The relationship between milk metabolome and methane emission of Holstein Friesian dairy cows: Metabolic interpretation and prediction potential

S. van Gastelen*, E.C. Antunes Fernandes, K.A. Hettinga, J. Dijkstra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This study aimed to quantify the relationship between CH4 emission and fatty acids, volatile metabolites, and nonvolatile metabolites in milk of dairy cows fed forage-based diets. Data from 6 studies were used, including 27 dietary treatments and 123 individual observations from lactating Holstein-Friesian cows. These dietary treatments covered a large range of forage-based diets, with different qualities and proportions of grass silage and corn silage. Methane emission was measured in climate respiration chambers and expressed as production (g per day), yield (g per kg of dry matter intake; DMI), and intensity (g per kg of fat- and protein-corrected milk; FPCM). Milk samples were analyzed for fatty acids by gas chromatography, for volatile metabolites by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and for nonvolatile metabolites by nuclear magnetic resonance. Dry matter intake was 15.9 ± 1.90 kg/d (mean ± SD), FPCM yield was 25.2 ± 4.57 kg/d, CH4 production was 359 ± 51.1 g/d, CH4 yield was 22.6 ± 2.31 g/kg of DMI, and CH4 intensity was 14.5 ± 2.59 g/kg of FPCM. The results show that changes in individual milk metabolite concentrations can be related to the ruminal CH4 production pathways. Several of these relationships were diet driven, whereas some were partly dependent on FPCM yield. Next, prediction models were developed and subsequently evaluated based on root mean square error of prediction (RMSEP), concordance correlation coefficient (CCC) analysis, and random 10-fold cross-validation. The best models with milk fatty acids (in g/100 g of fatty acids; MFA) alone predicted CH4 production, yield, and intensity with a RMSEP of 34 g/d, 2.0 g/kg of DMI, and 1.7 g/kg of FPCM, and with a CCC of 0.67, 0.44, and 0.75, respectively. The CH4 prediction potential of both volatile metabolites alone and nonvolatile metabolites alone was low, regardless of the unit of CH4 emission, as evidenced by the low CCC values (<0.35). The best models combining the 3 types of metabolites as selection variables resulted in the inclusion of only MFA for CH4 production and CH4 yield. For CH4 intensity, MFA, volatile metabolites, and nonvolatile metabolites were included in the prediction model. This resulted in a small improvement in prediction potential (CCC of 0.80; RMSEP of 1.5 g/kg of FPCM) relative to MFA alone. These results indicate that volatile and nonvolatile metabolites in milk contain some information to increase our understanding of enteric CH4 production of dairy cows, but that it is not worthwhile to determine the volatile and nonvolatile metabolites in milk to estimate CH4 emission of dairy cows. We conclude that MFA have moderate potential to predict CH4 emission of dairy cattle fed forage-based diets, and that the models can aid in the effort to understand and mitigate CH4 emissions of dairy cows.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2110-2126
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number3
Early online date28 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • dairy cow
  • enteric methane production
  • Milk metabolome

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