Enteric methane emissions (EME) of ruminants contribute to global climate change, but any attempt to reduce it will need an easy, inexpensive, and accurate method of quantification. We used a promising indirect method for estimating EMEs of lactating dairy cows based on the analysis of the fatty acid (FA) profile of their milk. The aim of this preliminary study was to assess milk from four single samplings (morning whole, evening whole, evening partially skimmed, and vat milks) as alternatives to reference whole milk samples from two milkings. Three fresh products (cream, cheese, and ricotta), two by-products (whey and scotta), and two long-ripened cheeses (6 and 12 months) were also assessed as alternative sources of information to reference milk. The 11 alternative matrices were obtained from seven experimental cheese- and ricotta-making sessions carried out every two weeks following the artisanal Malga cheese-making procedure using milk from 148 dairy cows kept on summer highland pastures. A total of 131 samples of milk, dairy products, and by-products were analyzed to determine the milk composition and to obtain detailed FA profiles using bi-dimensional gas-chromatography. Two equations taken from a published meta-analysis of methane emissions measured in the respiration chambers of cows on 30 different diets were applied to the proportions of butyric, iso-palmitic, iso-oleic, vaccenic, oleic, and linoleic acids out of total FAs to predict methane yield per kg of dry matter ingested and methane intensity per kg of fat and protein corrected milk produced by the cows. Methane yield and intensity could be predicted from single milk samples with good accuracy (trueness and precision) with respect to those predicted from reference milk. The fresh products (cream, cheese and ricotta) generally showed good levels of trueness but low precision for predicting both EME traits, which means that a greater number of samples needs to be analyzed. Among by-products, whey could be a viable alternative source of information for predicting both EME traits, whereas scotta overestimated both traits and showed low precision (due also to its very low fat content). Long-ripened cheeses were found to be less valuable sources of information, although six-month cheese could, with specific correction factors, be acceptable sources of information for predicting the methane yield of lactating cows. These preliminary results need to be confirmed by further study on different dairy systems and cheese-making technologies but offer new insight into a possible easy method for monitoring the EME at the field level along the dairy chain.
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