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Cattle diet software helps sustainable production

A newly developed algorithm processes a range of complex factors to define the optimum feed for sustainable animal growth.

Calves
Software will help deliver optimum diets to cattle.

A freely available computer model could help producers to minimise methane emissions from beef cattle.

The complex algorithm allows farmers to optimise the growth of animals given cattle feed diets or supplements to grazing on pasture.

Optimising cattle’s growth limits the time taken for animals to reach their market weight, and correspondingly curbs the amount of methane produced in their lifetime.

Optimisation tool

A team led by scientists at the Global Academy for Agriculture and Food Security developed their algorithm by unpicking the many factors that influence diet and growth, and expressing these mathematically.

Researchers worked with experts at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Mathematics, who developed a programme to generate solutions using the mathematical problems.

The collaboration led to the development of a free online tool, which enables producers to calculate the optimum diet for their herd, based on a suite of variable factors, for a host of preferred outcomes.

The package, which is freely available online, solves a problem that has persisted among producers for many decades – how best to feed their herds.

Researchers say their model is broader and more sophisticated than traditional formulations, which have focused on feeding animals at the lowest possible cost rather than minimal time to market.

Trade-off

The new approach also gives solutions that are resilient to uncertainty over the market prices of animals and feedstuff.

The tool offers a step towards a central aim among producers – limiting the greenhouse gas emissions of cattle as far as possible while protecting animal welfare and productivity.

This finds a sweet spot in the trade-off between diminishing greenhouse gases and maintaining profit in a sector with small margins, researchers say.

Cattle convert their plant diet into meat, but they are also a key source of methane, one of the worst greenhouse gases. For producers, the goal is sustainable production through optimum growth of cattle, but the maths involved is complex and has not been tackled effectively until now. We hope our freely available optimisation software will enable producers towards minimal emissions without compromising their profitability.

Gabriel MarquesGlobal Academy for Agriculture and Food Security

Details of the study, carried out in collaboration with partners in the US and Brazil, are published in the journal Animal.

Related links

Scientific publication

Click here to access the feed algorithm

Q&A: Can we change course on global livestock feeds?