Methane emissions from enteric fermentation

Methane is produced in herbivores as a by-product of enteric fermentation, a digestive process by which carbohydrates are broken down by micro-organisms into simple molecules for absorption into the bloodstream. The amount of methane that is released depends on the type of digestive tract, age, and weight of the animal, and the quality and quantity of the feed consumed. Ruminant livestock (e.g., cattle, sheep) are major sources of methane with moderate amounts produced from non-ruminant livestock (e.g., pigs, horses). The ruminant gut structure fosters extensive enteric fermentation of their diet.

Digestive system

The type of digestive system has a significant influence on the rate of methane emission. Ruminant livestock have an expansive chamber, the rumen, at the fore-part of their digestive tract that supports intensive microbial fermentation of their diet which yields several nutritional advantages including the capacity to digest cellulose in their diet. The main ruminant livestock are cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep, deer and camelids. Non-ruminant livestock (horses, mules, asses) and monogastric livestock (swine) have relatively lower methane emissions because much less methane-producing fermentation takes place in their digestive systems.

Feed intake

Methane is produced by the fermentation of feed within the animal's digestive system. Generally, the higher the feed intake, the higher the methane emission. Although, the extent of methane production may also be affected by the composition of the diet. Feed intake is positively related to animal size, growth rate, and production (e.g., milk production, wool growth, or pregnancy).

To reflect the variation in emission rates among animal species, the population of animals should be divided into subgroups, and an emission rate per animal is estimated for each subgroup. Types of population subgroups are provided in Section 10.2 (Livestock and Feed Characterisation). The amount of methane emitted by a population subgroup is calculated by multiplying the emission rate per animal by the number of animals within the subgroup.

Natural wild ruminants are not considered in the derivation of a country's emission estimate. Emissions should only be considered from animals under domestic management (e.g., farmed deer, elk, and buffalo).

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