Livestock and Climate Change: How Sustainable Livestock Production Helps

Livestock plays a crucial role in enhancing global food security, but the relationship between livestock and climate change isn’t always seen favourably. Even though livestock farming serves as a vital source of energy, protein, and essential micronutrients in marginal lands, it also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

As climate change is already significantly changing our weather patterns and way of life, finding sustainable solutions within livestock production is becoming crucial. That is why, in this blog post, we explore the relationship between livestock and climate change, analysing environmental consequences, strategies for their mitigation, and innovative projects that are shaping a sustainable future.

Keep reading to learn more about sustainable livestock production and its role in addressing one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

The Problem with Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Globally, livestock farming contributes more than 25% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food systems. These emissions primarily result from feed production and processing, alongside methane released during the digestion process of ruminant animals. The two main greenhouse gases produced by raising animals for food are nitrous oxide and methane.

Nitrous oxide results from various farming practices such as the application of fertilisers and manure handling.

Methane is primarily emitted by animals like cattle, goats, and sheep during their digestion, through a process called enteric fermentation. This process, facilitated by microbes in the animals’ digestive tracts, breaks down plant materials efficiently. However, it also releases methane into the atmosphere.

Additionally, methane emissions from livestock manure, particularly from concentrated animal feeding operations of hogs and dairy cattle, are significant. These operations often store manure as a liquid, contributing to methane emissions.

Overall, the agriculture sector, including livestock farming, is the largest source of methane emissions. Addressing these emissions is crucial for mitigating the environmental impact of livestock farming on climate change.

However, there is promising news: widespread adoption of existing best practices and technologies in animal feeding, health, husbandry, and manure management could enhance the global livestock sector.

In text visual illustrating our blog post about livestock and climate change

Definition and Benefits of Sustainable Livestock Production

Sustainable livestock production refers to the holistic approach and practices aimed at reducing negative environmental impacts, protecting natural resources, and enhancing economic resilience, while simultaneously ensuring high animal welfare standards, promoting public health, and maintaining meat quality.

For instance, sustainable livestock production contributes to economic growth by increasing productivity, reducing costs, creating employment opportunities, and encouraging economic development in rural areas. Additionally, this system prioritises mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through the integration of environmentally friendly practices and technologies, while also aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

How Sustainable Livestock Practices Contribute to Climate Change Mitigation

Sustainable livestock management practices play a significant role in mitigating climate change while enhancing the sector’s resilience and contributing to various aspects of animal and human well-being. According to the FAO, these practices lead to reductions in methane (CH4) emissions from digestion, nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from decomposing manure

Mitigation measures that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are: land resources, managing enteric fermentation, manure management, and fertiliser management.

  • Land resource management plays a significant role in mitigating livestock-related emissions and optimising agricultural productivity. Strategies such as adopting improved pastures, intensifying ruminant diets, altering breeding practices, and adjusting stocking rates can collectively contribute to emission reductions of up to 7%. Transitioning to more efficient and less land-demanding livestock systems holds promise for substantial emission reductions.
  • Another crucial aspect of mitigation involves managing enteric fermentation. Dietary adjustments, improved forage digestibility, and the use of feed additives and supplements have been shown to reduce enteric methane emissions significantly.
  • Effective manure management practices, such as altered storage methods and anaerobic digestion processes, can mitigate both nitrous oxide and methane emissions from livestock manure. Anaerobic digestion not only produces bioenergy but also reduces GHG emissions by replacing emission-intensive fossil energy sources.
  • Efforts to enhance fertilizer management in feed crop production aim to increase nitrogen application efficiency, thereby reducing nitrous oxide emissions associated with the livestock sector. Furthermore, shifting towards alternative livestock feed sources, such as microbial proteins, holds promise for reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by replacing conventional crop-based animal feed protein demand. These approaches highlight the potential for significant environmental benefits through sustainable land and resource management practices.

Sustainable livestock management practices and measures not only help to mitigate climate change but also contribute to food security and health. Moreover, they contribute to economic and environmental well-being, and the sociocultural lives of local communities.

In text visual illustrating our blog post about livestock

Towards Sustainable Livestock Production: The STEP UP Project

Mitigating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved through innovative projects aimed at enhancing EU livestock production. One such initiative is STEP UP, a Horizon Europe project running from January 2024 to December 2027. STEP UP aims to upgrade European Livestock Production Systems (ELPS) based on the data collected from the analysis of Innovative Livestock Production Systems (ILPS).

By integrating technology-driven techniques from ILPS, the project aims to create more informed and sustainable livestock farming practices, ultimately improving efficiency and enhancing animal welfare. In addition to addressing these objectives, STEP UP is committed to addressing the impact that livestock production has on the environment, including its contribution to ecosystem eutrophication, intensive resource use, and impact on climate change.

Conclusion

Sustainable livestock production emerges as a critical solution in the fight against climate change and its impacts on our planet. By adopting sustainable practices that prioritise the environment, economic resilience, and animal welfare, we can pave the way towards a more sustainable future. Initiatives like the STEP UP project show the commitment to advancing sustainable livestock production. Explore our Newsroom and stay updated for more information about sustainable livestock practices.



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