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Wheat works wonders for dairy cows

New research by Gippsland based scientists has found that including crushed wheat in dairy cows’ diets can increase milk yield while nearly halving methane emissions.

Victorian Minister for Agriculture and Food Security Peter Walsh said Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) researchers at the Centre for Dairy Excellence at Ellinbank had conducted two experiments which produced significant results for the dairy industry.

“The first experiment in spring involved feeding early lactation cows up to 9 kilograms of crushed wheat, 2 kilograms of dry matter concentrate and sufficient freshly cut ryegrass dominant pasture so the cows consumed 20 kilograms of dry matter per day,” Mr Walsh said.

“As a result the cows’ milk yield increased by 21 per cent and methane emissions decreased by 29 per cent. This translated to a 42 per cent reduction in methane output per kilogram of milk and a 27 per cent reduction in the carbon footprint of the milk.

“In the second experiment in summer, late lactation cows were fed a diet of lucerne hay supplemented with wheat at 10kg of dry matter per cow per day, replacing 10kg per day of corn.

“This increased milk yield by seven per cent, decreased methane emissions by 48 per cent and decreased methane per kilogram of milk by 51 per cent. So in summer the carbon footprint of the milk was reduced by approximately 30 per cent.”

Mr Walsh said these results showed that simple changes in feeding strategies could have major impacts on the productivity of Victorian farmers.

“These findings are also important to improve our appeal to global export markets, where many consumers are interested in the carbon footprint of the food they buy. In Japan for instance, some supermarkets sell milk with its carbon footprint
displayed on the packaging," he said.

Senior Researcher Dr Peter Moate said the findings should be applicable not only to dairy cows, but also to beef cattle in feed-lots.

“We know that on average, Australian dairy farmers already feed about six kilograms of crushed wheat dry matter per cow each day so that the methane emissions of Australian cows are most likely much less than previously thought,” Dr Moate said.

The research was funded by DEPI, Dairy Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia and the Federal Department of Agriculture.


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