Estimating methane emissions from cows - Mobile phones for cows?

Reducing methane emissions from ruminants is a major target for sustainable and efficient livestock farming. For the animal, methane production represents a loss of feed energy. For the environment, methane exerts a potent greenhouse effect. Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of methane emitted from domestic animals is through burping, not flatulence.


Methane mitigation strategies require accurate, non-invasive, and inexpensive techniques for estimating individual methane emissions on farms. The "gold standard" approach is to use respiration chambers, but this is costly and not suitable on a large scale.

BioSS' role

Using time series data of feed intake and methane production from cows in individual respiration chambers provided by SRUC [presentation], BioSS built a very simple model that converts the feed time series to the methane production rate using an exponential filter (hyperlink to exponential filter function code). Based on this model, scientists then realised that it is not necessary to know how much the cow is eating, but only for how long it is eating. This means that if one can measure how often a cow eats, then one can make a reasonable estimate of its methane emissions.

Future innovation

Mobile phones can measure tilt. Therefore, if one assumes that when a cow's head is pointing downwards it is eating, then data from a phone attached to a cow's head, in conjunction with the BioSS model, can give an idea of how much methane a particular animal is emitting, offering a feasible and low cost technological solution for farm applications in the future.


This work was done in collaboration with Rafael Munoz-Tamayo (INRA, Paris), Freddie Ramérez Agudelo (Universidad de Antioquia, Columbia), Richard Dewhurst (SRUC), Gemma Miller (SRUC) and Tess Vernon (BioSS). It was funded under the Scottish Government's Strategic Research Programme for environment, agriculture and food.

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Munoz-Tamayo R., J.F. Ramirez Agudelo, R.J. Dewhurst, G. Miller, T. Vernon, H. Kettle. 2019. A parsimonious software sensor for estimating the individual dynamic pattern of methane emissions from cattle. Animal v13(6),p1180-1187.



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