FAO.org

Home > Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook > Production and Resources > B2 Climate-smart livestock production > B2 - 3 Climate-smart livestock production systems in practice
Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Climate-smart livestock production

Production and Resources

Climate-smart livestock production systems in practice

This chapter summarizes the main climate-smart agriculture strategies for land-based and landless livestock production systems (FAO, 2006). Integrated crop-livestock systems are addressed in module B5 on integrated production systems.

B2-3.1 Land-based systems

Several climate-smart options are available for land-based systems (i.e. systems depending mainly on grazing). They include reductions in enteric methane emissions through improved feed digestibility and carbon dioxide removals through soil carbon sequestration. The applicability of these options to low-input systems with infrequent human intervention tends to be quite limited because they require a high level of management. Manure management mitigation options have a high potential in landless systems but a much more limited potential in land-based systems. Climate-smart options deemed suitable for land-based systems, along with their effectiveness to satisfy multiple climate-smart objectives, are discussed below and are summarised in Table B2.1. 

This chapter discusses the climate-smart practices and technologies for land-based systems. They fall into three categories: those with clear adaptation and mitigation synergies; ‘adaptation only’ options; and ‘mitigation only’ options. The chapter also identifies options for which there are risks of tradeoffs between food security, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Climate-smart options deemed suitable for land-based systems, along with their capacities to satisfy multiple climate-smart objectives, are listed in Figure B2.5.

Figure B2.5.  Summary of climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies for land-based systems, their impact on food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and the main constraints to their adoption. 

 

Impact on food security

Effectiveness of climate change adaptation practices and technologies

Effectiveness of climate change mitigation practices and technologies

Main constraints to adoption

Grazing management

+/-

+

++

lack of technical information and capacities, especially in extensive systems

Pasture management

+

++

technical and economic in extensive systems

Animal breeding

+

++

++

technical, economic, institutional: especially in developing countries

Animal and herd management

+

++

+

technical, institutional: especially in developing countries

Animal disease and health

++

++

+

technical, institutional: especially in developing countries

Supplementary feeding

+

+

++

easy to implement, but costly

Vaccines against rumen archaea

++

+

not immediately available, may have low acceptability in some countries

Warning systems

++

+

technical, institutional: especially in developing countries

Weather-indexed insurance

+

technical, economic, institutional: especially in developing countries

Agroforestry practices

++

++

++

technical and economic

Grazing management

Grazing can be optimized by finding the right balance among the different users of the land and adapting grazing practices accordingly. Optimal grazing leads to improved grasslandproductivity and delivers adaptation and mitigation benefits. However, the net influence of optimal grazing is variable and highly dependent on baseline grazing practices, plant species, soils and climatic conditions (Smith et al., 2008).

One of the main strategies for increasing the efficiency of grazing management is through rotational grazingxi, in which the frequency and timing of grazing is adjusted to match the livestock’s needs with the availability of pasture resources. Through targeted temporal grazing exclusions, rotational grazing allows for the maintenance of forages at a relatively earlier growth stage. This enhances the quality and digestibility of the forage, improves the productivity of the system and reduces methane emissions per unit of live weight gain (Eagle et al., 2012). Rotational grazing is more suited to manage pasture systems, where the investment costs for fencing and watering points, additional labour and management that is more intensive are more likely to be recouped.

In colder climates, where animals are housed during cold periods, there are also opportunities for controlling the timing of grazing to avoid grassland degradation and adapt the grazing to the timing of vegetation growth to optimize the intake. For example, early grazing of summer pastures is a major cause of grassland degradation in Northern China (see Case study B2.1 on range management for mitigation and adaptation). Delaying grazing until the grass sprouts have reached a more advanced stage of maturity is an important sustainable grazing practice.

