Effect of Increased Somatic Cell Count and Replacement Rate on Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Norwegian Dairy Herds

Ṣeyda Özkan, Helge Bonesmo, Olav Østerås, Odd Magne Harstad


Dairy sector contributes around 4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, of which 2/3 and 1/3 are attributed to milk and meat production, respectively. The main GHGs released from dairy farms are methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. The increased trend in emissions has stimulated research evaluating alternative mitigation options. Much of the work to date has focused on animal breeding, dietary factors and rumen manipulation. There have been little studies assessing the impact of secondary factors such as animal health on emissions at farm level. Production losses associated with udder health are significant. Somatic cell count (SCC) is an indicator on udder health. In Norway, around 45, 60 and 70% of cows in a dairy herd at first, second and third lactation are expected to have SCC of 50,000 cells/ml and above. Another indirect factor is replacement rate. Increasing the replacement rate due to health disorders, infertility and reduced milk yield is likely to increase the total farm emissions if the milking heifer replacements are kept in the herd. In this study, the impact of elevated SCC (200,000 cells/ml and above) and replacement rate on farm GHG emissions was evaluated. HolosNor, a farm scale model adapting IPCC methodology was used to estimate net farm GHG emissions. Preliminary results indicate an increasing trend in emissions (per kg milk and meat) as the SCC increases. Results suggest that animal health should be considered as an indirect mitigation strategy; however, further studies are required to enable comparisons of different farming systems.

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