Nitrous oxide emissions from cattle excreta applied to a Scottish grassland: effects of soil and climate conditions and a nitrification inhibitor

MJ Bell, RM Rees, JM Cloy, CFE Topp, A Bagnall, DR Chadwick

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Dung and urine excreted onto grasslands are a major source of nitrous oxide (N2O). These N2O emissions stem from inefficient utilisation of nitrogen (N) ingested by ruminants, and the inability of pasture to utilise the deposited N. Predicted growth in dairy and meat consumption means there is a requirement to quantify N2O emissions, and investigate emission reduction mechanisms. Three 12 month ‘seasonal’ experiments were undertaken at Crichton, SW Scotland, where N2O emissions were measured from applications of cattle urine, dung, artificial urine and urine + a nitrification inhibitor (NI), dicyandiamide (DCD). The three application timings were ‘spring’, ‘summer’ and ‘autumn’, representative of early-, mid- and late grazing season. N2O emissions were measured from static chambers for 12 months. The aim was to quantify emissions from cattle excreta, and determine their dependence on the season of application, and the respective contribution of dung and urine to total excreta emissions. Measurement from NI amended urine was made to assess DCD’s potential as an emission mitigation tool. Emissions were compared to the IPCC’s default emission factor (EF) of 2% for cattle excreted N. Mean annual cumulative emissions from urine were highest when applied in summer (5034g N2O-N ha-1), with lower emissions from spring (1903g N2O-N ha-1) and autumn (2014g N2O-N ha-1) application, most likely due to higher temperatures and soil moisture conducive to both nitrification and denitrification in the summer months. Calculated EFs were significantly greater from urine (1.1%) than dung (0.2%) when excreta was applied in summer, and EFs varied with season of application, but in all experiments were lower than the IPCC default of 2%. These results support both lowering and disaggregating this EF into individual EFs for dung and urine. Addition of DCD to urine caused no significant reduction in emissions, suggesting that more research is required into its use as a mitigation option.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343 - 353
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPrint publication - 2015

Bibliographical note



  • Agriculture
  • Cattle excreta
  • Dung
  • Grazing
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Urine


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