Reducing dairy’s carbon footprint, one step at a time



What is a carbon footprint? defines a carbon footprint as the “the amount of carbon dioxide or other carbon compounds emitted into the atmosphere by the activities of an individual, company, country, etc.” This measurement is used to quantify the impact that a particular activity has on the environment.
How does the carbon footprint affect producers?
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Countries around the world are implementing strategies to reduce the agriculture industry’s carbon footprint which sometimes includes imposing a “carbon tax” on producers. The US Secretary of Agriculture recently signed a contract to significantly reduce dairy’s carbon footprint by 2020. New Zealand currently has an animal tax while Australia has plans to impose a carbon tax in July 2012.

How can producers help decrease the industry’s carbon footprint?

In his January Hoard’s Webinar, Dr. Mike Hutjens of the University of Illinois presented several compelling hypotheses and suggestions for reducing dairy’s carbon footprint. His ideas were essentially grouped into two categories: herd management and feeding strategies. 

Herd Management
A recent study compared the maintenance tax (DMI cost for maintenance) and its relationship to milk production in Holstein and Jersey cows. The results revealed a Holstein maintenance tax of 13 lbs. and a Jersey tax of only 10 lbs. Based on these findings, Hutjens has developed two hypotheses: First, high producing cows dilute the tax maintenance tax, reducing the GHG/unit of dairy product. Second, smaller cows produce less GHG.

Here are Hutjens’ other recommendations for reducing GHG through herd management:


Feeding Strategies
Hutjens identified increasing forage quality and concentrates as the most important feed factor to recommend. High forage quality and higher proportions of concentrate both helped reduce methane production in recent studies. Plus, a high concentrate diet can lower feed costs with the ability to use less scarce forages and commodity feeds. 
His other suggestions included increasing milk yield per cow and adding monensin-Rumensin. Using feed additives that enhance rumen performance is also beneficial (yeast culture, essential oils, buffers, etc.).
Hutjens also expressed an interest in limit feeding as a means to a decreased GHG. Listen to what Hutjens had to say about the potential benefits of limit feeding and tips for managing limit feeding heifers! Click on the source link below to watch the webinar.
Source: “Milk’s Shrinking Carbon Footprint” Hoard’s Webinar presented by Dr. Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois, on January 9, 2012.

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