Reducing methane in cow burps in the short term

“Feeding cows seaweed may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelming impact of global greenhouse gas emissions. Not so … The reality is that we are at a point on climate change where we have to throw all this spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.”

Sarah Ann Smith, Director of the Super-pollutants (meaning methane) program at the US-based Clean Air Task Force.

Ok, back to reality…

In our last article, we touched on the intersection of several issues relating to beef production, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the gaps between the public perception of the industry and reality. While there are a lot of moving parts, a quick recap includes:

So, while everyone has to eat, and although Canada and Canadian Beef account for a very small portion of GHG emissions, it is important that we all play our part in reducing the environmental footprint of beef while still doin’ what Alberta does best… servin’ up safe, delicious, nutritious, and sustainable Alberta beef.

As Gentec Head of Beef Operations John Basarab previously stated, there are several ways progress can be made towards achieving these objectives, with each one delivering results on differing time horizons. And while all three can be initiated simultaneously, today, we focus on those that can have an impact relatively quickly. These include altered feeding regimes, the inclusion of feed supplements, and practices that reduce the time to harvest.

For an update on these, we turn to one of Gentec’s supporting pillars, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC livestock specialists, including Dr. Karen Beauchemin, working out of the Lethbridge Research Centre, are pursuing several strategies to reduce the GHG impacts of livestock, with much of the work looking at ways to reduce methane emissions. Methane alone accounts for roughly 50% of total GHG produced on a typical beef or dairy operation.

The good news is that AAFC research has identified multiple ways of reducing methane in the immediate term. Many focus on changes to cattle feed or supplementation regimes. And if one believes that “many hands make light work” then the challenge may not be as insurmountable as initially thought. Many big names in the industry are working hard to realize gains in protecting our environment:

  • DSM produces a supplement called BovaerÒ that may reduce methane emission from dairy cattle by up to 45%.
  • Mootral, a garlic / citric supplement, has shown reduced methane emission by a similar amount. Closer to home, Lakeland College (Gentec alumnus Obi Duranna) is investigating the impact of garlic feed-supplementation on methane production.
  • Tim Horton’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, is involved in research showing that adding lemongrass to cattle diets can reduce methane by about 1/3.
  • Other big names looking for ways to reduce GHG emissions of beef include Alltech, Syngenta and Cargill.
  • Seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis, has some of the most studies and significant reductions in methane production when used as a feed supplement – estimated to be 82% or even higher (99%) under specialized conditions.

More and more work is also being done directly by producers and their representative organizations. Gentec collaborator, Lakeland Agricultural Research Association’s (LARA) Forage and Livestock Program Manager, Megan Wanchuk, points out that:

“LARA has evaluated the yield and nutritional value of alternative feeds (chicory and plantain), which studies have shown to reduce the environmental impact of cattle through decreased rumen ammonia production and reduced urine nitrogen. We are evaluating yield and quality of different cover crop blends for silage or grazing to find an alternative to cereal monocrops that can improve soil health and reduce the amount of fertilizer required. And we’re always looking for opportunities to explore ways to improve the operational efficiency and environmental impact of our members.”

Immediate gains are also beginning to arrive from a source previously viewed as offering benefit only over the much longer term. AAFC has noted that significant gains in efficiency and GHG emissions can be achieved by improving the reproductive performance of cows in a way that reduces the need for replacement heifers.

Gentec-developed EnVigour HXTM, the genomic tool to calculate breed composition and hybrid vigour, also forms the foundation of Gentec’s 2nd generation of products, including the Replacement Heifer Profit IndexTM score. The RHPI combines hybrid vigour with several traits of critical economic importance to beef cow/calf producers, allowing them to better select “genomically” for fertility, longevity, and lifetime productivity. See the case study (scroll manually to page 13) and follow up article in The Blade (scroll manually to page 20)


















At the Grill with William Torres: Beef, creating memories ever since carnivores have been around

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about the best cuts for BBQ season and the pleasures that go with them.

With the May long weekend out of the way, this signals the start of BBQ season.

Let’s talk about our favorite cuts of beef to grill or what to order when dining out. Some of ya’ll might opt for the easy burgers and all-beef hot dogs so I’ll quickly cover those as well. Since there are many options, I’ll give you some of my go-to recipes and cuts, plus what’s available out there for you.

Let’s start with burgers. There are so many options but my favorites are The Keg’s prime rib burgers available at Costco, I really like these for their juiciness, thickness, and seasoning. Costco also offers Angus burgers, which is another good, juicy and flavourful choice. Another option is President’s Choice sirloin burgers from Superstore. We usually buy cheese buns, and top them off with fresh tomatoes, onions, and lettuce.

