Genetic Analysis of Methane Emission Traits in Holstein Dairy Cattle


Source: MDPI

1Centre for Genetic Improvement of Livestock, Department of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada
2Lactanet Canada, Guelph, ON N1K 1E5, Canada
3Centre for Nutrition Modelling, Department of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada
4Department of Agricultural, Food & Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P5, Canada
5Institute of Genetics, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Bremgartenstr. 109a, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
*Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Current address: Trouw Nutrition R&D, 3800 AG Amersfoort, The Netherlands.
‡ Current address: Department of Animal Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.
Animals 2023, 13(8), 1308;

Simple Summary

Dairy cows contribute to greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, and reducing methane emissions is vital for the long-term sustainability of the dairy industry. Genetics and breeding strategies can be used to bring about permanent and long-term enteric methane emission reduction from dairy cattle. Here, we assess three definitions for methane emission traits, investigate their genetic parameters, and compare potential implications of including them in a genetic selection program. All three commonly used methane traits (daily methane production, methane yield, and methane intensity) were heritable, and are potential candidates for a selection program. Additionally, all traits were highly correlated with each other, indicating that selection on one trait would lead to an indirect response on the other methane traits. By exploring trait definitions for including methane in selection strategies, this work contributes to potential mitigation strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in dairy cattle using genetics.


Genetic selection can be a feasible method to help mitigate enteric methane emissions from dairy cattle, as methane emission-related traits are heritable and genetic gains are persistent and cumulative over time. The objective of this study was to estimate heritability of methane emission phenotypes and the genetic and phenotypic correlations between them in Holstein cattle. We used 1765 individual records of methane emission obtained from 330 Holstein cattle from two Canadian herds. Methane emissions were measured using the GreenFeed system, and three methane traits were analyzed: the amount of daily methane produced (g/d), methane yield (g methane/kg dry matter intake), and methane intensity (g methane/kg milk). Genetic parameters were estimated using univariate and bivariate repeatability animal models. Heritability estimates (±SE) of 0.16 (±0.10), 0.27 (±0.12), and 0.21 (±0.14) were obtained for daily methane production, methane yield, and methane intensity, respectively. A high genetic correlation (rg = 0.94 ± 0.23) between daily methane production and methane intensity indicates that selecting for daily methane production would result in lower methane per unit of milk produced. This study provides preliminary estimates of genetic parameters for methane emission traits, suggesting that there is potential to mitigate methane emission in Holstein cattle through genetic selection.
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