Production of Greenhouse Gases and Odorous Compounds from Manure of Beef Feedlot Cattle Fed Diets With and Without Ionophores

Ionophores are a type of antibiotics that are used in cattle production to shift ruminal fermentation patterns. They do not kill bacteria, but inhibit their ability to function and reproduce. In the cattle rumen, acetate, propionate, and butyrate are the primary volatile fatty acids produced. It is more energetically efficient for the rumen bacteria to produce acetate and use methane as a hydrogen sink rather than propionate. Ionophores inhibit archaea forcing bacteria to produce propionate and butyrate as hydrogen sinks rather than working symbiotically with methanogens to produce methane as a hydrogen sink. Numerous research studies have demonstrated performance advantages when ionophores are fed to beef cattle, but few have considered potential environmental benefits of feeding ionophores. This study was conducted to determine if concentrations of greenhouse gases, odorous volatile organic compounds (VOC), ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide from beef cattle manure could be reduced when an ionophore was fed to finishing cattle.

What Did We Do?

Four pens of feedlot cattle were fed an ionophore (monensin) and four pens received no ionophore (n=30 animals/pen). Samples were collected six times over a two-month period. A minimum of 20 fresh fecal pads were collected from each feedlot pen at each collection. Samples were mixed within pen and a sub-sample was placed in a small wind-tunnel. Duplicate samples for each pen were analyzed. Ammonia, carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitrous oxide (N2O) concentrations were measured using an Innova 1412 Photoacoustic Gas Analyzer. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and methane (CH4) were measured using a Thermo Fisher Scientific 450i and 55i, respectively.

What Have We Learned?


Table 1. Overall average concentration of compounds from feces of beef feedlot cattle fed diets with and without monensin.
Hydrogen Sulfide Ammonia Methane Carbon Dioxide Nitrous  Oxide Total Sulfidesa Total  SCFAb Total BCFAc Total Aromaticsd
µg L-1 —————-mg L-1—————-
No Monensin 87.3±2.2 1.0±0.2 4.3±0.1 562.5±2.2 0.4±0.0 233.4±18.3 421.6±81.9 16.8±3.1 83.7±6.4
Monensin 73.9±1.4 1.1±0.2 3.2±0.2 567.1±2.1 0.5±0.0 145.5±10.9 388.9±32.5 20.3±2.3 86.4±5.6
P-value 0.30 0.40 0.01 0.65 0.21 0.01 0.79 0.48 0.75
aTotal sulfides = dimethyldisulfide and dimethyltrisulfide; bTotal straight-chained fatty acids (SCFA) = acetic acid, propionic acid, butyric acid, valeric acid, hexanoic acid, and heptanoic acid;  cTotal branch-chained fatty acids (BCFA) = isobutyric acid and isovaleric acid; dTotal aromatics = phenol, 4-methylphenol, 4-ethylphenol, indole, and skatole

Total CH4 concentration decreased when monensin was fed. Of the VOCs measured, only total sulfide concentration was lower for the manure from cattle fed monensin compared to those not fed monensin. Ammonia, N2O, CO2, H2S, and all other odorous VOC were similar between the cattle fed monensin and those not fed monensin. The results only account for concentration of gases emitted from the manure and do not take into account any urinary contributions, but indicate little reduction in odors and greenhouse gases when monensin was fed to beef finishing cattle.

Future Plans

A study is planned for April – July 2019 to measure odor and gas emissions from manure (urine and feces mixture) from cattle fed with and without monensin. Measurements will also be collected from the feedlot surface of pens with cattle fed with and without monensin.  


Mindy J. Spiehs, Research Animal Scientist, USDA ARS Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, NE

Bryan L. Woodbury, Agricultural Engineer, USDA ARS Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, NE

Kristin E. Hales, Research Animal Scientist, USDA ARS Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, NE

Additional Information

Dr. Hales also looked at growth performance and E. coli shedding when ionophores were fed to finishing beef cattle. This work is published in Journal of Animal Science.

Hales, K.E., Wells, J., Berry, E.D., Kalchayanand, N., Bono, J.L., Kim, M.S. 2017. The effects of monensin in diets fed to finishing beef steers and heifers on growth performance and fecal shedding of Escherichia coli O157:H7. Journal of Animal Science. 95(8):3738-3744.

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The authors wish to thank Alan Kruger, Todd Boman, and the USMARC Cattle Operations Crew for assistance with data collection.

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