Researchers have determined that cattle that consume a particular type of seaweed feed can have their emission levels reduced. Associate Dean and Professor in the Animal Science Department at UC Davis, Ermias Kebreab has been working on the project for some time. A recent 21-week study proved that methane emissions from cattle declined as much as 82 percent when fed seaweed. The project addressed several important questions about the practice, such as if it would be successful over an extended period of time.
“The seaweed was working quite nicely at the beginning and same thing at the last day of the trial. So that was very encouraging,” Kebreab explained. “There’s no evidence that microbes will adapt to this and so it will work well throughout the lifetime of the animal.”
The researchers followed real-world scenarios for the animal diets to determine how the seaweed feed would perform. Kebreab said that the high forage diets resulted in emission reductions between 50 and 60 percent. However, the feedlot type of diet was what resulted in emission reductions of more than 80 percent. The 21 beef cattle that were fed seaweed also performed just as well as the control group in terms of weight gain and product taste. “We also looked at meat quality and there was no difference. All animals were graded as prime or choice,” Kebreab noted.
The type of seaweed used in the study is not produced in the wild to the level required to scale up the practice within the industry. Multiple companies are working on scalable production methods, to which Kebreab indicates the work has been promising. The next step in the research will be looking at the economics of the practice.
“First is to try to figure out how do you scale it up,” said Kebreab. “Once you figure that out then you look at the cost and see if that is cost-effective or if there is a way to make sure costs are lowered.”