A recent study has shown that by adding an organic compound to the feed of dairy cattle, researchers were about to reduce their methane emissions by around 25%.
The addition of 3-Nitrooxypropanol to the feed of dairy cows reduced their enteric methane emissions by around 25%. Often referred to as 3-NOP, the compound inhibits an enzyme that is crucial to the final stage of methane synthesis in a cow’s rumen. When 3-NOP is fed to cattle, their methane production is inhibited, explained researcher Alex Hristov, distinguished professor of dairy nutrition, College of Agricultural Sciences.
The 15-week study conducted at the Penn State Dairy Teaching and Research Center examined 3-NOP’s influence on rumen fermentation, lactational performance, sensory properties of milk and the resumption of ovarian cycles in 56 lactating dairy cows. The results, which were published in the Journal of Dairy Science, confirmed those of other 3-NOP trials conducted at Penn State and around the world, according to Hristov.
Compared with the control group, cows ingesting 3-NOP decreased their daily methane emissions by 26%, methane yield by 21% and methane emission intensity by 25%. Significantly, the investigational substance did not affect lactational performance of the cows and in fact increased their feed efficiency per unit of milk yield. The sensory properties of milk from cows fed 3-NOP and cheese made from that milk were not affected by treatment.
Methane—a natural by-product of digestion in ruminants—is released by cows into the atmosphere mostly through belching. So, the results of 3-NOP trials are viewed by many scientists as critical, if the carbon footprint of dairy and beef cattle production is to be reduced to help slow climate change, Hristov noted.
“3-NOP is the only substance that has worked significantly in reducing enteric methane in cattle and not had unacceptable effects on milk production or quality,” he said. “We have tried many things in recent years—including essential oils, oregano and seaweeds—and they either have been ineffective in the long term or need to be investigated further.”
The Penn State research, including other studies completed or currently underway, is a critical step in the approval process for 3-NOP use in the United States and around the world, Hristov argues. “We have credibility because of our excellent facilities and our reputation for generating accurate, reliable data,” he said.