Reducing or Mitigating Greenhouse Gas Emissions In Animal Agriculture

Animal agriculture has dramatically increased its production efficiency over time, as it continues to produce more products with fewer resources. Although its overall carbon footprint is relatively small compared to other sectors of the economy such as energy and transportation, it is often called upon to defend its impact on the environment. Recent commitments made by livestock and poultry industry groups to reduce greenhouse gas emissions shows that animal agriculture is willing to do its part as good stewards of shared natural resources and to protect the environment.

Factsheet: Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Animal Agriculture (look below the fact sheet and title for a “download” link)

Measures to mitigate or reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be weighed on a farm by farm basis, as types of animal production among species and geographic locations are extremely diverse. There is no magic bullet or one size fits all solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions among animal agriculture.

There are four main approaches to mitigation greenhouse gas emissions in livestock and poultry systems.

(1) Production efficiency – producing more output of meat, milk and eggs per unit input (water, feed, fertilizer, etc.)

(2) Manure management – applying manure collection, storage, and disposal practices that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time address water and air quality concerns.

(3) Energy efficiency – as we continue the trend toward more controlled environments within animal production, there is a growing need to be more energy efficient in our lighting, heating and cooling systems.

(4) Carbon capture (also called carbon sequestration) – capturing and storing carbon in the soil by maintaining cover crops, or by planting trees or other perennial vegetation increases organic matter content and also retains carbon that would have otherwise been released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

All Species

  • Increase conception and pregnancy rate
  • Improve animal health
  • Reduce animal stress
  • Lower mortality (death) rates
  • Use feed analysis/precision feeding – match dietary requirements and nutritional needs
  • Practice genetic selection for increased production efficiency and/or reduced maintenance energy requirements

Beef Cattle

  • Increase weight gain through concentrates, improved pastures and dietary supplements
  • Increase digestibility of feed/forage
  • Encourage earlier weaning
  • Use proper stocking rates & rotational grazing
  • Move to low input production
  • Breed for better heat tolerance and pest resistance

Dairy Cattle

  • Increase milk production per head
  • Encourage earlier weaning
  • Improve energy efficiency of exhaust fans, lighting, generators, and incinerators
  • Improve cow comfort through improved cooling systems and bedding material


Also see a related project on pork production and environmental footprint.

  • Reduce crude protein content in diet and supplement with amino acids
  • Switch from dry feed to wet/dry feeders
  • Improve bedding materials
  • Improve energy efficiency of exhaust fans, lighting, and generators


  • Use insulated curtains in houses without walls
  • Insulate walls in houses with walls
  • Install circulatory fans to prevent temperature stratification inside barns
  • Improve energy efficiency of exhaust fans, lighting, generators, and incinerators

Manure Management Strategies

  •  Anaerobic digestion captures methane (a greenhouse gas) and destroys it or utilizes it for energy generation.
  • Composting manure – can reduce greenhouse gases by avoiding methane production that would be seen if the feedstock was landfilled or stored in an open air anaerobic system (such as a lagoon)  [1]
  • Covered manure storage – can capture methane and either destroy it (flare) or utilize it for energy generation
  • Frequent removal of manure from confined facilities
  • Separating manure liquids from solid

Educator Materials

If you would like to use the video, slides, or factsheet for educational programs, please visit the curriculum page for download links for this and other climate change topics.

Recommended Reading on Reducing Emissions from Animal Production

All Livestock Species

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Opportunities for Livestock Management in the United States (Duke University Nicholas Institute, 2012)
Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production (FAO, 2013)
Livestock’s Long Shadow, FAO report

Beef Cattle

Dietary Mitigation of Enteric Methane from Cattle (Beauchemin, K. A. et al., 2009)

Dairy Cattle

DMI Sustainability Website
Sustainability in Practice-A Collection of Success Stories from the Dairy Industry
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector, FAO report


Swine Carbon Footprint Facts
Evaluating the Environmental Footprint of Pork Production


Carbon Footprint of Poultry Production Farms (C. Dunkley Webcast)
Global Warming: How Does it Relate to Poultry (C. Dunkley 2011, Factsheet)


Author: David Schmidt, University of Minnesota

This page was developed as part of a project “Animal Agriculture and Climate Change” an extension facilitation project to increase capacity for ag professionals. It was funded by USDA-NIFA under award # 2011-67003-30206.