A new report has highlighted the role that reducing key endemic diseases in ruminants can play in reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

The report, ‘Acting on methane: opportunities for the UK cattle and sheep sectors’, details available interventions for priority health-and-welfare conditions to provide a starting point for discussions between farmer and vet, or animal-health advisers, about the health status of their herd or flocks with methane reductions in mind.  

The report was produced by Moredun Research Institute in conjunction with Ruminant Health & Welfare (RHW).

“Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) when compared with CO2 and, on many farms, contributes over 50% of total emissions," explained RHW chair, Nigel Miller.

"It’s important to remember that methane is the only short-term gas among the big three GHGs that has the potential, if managed, to slow global warming.”

According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), ruminants are responsible for 45% of UK methane emissions, the majority of which is through rumen digestion, manure and slurry.

However, the area the sector can really make an immediate difference in is the contribution of certain livestock diseases to emissions.

“The baseline work on GHG diseases, funded by both DEFRA and Scottish government, found that improving livestock health and welfare could reduce methane emissions by 10%," said principal scientist at Moredun Research Institute, Dr. Philip Skuce.

“For example, studies reveal that gastrointestinal parasites lead to a minimum 10% increase in GHG emissions in lamb production. Similarly, liver fluke infection adds an extra 11 days to slaughter in cattle, reducing growth rate by 4% and adding 2% to the GHG footprint.”

As emissions and productivity go hand in hand, reducing the burden of endemic disease contributes to improved productivity on livestock farms through better feed conversion efficiency, live weight gain, and less involuntary culling.

“It’s important that despite global pressures we are facing, our livestock sector continues to remain focused on the big picture of how we can work towards improved livestock health, productivity and environmental impact," Miller said.

“Ruminant health is one of a small, but important, group of mitigation measures which can reduce emissions while also delivering a cost-benefit. Progress on health is identified immediately through herd or flock performance data, which feeds into on-farm carbon calculators and the national inventory."

He said the tools and resources identified in the report, for example, monitoring and mapping out disease goals, are already available for farmers to utilise now.

“Effective farm health strategies are a gateway into low emissions production, and should be a pillar of future low-carbon production systems supported by flock or herd-health security."