Milk sampling technology helps reduce carbon emissions

New technology means that for the first time, analysing a milk sample can help dairy farmers to reduce the level of methane emissions emitted by their cows.

New technology means that for the first time, analysing a milk sample can help dairy farmers to reduce the level of methane emissions emitted by their cows.

Whilst the technology has just arrived in Britain, with 100 farmers piloting the scheme, a published US project [i] using the same technology generated an average methane output reduction of 12%. A 12% reduction in emissions from UK dairy cows would represent 660,000 tonnes CO2e annually [ii] - the equivalent of taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road.

Dairy farmers can use the new technology, which determines how efficiently cows turn what they eat into milk, to adjust cows’ diets and provide nutrition that produces less methane.

The process may also have benefits for the health and welfare of the cow and could make her more productive – methane production represents a loss of energy that can instead be used to produce milk. Farmers may also be able to use the technology to adjust the levels of saturated fat and omega 3 in the milk.

It is the first time milk sampling technology has been used as an aid to reducing carbon emissions from British dairy farms, and 100 farmers are already participating in the scheme which is being introduced by a feed manufacturer.

The method for detecting methane missions is already in use in France, where it has won the approval by the Environment Ministry.

“Dairy farms are responsible for less than 2% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions,” says Amanda Ball from DairyCo, the levy-funded organisation that works on behalf of British dairy farmers.

“Cows emit methane gas as part of the natural digestive process but it’s great that forward-thinking farmers are embracing new technology to find ways of reducing emissions.”

All dairy farmers have their milk tested for quality before it is processed. Farmers taking part in the milk sampling scheme, called Visiolac, will have an additional analysis conducted fortnightly on a sample from their herd, and receive a colour-coded report which shows the levels of methane, saturated fat and omega 3 generated by the cows’ diet. The results will give the farmer a clear indication of any dietary changes necessary.

Wyn Morris, Head of Ruminant Development at BOCM PAULS, the feed manufacturer that is bringing the technology to Britain, says: “We can’t talk to cows, and they can't talk to us, but through their milk we now know exactly what they need to eat in order for them to have a nutritionally balanced diet with the minimal amount of methane emitted. The scheme has the potential to add tremendous value to farmers, cows and the environment.”

Alan Winstanley, who looks after nearly 400 dairy cows at Highfields Farm in Audlem near Crewe has been using the system since March 2011. “It is great news that the dietary changes we make can have a positive effect on the environment. Since we started using the system we’ve have seen marked improvements in the health of our cows and an increase in milk production.”