Selective breeding as a mitigation tool for methane emissions from dairy cattle

Y. de Haas*, R.F. Veerkamp, G. de Jong, M.N. Aldridge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


The global livestock sector, particularly ruminants, contributes substantially to the total anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Management and dietary solutions to reduce enteric methane (CH4) emissions are extensively researched. Animal breeding that exploits natural variation in CH4 emissions is an additional mitigation solution that is cost-effective, permanent, and cumulative. We quantified the effect of including CH4 production in the Dutch breeding goal using selection index theory. The current Dutch national index contains 15 traits, related to milk yield, longevity, health, fertility, conformation and feed efficiency. From the literature, we obtained a heritability of 0.21 for enteric CH4 production, and genetic correlations of 0.4 with milk lactose, protein, fat and DM intake. Correlations between enteric CH4 production and other traits in the breeding goal were set to zero. When including CH4 production in the current breeding goal with a zero economic value, CH4 production increases each year by 1.5 g/d as a correlated response. When extrapolating this, the average daily CH4 production of 392 g/d in 2018 will increase to 442 g/d in 2050 (+13%). However, expressing the CH4 production as CH4 intensity in the same period shows a reduction of 13%. By putting economic weight on CH4 production in the breeding goal, selective breeding can reduce the CH4 intensity even by 24% in 2050. This shows that breeding is a valuable contribution to the whole set of mitigation strategies that could be applied in order to achieve the goals for 2050 set by the EU. If the decision is made to implement animal breeding strategies to reduce enteric CH4 production, and to achieve the expected breeding impact, there needs to be a sufficient reliability of prediction. The only way to achieve that is to have enough animals phenotyped and genotyped. The power calculations offer insights into the difficulties that will be faced in trying to record enough data. Recording CH4 data on 100 farms (with on average 150 cows each) for at least 2 years is required to achieve the desired reliability of 0.40 for the genomic prediction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100294
Early online date8 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Breeding goal
  • Genetic improvement
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Large-scale recording
  • Sustainable agriculture


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