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Scientists work to develop feed additives for healthy cattle, environment

University collaboration aims to reduce the amount of methane emissions produced by grass-fed beef cattle.

February 12, 2024

2 Min Read
Chris Creamer, agricultural and animal associate, feeds cattle at Clemson University's Simpson Beef Cattle Farm near Pendleton, South Carolina.Clemson University

Methane is a large contributor to climate change and land-grant university researchers are working to develop new feed additives for cattle to help reduce this greenhouse gas.

Clemson University scientists Matias Aguerre and Liliane Silva are collaborating with scientists from other land-grant universities – the University of Florida and Auburn University – to develop livestock feed additives to reduce the amount of methane emissions produced by grass-fed beef cattle.

Methane (CH4), more specifically enteric methane, is produced when ruminant animals including goats, sheep and cattle digest and ferment forages. It is a greenhouse gas that affects the environment when expelled into the atmosphere, such as when cows belch.

“In recent decades, awareness has been raised about tackling enteric GHG emissions,” said Aguerre, an assistant professor of animal and veterinary sciences. “Slow progress has been made in relation to enteric methane abatement in the United States.”

The new additives will be developed using novel products and approaches to optimize the rumen (a compartment in a cow’s stomach) microbiome (microorganisms) activity.

Once developed, these additives will be added to livestock feed.

“This project involves a transdisciplinary team of biochemists, microbiologists, animal scientists, forage agronomists and Extension specialists who will work to develop these new additives,” Aguerre said. “Our overall objective is to develop the next generation of safe, efficacious and affordable feed additives to mitigate enteric methane emissions in ruminants.”

Clemson research will take place at the Simpson Beef Cattle Farm, a facility of the Piedmont Research and Education Center near Pendleton, South Carolina. Studies will be conducted using cows, steers and heifers. Scientists will assess the impact of different doses of each additive on CH4 emissions, changes in the rumen microbiome and nutrient digestibility.

A multi-state training for Extension professionals to learn about greenhouse gas emission reduction for environmental stewardship and efficient animal production is planned. Extension agents also will learn about emerging technologies that can be incorporated into commercial production systems.

“This training will address different research tools for assessing technologies and show agents how they can work with research faculty to support on-farm research and information dissemination,” said Silva, an assistant professor and Cooperative Extension Service livestock and forages specialist. “Doing this will allow us to fill the knowledge gap among Extension professionals and allow for increased information dissemination of new technologies to producers.”

Research sites will be used to demonstrate management practices and deliver content related to beef cattle nutrition and research findings from this study.

“Information will be shared with educators and producers to promote the adoption of management practices and increased sustainability of operations,” Silva said.

The study, led by the University of Florida, is funded by a $5 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture as part of the U.S. government’s response to tackling sources of climate change. For its part, Clemson is expected to receive $1.3 million.

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