Ruminant methane inhibitors must not just address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions challenges but also deliver improved animal performance, according to one of the largest red meat processors in the UK.

Foyle Food Group’s Andrew Clarke told the Northern Ireland Institute of Agricultural Science (NIIAS) summer conference that there are a number of key factors to consider in relation to ruminant methane inhibitors.

“They must deliver improved levels of performance, in terms of enhanced daily growth rates and feed conversion efficiencies,” he warned.

According to Clarke, Foyle has been trialing a methane inhibitor – Elensis – which has showed what can potentially be achieved.

He said: “The initial work on the additive’s rationale in reducing methane production levels was carried out in France.

“Our trial work has been very much focussed on identifying the value of the product in delivering improved animal performance.”        

According to Clarke up to this point Elensis has been included in total mixed ration (TMR) diets, offered to finishing cattle.

He outlined that it acts to improve microbial conditions within the rumen which in turn leads to lactic acid levels being reduced while propionic acid levels are increased.

According to Clarke during this process, methane levels are also reduced. Trials have confirmed that propionic acid is favourable to the muscle development of fattening cattle.

The search is also continuing to identify a methane inhibitor that will work for cattle at grass.

Foyle has joined forces with Northern Ireland’s ARCZero project to participate in a trial that has included beef cattle grazing a mixture of perennial ryegrass and cut willow.

There is a suggestion that the tannins in willow will act to reduce enteric methane production levels.

One of the clear benefits of willow is that it grows easily in the UK and is already used as a bioenergy crop in Ireland

Meanwhile trial work with sheep carried out by Agri-Food and Biosciences’ Institute (AFBI) research scientists has confirmed that the inclusion of oil derived form microalgae in TMR diets can reduce methane emission levels by 21%.

The next stage in this process will be to add a second methane inhibitor to the animals’ diet. The aim of the work is to find out if a cumulative effect can be generated, where methane reduction is concerned.

Other AFBI research has shown that increasing starch and concentrate proportions in the diet within recommended guidance levels can also reduce methane production per unit of feed.