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How do we reduce emissions AND benefit the farm business?

Its widely accepted that the livestock sector has a key role to play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, helping Scotland work towards net zero carbon emissions by 2045.

It's not all bad news; reducing emissions goes hand in hand with improving business profitability.  Here we take a look at some of the practical measures dairy farmers could consider to identify and cut emissions from routine practices.

Where to start?

Managing herd health, feeding and fertility could all help to improve herd production efficiency.

Alongside discussion with your vet and farm advisor, a carbon footprint could help you to take a wider look at your business.

A carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the activities on your farm. Its worth noting that farms with a low carbon footprint are often the most efficient.  At Farming for a Better Climate, we used Agrecalc to measure farm carbon footprints across the Climate Change Focus Farms to identify possible areas where the farms could make savings - there's more information on carbon footprinting on page five of the newsletter.  Common target areas for attention in the dairy herd often include:

  • Herd health and disease management - A healthy herd is more efficient at producing milk.
  • Nutrition and feeding management – Well balanced rations will optimise performance and feed conversion efficiency.
  • Breeding and fertility management – getting cows back in calf before 100 days will maximise litres of milk sold annually.
  • Nutrient management – Timing and method of slurry and fertiliser application can save on costs and lower GHG losses.
  • Grassland management – improved grazing and pasture management can maximise nutritional quality of grass and silage, driving more milk from forage.
  • Investing in soil health – as well as improving grass yields, healthy soils can help extend the grazing season.
  • Electricity and fuel use - simple measures around the parlour could cut energy use and give a quick saving on the electricity bill.

There's no ‘one size fits all’, but a range of measures that could be adapted and tweaked to suit your business.

How can cutting greenhouse gases benefit the business?

Each animal in the herd will produce methane; it’s an accepted by-product of a healthy rumen.   Livestock that are falling way below production targets for your business, for example difficulty getting into calf or with reoccurring health issues, are still producing methane.  In effect, you are carrying a passenger who is not fully contributing to the farm's saleable outputs.  The aim for greenhouse gas mitigation, as it is for the farm business, is to maximise productivity from each animal, so their lifetime emissions are small when measured against the saleable outputs they produce.

Methane from the herd is relatively fixed; it's about maximising production through a contented, healthy and well-managed herd, so each animal is performing to its full potential.

Improved efficiency in production means more milk from fewer and more targeted inputs.  This will lead to fewer emissions when looked at on a per kg of milk output basis, leading to a lower carbon footprint and a better return for the farm business.

Have a look at our webpages to see what other farmers have done.

Other articles in the Summer 2020 Newsletter include: Download the Newsletter here to access all of the articles.