On the wiener side, if you’re a fan of the $1.50 hot dog at Costco, then their Kirkland signature all-beef wieners are for you (and me, lol). A triple pack of 12 runs about $22.29.

Now onto the real memory-creating moments. Remember, there is no “chicken fork”—but there IS a “steak knife”!

My top five steaks in ascending order are:

  • Skirt steak: although not my top choice for steak-eating alone, it is the #1 choice for fajitas. Side note, fajitas is the Spanish word for little skirts, hence “skirt steak”. Chickens don’t have a skirt cut so there is no such thing as chicken fajitas. Now you know. Thin-slicing and marinating this cut with an acid-like citrus juice to help breakdown the fibers makes for easy grilling and prevents that tough chew when you take a bite of those delicious tacos.
  • NY strip: A strip steak is the half of a porterhouse or T-bone without the filet mignon. Cut from a little-used muscle on the loin, this steak is particularly tender—though less so than the filet mignon or ribeye. It carries a nice richness due to its marbling. A New York strip will have a thicker fat cap around the meat, which is helpful for retaining juices during the cooking process. You may not want to chew through this thick fat but it will be a boon during the cooking process.
  • T-bone steak: A T-bone is probably one of the most recognizable steaks due to the t-shape of the bone and meat. T-bones offer the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you’ll get a lean filet. On the other, you’ll have a marbled strip loin with plenty of flavour. This cut is like the porterhouse steak we will discuss next but without the fullness on the filet side. T-bones can be a great cut to share for those who like a little bit of everything in their meats.
  • Porterhouse steak: As I said, a porterhouse is a bone-in short-loin steak like a T-bone but with a heftier portion of tenderloin filet than the T-bone can offer. It’s one of the best cuts you’ll find in a steakhouse. Due to the size of the cut, a porterhouse steak is generally featured as an option for two guests or for sharing with the table. Porterhouse can be temperamental and delicate so be sure to cook it on the grill or in a big, high-quality searing pan deep enough to allow the juices (I always use butter, quartered garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs) to simmer in the pan while your meat is searing. Tilt the pan every so often and spoon the juices over the top of the steak to soak in all the flavours.
  • Bone-in ribeye: In my opinion, this cut is the “BEST” cut of all steaks. All bones are full of a substance called marrow. In steaks, marrow comes in two forms: red marrow and yellow marrow.The yellow marrow in steak bones is positively delicious. Cowboys used to call this prairie butter, and it’s one of the most underused, underappreciated ingredients out there. When you cook your steak, the yellow marrow seeps through the bone and into your meat to give it a smoother, buttery flavour.

Side note, a Tomahawk is a bone-in ribeye with at least five inches of rib bone left intact. The higher price comes from the added prep-time in butchering this cut. So, bone-in ribeye for me it is.

How to grill and for how long is your choice. I prefer medium to medium-well. If you cook your steaks well-done, please unfriend me and unsubscribe from this newsletter. 😊

Bon appetit!

Introduction to the BIF 2023 Symposium on Precision Breeding: Technical breakouts, Olds College Program and conference tour

This year’s BIF symposium focuses on practical ways to make selection decisions (and genetic improvement in general) more precise and better tailored to your environment and market. The Symposium program encompasses the most recent advances in tools and technology, with a strong focus on practical application. It includes world-renown Canadian hospitality, producer recognition awards, a tour of the Technology Access Centre and new meat-processing teaching facility at Olds College, a showcase of the data-integrated beef production value chain, and most notably, nine scientific sessions that discuss the state of the art with regard to genetic improvement. Last month, we focused on the Young Producer Symposium, the Plenary sessions and Wednesday’s Technical Breakouts: this month, the Technical Breakout sessions on Tuesday and the can’t-miss feedlot tour.

TECHNICAL BREAKOUT SESSIONS – Tuesday, July 4, 2:30 – 5 pm

Advancements in Selection Decisions, chaired by Dr. Matt Spangler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Dr. Larry Keuhn, USDA, will kick off this technical breakout discussing breed differences, and how to leverage these for the best outcomes. Genetic diversity has become increasingly important in the dairy industry, and this has started to reflect in the beef industry. Dr. Filippo Miglior will discuss quantifying inbreeding levels and contemplating inbreeding in selection from a dairy perspective. Dr. Troy Rowan, University of Tennessee, will bring it all together by discussing advancements in genomic technology.

