Seaweed may be the “methane-reducing” superfood for livestock, and Queensland cattle are first to test the theory.

At CSIROs Landsdown Research Station, cattle are being fed seaweed in a trial that hopes to replicate the amazing anti-methogenic properties of algae on ruminant digestion, found under laboratory conditions.

Findings of in vitro experiments revealed that adding dried seaweed to a cow's diet of barely and molasses ‘could reduce the amount of methane it produced by up to 99 per cent.’ (ABC 2017)

If successful in the field, the implications could open up a huge commercial market for an Australian seaweed farming industry, and help the livestock industry cut its methane emissions.

The trial is based on similar findings in sheep, where "there was a 60 per cent methane reduction for a 1 per cent diet of seaweed … a 2 per cent seaweed diet caused a 70 per cent reduction, and a 3 per cent diet caused an 80 per cent reduction," researcher Dr Kinley said.

CSIRO is investigating seaweeds impact on livestock growth “because if less methane is being produced, that energy can go into live weight gains."  

The study will also consider whether the presence of algae in feed affects an intake behaviour. After all, taste is important…

The species of red seaweed, Asparogopsis taxiformis, is handpicked by scuba divers off central Queensland. It was selected for its properties after testing a wide range of species and has never been farmed before.

New Market Space for Commercial Seaweed Farms

Currently, the trial is limited by the amount of seaweed scientists can get their hands on. Given there are 30 million cattle in Australia, a handpicked supply will not be sufficient to scale the trial to a real world feedlot. Yet. 

To address the shortage, CSIRO is hoping to build a supply chain through it's innovation accelerator program. Stakeholders are watching on with keen interest, in particular large livestock operations, who have a vested interest to get ahead of the regulatory curve in addressing methane emissions.   

If this seaweed diet is found to improve growth performance too, then that’s a win-win for industry and the environment.

First reported in ABC April 22, 2017 :
Peer reviewed paperKinley Robert D., de Nys Rocky, Vucko Matthew J., Machado Lorenna, Tomkins Nigel W. (2016) The red macroalgae Asparagopsis taxiformis is a potent natural antimethanogenic that reduces methane production during in vitro fermentation with rumen fluid. Animal Production Science 56, 282-289.