Home' Target 100 : Greener Farming Contents Greener farming: reducing emissions
About the guide
Explain (article three)
the coMMoNWeAlth ScieNtiFic and Industrial
Research Organisation (CSIRO) has an extensive
research program devoted to reducing the methane
emissions of Australia’s livestock.
Ruminants, such as cattle and sheep, produce methane as a
by-product of digesting plant material in the rumen – one of the
four chambers of their stomachs. This methane is released from
the gut by belching.
In Australia, methane emissions from all ruminants
(including dairy cattle and wool sheep) are estimated to account
for approximately 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions
(National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, May 2010).
The CSIRO is taking three separate but related approaches to
reducing livestock methane emissions:
n microbiological research to understand methane
production in the rumen, and to develop biological methods for
n systems-based research to understand management and
dietary factors that affect methane emissions from cattle
n investigation of plant foods (forage) that could reduce
methane production in ruminants, and the incorporation of
these plants into Australian livestock production systems.
Project 1 – Managing methane-producing microbes
In a ruminant, certain microbes in the gut produce methane as a
by-product during the process of breaking down plant material
and producing energy, which the animal needs to live and grow.
CSIRO researchers are investigating the genetics of these
methane-producing microbes, to better understand how they
influence gut function and digestion in ruminants. The aim is
to find a way of changing the breakdown of plant material, to
reduce the amount of methane produced by gut microbes,
without reducing the amount of energy animals get from
Learning from Australian wallabies
The digestive systems of Australian macropods (kangaroos and
wallabies) are often compared to those of ruminants – especially
sheep and cattle. Both groups of animals have evolved to live on
grasses and shrubs, relying on specialised gut microbes to break
down this cellulose-rich plant food.
However, the two types of animals have key differences in
their digestive anatomy and digestive processes, and macropods
generate less methane during digestion.
With support from the U.S . Department of Energy, CSIRO
scientists are decoding the ‘microbiome’ from the Australian
Tammar wallaby’s foregut and comparing it with the
microbiomes of the rumen in cattle and sheep.
Researchers have identified several unique microbes involved
in the digestion process in the Tammar wallaby’s gut. Some of
these microbes use different enzymes for breaking down
complex carbohydrates than the microbes in the rumen of cattle
and sheep, resulting in less methane production.
Through this research, the scientists are attempting to find
new ways of using microbiology and gene-based technologies to
improve the digestion process in livestock so that they produce
Reducing livestock methane emissions
Project 2 – The northern beef herd
Estimating methane emissions in Australia’s extensive grazing
systems is challenging. To address this, CSIRO scientists are
developing state-of-the-art technologies to measure and model
cattle methane emissions and the conditions that
Measuring cattle methane emissions
This project is looking to provide quantifiable estimates of
methane emissions under the wide range of environmental and
management conditions that face the Australian beef industry.
Three key research areas include:
n assessing methane emissions from cattle fed tropical forages,
using the method of respiration chambers for measuring
n developing and deploying new techniques for measuring
methane emissions from cattle in the field, validated against
the respiration chambers
n modelling cattle methane emissions under northern
Using open circuit gas-exchange respiration chambers at the
Lansdown Research Station in North Queensland, CSIRO
scientists can accurately measure the uptake of oxygen and the
release of carbon dioxide and methane from individual animals
as they feed on a range of diets, including tropical forages and
Tropical pastures are highly varied, and livestock are very
selective when grazing. Accordingly, the diet of grazing cattle is
very different from the average pasture composition. Selective
grazing also varies across the season, making it impossible to
replicate the grazing animal diet by feeding harvested forages in
a respiration chamber.
Using lasers and wireless sensor networks, CSIRO scientists
are measuring methane emissions from grazing cattle in their
To extend the data to include field-based measurements,
CSIRO has developed open-path laser methods that can be used
to assign a methane value to grazing cattle and the type of
Agriculture researchers use poly tunnels to capture the methane that cattle
and sheep produce, so it can be measured.
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