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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Challenges and opportunities to capture dietary effects in on-farm greenhouse gas emissions models of ruminant systems

Vibart, Ronaldo; de Klein, Cecile; Jonker, Arjan; van der Weerden, Tony; Bannink, André; Bayat, Ali R.; Crompton, Les; Durand, Anais; Eugène, Maguy; Klumpp, Katja; Kuhla, Bjoern; Lanigan, Gary; Lund, Peter; Ramin, Mohammad; Salazar, Francisco


This paper reviews existing on-farm GHG accounting models for dairy cattle systems and their ability to capture the effect of dietary strategies in GHG abatement. The focus is on methane (CH4) emissions from enteric and manure (animal excreta) sources and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from animal excreta. We identified three generic modelling approaches, based on the degree to which models capture diet-related characteristics: from ‘none’ (Type 1) to ‘some’ by combining key diet parameters with emission factors (EF) (Type 2) to ‘many’ by using process-based modelling (Type 3). Most of the selected on-farm GHG models have adopted a Type 2 approach, but a few hybrid Type 2 / Type 3 approaches have been developed recently that combine empirical modelling (through the use of CH4 and/or N2O emission factors; EF) and process-based modelling (mostly through rumen and whole tract fermentation and digestion). Empirical models comprising key dietary inputs (i.e., dry matter intake and organic matter digestibility) can predict CH4 and N2O emissions with reasonable accuracy. However, the impact of GHG mitigation strategies often needs to be assessed in a more integrated way, and Type 1 and Type 2 models frequently lack the biological foundation to do this. Only Type 3 models represent underlying mechanisms such as ruminal and total-tract digestive processes and excreta composition that can capture dietary effects on GHG emissions in a more biological manner. Overall, the better a model can simulate rumen function, the greater the opportunity to include diet characteristics in addition to commonly used variables, and thus the greater the opportunity to capture dietary mitigation strategies. The value of capturing the effect of additional animal feed characteristics on the prediction of on-farm GHG emissions needs to be carefully balanced against gains in accuracy, the need for additional input and activity data, and the variability encountered on-farm.


dairy farm system; diet; feeding management; effluent; methane; nitrous oxide

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2021, volume: 769, article number: 144989

Authors' information

Vibart, Ronaldo
de Klein, Cecile
Jonker, Arjan
van der Weerden, Tony
Bannink, André
Wageningen University and Research
Bayat, Ali R.
Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE)
Crompton, Les
University of Reading
Durand, Anais
Interprofessional Technical Centre for Studies on Air Pollution (CITEPA)
Eugène, Maguy
National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA)
Klumpp, Katja
Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
Kuhla, Bjoern
Leibniz Institut fur Nutztierbiologie (FBN)
Lanigan, Gary
Lund, Peter
Aarhus University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Agricultural Research for Northern Sweden
Salazar, Francisco
Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA)

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences
Animal and Dairy Science

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