Measuring methane exhaust

This video is part of a research conducted by CowSignals trainer Eva Buis. She made a different design to an existing methane sampler and tested it to see wether it was cow proof, cow friendly and attractive for the cows. She designed a sampler with flexible walls, so the cows wouldn't demolish it. She compared lying time between cubicles with sampler and without one. For the first group she build up the sampler week by week. With the second cow group she placed the sampler at once. The video shows that the cows are not afraid, but curious about the sampler. Eva found that lying time doesn't differ between cubicles with sampler and the ones without one.

Eva's research was part of a larger program from Wageningen University and was mentored by Nico Ogink, Eddie Bokkers and Peter Groot Koerkamp.

Full research summary

New research suggested that methane emission can be reduced by breeding programs since heritability’s of 0.35 were found for methane production. However, to set up such a breeding program data from 3000 – 4000 cows is needed. With the current available sampling method for methane, such as the respiration chamber, a head box or a face mask this takes too much time and would be too expensive. Thus a new method has to be developed to measure methane emissions of individual cows for a longer period. Wageningen University has developed a cubicle sampler that should allow to measure the methane flux of an individual cow. As a next step the sampler has to be tested and further evaluated for measurements under barn conditions with real cows. Since every cow needs to be measured the cows should not avoid the sampler and therefore it is important that the construction is cow proof, cow friendly and attractive for the cows.
Therefore the aim of this research was to evaluate the construction of the sampler for use under barn conditions in terms of being cow proof, cow friendly and attractive (non-avoiding) by testing the cows’ behavior in relation to the sampler design. The sampler of Wageningen University was first reconstructed, since the current sampler was completely of wood with a lot of sharp edged. The rebuilt sampler consisted of a hood from transparent polycarbonate, a perforated back panel of transparent polycarbonate to allow air movement and flexible side panels from transparent canvas (PVC). The hood was connected to a fan to be able to create an airflow for methane measurements. The study consisted of two part. In part A the sampler was placed in a separated part of a dairy cow’s house with 8 lying cubicles on one side, the sampler being placed in the centrally located cubicle. The sampler was placed in parts, starting with the hood construction and gradually extended with the complete layout which created 4 different lay-outs and 2 reference lay-outs (at the start and at the end). In part B the sampler was placed as a whole which created 1 lay-out and 1 reference lay out. For both parts a herd of 7 cows was selected. Behavioral observations were done to investigate if there was a difference in cubicle preference between the cubicle with sampler and the other cubicles. This was tested by comparing the cubicles in each lay-out for occupation time (OT) in terms of standing (OS) and lying (OL) in minutes per day and the average length of a lying period (OLP) in minutes. Furthermore the latency period between feeding and lying and the visit frequency per cow between the lay-outs were compared. Also the reaction on the sampler was recorded for the individual cow and if some of the cows were avoiding the sampler in a lay-out. Next to the behavioral observations a damage test was done on the sampler to investigate if the sampler was cow proof.
In both parts OLP was not different in the cubicle with sampler compared to the other cubicles. For the cubicle with sampler no differences were found between the lay-outs for OS, OL and OT. When comparing part A and B of the study in terms of occupation rate, latency period, frequency of visits and reaction on the sampler both herds act the same on the sampler. Thus placing the sampler in parts does not show differences with placing the whole sampler in one time. It became clear that on the first day of placing (a part of) the sampler more exploring activities took place than on the second day. For the sampler some damage was found, however this would probably have no influence on the methane measurements.
It can be concluded that the cows do not avoid the cubicle with sampler and that there was no difference in cubicle preference between the cubicle with sampler and the other cubicles. Furthermore, the exploring activities as well as the latency period between feeding and lying and the visit frequency decreased after a few days. Thus the long term behavior of the cows was not changed by placing (a part of) the sampler. Besides, no relation was found for parts of the sampler in relation to avoiding the sampler. Thus avoiding the sampler and cubicle preference are not related to habituation/ adaptation of cows. The sampler was cow proof in terms of not being damaged by the usage of the cows.

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