Research to focus on delivery of methane-inhibiting supplements to paddock cattle

Jon Condon, 22/11/2021

WHILE delivering methane-inhibiting supplements to feedlot cattle is relatively straightforward, given the controlled feeding environment, the beef industry has already identified that dosing such supplements to paddock cattle in extensive grazing conditions presents greater challenges.

A new research project in Central Queensland is examining methane-reducing compounds and how they can be effectively distributed to grazing cattle using water medication systems.

Central Queensland University’s Dr Diogo Costa recently received a $240,000 grant to evaluate dietary supplements that reduce methane emissions, using technology to efficiently add these compounds into livestock water supply. New funding for the project came from the 2021 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship awards announced last week.

Dr Diogo Costa

Dr Costa, a senior research officer with Central Queensland University’s Precision Livestock Management team, is working with agtech company Direct Injection Technologies, which manufactures water medication systems that can be monitored and controlled remotely, in the trials.

Rockhampton-based Dr Costa said one of the massive challenges of supplementing grazing cattle in Australia was the sheer size of many properties.

“I come from Brazil where the conditions allow much higher stocking rates and closer management of cattle, through lower labour costs,” he said.

“Here, if it was not for technologies like that being used in this trial, it would not be physically possible to delivery supplements in many cases.”

Methane emissions from livestock accounted for about 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia’s agricultural sector and 11pc of total national GHG emissions.

Using technology to deliver practical solutions for producers and industry to major challenges like emissions reduction is one of the primary focuses for CQ University’s Precision Livestock Management team.

Dr Costa’s intention is to look at a range of supplements that can be added to livestock water supplies, that have potential to reduce enteric methane production, which is the primary way by which livestock emit methane.

There was already a massive body of work available on compounds that will reduce methane in cattle, so the new project did not want to ‘re-invent the wheel,’ Dr Costa said.

The preliminary stages of the project will include emerging methane-reducing compounds like asparagopsis seaweed and its active compounds including bromoform; and 3-NOP, an organic compound which inhibits an enzyme that contributes to the production of methane in ruminant digestive systems, found in the commercial feed additive product Bovaer.

Other compounds of interest in the search for potential methane reduction included ionophores, lipids, nitrates, algaes, tannins and essential oils. Some had already proven to be effective in improving feed efficiency, and in some cases methane emissions – either directly or indirectly.

“We don’t want to discount anything from the candidate equation, at this point,” Dr Costa said

“We certainly will look at asparagopsis and 3-NOP, because they are the gold standard for methane reduction at present, but there are issues with solubility with both,” he said.

Finding water-soluble sources of suitable compounds would be an important part of the research.

“Whichever compounds we end up using for methane reduction, will have to be both soluble and stable, in order to be distributed through water medication,” he said.

“It might be that the best solution is not a single compound to inhibit methane, but multiple ingredients.”

“If we can get those emissions down, that will go a long way to helping Australia meet its 2050 net zero emissions target.”

Dr Costa said the two-year project would unfold over four stages:

  • The first will start with laboratory trials at CQU in Rockhampton, looking at various candidate compounds for solubility and stability.
  • Stage two will involve highly-controlled pen feeding trials, monitoring the animals’ health status for potential toxicity, using blood samples and rumen fluid samples, and looking at the effect on rumen microbes
  • The third stage will involve small paddock trials at Belmont Research Station exposed to water medication, with individual control and close monitoring of the animals involved in the experiment.
  • The fourth and final phase would be large-scale commercial paddock trials at one or more sites grazing sites across northern Australia.













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  1. Karen Wassmuth, 25/11/2021

    I hope everything goes well

  2. Graham, 22/11/2021

    As a cattle producer I’d much rather see the money spent on having all the questions of why answered first.
    Why is the biological methane involved in a revolving system considered a problem at all?
    Why are we investing in an unnecessary input and extra cost for a healthy rangeland system?
    Why are we looking to alter a millions of years old process – and not think it will have unintended consequences?
    Why do we roll over?

    • Deborah Newell, 25/11/2021

      Graham I am on your side of the science as methane has its very own cycle that starts with methanocytes and finishes with methanotrophes that are in the top 30 or centimeters of soil that live on methane sinking C in the process. For whatever reason these prokaryotes are vulnerable to synthetic nitrogen ( of NKP fertilizer derivation). A bit like plants/CO2 and O2. Methane isn’t the problem that nitrous oxide is. It used to be called laughing gas and used by dentists but it is no laughing matter as it is on the rise in the atmosphere ( now about 9+%) and is 310 times more warming than CO2 and lasts in the atmosphere for 140 years ( vs CH4’s time span of about 9 years) but no-one is talking about this because it is what I call the flatulence of the vegan/vegetarian diet and they and MSM think they are the ‘good guys’. Mind you thinking does require cholesterol which they will be short of…

    • Diogo Costa, 23/11/2021

      Dear Graham,

      I grew up in my family’s rural property and as the son of a cattle producer I completely understand your frustrations. I totally agree that we (cattle producers) should not be the ones blamed for a changing climate but that does not mean that we cannot do our part. And I mean in everything, from recycling our rubbish, walking rather than using our car for every little trip to the market, avoiding products with excessive and unnecessary plastic packaging, to more ingenious ideas such as what we are proposing here.

      Yes, it took nature millions of years to get the ruminant animal to be the perfect machine it is. The ability to extract nutrients from low-quality fibrous feedstuffs and produce high quality protein sources such as beef and milk, is unique and only possible because of the existence of a highly adapted microbial community that digests fibre. I often say that cows are way more evolved than us humans and I really mean it.

      You can be certain that myself and the team of researchers at CQUniversity will not overlook this. Our goal is to find balance in the interactions between methane suppression, rumen function and production after solving the issues of solubility and palatability. I am not saying that it will be easy, but with respect for the animal I love (cattle), with love for the industry I work for (the beef industry), we will ensure the formulation that is developed and tested is based upon best available evidence for animal health and welfare.



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