A tiny bit of seaweed in the animal feed is good for cattle and pigs – and for the global climate.

Just 2% of seaweed added to the feed can reduce the methane emission from cows by up to 99%. This promising result comes from an Australian research group based at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.

The team has tested the effect of more than 20 species of seaweed on cattle methane emission, but found that the red species Asparagopsis taxiformi was by far the most efficient in reducing the methane production in the rumen of the cows. Asparagopsis, also known as Harppoon Seaweed, also grows in the Atlantic Ocean and is cultivated in France. Its nearest Danish relative is Bonnemaiosonia hamifera, rødtot in Danish.

In October 2016 the team collected by hand 3.3 tonnes of Asparagopsis near the Keppel Islands. The seaweed has been gently freeze-dried in a huge freeze-dryer in Tasmania, and is now waiting to be used in a large-scale feeding experiment in the beginning of 2017.

There are huge global perspectives in being able to reduce cattle methane emissions by adding seaweed to the feed. However, there are even more benefits to be gained. Bioactive compounds from other seaweeds appear to be able to reduce diarrhea in weaning pigs. At the annual Nordic Seaweed Conference in Grenaa, John O’Doherty (professor in animal nutrition, Ireland) and the Danish feed producer Jens Legarth from European Protein both showed new promising results indicating that seaweed may substitute antibiotics and zink in the feed to weaning pigs and sows.

The challenge is to produce sufficient amounts of the specific seaweeds – but this is what we’re working on.