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Effect of animal and diet parameters on methane emissions for pasture-fed cattle

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-04-12, 02:04 authored by Stefan MuetzelStefan Muetzel, Rina HannafordRina Hannaford, Arjan JonkerArjan Jonker

Context: Estimates of enteric methane emissions for agricultural emissions trading schemes or national inventories can be a simple single emission factor, but the accuracy of the predictions may be affected by other diet- and animal-related parameters.

Aims: Determine the animal and dietary factors that affect methane yield (methane per unit of dry-matter intake) in pasture-fed cattle.

Methods: Methane emissions and dry-matter intake (DMI) of cattle of various ages and in different physiological stages that were fed different-quality fresh-cut pastures were quantified in respiration chambers. The animals used in the various trials were post-weaned calves, heifers and steers of various ages and some older lactating dairy cows. Diet quality of the pastures offered was determined using near-infrared spectroscopy. Mixed linear modelling was used to assess the impacts of animal and diet parameters on methane emissions.

Key results: Our results indicated that diet quality does not have a major effect on methane production. For individual composition parameters, the correlation (Pearson’s r) with methane production was less than 0.25. Only estimates of metabolisable energy (ME) content showed a higher correlation (r = 0.43). However, despite this correlation, ME, like the other diet composition variables, was not a useful parameter to predict daily methane production, as indicated by the Akaike’s information criterion (AICc). Including data on concentrate supplementation at a level of 30% of the DMI did not improve the prediction of methane production. The resulting model indicated that besides DMI, bodyweight, physiological state and sex significantly affected methane production. Methane production was mostly explained by DMI. This was illustrated by the observation that when methane production is expressed per kilogram DMI (methane yield, g kg−1 DMI) none of the diet or animal related characteristics showed a significant correlation with methane yield. The model performed well, but needs to be validated with an independent dataset.

Conclusions: For ryegrass-based pasture dry-matter intake is the single most important factor that affects methane yield, while pasture composition has no effect and animal-related factors such as physiological stage and age only appear to modulate methane emissions.

Implications: Our findings have implications for methane accounting and national inventories in pastoral agricultural systems, which account for the majority of ruminant production systems.


Ministry for Primary Industries, New Zealand (SOW 405030)


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© 2024 The Author(s) (or their employer(s)). Published by CSIRO Publishing. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND)

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Animal Production Science



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