Advancements in Producer Applications, chaired by Dr. Darrh Bullock, University of Kentucky

This session dives into the value of genomics and genetic selection tools, particularly from a commercial producer perspective. “Why commercial producers should be interested in genomics”, and indeed why EPDs (or even gEPDs) should be a key tool for all producers will be tackled first by Dr. Troy Rowan, University of Tennessee, and then by a panel of producers: Sean McGrath (member of Gentec’s Management Advisory Board), Harold Bayes, Paul Bennett and Donnell Brown. Gentec Director of Beef Operations John Basarab will talk in Wednesday’s genomics and genetic prediction breakout about the Gentec tools available to help producers start using genomic information (the Replacement Heifer Profit Index™ and Feeder Profit Index™: see also page 12 of The Blade for a case study). To complement, Shannon Argent from the Canadian Cattle Association Verified Beef Production (VBP+) will talk about how emerging sustainability demands can be met by genetics.

Advancements in Efficiency and Adaptability, chaired by Dr. Mark Enns, Colorado State University

Always generating great interest, this session speaks to current profitability and sustainability drivers of selection. Dr. Megan Rolf, KSU, will present on current research around methane and feed intake, concentrating on the collection protocol for GHGs and what opportunity in the beef industry the resulting data present. Dr. Tim Holt, CSU, will speak to advancements in adaptability, with a focus on “Pulmonary Hypertension: Feedlot Heart Failure and High-Altitude Disease”. Dr. Holt has contributed to the pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) measurement guidelines for the Beef Improvement Federation, and has developed a heart-scoring system to determine levels of pulmonary hypertension and heart tissue remodelling at harvest. Dr. Scott Speidel, CSU, will expand on the topic by discussing the genetics driving those heart scores and the relationships with performance. To frame some of the talks, Dr. Justin Buchannan, Simplot, will wrap up this session and give his take on feedlot heart disease from the perspective of a vertically-integrated production chain.

Afternoon – Wednesday, July 5


In the afternoon, there is a tour of Olds College Campus from 3 pm to 6:30 pm, which includes a visit to the National Meat Training Centre, Olds College Smart Farm, and Technology Access Centre. Additionally, there is a microbrewery and “Beef in a Global Way” tasting.

POST BIF SYMPOSIUM TOUR – Thursday, July 6, 8 – 5:30 pm

This includes a personal tour through Rimrock Feeders, one of Canada’s most cutting-edge feedlots that applies technologies such as biodigesters and roller-compacted concrete to improve production efficiency and animal health and welfare.

Travelling through the heart of Alberta’s ranchlands on the picturesque Cowboy Trail, we will also visit Hamilton Farms, a seedstock operation eager to showcase its application of genomic technology, high immune response testing, and genetic improvement through an integrated value chain and data-sharing system. UCalgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will also be showcased here. Faculty members are dedicated to studying the impacts of maternal environment in beef cattle. Tour participants can expect presentations on the impact of different pain mitigation strategies after difficult calving, risk factors associated with mismothering, and the economic impact of maternal behaviour. The faculty also does a significant amount of work on disease epidemiology, and there will be presentations on the incidence of disease based on bull management practices, effective management practices to reduce preweaning calf loss and parasite control strategies.

Just west of Hamilton Farms is UCalgary’s own W.A. Ranches, a working commercial operation that allows for in-field research on calving interventions, human – animal interactions, the effects of wildlife (wild boar, for example) on cattle, bull behaviour, and calf preconditioning. The tour will include a home-raised, home-smoked Hamilton Farms beef lunch against a backdrop of our majestic Rocky Mountain range.

Kajal Devani

Canadian Angus Association





At the Grill with William Torres: Fire! Fire!

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about wildfire season and how cattle can be mitigating factors.

Did you know that Alberta had 1,246 wildfires in 2022? Where 61% of them were human-caused, 38% lighting caused, and 1% under investigation.

As I was preparing for this article, I thought I’d give some advice about the “upcoming fire season” only to realize that we have already had 27 wildfires in Alberta, 11 in the last seven days alone.

But what do wildfires have to do with cattle you ask? Over the last several years, wildfires on agricultural lands have increased, causing damage to orchards, crops, livestock, and farm infrastructure. Outside of the direct flames, smoke damages crop quality, such as grapes used in wine production. Agricultural areas with irrigated crops are often viewed as being safety buffers during wildfires. However, in the last decade, wind-driven heat from surrounding wildfires has burned into some surprisingly well-irrigated crops. Smoke inhalation also has a negative effect on circulating immune cells, which can hinder the respiratory system, the first defence against smoke inhalation.

A factor called Temperature Humidity Index (THI) is a single value that represents the combined effects of air temperature and humidity associated with the thermal level of stress. According to Dr Julia Herman from the NCBA Beef Quality Assurance program, “THI compounds the effects of wildfire smoke. There can be negative impacts on metabolism, milk production, and immune system function when cattle are exposed to either or both wildfire smoke and high THI.”

