Ruminant husbandry is a major source of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG). Filling knowledge gaps and providing expert recommendation are important for defining future research priorities, improving methodologies and establishing science-based GHG mitigation solutions to government and non-governmental organisations, advisory/extension networks, and the ruminant livestock sector. The objectives of this review is to summarize published literature to provide a detailed assessment of the methodologies currently in use for measuring enteric methane (CH4) emission from individual animals under specific conditions, and give recommendations regarding their application. The methods described include respiration chambers and enclosures, sulphur hexafluoride tracer (SF6) technique, and techniques based on short-term measurements of gas concentrations in samples of exhaled air. This includes automated head chambers (e.g. the GreenFeed system), the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a marker, and (handheld) laser CH4 detection. Each of the techniques are compared and assessed on their capability and limitations, followed by methodology recommendations. It is concluded that there is no ‘one size fits all’ method for measuring CH4 emission by individual animals. Ultimately, the decision as to which method to use should be based on the experimental objectives and resources available. However, the need for high throughput methodology e.g. for screening large numbers of animals for genomic studies, does not justify the use of methods that are inaccurate. All CH4 measurement techniques are subject to experimental variation and random errors. Many sources of variation must be considered when measuring CH4 concentration in exhaled air samples without a quantitative or at least regular collection rate, or use of a marker to indicate (or adjust) for the proportion of exhaled CH4 sampled. Consideration of the number and timing of measurements relative to diurnal patterns of CH4 emission and respiratory exchange are important, as well as consideration of feeding patterns and associated patterns of rumen fermentation rate and other aspects of animal behaviour. Regardless of the method chosen, appropriate calibrations and recovery tests are required for both method establishment and routine operation. Successful and correct use of methods requires careful attention to detail, rigour, and routine self-assessment of the quality of the data they provide.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology