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Review: Selecting for improved feed efficiency and reduced methane emissions in dairy cattle

  • P. Løvendahl (a1), G. F. Difford (a1) (a2), B. Li (a1) (a3), M. G. G. Chagunda (a4), P. Huhtanen (a5), M. H. Lidauer (a6), J. Lassen (a1) (a7) and P. Lund (a8)...

It may be possible for dairy farms to improve profitability and reduce environmental impacts by selecting for higher feed efficiency and lower methane (CH4) emission traits. It remains to be clarified how CH4 emission and feed efficiency traits are related to each other, which will require direct and accurate measurements of both of these traits in large numbers of animals under the conditions in which they are expected to perform. The ranking of animals for feed efficiency and CH4 emission traits can differ depending upon the type and duration of measurement used, the trait definitions and calculations used, the period in lactation examined and the production system, as well as interactions among these factors. Because the correlation values obtained between feed efficiency and CH4 emission data are likely to be biased when either or both are expressed as ratios, therefore researchers would be well advised to maintain weighted components of the ratios in the selection index. Nutrition studies indicate that selecting low emitting animals may result in reduced efficiency of cell wall digestion, that is NDF, a key ruminant characteristic in human food production. Moreover, many interacting biological factors that are not measured directly, including digestion rate, passage rate, the rumen microbiome and rumen fermentation, may influence feed efficiency and CH4 emission. Elucidating these mechanisms may improve dairy farmers ability to select for feed efficiency and reduced CH4 emission.

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