Furthermore, increasing livestock mobility, a traditional strategy of nomadic and transhumant herders in many parts of Africa for matching animal production needs with changing rangeland resources, can significantly enhance the resilience of these livestock systems to climate change (drought in particular). Land tenure reforms to deal with the encroachment of cultivated lands and other land uses that impede livestock mobility will be needed (Morton, 2007).

The most clear-cut mitigation benefits perhaps arise from soil carbon sequestration that results when grazing pressure is reduced as a means of stopping land degradation or rehabilitating degraded lands (Conant and Paustian, 2002). In these cases, enteric emission intensities can also be lowered, because with less grazing pressure animals have a wider choice of forage, and tend to select more nutritious forage, which is associated with more rapid rates of live weight gain (Rolfe, 2010). By restoring degraded grassland, these measures can also enhance soil health and water retention, which increases the resilience of the grazing system to climate variability. However, if grazing pressure is reduced by simply reducing the number of animals, then total output (e.g. milk, meat) per hectare may be lower, except in areas where baseline stocking rates are excessively high (Rolfe, 2010).

Table B2.1. Comparative advantage of mainstream agronomic practices and sustainable soil and land management practices for climate-smart agriculture

Climate-smart practices for climate change adaptation

Climate-smart practices for climate change mitigation

Climate-smart practices for climate change mitigation

Extensive grazing

 Improved grazing management

Many extensive grazing systems are suffering from overgrazing and serious reductions in the biodiversity of the aboveground vegetation. This is a result of the effects of declining availability of land and overstocking due to inadequate livestock management. This is causing a decline in the rangeland soil quality, with depletion of biomass, erosion of topsoil by water and wind, loss of soil organic carbon and reduction of ecosystem services. This harms the soil structure and lowers resilience (e.g. through loss of deep rooting species that can cycle nutrients and water from deep in the soil profile). Excessive trampling of livestock, in particular around watering points, further damages the soil structure and the ecosystem functions it provides.

Altering plant species composition is usually beneficial for pasture soils, as a selective increase in biodiversity can improve the quality, and usually the quantity, of soil organic carbon. This increases the range of rooting depths, which promotes nutrient and water cycling. Introducing leguminous species is particularly beneficial for fixing atmospheric nitrogen and improving soil fertility. 

Rotational grazing through regularly moving livestock between paddocks intensifies grazing pressure for a relatively short period of time (e.g. 1 to 3 days for ultra-high stocking density or 3 to 14 days for typical rotational grazing), leaving a rest period for regrowth in between rotations.

Assisted natural regeneration, leaving land ungrazed for a period of up to several years to allow tree seeds already in the soil to become established, brings multiple benefits to rangeland soils. It improves nutrient cycling as nutrients are drawn from deep in the soil. It also increases soil organic carbon on the surface as leaves fall, decompose and become incorporated into the soil. Trees also offer some protection to soils, as well as to people and livestock, from periods of intense heat, which are likely to become more frequent due to climate change.

Periodic burns, which can be part of fire management, can promote the overall health and growth of rangelands. For example, in tall grass prairie, increased plant productivity after burning more than compensates for the loss of plant carbon through combustion. Use of trees also increases production and adaptive capacity.

 

Compared with more highly productive pasture, rangelands have low carbon sequestration rates on a per unit basis. However, because of their vast area, they could sequester 2 to 4 percent of annual anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on a global basis (i.e. 20 percent of the carbon dioxide released annually from global deforestation and land-use change) (Derner and Schuman, 2007; Follett and Reed, 2010).

Fire management in rangelands is generally accepted to have a minimal to detrimental effect on greenhouse gas mitigation. Most studies found that soil organic carbon stays about the same or even decreases following repeated burns (Rice and Owensby, 2001). However, other harmful emissions (methane, smoke and aerosols) from burning are also linked to climate change, making it even less attractive as a greenhouse gas mitigation option.