There are very few peer-reviewed articles on wildfire effects on cattle, particularly in Western Canada. But do we really need to spend research money and grants to understand that they are not good for the cattle? I mean, if we humans can see and feel the effects, what makes anyone think that livestock are exempt?

Go ahead… ask any producer who has experienced either a wildfire or fled from one with their livestock. They won’t paint a pretty picture. The stress of rounding up livestock is bad enough under normal circumstances. Add chaos, wildfire smoke and high THI, and they will be the ingredients for a mess to come. If you ever must deal with the above-mentioned situations, pay attention to signs of respiratory irritation, such as coughing, fast or heavy breathing, and general signs of illness such as droopy ears or discharge from nose or eyes. Remember to limit exercise and unnecessary movements of the animals, practise low-stress handling and keep water sources clean.

So… what can you do or what is being done to prepare for such disasters? Here’s the beauty: cattle are already at work mitigating wildfires while grazing forests. When cattle graze on our forest lands, they are better suited than goats or sheep to consume the grass-dominated fuel lines that burn, and they don’t need the protection from predators that other small species require. I remember running our “grass” cattle in crown land and private land during late spring and summer months. One thing for sure, the genetics that you selected for your herd showed up at work during these periods. As cattle consume overgrown grass and shrubs, they naturally aerate the ground while walking, then they defecate and spread seeds along the way, giving growth to new humid grass that won’t burn as fast.

At home, you should incorporate fire procedures in your emergency plan. Have potential exits, round-up procedures, trucking companies that you may have to call upon, coordinate with your neighbours. It is better to be prepared and not need to execute a disaster plan than to be in the middle of it and not know what to do at the last minute. Contact your veterinarian to help you prepare one if you need help.





Picking Replacement Heifers

Canadian Cattlemen reviews project results from Gentec’s John Basarab and Cameron Olson on heifer feed efficiency and lifetime productivity. 

Read the article here.

Part 1: GHGs and the beef industry. Solutions are coming

Beef has been likened to coal for its production of greenhouse gases. That sound byte is neither accurate nor fair. For sure, there are challenges to overcome, and we’re working fast to overcome them. This is Part 1 of our series on upcoming solutions.

It is unlikely that even the among the most reclusive there exists an individual who has not heard of the impacts and dire warnings regarding the rising human population, our increasing carbon intensity and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and the combined impact of these on our earth’s climate.

Many will be less familiar with the fact that that the global food system accounts for 21-37% of annual GHG emissions. Of these emissions, methane is among the most potent, often referenced as having more than 25 times the climate impact of CO2; it is also estimated that agricultural activity is responsible for 50% of the global methane emissions produced by humans.

Closer to home, in 2019 about 24% of Canada’s methane emissions originated within the agricultural sector. 90% or 21.65 million tonnes of methane was generated as a result of cattle and sheep production. (Editor’s note: Gentec collaborator and AAFC livestock specialist Karen Beauchemin is quoted in the link).

Still … A world’s got to eat.

It is expected that, with a growing population combined with a propensity to consume more protein per person (globally), the world will need to produce 70% more food in the coming decades. Who could blame them for wanting to enjoy safe, delicious, nutritious AND sustainable Alberta Beef.

So… what can be done?

John Basarab, Gentec Head of Beef Operations points out that Gentec and our industry and funding partners are investing significant resources towards improving the environmental footprint of Alberta beef production. This, by definition, increases industry sustainability. It is, however and by necessity, a stepped approach. Certain steps can be taken immediately and have an immediate impact.  Examples include modifying feeding regimes and/or the adding feed supplements such as lemongrass, seaweed or garlic to inhibit methane production.

Other, mid-term interventions, while more gradual in their impact, could reduce the beef-environmental footprint much more. These include genomics tools (molecular breeding values) to select for improved feed efficiency, reduced methane emissions, and other traits that can increase the productivity of the beef producer while improving quality.

And finally, longer-term interventions impacting health (such as vaccine development) and those that alter the microbial populations of the rumen show perhaps the greatest potential to reduce methane emissions.

But research and data are not enough. Each advance requires validation, demonstration and effort to get the tools and information necessary to reap the benefits of “science” into the hands of Alberta beef producers.

So, between us here at Gentec, our funding partners such as RDAR, our industry collaborators, and most importantly the individual beef producers… it truly is a team effort.

More information on each of these approaches along with their potential to improve the profitability and sustainability of the Alberta beef industry will appear in future editions of this newsletter. Stay tuned