A time-series of methane and carbon dioxide production from dairy cows during a period of dietary transition

MA Lee, A Todd, MA Sutton, MGG Chagunda, DJ Roberts, RM Rees

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5 Citations (Scopus)
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Emissions from dairy farms are contributing to the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases which are linked to recent climate change. Altering diets has been proposed as a greenhouse gas mitigation strategy in dairy systems. The magnitude of mitigation and the time taken for cows to adapt to new diets has not been comprehensively quantified. Methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by dairy cows was measured for six weeks using the sulphur hexafluoride tracer technique following a change in diet; from barley straw and protein supplements to grazed grass. CH4 and CO2 production increased linearly as the animals adapted to their new diets, however, production did not reach an asymptote six weeks into the grazing period. This suggested that metabolic activity and greenhouse gas emissions may not have been at their maximum. There was substantial variation between individuals with high emitting cows producing four times more CH4 than low producing cows. Cows which produced greater amounts of CH4 consistently also produced greater CO2. We demonstrate that feeding regime plays an important role in determining greenhouse gas emissions and we highlight that transition periods in greenhouse gas models and future experiments must be sufficiently large to allow for adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1385693
JournalCogent Environmental Science
Early online date30 Sept 2017
Publication statusFirst published - 30 Sept 2017

Bibliographical note



  • Climate change
  • Dairy
  • Dry period
  • Enteric methane
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Transition


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