Potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through different dairy cattle systems in subtropical regions

PLoS One. 2020 Jun 18;15(6):e0234687. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234687. eCollection 2020.


Carbon (C) footprint of dairy production, expressed in kg C dioxide (CO2) equivalents (CO2e) (kg energy-corrected milk (ECM))-1, encompasses emissions from feed production, diet management and total product output. The proportion of pasture on diets may affect all these factors, mainly in subtropical climate zones, where cows may access tropical and temperate pastures during warm and cold seasons, respectively. The aim of the study was to assess the C footprint of a dairy system with annual tropical and temperate pastures in a subtropical region. The system boundary included all processes up to the animal farm gate. Feed requirement during the entire life of each cow was based on data recorded from Holstein × Jersey cow herds producing an average of 7,000 kg ECM lactation-1. The milk production response as consequence of feed strategies (scenarios) was based on results from two experiments (warm and cold seasons) using lactating cows from the same herd. Three scenarios were evaluated: total mixed ration (TMR) ad libitum intake, 75, and 50% of ad libitum TMR intake with access to grazing either a tropical or temperate pasture during lactation periods. Considering IPCC and international literature values to estimate emissions from urine/dung, feed production and electricity, the C footprint was similar between scenarios, averaging 1.06 kg CO2e (kg ECM)-1. Considering factors from studies conducted in subtropical conditions and actual inputs for on-farm feed production, the C footprint decreased 0.04 kg CO2e (kg ECM)-1 in scenarios including pastures compared to ad libitum TMR. Regardless of factors considered, emissions from feed production decreased as the proportion of pasture went up. In conclusion, decreasing TMR intake and including pastures in dairy cow diets in subtropical conditions have the potential to maintain or reduce the C footprint to a small extent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animals
  • Carbon Footprint*
  • Cattle
  • Dairying
  • Farms*
  • Female
  • Grassland
  • Greenhouse Gases*
  • Herbivory*
  • Lactation
  • Natural Resources
  • Seasons


  • Greenhouse Gases

Grants and funding

HRF Grant number (Finance code) 001, Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior - Brazil (CAPES) https://www.capes.gov.br; Grant number 403754/2016-0, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico - Brasil (CNPq) http://www.cnpq.br; Grant number TR 584 2019, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa e Inovação do Estado de Santa Catarina (FAPESC) http://www.fapesc.sc.gov.br. The funders had no role in study design, ata collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.