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Seaweed supplements tested

Seaweed supplements tested

Dairy cows will be fed seaweed to determine whether it could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve milk quality and animal health. Two studies are being conducted in the Northeastern United States.

André Brito and Alexandra Contosta, researchers at the University of New Hampshire, will lead New Hampshire’s portion of both projects. Their research will be conducted at the University of New Hampshire-Agricultural Experiment Station’s Organic Dairy Research Farm in Lee, New Hampshire, and the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center in Durham, New Hampshire.

One of the projects, led by the University of Vermont, will focus on using different species of seaweed as an alternative feed. Feeding seaweed is common in the organic dairy industry, but only wild-harvested, dried, ground kelp meal is widely available. The organic-aquaculture industry farms numerous species and can process the harvest to preserve bioactive compounds and dietary quality. Researchers from both universities will work with the organic-dairy and organic-aquaculture industries to financially benefit both markets in a sustainable manner.

“Seaweeds are loaded with bioactive metabolites ranging from polyphenols to antioxidants to trace minerals, which may interact to improve animal health and productivity," said Brito, an associate professor of dairy-cattle nutrition and management at the University of New Hampshire. “But there’s limited information on which native seaweeds are best suited to be incorporated into organic-dairy diets and to mitigate methane emissions.”

Contosta is a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Earth Systems Research Center at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space.

“One of the unique aspects of the project is how seaweed supplements might affect the flow of nutrients from manure to soils and then back to the forages that cows eat,” he said. “It’s not known how compounds within seaweed might change manure’s nutrient profile, which has implications for soil health.”

The second project is led by the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Colby College, both located in Maine. Researchers will investigate the use of algae-based feed supplements in conventional dairy industries. The supplements will be studied for how they balance quality milk production with environmental, economic and social sustainability.

Brito and Contosta previously collaborated with New England scientists on a $3-million grant from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund to investigate reducing methane emissions of lactating dairy cows by supplementing their diet with red seaweeds native from the Gulf of Maine. Visit colsa.unh.edu for more information.

Lori Tyler Gula is a communication manager at the University of New Hampshire-Agricultural Experiment Station. 

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