Silvopasture (cultivating trees on grazing land) can store carbon in the soil and above ground, This practice may have greenhouse gas mitigation potential on up to 70 million hectares of grazing land (Nair and Nair, 2003). However, with limited field research data, the estimated soil carbon sequestration rates of 0.5 to 3.6 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year are largely based on expert opinions.

The above activities on pasture can bring about higher soil carbon sequestration rates than conservation activities on harvested croplands. The difference is due to the fact that in pastures, more of the plant biomass carbon is allocated to to below-ground soil carbon. In pastures, the growing season is longer, there is less soil disturbance and water is more efficiently utilized. The range in sequestration rates in pastures depends on specific local characteristics, such as soil composition, topography, climate and existing grass species. The net fluxes of greenhouse gases are also affected by nitrous oxide, or methane cycles (Conant et al., 2005).

Source: Adapted from FAO, 2013c

Pasture management and nutrition

Pasturexii management measures involve the sowing of improved varieties of pasture, typically replacing native grasses with higher yielding and more digestible forages, including perennial fodders, pastures and legumes (Bentley et al., 2008). For example, in tropical grazing systems of Latin America, substantial improvements in soil carbon storage and farm productivity, as well as reductions in enteric emission intensities, are possible by replacing natural cerrado vegetation with deep-rooted pasture species, such as Brachiaria (Thornton and Herrero, 2010). However, there are far fewer opportunities for sowing improved pastures in arid and semi-arid grazing systems.

The intensification of pasture production though fertilization, cutting regimes and irrigation practices may also enhance productivity, soil organic carbon, pasture quality and animal performance (e.g. milk or meat yield). These approaches however, may not always reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Improving pasture quality through nitrogen fertilization may involve trade-offs between lower methane emissions and higher nitrous oxide emissions (Bannink et al., 2010). In addition, after accounting for energy-related emissions and nitrous oxide emissions associated with irrigation, the net greenhouse gas emissions of this practice may be negative on grazing lands (Eagle et al., 2012). Grass quality can also be improved by chemical treatments (e.g. the use of ammonia) and/or mechanical actions (e.g. chopping, grinding, and ensiling). Both synergies and trade-offs can exist between pasture management and biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity conservation can be a constraint to pasture intensification, as fertilization, sowing, irrigation and high stocking rates usually lead to grasslands that have fewer plant species and provide less resources (food, habitat) for animals, and are consequently less rich in biodiversity (Vickery et al., 2001; Kleijn et al., 2009). At the same time, grassland abandonment is also a threat to biodiversity. The highest diversity of wild species is often found in pastures with intermediate levels of management intensity (FAO, 2016a). Certain grassland management practices, such as adjusting the timing and intensity of grazing, setting up buffers to protect wild habitats, introducing supplementary feeding or nutrient management can provide multiple co-benefits for carbon sequestration, land restoration and biodiversity conservation (FAO, 2016b). The role of biodiversity conservation for sustainable agricultural intensification and climate change adaptation is addressed in module B8

With increasing variability in climatic conditions (e.g. increasing incidents of drought), there may be an increase in the frequency of periods where forage availability falls short of animal demands. In these situations, supplemental feeding can be an important adaptation strategy.

Agroforestry

Agroforestry  is an integrated approach to the production of woody perennials and crops or grasses and/or animals on the same piece of land. Because it can sequester carbon in the soil, agroforestry is also important for climate change mitigation. It can also improve feed quality, which reduces enteric methane emissions. Agroforestry is an option for climate change adaptation in that it improves the resilience of agricultural production to climate variability by using trees to intensify and diversify production and buffer-farming systems against hazards (see Box B2.4). In extensive grazing systems, controlling the ambient temperature is largely impractical. Providing some shade for the animals and sufficient water, possibly including places for them to wallow, is usually the most that can be done.  Shade trees reduce heat stress on animals and help increase productivity. Trees also improve the supply and quality of forage, which can help reduce overgrazing and curb land degradation (Thornton and Herrero, 2010). Agroforestry systems are discussed in module B5 on integrated production systems.

