattle and other ruminants are significant producers of the greenhouse gas methane – contributing 37 per cent of the methane emissions resulting from human activity. A single cow on average produces between 70 and 120 kg of methane per year and, worldwide, there are about 1.5 billion cattle.

“Previously we knew it was possible to reduce methane emissions by changing the diet or by using certain feed additives, but changing the genetics is much more significant – in this way we can select for cows that permanently produce less methane.”

Co-author Professor John Williams, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences added: “Breeding for low-methane cattle will depend on selection priorities such as meat quality, milk production or disease resistance.

“We now know it’s possible to select for low methane production,” he says. “But it depends on what else we are selecting for, and the weighting that is placed on methane – that’s something that will be determined by industry or society pressures.”

The researchers also found a correlation, although not as high, between the cows’ microbiomes and the efficiency of milk production.

“We don’t yet know, but if it turned out that low-methane production equated to greater efficiencies of production – which could turn out to be true given that energy is required to produce the methane – then that would be a win, win situation.”

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