Animal impacts (Animal Science Update)
The United States’ animal industries have seen increased efficiency gains over the past 60-70 years.
In the case of dairy, over the past 70 years, herd production has gone from 5,000 pounds-per-cow-per-year to more than 22,000 pounds-per-cow-per-year during that period.
At the same time, herd size has decreased from more than 25 million cows to 9.3 million.
There has been a reduction in total animal maintenance costs resulting in a significant lowering in carbon footprint.
The dairy industry will continue to make improvements in milk production through feed management, improvements in milk quality, herd health and reproductive management will also contribute to increasing productivity.
Some of the major improvements will continues to come through improvements in breeding and genetics.
According to Dr. Curt Van Tassell, at the Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory in Beltsville, MD, when genomic testing is fully implemented in the dairy industry, the rate of yearly increases in milk production could double.
Productivity will continue to drive the dairy industry and will be one of the major drivers in mitigation in the future.
Similar improvements have been seen in the beef industry.
In 1975 there were more than 130 million beef cows in the United States, today the number is about 95 million, however total beef production is about the same as in 1975, about 26 billion pounds of total beef production.
One hundred years ago, there were nearly 50 million sheep in the United States, today there are less than 10.
Thirty years ago, the breeding swine herd totaled about 75 million pigs, today it is closer to 45 million, today’s pigs produce about 26 billion pounds of pork per year versus 22 billion pounds 30 years ago.
The poultry has increased in size as Americans have greatly increased poultry consumption. In 1960, less than 10 billion pounds of broiler meat was produced, today this number is over 70 billion.
In 1960, the average market broiler weighed 3.3 pounds and reached market weight in 69 days.
In 2015 the average broiler reached market at 6.24 pounds and reached that weight at 48 days, with a feed efficiency of less that 2 pounds of feed consumed per pound of gain.
Overall, there has been a decrease in animal numbers, a reduction in area devoted to production and an increase in productivity in the animal industries.
The reduction in animal numbers results in a decline in maintenance costs. (Maintenance can be defined as the maintenance of a non-productive state, growing, lactating, working, etc.)
An increasing amount of animal’s products and decreasing maintenance will result in more efficiency.
In 2019, it is predicted that the average US citizen will consume 220 pounds of meat, not counting seafood.
Efficiency gains and greenhouse gasses: The amount of methane released can vary by animal species, as well as by housing, feeding and management practices.
For example, cows fed greater amounts of highly digestible feeds and forages, and/or supplemented with compounds such as ionophores (an ionophore partitions digestive fermentations in a ruminant animal to increase animal production efficiency) will have improved feed efficiencies, reduced methane production, and increased meat or milk production. Properly managed pastures, such as rotational or intensive grazing, that result in lower fiber accumulation in the plant can also reduce dietary methane production in livestock.
Grazing systems can also reduce methane production by reducing the amount of energy used for harvesting and preserving forages, another advantage of grazing is the ability of pastures to sequester organic carbon and further reduce atmospheric methane losses. Some farmers (mostly dairy and hog) have installed anaerobic digesters to capture the methane produced during manure storage.
These digesters can convert methane into energy that can be used on the farm, reducing energy costs.
In general, any technology that increases animal efficiencies will also reduce greenhouse and methane release relative to animal production.
In my next column I will discuss some other related consequences to the dramatic changes in animal production that we have seen.
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