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J Environ Qual. 2006 Aug 9;35(5):1686-91. Print 2006 Sep-Oct.

Assessment of the sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) tracer technique for measuring enteric methane emissions from cattle.

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  • 1Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, P.O. Box 3000, Lethbridge, AB, Canada T1J 4B1.


A commonly used method of measuring enteric methane (CH4) emissions from ruminants is the SF6 tracer technique that measures respired and eructated CH4. However, within the animal, a small proportion of CH4 is produced post-ruminally and some of this may escape through the rectum. The comparison of emissions using a chamber technique that measures all enteric CH4 losses, and the SF6 tracer technique, could give some insight into the magnitude of post-ruminal emission. The objective of our study was to assess the precision and accuracy of the SF6 tracer technique against a chamber technique for cattle fed a range of diets. Using a repeated-measures design, eight beef heifers were offered a high grain or high forage diet for ad libitum or restricted (65% of ad libitum) feed intake to vary the site of digestion within the gastrointestinal tract (n = 24). The SF6 tracer technique underestimated CH4 emissions on average by 4% relative to the chamber technique. This difference was not significant (P > 0.05) and suggests low post-ruminal CH4 emissions. There was a trend for greater accuracy and precision of the SF6 tracer technique when used with cattle fed a high forage diet at a restricted level of intake. The high forage diet corresponds to the conditions of cattle grazing pasture, suggesting the SF6 tracer technique is most reliable for the grazing system.

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