Does grazing behavior of suckler cows have an impact on predicted methane emissions?
A modeling study based on a dataset from a large-scale grazing study was used to identify the potential impact of grazing behavior and performance of diverse cow genotypes on predicted methane (CH4) emissions. Lactating cows grazing extensive seminatural grassland and heath vegetation were monitored with Global Positioning System collars and activity sensors. The diet selected by cows of 3 different genotypes, Aberdeen Angus cross Limousin (AxL), Charolais (CHA), and Luing (LUI), was simulated by matching their locations during active periods with hill vegetation maps. Measured performance and activity were used to predict energy requirements, DMI, and CH4 output. The cumulative effect of actual performance, diet selection, and actual physical activity on potential CH4 output and yield was estimated. Sensitivity analyses were performed for the digestibility of intake, energy cost of activity, proportion of milk consumed by calves, and reproductive efficiency. Although with a better performance (P < 0.05), LUI required less total energy than the other genotypes (P < 0.001) as the other 2 spent more energy for maintenance (P < 0.001) and activity (P < 0.001). By selecting a better quality diet (P < 0.03), estimated CH4 of CHA cow–calf pairs was lower than AxL (P = 0.001) and slightly lower than LUI (P = 0.08). Energy lost as CH4 was 0.17 and 0.58% lower for LUI than AxL and CHA (P < 0.002). This study suggests for the first time that measured activity has a major impact on estimated CH4 outputs. A 15% difference of the cow–calf pair CH4 was estimated when using different coefficients to convert actual activity into energy. Predicted CH4 was highly sensitive to small changes in diet quality, suggesting the relative importance of diet selection on heterogeneous rangelands. Extending these results to a farm systems scale, CH4 outputs were also highly sensitive to reductions in weaning rates, illustrating the impact on CH4 at the farm-system level of using poorly adapted genotypes on habitats where their performances may be compromised. This paper demonstrates that variations in grazing behavior and grazing choice have a potentially large impact on CH4 emissions, illustrating the importance of including these factors in calculating realistic national and global estimates.
Journal Title/Title of Proceedings
Journal of Animal Science