Modelled greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle grazing irrigated leucaena in northern Australia
Taylor, CA and Harrison, MT and Telfer, M and Eckard, R, Modelled greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle grazing irrigated leucaena in northern Australia, Animal Production Science, 56, (3) pp. 594-604. ISSN 1836-0939 (2016) [Refereed Article]
Milking cows typically dominate dairy farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but replacement heifers also contribute to farm emissions and can increase the emission intensity of milk production. In northern Australia, heifers generally graze poorer-quality subtropical pastures and in the absence of energy-dense supplementary feed during periods of low pasture growth, liveweight (LW) gain can be restricted. This modelling study examined the time required and enteric methane (CH4) emissions produced in raising dairy heifers to a target LW for first mating by feeding a diet assuming either constant (static) or variable (dynamic) nutritive values. Using a static approach (Australian Feeding Standards methodology), and assuming a target mating LW of 360 kg, growing heifers reached their target LW at ~18 months of age while consuming C4 grasses with a constant metabolisable energy content of 9.5 MJ/kg dry matter (DM) or 11 months of age on a diet of 11.0 MJ/kg DM. Enteric CH4 emissions were 1.2 and 0.8 t of carbon dioxide equivalents/heifer over the 18- and 11-month periods, respectively. To explore the extent with which climatic conditions influence seasonal pasture availability and nutritive value with a dynamic approach, we used a whole-farm biophysical model (SGS pasture model) to simulate diets with mean metabolisable energy values of 9.5 and 10.9 MJ/ kg DM. On average (±s.d.), heifers required 22 ± 4 and 17 ± 1 months, respectively, to reach target LW, with cumulative enteric CH4 emissions of 1.22 ± 0.20 and 0.72 ± 0.04 t carbon dioxide equivalents, respectively. The dynamic approach resulted in slower LW gain due to the variable nutritive value of the diet throughout the year, resulting in seasonal periods of LW plateauing or decline. Maintaining heifers on high-quality diets in subtropical northern Australia should result in increased daily LW gain, lower enteric CH4 emissions to mating LW and earlier calving. Together, these factors reduce their lifetime emission intensity of milk production.