Australia studies genetic selection impact on methane

By Carina Perkins

- Last updated on GMT

Australia studies genetic selection impact on methane
Australian scientists have carried out tests on 2,500 sheep in a bid to understand whether it is possible to reduce methane emissions through genetic selection.

As part of the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research project, funded by the Australian Government, scientists from the University of Western Australia tested animals from the Sheep Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Information Nucleus Flock in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia to establish whether methane production is heritable, with more feed-efficient animals producing less methane.

“Methane production is largely dependent on diet quality and feed intake, but research in cattle shows that animals selected for higher feed efficiency produce less methane per kilogram of dry matter intake than cattle selected for lower efficiency,”​ said the University of Western Australia’s associate professor, Phil Vercoe.

“Our tests indicate that a preliminary estimate of heritability using a short–term methane measurement is low, but encouraging. But we need to screen more animals to improve the accuracy of this estimate and to enable correlations to other production traits to be estimated. Our work and the work that has been undertaken in a parallel programme in New Zealand, indicates that heritability is about 0.1-0.2.”

Vercoe said reducing emissions would help Australia achieve its emissions targets, while also helping producers improve their profitability. “It is likely that more feed-efficient animals will produce less methane per unit of wool or meat,”​ he explained.

“Economic modelling shows that decreasing feed requirements in terms of dry sheep equivalent per head by 1% would add more than $15m to the value of the industry each year.”

The Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research project is a joint initiative of Meat & Livestock Australia and the federal government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). It is part of the Australian Government’s Climate Change Research Program, which aims to make research useful and applicable to industry.

Julie Gaglia, of DAFF, said: “The Australian Government is working with researchers, industry and producers to ensure the science addresses the effects of a changing climate in a way that will help land managers improve their management practices and be profitable and sustainable.

“This research and demonstration will continue through the $429m Carbon Farming Futures Program.”
 

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