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‘Farmers can cut methane emissions by tackling worms and liver fluke’

Livestock farmers are encouraged to take steps to cut emissions by improving animal health and welfare.
Livestock farmers are encouraged to take steps to cut emissions by improving animal health and welfare.

Tackling worms in lambs and liver fluke in cattle are examples of how livestock farmers can reduce methane emissions, claims a new report.

The report, produced by scientists at the Penicuick-based Moredun Research Institute on behalf of industry group Ruminant Health & Welfare, outlined ways livestock farmers can reduce the methane emissions from their businesses by improving the health and welfare of their animals.

Ruminant Health & Welfare chairman and former NFU Scotland president, Nigel Miller, said farmers were running out of time to start taking steps to reduce the agricultural sector’s methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

He said the farming industry could not afford to wait for the development of new agricultural policy before embarking on an emissions reduction journey, and farmers can start making a difference now by tackling livestock diseases.

Ruminant Health & Welfare chairman Nigel Miller.

“Ruminant health is one of a small, but important, group of mitigation measures which can reduce emissions while also delivering a cost benefit,” said Mr Miller.

“Progress on health is identified immediately through herd or flock performance data, which feeds into on-farm carbon calculators and the national inventory [on emissions].”

He added: “The tools and resources identified in the report, for example monitoring and mapping out disease goals, are already available for farmers to utilise now.

“Effective farm health strategies are a gateway into low emissions production and should be a pillar of future low carbon production systems supported by flock or herd health security.”

Dr Philip Skuce, a principal scientist at the Moredun who worked on the report, said previous work found improvements to livestock health and welfare could reduce methane emissions by 10%.

He said: “This new report takes us a step further than this by mapping the greenhouse gas (GHG) profile of key endemic diseases.

“For example, studies reveal that gastrointestinal parasites lead to a minimum 10% increase in GHG emissions in lamb production. Similarly, liver fluke infection adds an extra 11 days to slaughter in cattle, reducing growth rate by 4% and adding 2% to the GHG footprint.”

Liver fluke can increase the GHG emissions from cattle by 2%.

The report found that reducing the burden of endemic diseases – such as mastitis, lameness, liver fluke and Johne’s – could boost productivity, and in turn reduce emissions, in three ways.

These are: higher growth rates and daily liveweight gain; better feed conversion efficiency, which reduces the level of inputs required; and less involuntary culling and abortion in breeding stock.

The report can be viewed online at https://ruminanthw.org.uk/actingonmethane/

Lameness and endemic diseases compromising the cattle and sheep sectors

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