Laser equipment mounted on a tripod.

An open-path laser is beamed to five reflectors to measure methane emissions from cattle.

Mitigating methane emissions from our northern beef herd

CSIRO is developing reliable methods for measuring methane emissions from Australia’s northern beef herd.

  • 15 August 2011 | Updated 5 September 2012

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Reducing livestock emissions video (6:52)

Northern herd registers five per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

The northern beef herd is estimated to release almost half of Australia’s intestinal methane emissions, or about five per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Until now there has been no suitable methods for measuring these emissions in the field, yet measurement will be vital in a carbon trading economy. This project aims to address this deficiency.

Laser technology and nutrition trials

The project focuses on two key areas:

  • Developing the open path laser technique for direct measurement of methane from cattle in extensive grazing systems. 
  • Measuring the changes in methane emissions from cattle grazing on a range of commonly used tropical legumes which may have methane limiting properties.

Larger scale trials of the lasers will focus on cattle corralled at watering points.

Using the laser technology, researchers have demonstrated that it is feasible to measure methane emissions from low densities of cattle in a paddock. The laser is used to measure methane concentration over several hundred metres.

Methane emissions are estimated from methane concentration and wind data. The results from this field method will be analysed and validated against conventional chamber methods. To date studies have been conducted in buffel grass and buffel/leucaena paddocks.

Larger scale commercial trials will be conducted using a modified method where laser measurements will be made on cattle corralled at watering points. 

Several tropical legumes have been examined for their possible methane limiting properties. These were fed to cattle in methane chambers and the effect of each legume was assessed by increasing the proportion of legume in the diet.

For lucerne, stylo and Burgundy bean, increasing the content of legume in the diet, reduced the emissions of methane per kg DM intake. These data concur with a previous study designed in the same manner and funded by the Department of Climate Change (DCC) and will be used to validate the results of the laser measurement work.

Composite image showing lasers and reflectors with a field and cattle.

Composite image demonstrating how an open-path laser, beamed to five reflectors around the paddock perimeter, is being used to measure methane emissions from cattle.

Project Partners

The project is part of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) funded Australia’s farming future – Climate Change Research Program.

It is administered and partially funded by Meat and Livestock Australia through  its Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program. These funds are matched by CSIRO for a total contribution of A$1.9 million.

Find out more about CSIRO's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship.