The NZAGRC methane programme is jointly planned and funded in partnership with the PGgRc and aligns with existing MPI programmes funded through SLMACC and New Zealand funding in support of the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases. It aims to reduce emissions by directly targeting the methane producing methanogens through the discovery of small molecule inhibitors and vaccines and indirectly through feeding and changes in animal phenotype.
- Breeding: Research to understand the genetics of host control of ruminant methane emissions, which aims to develop genetic and genomic selection technologies to reduce methane yield and intensity in sheep. The current stage of the programme involves the development and dissemination of practical tools for selection for lowered emissions. A major part of maximising impact and uptake is to explore relative economic value from increased production and potential increased feed utilisation associated with lowered methane
- Vaccine (jointly supported by PGgRc): A prototype vaccine (which after further development is aimed at producing a vaccine targeted at reducing methane emissions in cattle and sheep by 20%) is being formulated with the help of a commercial partner
- Inhibitors (previously jointly funded but now fully funded by PGgRc): Research to develop cost-effective inhibitors that reduce methane emissions by at least 20% in sheep and cattle—without reducing productivity—is now being developed, with a view to bring the technology to market
- Modelling: A tool to help scientists in the NZAGRC/PGgRc programme to develop hypotheses and predict responses in methane formation is in its final stages
Current progress and research stories
The current objectives within the NZAGRC methane programme have made significant progress this year, with the sheep breeding programme getting closer to delivering breeding values to the national flock.
Sheep from low-methane-yield selection lines created on alfalfa pellets also have lower methane yield under pastoral farming conditions
Jonker, A., S. Hickey, C. Pinares-Patiño, J. McEwan, S. Olinga, A. Díaz, G. Molano, S. MacLean, E. Sandoval, R. Harland, D. Birch, B. Bryson, K. Knowler, and S. Rowe. 2017. Sheep from low-methane-yield selection lines created on alfalfa pellets also have lower methane yield under pastoral farming conditions. J. Anim. Sci. 0. doi:10.2527/jas.2017.1709
Selection lines of sheep with low and high CH4 yield (g/kg DMI; CH4/DMI) are being developed on the basis of feeding pelleted alfalfa hay at 2.0 times maintenance ME requirements in respiration chambers, but their divergence under predominant grazing conditions, as in New Zealand, is not known. The objectives of this study were to determine CH4 emissions and rumen fermentation characteristics in sheep from low and high CH4/DMI selection lines while grazing pasture. Two grazing experiments were conducted with 42 selection line ewes in March 2013 (Exp. 1) and 98 selection line progeny ewe hoggets in October/November 2014 (Exp. 2), with CH4 emissions estimated by the SF6 tracer technique and DMI estimated by titanium oxide in combination with natural long-chain n-alkanes. Total daily CH4 production (g/d) was similar between high and low CH4/DMI selection line sheep in Exp. 1 and lower for low CH4/DMI progeny compared with high CH4/DMI progeny in Exp. 2 (P < 0.05). The CH4/DMI tended to be 20% lower for low CH4/DMI line sheep compared with high CH4/DMI selection line sheep in Exp. 1 (P < 0.10) and was 15% lower for the low CH4/DMI line in Exp. 2 (P < 0.01). Total VFA concentration and concentrations (mM) of acetate, butyrate, and isobutyrate plus isovalerate were lower (P < 0.05) for low CH4/DMI line sheep compared with high CH4/DMI selection line sheep in both experiments. The current study indicates that differences in CH4/DMI and VFA concentrations in selection line sheep, previously established on alfalfa pellets, are also present to a similar magnitude when grazing pasture.
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