Editor’s note: Kathleen Emery, DVM, is a dairy nutritionist with Mycogen Seeds. She may be contacted at [email protected]
The dairy industry has a voluntary goal to reduce methane and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020. In addition to being economically sound, dairy producers are seeking to be more efficient to reduce the agricultural carbon footprint on their farms. One way to do this is to grow and feed more digestible forages for dairy cows. Better quality forage increases milk production per cow. New research shows that the use of brown midrib (BMR) corn silage not only improves the bottom line, but also reduces methane output.
Dairy research published
The Journal of Dairy Science recently published research on the relationship between ruminal fermentation characteristics and methane production of dairy cows. Findings were based on 16 lactating Holstein cows and their response to being fed either conventional corn silage or BMR corn silage. During the trial, researchers gathered details on milk production, methane emissions, manure and urine production, and dry matter intake (DMI).
The research showed that replacing conventional corn silage with a highly digestible BMR corn silage DMI increased by 3.5 lbs and energy-corrected milk (ECM) yield by 6.6 lbs per head per day while also decreasing the amount of methane emitted per kilogram of DMI or kilogram of ECM by 10 percent.
All herds can be more efficient
Approaches to mitigate methane can be applied to any farm because the primary goal is to increase productivity at the herd level. More efficient dairy cows will produce more milk relative to the amount of feed ingested and energy lost as methane.
These areas are critical for producers to meet high performance goals while also reducing their herd’s methane and nitrogen output:
- Grow high digestibility forages. High quality forage starts at seed selection and ends with harvest. Select a corn silage hybrid that will best meet quality goals by maximizing NDF digestibility and DMI. At harvest, monitor moisture levels and equipment settings to ensure correct processing so that silage will be optimal after fermentation.
- Allow forages to ferment properly. Corn silage continues to improve up to 4 – 6 months after fermentation begins. Proper ensiling conserves digestible nutrient content and increases feed efficiency.
- Focus on management practices. Production efficiency can be improved through genetic selection and management practices that address reproductive bottlenecks, heat stress abatement, improvements in transition cow health, culling rates and replacement programs. Reduce non-productive days and dilute the cost of maintenance whenever possible. Overall, aim to have cows spend the most time in the highest yielding portion of their lactation.
Production of all dairy products in the U.S. accounts for approximately two percent of total GHG emissions. It is estimated that improving nutritional, genetic and management strategies combined could potentially reduce methane/ECM by 15-30 percent on high producing dairies. Improvement in farm efficiency will also improve profit potential and help to increase the milk supply needed to meet the anticipated 58 percent increase in global dairy demand by 2050.
1Hassant, F., R. Gervais, and C. Benchaar. 2017. Methane production, ruminal fermentation characteristics, nutrient digestibility, nitrogen excretion, and milk production of dairy cows fed conventional or brown midrib corn silage. J Dairy Sc.100(4): 2625–2636.
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