Effects of changes in finishing diets and growth technologies on animal growth performance and the carbon footprint of cattle feeding: 1990 to 2020
Objective: Our objective was to estimate the effects of changes in feedlot diets and the availability of performance-enhancing technologies on growth performance and the carbon footprint of cattle feeding between 1990 and 2020. Materials and Methods: A model was developed to represent feedlot diets and technologies used in 1990 versus 2020 and evaluate changes in growth performance and carbon footprint. Byproduct feeds became more common between 1990 and 2020; thus, corn and dry roughage inclusion rates decreased. Estradiol-only implants and monensin were the available technologies in 1990, whereas in 2020 use of implants with combinations of trenbolone acetate and estradiol, monensin, and ractopamine hydrochloride (in the final 28 to 42 d) were common. Results and Discussion: In both 1990 and 2020 use of all available technologies increased final BW, ADG, G:F, and hot carcass weight compared with no technology. From 1990 to 2020 initial BW, final BW, ADG, G:F, hot carcass weight, and daily DMI increased. Total days on feed increased by 44 d from 1990 to 2020. Compared with no technology, use of technologies in both 1990 and 2020 decreased total greenhouse gas emissions per animal (CO2 equivalent, CO2e). Because cattle had greater days on feed in 2020, all sources of greenhouse gas emissions per animal increased compared with the values estimated in 1990. However, when expressed as CO2e/kg of BW gain, emissions have decreased by 4.4% because of greater total BW gain in 2020 versus 1990. Implications and Applications: Feedlot cattle decreased relative emissions from 4.78 kg of CO2e/kg of BW gain in 1990 to 4.58 kg of CO2e/kg of BW gain in 2020. Overall, feedlots in 2020 produced 47.5% more BW gain with 1.4% less cattle, while only increasing total CO2e by 39.5%. Therefore, changes in available technologies and diet formulations have improved efficiency and reduced the carbon footprint of feedlot cattle production in the past 30 yr.