Breeding low-emitting dairy cattle

With breeding values for low-methane emissions now available to ram breeders through Beef + Lamb Genetics, the NZAGRC, in partnership with industry, is exploring breeding options for low-emitting dairy cattle.

Current projects

Project title Lead organisation/s
Low methane emitting cattle: full trial LIC (Livestock Improvement Corporation Ltd)

Overview

Building on the success of the low-emitting sheep breeding programme, the NZAGRC is funding similar work with New Zealand dairy cattle. Key questions include:

  • Do dairy bulls exhibit phenotypic variation in methane emissions per kilogram of dry matter intake?
  • How heritable is the trait?
  • What are the best proxy measures to use in identifying low-emitting heifers and cows?

Researchers have reviewed international genetic programmes and compared logistics for cattle testing. Pilot trials were conducted at LIC and CRV Ambreed in Hamilton in 2020, using the C-Lock GreenFeed system. These pilots developed and tested methods for a series of full trials starting in 2021. The full trials will see all bulls in the existing LIC and CRV progeny test schemes (300-340 animals, aged 6-9 months old) measured for their methane output per kilogram of dry matter eaten. The full trial was featured in the news when it launched in April 2021. 

New Zealand cattle

New Zealand cattle

This project is also extending existing New Zealand research to develop proxy methods for identifying low-emitting cows and bulls. This research is looking for markers in gut microbes, milk and blood plasma. Proxy methods are essential for the development of a full-scale national methane breeding programme, because approximately 10,000 animals will need to be assessed for their methane emissions.

As has been the case with the sheep breeding work, the intention is that the outcomes are able to be rapidly adopted by industry via traditional breeding methodologies and genomic selection.