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16 Dec 2022

Reduce the carbon footprint of your herd

With the rising cost of feed and a growing need to reduce the carbon footprint, it's important to find ways to improve the efficiency and productivity of your herd.

When you focus on breeding for improved feed efficiency, you not only reduce production costs and optimise overall farm returns. You also reduce the CO2 footprint and contribute to more climate-friendly dairy production.

Efficient and a sustainable herd VikingRed

Research into greenhouse gases indicates that, on average, 6% of the energy that a cow eats is spent on producing methane. However, this varies from 2-12% depending on how efficient the cow is in converting feed into milk.

Over the past decade, the scientific community has investigated paths to reduce methane emissions, through different scientific disciplines, such as animal nutrition, physiology, management and genetics.

Some of the approaches include:

  • feed additives to reduce emissions (nutrition)
  • identifying lower emitting animals at the same level of production (genetics)
  • improving animal health, replacement of animals
  • manure management
  • reducing consumption of animal products

Nevertheless, the advantage of genetics is that the reductions in CH4 are cumulative through generations and permanent. With the heritability of methane traits at around 0.20, genetics is an important tool for reducing the carbon footprint of the dairy industry.

Efficient and a sustainable herd VikingHolstein

Research into methane emissions in Denmark

The 7-year-long research into methane emissions in Denmark has collected over 26,000 CH4 breath records from 647 Holstein cows. Data has confirmed that there is a substantial variation in the population.

Methane intensity (methane per kg of milk produced) ranges from 1.9 to 29.5 g CH4 per kg of ECM milk produced, with the average at 9.2.

Also for the methane yield (methane per amount of feed consumed), there is a great variation between the animals, ranging from 3.7 to 35.8 g CH4 per kg of DMI with the average at 15.4.

How can breeding help achieve the desired methane emissions faster?

The Danish study has evaluated three different scenarios for developing the selection index:

  • Scenario 0 – only selecting for Energy corrected milk (ECM)
  • Scenario 1 – include residual feed intake
  • Scenario 2 – include residual feed intake and methane

The selection index, which includes both residual feed intake and methane, would allow a significant reduction in residual feed intake and residual methane production to be achieved without a major loss in Energy corrected milk production. 

Efficient and a sustainable herd VikingHolstein

According to the study, including methane in the breeding goal could help achieve the desired methane emission reductions in dairy cattle faster.

The study has also investigated the impact that cutting methane emissions would have on the bottom line.

Including methane in the selection index gives a reduction in residual methane production of 1.11 kg of methane per cow per year. With the total number of dairy cows in Denmark standing at 550,000, this results in 698 tonnes CH4 or 51.4K tonnes CO2 equivalents (CO2e).

Including methane in the breeding goal could lead to savings of €11 million in one year for the dairy industry, just in Denmark alone.

Click "+" to see the study results.


Scenario 0

Only selecting for ECM

Scenario 1

Including residual feed intake

Scenario 2

Including residual feed intake and methane





Residual feed intake




Residual methane production





1 tonne of CH4 = 84 tonnes CO2 equivalents (CO2e) for a 20-year global warming potential period

Economic impact: €200 per tonne CO2e

Source: Coralia I.V. Manzanilla-Pech, Rasmus B. Stephansen, Gareth F. Difford, Peter Løvendahl, Jan Lassen ‘Selecting for feed efficient cows will help to reduce methane gas emissions’. Published: Frontiers in Genetics, 26th May 2022

You can find the full study here

Efficient and a sustainable herd VikingHolstein

Breed for more feed-efficient and climate-friendly cows

The study has confirmed that there is a strong positive correlation between feed efficiency and methane production traits (the genetic correlation between the trait for methane emissions ‘Residual methane production on ECM (energy corrected milk) and MBW (metabolic body weight)’ and the trait for feed efficiency ‘Residual feed intake on ECM and MBW’ is equal to 0.48). 

With the Saved feed index, you can breed for more feed-efficient and climate-friendly cows – without compromising on the production, health and reproduction performance of your cows.

For the Saved feed index, the daughters of two bulls with a difference of 20 index units will have a difference in dry matter intake (DMI) of 70-100 kg per lactation.

EBV 120 means reduction in feed consumption – kg DMI per year.








100 cows




200 cows




500 cows




1,000 cows




Efficient and a sustainable herd VikingJersey

Long-lasting cows benefit the climate

Healthy and fertile cows that live long in the herd help to reduce the herd's climate footprint. Long-lasting cows are not only good for securing profitability and improving animal welfare, they also help reduce the milk's climate footprint.

This is because the climate impact that comes from rearing cows can be distributed over a higher lifetime production.

With better longevity, you can also reduce replacement costs. This greatly helps achieve more climate-friendly milk production, as the herd's total methane production is reduced, with fewer animals needed to sustain milk production, as well as lower feed costs.

The genetic improvement that you achieve is a permanent and desired improvement accumulated through generations and it will increase your profit margins.

Find the bulls to improve efficiency
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