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      A South African perspective on livestock production in relation to greenhouse gases and water usage


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          The general perception that livestock is a major contributor to global warming resulted mainly from the FAO publication, Livestock's Long Shadow, in 2006, which indicated that livestock is responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This figure has since been proved to be an overestimation, since it includes deforestation and other indirect contributions. The most recent figure is in the order of 5% - 10%. Although only ruminants can convert the world's high-fibre vegetation into high-quality protein sources for human consumption, ruminant production systems are targeted as they are perceived to produce large quantities of GHG. Livestock is also accused of using large quantities of water, an allegation that is based on questionable assumptions and the perception that all sources of food production require a similar and equal quantity and quality of water. In the case of ruminants, extensive systems are usually found to have a lower per-area carbon footprint than grain-fed systems, but a higher footprint if expressed in terms of kg product. Feedlots maximize efficiency of meat production, resulting in a lower carbon footprint, whereas organic production systems consume more energy and have a bigger carbon footprint than conventional production systems. Cows on pastures produce more methane than cows on high concentrate diets. In South Africa, as in most of the countries in the sub-tropics, livestock production is the only option on about 70% of the agricultural land, since the marginal soils and rainfall do not allow for crop production and the utilization of green water. An effective way to reduce the carbon and water footprint of livestock is to decrease livestock numbers and increase production per animal, thereby improving their efficiency.

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          Most cited references47

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          Livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions: impacts and options for policy makers

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            The environmental impact of dairy production: 1944 compared with 2007.

            A common perception is that pasture-based, low-input dairy systems characteristic of the 1940s were more conducive to environmental stewardship than modern milk production systems. The objective of this study was to compare the environmental impact of modern (2007) US dairy production with historical production practices as exemplified by the US dairy system in 1944. A deterministic model based on the metabolism and nutrient requirements of the dairy herd was used to estimate resource inputs and waste outputs per billion kg of milk. Both the modern and historical production systems were modeled using characteristic management practices, herd population dynamics, and production data from US dairy farms. Modern dairy practices require considerably fewer resources than dairying in 1944 with 21% of animals, 23% of feedstuffs, 35% of the water, and only 10% of the land required to produce the same 1 billion kg of milk. Waste outputs were similarly reduced, with modern dairy systems producing 24% of the manure, 43% of CH(4), and 56% of N(2)O per billion kg of milk compared with equivalent milk from historical dairying. The carbon footprint per billion kilograms of milk produced in 2007 was 37% of equivalent milk production in 1944. To fulfill the increasing requirements of the US population for dairy products, it is essential to adopt management practices and technologies that improve productive efficiency, allowing milk production to be increased while reducing resource use and mitigating environmental impact.
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              Nutritional water productivity and diets


                Author and article information

                Role: ND
                Role: ND
                Role: ND
                Role: ND
                South African Journal of Animal Science
                S. Afr. j. anim. sci.
                The South African Society for Animal Science (SASAS) (Pretoria )
                : 43
                : 3
                : 247-254
                [1 ] ARC-Animal Production Institute South Africa
                [2 ] University of Pretoria South Africa
                [3 ] 189 van Riebeeck Avenue South Africa
                [4 ] 477 Rodericks Road South Africa



                SciELO South Africa

                Self URI (journal page): http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_serial&pid=0375-1589&lng=en
                Agriculture, Dairy & Animal Science
                Genetics & Heredity
                Nutrition & Dietetics

                Animal agriculture,Nutrition & Dietetics,Anatomy & Physiology,Genetics
                Animal products,methane,production systems,carbon footprint,water usage,green and blue water,human nutrition


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