Box B2.4  Silvopastoral systems in Central and South America

In a project funded by Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) worked with FAO, Nitlapan in Nicaragua and the Fundación Centre for Research on Sustainable Farming Systems (CIPAV) in Colombia and the World Bank to evaluate the impacts of payment for environmental services on the adoption of silvopastoral systems. From 2003 to 2006, cattle farmers from Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, received between USD 2 000 and USD 2 400 per farm (an amount that represents 10 to 15 percent of their net income) to implement a payment for environmental services programme for silvopastoral systems. The programme led to a 60 percent reduction in degraded pastures in the three countries, and the area of land used for silvopastoral systems (e.g. improved pastures with high-density trees, fodder banks and live fences) increased significantly. The environmental benefits associated with the project included a 71 percent increase in carbon sequestration, from 27.7 million tonnes of CO2 eq. in 2003 to 47.6 million tonnes in 2006. Milk production increased by 10 percent, and farm income rose by 115 percent. Herbicide use dropped by 60 percent, and the practice of using fire to manage pasture has become less frequent.

Source: FAO, 2010a

Animal breeding

As discussed in Chapter B8-3 on animal genetic resources, breeding more productive animals is a strategy to enhance productivity and thereby lower methane emission intensities. Research has started on the mitigation benefits of using residual feed intake as a selection tool for low methane-emitting animals, but findings have been inconclusive (Waghorn and Hegarty, 2011).

Crossbreeding programmes can deliver simultaneous adaptation, food security and mitigation benefits. For example, composite cattle breeds developed in recent decades in tropical grasslands of northern Australia have demonstrated greater heat tolerance and disease resistance, and better fitness and reproductive traits compared with pure shorthorn breeds that had previously dominated these harsh regions (Bentley et al., 2008). In general, crossbreedingxiii  strategies that make use of locally adapted breeds, which are not only tolerant to heat and poor nutrition, but also to parasites and diseases (Hoffmann, 2008), may become more common with climate change.

Adaptation to climate change can also be fostered by switching livestock species. For example, the Samburu of northern Kenya, a traditionally cattle-keeping people, adopted camels as part of their livelihood strategy. This switch allowed them to overcome a decline in their cattle economy, which, from 1960 onwards, had been affected by drought, cattle raiding and animal disease (Sperling, 1987). 

Animal and herd management, disease control and feeding strategies

As with all livestock production systems, there are a number of animal and herd management options for land-based systems that can enhance animal productivity, improve feed conversion efficiency and thereby reduce enteric emission intensities. Improving animal husbandry through activities that ensure proper nutrition and appropriate feeding and reproductive strategies, regularly maintaining animal health and using antibiotics responsibly can improve reproduction rates, reduce mortality and lower the slaughter age. All of these measures will increase the amount of output produced for a given level of emissions. The impacts of these measures on adaptation are likely to be neutral.

In addition to enhanced animal health management to maintain and improve animal performance, as discussed in Chapter B2-2.1, the management of disease risks may also become increasingly important because there may be an increase in the emergence of gastro-intestinal parasites due to climate change (Wall and Morgan, 2009). Breeding more disease resilient animals is one approach to addressing this issue.

Vaccines against rumen archaea

Because of their wide applicability, even for very low-input extensive systems with little human intervention, vaccines against microorganisms that produce methane as a metabolic by-product in low-oxygen conditions (methanogens) in the rumen are a potentially useful mitigation option for ruminants in land-based grazing systems. However, more research and development is needed before this option is ready for widespread adoption (Wright and Klieve, 2011).

