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Greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian beef production in 1981 as compared with 2011

Legesse, G., Beauchemin, K. A., Ominski, K. H., McGeough, E. J., Kroebel, R., MacDonald, D., Little, S. M., McAllister, T. A.
Animal production science 2016 v.56 no.3 pp. 153-168
air quality, average daily gain, beef, beef cattle, biodiversity, breeding, bulls, calves, carbon dioxide, carcass weight, crop yield, diet, ecosystems, farms, fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, heifers, herds, life cycle assessment, materials life cycle, meat production, methane, methane production, models, nitrous oxide, reproductive efficiency, slaughter, slaughter weight, Canada
The present study compared the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and breeding herd and land requirements of Canadian beef production in 1981 and 2011. In the analysis, temporal and regional differences in feed types, feeding systems, cattle categories, average daily gains and carcass weights were considered. Emissions were estimated using life-cycle assessment (cradle to farm gate), based primarily on Holos, a Canadian whole-farm emissions model. In 2011, beef production in Canada required only 71% of the breeding herd (i.e. cows, bulls, calves and replacement heifers) and 76% of the land needed to produce the same amount of liveweight for slaughter as in 1981. Compared with 1981, in 2011 the same amount of slaughter weight was produced, with a 14% decline in CH4 emissions, 15% decline in N2O emissions and a 12% decline in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use. Enteric CH4 production accounted for 73% of total GHG emissions in both years. The estimated intensity of GHG emissions per kilogram of liveweight that left the farm was 14.0 kg CO2 equivalents for 1981 and 12.0 kg CO2 equivalents for 2011, a decline of 14%. A significant reduction in GHG intensity over the past three decades occurred as a result of increased average daily gain and slaughter weight, improved reproductive efficiency, reduced time to slaughter, increased crop yields and a shift towards high-grain diets that enabled cattle to be marketed at an earlier age. Future studies are necessary to examine the impact of beef production on other sustainability metrics, including water use, air quality, biodiversity and provision of ecosystems services.