The IPCC Climate Change 2021 offered a stark reminder that humanity needs to make drastic changes if we are going to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change. As it stands, greenhouse gases are at record highs with annual levels of 410 ppm for carbon dioxide (CO2) and 1866 ppb for methane (CH₄).
The good news is that 15% of global methane emissions, which are caused by livestock (especially ruminants) belching up this gas, might be preventable if farmers feed their animals the right amount of seaweed. Since methane has 80 times the warming potential of carbon, this portends a huge win in the fight against climate change.
If you’re worried about methane emissions from livestock, here’s what you need to know about the research into including seaweed feed supplements in animals’ regimen.
The History of Seaweed as Livestock Feed
If this all-natural feed supplement is new to you, it’s easy to wonder: “can you feed livestock seaweed?” Both scientific research and centuries of use establish that the answer is yes.
Coastal communities have used seaweed to supplement grains and terrestrial plants for generations, safely raising healthy and productive livestock for commercial or individual use. Studies of Ascophyllum nodosum and other seaweed species show that cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry or other livestock fed the right amount for their species obtain essential prebiotics, nutrients and organic compounds for their overall health and wellness.
In fact, seaweed is so nutritious that some animals consume it as their primary food source. Just to the northeast of Scotland on the Orkney archipelago, flocks of North Ronaldsay sheep wander the shoreline, feasting almost exclusively on intertidal seaweed. As a result, their methane emissions are considerably lower than other sheep that primarily dine on terrestrial plants.
Reducing Methane Emissions for Cattle
One of the biggest methane emitters are the herds of cattle throughout the United States and all over the globe, which release more CH₄ into the atmosphere than the country of Ireland does in a year. If farmers could drastically reduce methane emissions from livestock like beef or dairy cattle, they could do a lot of good for the environment.
Early studies are showing that when cattle are fed seaweed, an enzyme that produces methane is inhibited which can reduce methane emissions in cattle herds by as much as 90%. Moreover, seaweed like Ascophyllum nodosum can improve the efficiency of GI tract functionality, using the prebiotics and organic compounds to cultivate more efficient use of essential nutrients and calories. With the implementation of seaweed feed programs for livestock in places ranging from Blue Ocean Barns in California to other agricultural projects in Alberta, Canada, and Australia, there’s hope that the industry can curb methane emissions from livestock without any loss to their bottom line or animal nutrition.
Want to learn more about how your feed choices can reduce methane emissions from livestock? Connect with an Acadian Kelp™ specialist to get the full scoop on the power of seaweed feed supplements.