Early warning systems and insurance

The use of weather information to assist rural communities in managing the risks associated with rainfall variability is a potentially effective preventative option for climate change adaptation. It is applicable to all systems, particularly land-based systems that depend heavily on local feed availability and are more vulnerable to production failures. However, there are issues related to the effectiveness of climate forecasts for livestock management that need to be addressed (Hellmuth et al., 2007). Weather-indexed Livestock insurance schemes in which policyholders are paid in response to 'trigger events', such as abnormal rainfall or high local animal mortality rates, may be effective when preventative measures fail (Skees and Enkh-Amgala, 2002). There may be limits, however, to what private insurance markets can do for large vulnerable populations facing risks linked to climate change (UNDP, 2008). In situations where risks are unacceptably high for the private sector, public-private partnership approaches to index-based livestock insurance, in which the public sector underwrites a share of these risks, could play an important role. Indexed insurance schemes based on satellite imagery are being piloted in several areas of drought-prone northern Kenya (Barrett et al., 2008; Mude, 2009).

B2-3.2 Landless systems

Climate-smart options are also available for intensive systems (UNFCCC, 2008; Gill et al., 2009). These options mainly relate to manure management for pig and dairy production and feedlots, and enteric fermentation for dairy cattle farms and feedlots. Because these systems are generally more standardized than integrated crop-livestock and grazing systems, there are fewer applicable options (see Figure B2.6).

Figure B2.6.  Summary of climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies for landless systems

Practices/technologies

Impact on food security

Effectiveness as adaptation strategy

Effectiveness as mitigation strategy

Main constraints to adoption

Anaerobic digesters for biogas and fertilizer

+++

+++

+++

Investment costs

Composting, improved manure handling and storage (e.g. covering manure heaps), application techniques (e.g. rapid incorporation)

++

+

++

Temperature control systems

++

+++

-

High investment and operating costs

Disease surveillance

++

+++

+

Energy use efficiency

+

+++

Subsidized energy costs

Improved feeding practices (e.g. precision feeding)

+++

+

+++

High operating costs

Building resilience along supply chains

++

+++

-

Requires coordination along the chains

Mitigation/adaptation potential: + = low; ++ = medium; and +++= high

Source: Adapted from FAO, 2013c

Improved waste management

Most methane emissions from manure derive from swine and beef cattle feedlots and dairy cattle, where production is carried out on a large scale and manure is stored under anaerobic conditions. Greenhouse gas mitigation options include the capture of methane by using biogas collectors to cover manure storage facilities. The captured methane can be flared or used as a source of energy for electric generators, heating or lighting. An example of energy generated in this way to offset carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels is presented in Box B2.5. The climate change adaptation and mitigation benefits of production systems that integrate food and energy production are considered in module B5, while the management of energy in the context of climate-smart agriculture is addressed in module B9.

Anaerobic digestion technology harnesses microorganisms to degrade organic materials, including manure, in containers where oxygen is absent to produce methane that can be used for heating, cooking or energy production. This technology has been shown to be highly profitable in warm climates (Gerber et al., 2008). Recent developments in energy policy have also enhanced its economic profitability in countries such as Denmark and Germany (AEBIOM, 2009). Manure application practices can also reduce nitrous oxide emissions. Improved livestock diets, as well as feed additives, can substantially reduce methane emissions from enteric fermentation and manure storage (FAO, 2006). Energy-saving practices have also been demonstrated to be effective in reducing the dependence of intensive systems on fossil fuels.

Box B2.5  Spatial planning and recovery of nutrient and energy from animal manure - insights from Thailand

Experience from Thailand shows that improving the spatial distribution of livestock production is a cost-effective way of fostering better manure management practices. Policy makers need to pay increased attention to the spatial distribution of livestock production as it creates the right economic conditions for the recycling of manure as an input to other production activities. Of particular importance are policy instruments that ensure that animal densities are such that manure can be recycled within a reasonable distance from its production. This would reduce animal concentrations in areas, such as peri-urban neighbourhoods, with low nutrient absorption capacity.

