A team of scientists researching if a seaweed additive in cattle feed can reduce the methane emissions of livestock has reached the finals of the prestigious Eureka Science Awards, to be presented this week.
- Scientists researching the methane-reducing properties of asparagopsis seaweed are finalists in the annual Eureka Science Awards
- Their research shows that when the seaweed is added to livestock feed, it limits the amount of gas produced by cattle
- Early trials involving livestock on pastures have begun
As part of the trial, a herd of Tasmanian dairy cows is getting a taste for the much-heralded asparagopsis seaweed, which has methane-reducing properties and could, if consumed widely, potentially help to limit the impact cattle have on climate change.
The award nominees, known as FutureFeed, are a team of scientists from the CSIRO and James Cook University in Townsville who are working in collaboration with Meat and Livestock Australia.
The researchers have been able to prove that the endemic seaweed red asparagopsis can remove the methane from the micro metabolism in the gut of ruminant animals like cows.
“The proof of concept was done in feedlots,” lead researcher Rob Kinley said.
The next step was to prove the science in the paddock with grazing animals, such as dairy cows.
“That is where our work is going to focus on in the coming year and beyond because they represent 90 per cent of the actual cattle in Australia,” Dr Kinley said.
Can cows stomach seaweed?
Last milking season, dairy farmer Richard Gardner, whose property is in Tasmania’s Northern Midlands, started feeding half of his milking herd canola oil infused with asparagopsis.
“This was about proving up the concept of being able to effectively feed asparagopsis to dairy cows in a pasture-fed dairy system,” he said.
“The trial we did last year was a bit late in the season and we didn’t have time to get set up to do methane testing because it’s quite complicated and requires quite a lot of resources.”
Instead, Mr Gardner focused on making sure the cattle could eat it without adverse effects, and checked their productivity, including milk production and feed consumption.
“We didn’t see anything significant — the problem we have in a pasture-based dairy is it’s difficult to measure the amount of grass cows are eating every day,” he said.
Opportunity to combat climate change
Mr Gardner relished the chance to be part of the research.
He was keen to be involved in future trials to prove the methane-busting science.
“All I know is … there’s a lot of science that [indicates] the compound in asparagopsis will reduce the production of methane in the cows — I think we need to see it happening on the farm as well.”
Early pasture trials promising
Wool producer Simon Cameron is also keen to be on the frontline of research that contributes to tackling the effects of climate change.
He was also involved in early trials of asparagopsis in feed.
“The sheep would trundle along, every day I’d go down with the bucket and handfeed them. It was pretty labour intensive but this was the initial trial,” Mr Cameron said.
Early tests showed that the seaweed had not affected the sheep’s wool.
The next step for Mr Cameron was to scale up the trial to about 400 sheep.
“There are a number of issues that we have to address before we kick that off,” he said.
A number of private companies are trying to grow the seaweed, including Sea Forest, a company based on Tasmania’s east coast.
Co-founder Sam Elsom said so far the trials had produced more seaweed biomass than expected and a recent expansion of available water meant the company could harvest even more.
For the FutureFeed team, nominated for this week’s prestigious Eureka science award, Dr Kinley said “the acceptance level and appreciation around the work we’ve done is incredible”.
“Without the support from those industries [meat and livestock] it wouldn’t be a story at all, that’s where it’s going to have an impact.”
Posted , updated