Improving productivity in Northern Australia cattle

How feeding legumes and supplements can cut methane production in cattle and boost productivity

Agribusiness
FIELD DAY SUCCESS: Methane chambers at CSIRO's Lansdown Research Station property near Townsville that have been used to evaluation feed for methane reduction.

FIELD DAY SUCCESS: Methane chambers at CSIRO's Lansdown Research Station property near Townsville that have been used to evaluation feed for methane reduction.

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How Australia's leading national science agency is helping beef producers improve the efficiency of their grazing cattle.

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With approximately 10 per cent of Australian greenhouse gases arising from ruminant digestion in livestock, Australia's leading national science agency is helping beef producers better understand how to improve efficiency of their grazing cattle.

The CSIRO recently held a beef research field day for northern graziers at its Lansdown Research Station property located at Woodstock, 45 kilometres south west of Townsville, for them to see firsthand its research.

The 638 hectare property is stocked with Brahman and tropical composite cattle for specific research projects and typically purchases about 100 locally sourced weaner steers a year.

Meat & Livestock Australia and a range of CSIRO livestock and meat scientists were present on the day to take people's questions.

CSIROs Jess Simington talking beef research to local cattle producers.

CSIROs Jess Simington talking beef research to local cattle producers.

The field days focus also introduced graziers to new feed supplements from biochar to seaweed, which the CSIRO is currently developing, and looking at how they could potentially reduce greenhouse gases.

Potential to unlock significant gains

CSIRO's chief research scientist Dr Chris McSweeney has spent the last 40 years researching and developing new generation of supplement additives for the cattle industry.

Dr McSweeney said the field day was primarily about showcasing the research that the CSIRO has been involved in improving productivity in northern Australian cattle.

"Half the Australian cattle herd is in the north and there's some significant challenges there in terms of the climate and the nutrition of the animals, but also the potential unlock significant gains," Dr McSweeney said.

"The CSIRO has had a long-standing presence and commitment to the northern cattle industry and we're taking a significant interest in developing and modifying some of these supplementation procedures that have been practiced for many years now.

"Particularly in the breeder herd, which during the late pregnancy and early lactation coincides with the dry season, those animals are under high nutrient demand for providing milk and particularly in the early stages of lactation."

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Dr McSweeney said there could be other nutrients that the animal requires that could be limiting the longer term productivity of their offspring and their ability to return to oestrus.

"This has been well established and known for a number of years now in dairy cows where there's a slightly different situation where we have a very high nutrient requirement in dairy cows.

"This is because of their high productivity and there's a degree of physical limitation on what the animals can eat," he said.

"In the northern Australian beef cattle situation, there is a parallel there in that the productivity is not as high as obviously a dairy cow but they're under significant additional requirements during pregnancy and lactation.

"Unlike a dairy cow, the nutrition is much poorer in the beef cow, so we think there's parallels there so we've been trying to look at some of the supplements that are used in the dairy situation."

How reducing methane gases in your herd can improve productivity

The CSIRO is deeply involved in producing the additives or supplements that can reduce methane gases.

"Things like the seaweed is highly effective as well in reducing methane and both these products have shown to be very effective in control feeding situations in feedlots and dairy herds," Dr McSweeney said.

"A new formulation that takes into account methane reduction but also some of these other additional nutrients. It's a higher cost supplement but there is multiple benefits in terms of methane reduction but also additional productivity benefits that come with it"

Portable methane measuring unit in action at the Lansdown Research Station property located at Woodstock, 45 kilometres south west of Townsville.

Portable methane measuring unit in action at the Lansdown Research Station property located at Woodstock, 45 kilometres south west of Townsville.

Dr McSweeney said graziers were becoming more engage to show the broader community that they're striving to reduce their footprint.

"They are very interested in partnering with the CSIRO to start trialing these compounds in the grazing ruminant and the logistics of how that can be done. It's also possible that in the feedlot and dairy situation that some of these supplements to reduce methane have been shown to improve productivity," he said.

"There's plenty of opportunities that are worth pursuing for the environmental benefit but also productivity benefits for the animal and for the producer. Energy in methane is part of the energy from the diet that's just lost, but if we shut that down, in theory there is potential to redirect that energy into other products."

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The story Improving productivity in Northern Australia cattle first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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