Methane Research Programme

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.

Heritability estimates of methane emissions from sheep

Pinares-Patiño, C. S., Hickey, S. M., Young, E. A., Dodds, K. G., MacLean, S., Molano, G., Sandoval, E., Kjestrup, H., Harland, R., Hunt, C., Pickering, N. K. and McEwan, J. C. (2013) “Heritability estimates of methane emissions from sheep,” animal. Cambridge University Press, 7(s2), pp. 316–321. doi: 10.1017/S1751731113000864.

The objective of this study was to determine the genetic parameters of methane (CH4) emissions and their genetic correlations with key production traits. The trial measured the CH4 emissions, at 5-min intervals, from 1225 sheep placed in respiration chambers for 2 days, with repeat measurements 2 weeks later for another 2 days. They were fed in the chambers, based on live weight, a pelleted lucerne ration at 2.0 times estimated maintenance requirements. Methane outputs were calculated for g CH4/day and g CH4/kg dry matter intake (DMI) for each of the 4 days. Single trait models were used to obtain estimates of heritability and repeatability. Heritability of g CH4/day was 0.29 ± 0.05, and for g CH4/kg DMI 0.13 ± 0.03. Repeatability between measurements 14 days apart were 0.55 ± 0.02 and 0.26 ± 0.02, for the two traits. The genetic and phenotypic correlations of CH4 outputs with various production traits (weaning weight, live weight at 8 months of age, dag score, muscle depth and fleece weight at 12 months of age) measured in the first year of life, were estimated using bivariate models. With the exception of fleece weight, correlations were weak and not significantly different from zero for the g CH4/kg DMI trait. For fleece weight the phenotypic and genetic correlation estimates were −0.08 ± 0.03 and −0.32 ± 0.11 suggesting a low economically favourable relationship. These results indicate that there is genetic variation between animals for CH4 emission traits even after adjustment for feed intake and that these traits are repeatable. Current work includes the establishment of selection lines from these animals to investigate the physiological, microbial and anatomical changes, coupled with investigations into shorter and alternative CH4 emission measurement and breeding value estimation techniques; including genomic selection.

Keywords: sheep, methane, heritability, genetic correlation, global warming


This work was funded by the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. The animals themselves were part of the Ovita partnership and the related Central Progeny Test: both funded in part or whole by Beef+Lamb New Zealand. Thanks also to the Central Progeny Test collaborating organisations: AgResearch Woodlands especially Kevin Knowler, On Farm Research especially Paul Muir, Lincoln University especially Chris Logan and AbacusBio Ltd especially Neville Jopson. The New Zealand Government in support of the Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance (GRA) on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases has funded Natalie Pickering's postdoctoral fellowship.

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