July 5, 2020

New Zealand breeds the first sheep "low in methane emissions"

New Zealand has launched a genetic program, the first of its kind in the world, to boost sheep farming with a "low emission of methane," one of the gases that contribute to global warming.

"This approach will currently benefit the sheep industry, which accounts for just under 20 percent of New Zealand pollutant emissions," Mark Aspin, general director of the Greenhouse Gas Research Pastoral Consortium (PGGRC, acronym in acronym in Spanish) told Efe English).

In New Zealand, a country of just over 4 million inhabitants and almost 28 million sheep, 80 percent of total methane emissions come from cattle and sheep.

In order to reduce them, the Beef + Lamb New Zealand organization (B + LNZ) and the PGGRC announced last week that they were beginning to implement a genetic program based on the measurements of "breeding values", which identify the characteristics that are being pursued empower to improve herds.

One of these values ​​is the level of methane emission, which each farmer involved in the program measures in a portion of their herd by means of "accumulation chambers" adaptable to the tug of a truck that travels to the farms.

The sheep spend 50 minutes in these isolated chambers in two sessions that take place over a period of 14 days to determine how much methane each of them emits, especially when they burp or vomit.

The program is based on research that began ten years ago to take advantage of the fact that each sheep generates a different amount of methane and that the differences pass to the next generation.

"We have worked on this research since 2008. The measurements have been tested for about six years and adjusted to measure the genotypes of the breeding specimens," Aspin said.

The results will allow breeders to select the rams that have a lower level of emissions and use them for reproduction, in a process that will give results in about two years, which takes one of these animals to develop commercially.

The project has been received with interest by farmers, according to B + LNZ executive director Sam McIvor, who said that a survey placed the reduction of greenhouse gases as one of the five priorities of the sector.

Several countries, including Ireland, Norway or Australia, have shown interest in the program, Aspin said he was confident that its impact increases "as genetic changes deepen with each generation."

New Zealand passed a law in November to reduce carbon emissions to zero in 2050, which also aims to reduce by 10 percent the emissions of biological methane from agriculture in 2030.

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