Animal board invited review: Specialising and intensifying cattle production for better efficiency and less global warming: contrasting results for milk and meat co-production at different scales

Animal. 2022 Jan 4;16(1):100431. doi: 10.1016/j.animal.2021.100431. Online ahead of print.

ABSTRACT

Cattle are the world’s largest consumers of plant biomass. Digestion of this biomass by ruminants generates high methane emissions that affect global warming. In the last decades, the specialisation of cattle breeds and livestock systems towards either milk or meat has increased the milk production of dairy cows and the carcass weight of slaughtered cattle. At the animal level and farm level, improved animal performance decreases feed use and greenhouse gas emissions per kg of milk or carcass weight, mainly through a dilution of maintenance requirements per unit of product. However, increasing milk production per dairy cow reduces meat production from the dairy sector, as there are fewer dairy cows. More beef cows are then required if one wants to maintain the same meat production level at country scale. Meat produced from the dairy herd has a better feed efficiency (less feed required per kg of carcass weight) and emits less methane than the meat produced by the cow-calf systems, because the intake of lactating cows is largely for milk production and marginally for meat, whereas the intake of beef cows is entirely for meat. Consequently, the benefits of breed specialisation assessed at the animal level and farm level may not hold when milk and meat productions are considered together. Any change in the milk-to-meat production ratio at the country level affects the numbers of beef cows required to produce meat. At the world scale, a broad diversity in feed efficiencies of cattle products is observed. Where both productions of milk per dairy cow and meat per head of cattle are low, the relationship between milk and meat efficiencies is positive. Improved management practices (feed, reproduction, health) increase the feed efficiency of both products. Where milk and meat productivities are high, a trade-off between feed efficiencies of milk and meat can be observed in relation to the share of meat produced in either the dairy sector or the beef sector. As a result, in developing countries, increasing productivities of both dairy and beef cattle herds will increase milk and meat efficiencies, reduce land use and decrease methane emissions. In other regions of the world, increasing meat production from young animals produced by dairy cows is probably a better option to reduce feed use for an unchanged milk-to-meat production ratio.

PMID:34996025 | DOI:10.1016/j.animal.2021.100431

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