SFR investigates methane production of dairy cattle

Publication date: 19-10-2021

In November 2020, a methane emission project started at SFR. The current social issues regarding emissions from livestock farming require pragmatic solutions. SFR is therefore investigating how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced through sophisticated feeding of farm animals. This project has been financed by SFR's own innovation budget. Collaboration with other interested parties is certainly possible in the future.

Methane is an important greenhouse gas, which is produced by cows. Factors such as nutrition but also the genetics of the cow determine her methane production. Methane is released from the fermentation process in the rumen and is influenced by the composition of the ration. The research question which then rises is; How can the composition of the ration be adjusted for the lowest possible methane production?

How do you measure a cow's methane production? Various methods are available for this. The traditional way of measuring is with cows in a climate respiration chamber. This is an airtight unit in which 1 or 2 cows are placed. The composition of all incoming and outgoing air, including methane, is then measured during for instance 24 or 48 hours. The result is the cow's methane production. This method is not suitable in our practical situation, as SFR wishes to be able to monitor individual animals within the herd for a longer period of time.

Measuring method
SFR compares different methods that may be suitable for measuring the methane production of individual cows in the current practical barn on a daily basis. This allows for studying the effects of different ration compositions on methane production on a large scale. A device for measuring methane production, the Greenfeed, has been available for a few years already. This device is a concentrate box which recognizes the cow upon entry and extracts the air that the cow produces while eating. The volume of extracted air and the methane content in this air are measured automatically. With this data, the cow’s methane production is calculated. The measuring method can be applied relatively simple in practice and provides a good estimate of the methane production during eating in the concentrate box. This measuring system has been used in the barn of SFR for the past six months. The collected data can be used as a reference.

In the meantime, a second solution has been studied, namely a sniffer method. With a sniffer method, breath samples are taken in the individual feed troughs of the cows. At the SFR dairy farm, the cows do not eat at a common feeding fence. Instead, each individual cow has her own feed trough, so that the individual feed intake per cow can exactly be measured. The methane content and the CO2 content are analysed in the extracted air. The methane production per cow can then be calculated using the methane: CO2 ratio. In addition, the measured methane production can be linked to the nutrition and production data of the individual cow. For example, the relationship between ration composition, feed intake and methane production are examined.

Methane as parameter
In a first testing phase, it was checked whether the sniffer method performed its measurements accurately and correctly in different setups. This was then compared with the data from the Greenfeed. At the moment, it is being examined whether the sniffer method is suited for further development into a measuring system which fits within the current practical situation of SFR. When a definite decision has been made for one of the two measuring systems, methane can be included as a parameter in future studies.

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