Life-cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from dairy production in eastern Canada: A case study.

McGeough, E.J., Little, S.M., Janzen, H.H., McAllister, T.A., McGinn, S.M., and Beauchemin, K.A. (2012). "Life-cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from dairy production in eastern Canada: A case study.", Journal of Dairy Science (JDS), 95(9), pp. 5164-5175. doi : 10.3168/jds.2011-5229  Access to full text


The objective of this study was to conduct a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a typical nongrazing dairy production system in Eastern Canada. Additionally, as dairying generates both milk and meat, this study assessed several methods of allocating emissions between these coproducts. An LCA was carried out for a simulated farm based on a typical nongrazing dairy production system in Quebec. The LCA was conducted over 6 yr, the typical lifespan of dairy cows in this province. The assessment considered 65 female Holstein calves, of which 60 heifers survived to first calving at 27 mo of age. These animals were subsequently retained for an average of 2.75 lactations. Progeny were also included in the analysis, with bulls and heifers in excess of replacement requirements finished as grain-fed veal (270 kg) at 6.5 mo of age. All cattle were housed indoors and fed forages and grains produced on the same farm. Prefarm gate GHG emissions and removals were quantified using Holos, a whole-farm software model developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and based on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change Tier 2 and 3 methodologies with modifications for Canadian conditions. The LCA yielded a GHG intensity of 0.92 kg of CO2 Eq/kg of fat- and protein-corrected milk yield. Methane (CH4) accounted for 56% of total emissions, with 86% originating from enteric fermentation. Nitrous oxide accounted for 40% of total GHG emissions. Lactating cows contributed 64% of total GHG emissions, whereas calves under 12 mo contributed 10% and veal calves only 3%. Allocation of GHG emissions between meat and milk were assessed as (1) 100% allocation to milk, (2) economics, (3) dairy versus veal animals, and (4) International Dairy Federation equation using feed energy demand for meat and milk production. Comparing emissions from dairy versus veal calves resulted in 97% of the emissions allocated to milk. The lowest allocation of emissions to milk (78%) was associated with the International Dairy Federation equation. This LCA showed that greatest reductions in GHG emissions would be achieved by applying mitigation strategies to reduce enteric CH4 from the lactating cow, with minimal reductions being achievable in young stock. Choice of coproduct allocation method can also significantly affect the relative allocation of GHG emissions to milk and meat.

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