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New project will reduce methane emissions from cattle by 20% until 2050

Researchers from Center for Quantitative Genetics and Genomics (QGG) and collaborating departments are teaming up with industry partners to develop a new and groundbreaking method that includes measuring the methane emissions of thousands of individual cows. The data collected will make it possible to develop and implement a breeding index in cattle farming and thereby reduce methane emissions from the dairy cattle sector.

Previous studies have shown that bovine methane emissions are hereditary. Therefore, it makes good sense to develop a method to breed for less methane emissions from cattle farming. Existing methods for measuring cows' methane emissions are both too expensive and too imprecise. The goal of the ONIMIT project will therefore be to develop a new method that can measure the methane emissions of thousands of individual cows at a much lower cost, and much more accurately.

The existing methods for measuring the methane emissions of cows are not only expensive, they are also based on a few hundred cows, and thus inaccurate. The groundbreaking aspect of the ONIMIT project is to measure methane emissions of more than 10,000 cows' exhaled air individually, while standing in the milking robot. In contrast to existing methods that measure the cows' exhaled air in respiration chambers, the project will investigate the possibility of using an air-flow system that can actively capture all the cow's exhalation of enteric methane. The equipment for routine measurements will be set up at a number of dairy herds across the country.

The comprehensive measurements, together with other production-specific data, will form the basis for a unique, future-proof platform, which will be developed and implemented nationally and globally. The many measurements will make it possible to accurately find the cows that have a low emission of enteric methane, and from this data formulate a breeding index. The platform will also make it possible to rank breeding bulls according to their genetic potential for methane emissions, and with the low price of measuring equipment, dairy farmers will have a financial incentive to implement methane reduction measures.

Last but not least, the project's expected results of a 20% reduction in methane emissions by 2050 meet the national climate goals set by the agricultural industry. And with a global implementation of a breeding index for methane emissions, the UN's global climate goals will also be met.

Project director, Professor Mogens Sandø Lund from QGG, elaborates:

- ‘We expect that the breeding work can reduce the emission of methane from Denmark's total dairy cattle by 171,875 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year from 2030. This corresponds to 5% of current emissions. In addition, the breeding work will mean a better feed efficiency, so that there is less energy loss from the cow. Each year-cow will emit 1,409 kilos less nitrogen and 215 kilos less phosphorus. If this is spread out to all 500,000 dairy cows in Denmark, it corresponds to 705 tonnes of nitrogen and 108 tonnes of phosphorus per year. Genetics cannot solve the entire climate impact of cows, there must also be management measures at farm level.’

Work package manager, Senior Project Manager Jan Lassen from Viking Genetics, adds:

- 'No breeding companies in the world market bull semen with knowledge of the breeding level for methane production based on direct measurements from herds. In addition, the farmer can hopefully save money in his optimization of production and management. This can be done by implementing low-cost solutions that have a proven effect.'


Additional information

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Study type

In-field research





Aarhus University QGG, Aarhus University AGRO, Aarhus University ANIS, Aarhus University BCE, SEGES, Viking Genetics, ARLA, Landbrug & Fødevarer F.m.b.A. and RYK

Read more

Read the full press release here (in Danish)


Center director, professor Mogens Sandø Lund // +45 2075 1222 // mogens.lund@qgg.au.dk