Better distribution of livestock production increases farm profits and at the same time reduces emissions. However, relying solely on regional planning does not lead to acceptable levels of emission reductions, except in specific cases. Better distribution of livestock should be considered a basic, low-cost measure, which should be combined with the development and enforcement of regulations and communication activities.

The adoption of bio-digestion can increase farm profits by 10 to 20 percent and help reduce the environmental impact of livestock production.

A cost-efficient reduction of pollution from intensive waste production requires a combination of better spatial distribution of livestock production and pollution control measures.

Source: more information can be found at FAO, 2010b

Improved feed conversion

Carbon dioxide emissions associated with feed production, especially soybean, are significant (FAO, 2006). Improved feed conversion ratios have already greatly reduced the amount of feed required per unit of animal product. However, there is significant variation between production units and countries. 

Further progress is expected to be made in this area through improvements in feed management and livestock breeding. Reducing the amount of feed required per unit of output (e.g. beef, milk) has the potential to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase farm profits. Feed efficiency can be increased by developing breeds that grow faster, are more hardy, gain weight more quickly, or produce more milk. Feed efficiency can also be increased by improving herd health through better veterinary services, preventive health programmes and improved water quality.

Sourcing low-emission feed

Shifting to feed resources with a low-carbon footprint is another way to reduce emissions, especially for geographically concentrated pig and poultry production systems. Examples of low-emission feeds include feed crops that have been produced through conservation agriculture or that have been grown in areas that have not been recently extended into forested land or natural pastures. Crop by-products and co-products from the agrifood industry are also examples of low-emission feeds.

Improving energy use efficiency

Landless systems generally rely on greater amounts of fossil fuel energy than integrated crop-livestock  and grazing systems  (FAO, 2009; Gerber et al., 2011). Energy is used at different stages, such as for advanced cooling technologies (e.g. sprays or fans that cool the animals), water use, and production of a range of feedstuffs. To a large extent, this protects the high-output animals used in landless systems against the direct effects of high temperatures. In these situations, the main question is economic: is the cost of adapting the production environment, including ongoing higher expenditures on inputs, is more or less than the cost of not adapting or changing the animal genetic resources by potentially switching to less productive breeds? Small-scale producers who have adopted high-output breeds but struggle to obtain the capital to purchase the inputs needed to prevent the animals from becoming overheated may find that their problems are exacerbated by climate change. Improving energy use efficiency, i.e. amount of energy used per unit of product, is an effective way to reduce production costs and lower emissions. 

Dairy farms are seen as having great potential for energy use efficiency gains. Energy is used for the milking process, cooling and storing milk, heating water, lighting and ventilation. Cooling milk generally accounts for most of the electrical energy consumption on a dairy farm in developed countries. Cows are milked at temperatures around 35 to 37.5 degrees Celsius. To maintain high milk quality, which includes keeping bacteria counts low, the raw milk temperature needs to be lowered quickly to 3 to 4 degrees Celsius. Refrigeration systems are usually energy-intensive. Heat exchangers cooled by well water, variable-speed drives on the milk pump, refrigeration heat recovery units and scroll compressors are all energy conservation technologies that can reduce the energy consumed in the cooling system. These technologies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially in countries where the energy sector is emission intensive. See Case study B2.4.

Building resilience along supply chains

Landless livestock systems rely on purchased inputs. Climate change contributes to increased price volatility of these inputs, especially feed and energy, which increases the financial risks for stakeholders involved in the livestock supply chain. This is especially true where the stocks of inputs are kept at a minimum throughout the supply chain and buffering options against price hikes are limited. In addition, the changing disease patterns caused by climate change can quickly affect landless systems that heavily rely on transport in the supply chain. Resilience can be achieved by either allowing the supply chains to overcome the crisis or creating the conditions for quick recovery after the crisis. Although little experience has yet been developed in this area, greater coordination among the different stakeholders involved in the supply chain, insurance schemes, improved buffers and greater stocks may contribute to building the resilience of supply chains that rely on landless livestock systems.