Animal Agriculture and Greenhouse Gases – Good News

As producers of high quality protein for the world’s population, we often get challenged that our ‘system’ of production exploits limited resources and contributes to global warming. For most of us, finding or even having a basic understanding of the facts to participate in this discussion in a knowledgeable manner can be frustrating or at least very time consuming.

This past week I came across research by Dr Frank Mitloehner, Professor of Animal Science and Air Quality Specialist at UC Davis that allowed me to gain a better perspective in response to our critics. Dr Mitloehner recently chaired a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) committee to measure and assess the environmental impact of the livestock industry.

His comments regarding the impact of the US livestock industry are posted on-line in an article entitled: Livestock and Climate Change: Facts and Fiction that is dated April 27th of this year. The article link is:

In this article Dr Mitloehner reports that the US-EPA has quantified the impact of livestock production in the US as contributing 4.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Of this, the vast majority is ruminants (dairy and beef) because of their methane production associated with rumen digestion. The swine industry is estimated to contribute only 0.47% of the US greenhouse gas.

To put this in perspective Dr Mitloehner asserts that if the US population would replace their current incandescent light bulbs with 100% Energy Star rated bulbs there would be a 1.2% reduction our greenhouse gas output. This reduction in output due to changing lightbulbs is because the energy sector in the US contributes 31% of our greenhouse gas output and transportation another 27%.

If you think about it, the swine industries progress in reducing our greenhouse gas production can be related in part to the vast improvements we’ve made in efficiency. In 1987 SwineGraphics reported that participants in its swine records program grew pigs from 50 to 235 lb with a 3.49:1 feed conversion ratio. In 2013 participants in the MetaFarms record system grew pigs from 52 to 271 lb with a 2.83:1 feed conversion.

This is 34 lb more gain per pig using 26 lb less feed. Also keep in mind that the feed in 1987 was most likely corn/soybean meal with added fat. In 2013, participants in the MetaFarms recording system were big users of DDGS and other lower cost ingredients that lowered their cost of gain versus feeding $8 corn so on a caloric efficiency basis the improvements are even more dramatic.

2 thoughts on “Animal Agriculture and Greenhouse Gases – Good News

  1. Impressive numbers for sure. Can Mike or someone else report similar efficiency comparisons for the entire swinw enterprise – sows, boars, feeders, growers and finishing?

  2. There aren’t any public access data sets that I’m aware of for farrow-finish for recent years. The data set only had 8 farms in the farrow-finish class for the 2015 data year so it’s application as an industry standard isn’t useful. The data set summarized yearly be Ken Stalder doesn’t report feed conversion for the breed-wean sites, only reproductive performance so you can’t back-compute your way into a farrow-finish number.

    However, the improvements are just as dramatic on a farrow-finish basis. Today we average approximately 1.2 tons of feed/female/yr in our breed-wean units. This amount of total feed per female hasn’t changed much over the past 25 years. However, the number of pigs per inventoried female has increased dramatically so the breeding herd feed per pig sold to slaughter has declined.

    As a point of reference, in 198 Swine Graphics reported the average farrow-finish herd whole farm feed conversion was 3.79. I suspect the industry average is closer to 3.1-3.2 today, depending on the use of ddgs in gestation diets.

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