NEW Zealand sheep breeders are testing their sheep for gas to underpin the accuracy of the world’s first breeding value for methane production.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) Genetics has launched a “methane research breeding value” in an effort to help ram breeders select low methane-producing animals in their flocks.
Ram breeders wanting to pursue the methane breeding value will need to measure a portion of their flock using portable accumulation chambers.
The chambers are on board an AgResearch-operated trailer, which travels to individual farms. Sheep spend 50 minutes in the chambers, where their gas emissions are measured. This happens twice at a 14-day interval. The resulting information is then used alongside other genetic information to calculate the methane breeding value.
Farmers already interested in breeding for low methane
King Country stud breeder Russell Proffit’s family has been producing rams for 40 years. Twenty years ago, his Raupuha Stud began breeding lower-input sheep – that is sheep that were naturally able to stave off common health ailments and required less interventions.
“I’ve undertaken the Methane BV measurements because I believe an animal that is healthy and doing well should produce less methane and I wanted to test that.
“I don’t know if that’s the case yet, but either way breeding for less methane complements what we are working to achieve on our stud,” Mr Proffit said.
“That is, more robust rams that require less inputs and make less demand on the environment.”
Mr Proffit said his commercial farmer clients have already expressed interest in the methane breeding value.
“Farmers are more interested that I anticipated.
“They are thinking about this issue and looking for ways to make progress,” he said.
Interested farmers are expected to have access to rams with the breeding values within two years – the time it will take to breed and grow rams on a commercial scale.
B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said interest in the methane breeding value was reinforced in recent B+LNZ research with 1000 farmers, who ranked tools and information to reduce greenhouse gas emissions among their top five on-farm priorities.
A global first for livestock species
PGGRC general manager Mark Aspin said the new breeding value takes advantage of the fact individual sheep vary in their levels of methane emission and these differences are passed on to the next generation.
“This is a global first for any species of livestock.
“Launching the methane breeding value gives New Zealand’s sheep sector a practical tool to help lower our agricultural greenhouse gases,” he said.
“This is significant.
“Up until now, the only option available to farmers wanting to lower their greenhouse gas emissions has been to constantly improve their overall farming efficiency,” Mr McIvor said.
“This takes us a step further – towards actually lowering sheep methane emissions, in keeping with the sector’s commitment to work towards reducing its greenhouse emissions.”
Although progress via breeding can be slow – around 1 percent per year, assuming a breeder was selecting only for methane – it is cumulative and has no negative impact on productivity.
Methane emission governed by feed intake
Mr Aspin says it is important to note that the biggest influence on methane emissions is the amount of feed an animal eats.
“To that end, the consortium is working on another three technologies, with a focus on reducing the amount of methane generated by feed.
“So, by breeding sheep that produce less methane per mouthful eaten – as other methane-reducing technologies come on stream – the influence of these sheep on the national flock’s methane production becomes compounding.”
The launching of the breeding tool is due to a 10-year multi-million dollar collaboration between the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGGRC), New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) and AgResearch, supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Ministry for Primary Industries.