VikingGenetics is leading efforts to reduce carbon footprint by genetic selection

By Jan Lassen, project manager R&D 

Ruminant livestock make a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and livestock production can account for up to 15% of greenhouse gases produced worldwide according to various scientific studies. As methane is a potentially harmful greenhouse gas there is a global interest in reducing the amount of methane produced. 

Methane production in the rumen is related to many biological processes: Feed intake, Body weight, Rumination, Milk yield, Milk composition etc., and the largest proportion of methane production comes from enteric fermentation while a smaller proportion comes from anaerobic digestion in liquid manure. Moreover, up to 90% of methane gas is produced in the rumen of the animal. By designing a more climate-friendly cow that eats less, but produces the same output, goes hand in hand with reducing methane emissions. VikingGenetics is contributing a reliable solution to tackle climate change challenges.

Genetic selection and climate-friendly cows 

Genetic selection can reduce methane emissions. Assuming that the production of methane in the rumen is related to feed consumption in cattle, a phenotype that can be used in breeding for environmental impact as well as feed efficiency has been developed. The challenge of reducing greenhouse gasses from cattle production through breeding is to define the best trait for methane emission. In other words, for a breeding program to be successful, it requires large datasets of individual animal data. 
The variation coming from the genetic make-up of a cow must be distinguished from other sources of variation, and methane can also be considered in relation to digestive and feed efficiency. The output of methane also appears to be related to dry matter intake, which is dependent on live weight, milk yield, stage of lactation, rumination rate, passage rate, digestibility and eating behaviour. 

VikingGenetics has taken essential steps to achieve a reliable index for reducing methane emissions, and to this end, we have just released a Saved Feed Index to breed dairy cows that produce the same amount of milk from less feed and we are now using pioneering technology with 3D cameras to develop a system able to select for climate-friendly cows. 

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