Animal health does affect greenhouse gas emissions. Sick animals are much less efficient and/or some sick animals may die. In both of these cases, inputs are used but result in less (or no) product at the end. Most inputs, feed, water, climate control, etc. have greenhouse gas emissions associated with them.
Health status can also potentially change the characteristics of animal manure (amount, nutrient content) as feed and water consumption is disrupted. If the change causes manure to have a higher nitrogen content, the manure in storage may directly emit more nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.
Every day, farmers must make decisions on management of their pigs on managing health, from vaccinations to biosecurity planning. They need to consider the level of risk, the expense vs benefits, impacts on pig performance, employee time and skills, and impacts on neighbors.
With such a complexity of information and potential outcomes/impacts, more are turning toward decision tools or models to explore the potential ramifications of decisions and compare different scenarios. These models can be used to estimate outcomes such as GHG emissions, environmental impacts, or other outputs.
Key Points – How Does Animal Health Relate to Environmental Footprint?
- Emitted GHGs become a net loss to the system if the animal dies, or if the amount of that product (milk, meat, etc) is reduced due to poor animal health status.
- Diseases or challenges that reduce productivity (weight gain, number of young born/weaned, milk yield or quality, etc.) tend to reduce efficiency (and increase waste) in the system.
- Having accurate data to create decision tools or models will help provide farm decision-makers information to properly evaluate potential impacts and trade-offs as they work to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impacts.
For more information:
- Research project on health impact on manure and GHG emissions in pigs
- A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production includes a section on animal health and mortality
- The Global Research Alliance report on Reducing greenhouse gas emissions of livestock: best practice and emerging options includes a section on animal health
This information is part of the program “Integrated Resource Management Tool to Mitigate the Carbon Footprint of Swine Produced In the U.S.,” and is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68002-30208 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Project website.