The Innovation Center’s Cow of the Future project gets a lot of attention, and for good reason. Dairy researchers, nutritionists and farmers are interested in new methods to reduce enteric methane emissions—emissions that occur as a result of the dairy cow’s rumination—because of the potential to reduce the environmental impact of dairy production and increase business value on the farm.
What makes headlines, however, isn’t always as promising as we hope.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably purchased a series of magical cooking devices to help you fix breakfast quickly on busy weekday mornings. But most of the time, the device ends up in the basement when the magic wears off.

The cow of the future can learn from the past The same can be said about the use of additives to reduce methane emissions. In recent years, the use of additives to the cow’s diet—like extract of thyme, clove or garlic—has grabbed the attention of researchers, dairy farmers, animal nutritionists, and even consumers.  But concentrating on feed additives has not yet produced long-term reduction of methane emissions without negatively affecting milk production or the potential for animal toxicity. This is a conclusion drawn by my co-authors and I in this Journal of Dairy Science article.

In fact, the article suggests, greater opportunities exist for mitigation through straightforward feed and animal management options:

    Nutrition and feed management offer modest potential and will be mostly achieved through attention to ration formulation to provide better supply of nutrients and greater feed efficiency
    The mitigation potential through animal management is even greater and includes improving cow health, cow comfort and selective breeding

Most of these mitigation options can be implemented on farms today, and they are good for the cow, good for the environment and good for business.

A new report coming soon from the Cow of the Future team has consolidated research findings and information sources on these feed and animal management best practices. The report will be a tool for nutritionists, veterinarians, and dairy producers—those who make on-farm decisions. And because every farm is different, the report is not prescriptive. Instead, it provides considerations and a range of resources, from best management practices to scientific journal articles that describe why those practices are beneficial.

Stay tuned.


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