Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Review article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

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

      SLU Authors

    • Ramin, Mohammad

      • Department of Agricultural Research for Northern Sweden, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences
    Animal and Dairy Science

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)