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Canadian cattlemen celebrating environment week


June 5, 2009
By Marg Land

beefcows01June 2, 2009, Calgary, Alta. – Cattle producers depend on a healthy environment.

June 2, 2009, Calgary, Alta. – Cattle producers depend on a healthy environment.

beefcows01 
  

Protecting it is critical to the long-term sustainability of rural communities and a secure food supply. Celebrating Canada’s remarkable environment by caring stewardship is a role that ranchers and farmers take seriously. And as such, they are taking action to decrease their contribution to the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Cows do emit methane, a GHG. But for the most part they breathe it out. Not much is expelled in burps, and not very much from the other end either.

What is good news for the environment is that agriculture researchers, ranchers and farmers are working together to make sure cattle emit less and less methane. All across Canada, good management practices are being put in place to produce safe, nutritious food – with the smallest GHG footprint possible.

“Measuring methane emitted by cattle is an energy efficiency action,” says Dr. Tim McAllister, research scientist and livestock nutritionist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Lethbridge Research Centre.

“We measure it and then we look for ways to change the animal’s diet so the food is digested more efficiently and less energy (methane) is lost,” McAllister explains.

An important management practice for efficient digestion is making sure that protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals are all in proper balance – just like a people diet. As the quality of grasses the cattle eat increases, the amount of methane produced decreases. Adding grain to the diet of cattle improves the digestion in the stomach.

Jack Kyle, a grazing specialist at Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), spends a lot of his time advising cattle farmers on how to set up the most efficient grazing system. Keeping pasture grasses healthy and growing ensures that cattle emit the lowest amount of methane possible. “Healthy grass, healthy cattle – less greenhouse gases,” says Kyle.

“Native plants provide a sustainable pasture with high nutritional quality throughout the growing/grazing season. Utilizing, and potentially increasing, the portion of species with a better nutritional profile, such as native legumes, for example purple or white prairie clover, will improve livestock grazing performances and the environment,” says Mike Schellenberg, a range and forage plant ecologist with AAFC Semiarid Prairie Agriculture Research Station in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

“The size of GHG mitigation opportunities from agriculture at the global level have been quantified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their fourth series of reports released last year,” says Karen Haugen-Kozyra, director of policy development and offsets solutions with Climate Change Central. In the IPCC report, emission reductions of up to 4.0 billion tonnes of GHGs could be contributed by agriculture's collective efforts globally – that’s almost half the excess GHG emissions that remain in the atmosphere due to manmade activities each year.

“That’s a significant economic opportunity for ranchers and farmers and a stewardship opportunity to show the public that agriculture has a significant role to play,” says Haugen-Kozyra.

Reaching for those energy efficiencies in every aspect of the cattle cycle demonstrates the industry's commitment to environmental stewardship.


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