Promising results from Ireland's first large-scale methane measurement study – Irish Examiner

The study is the first large-scale measurement of methane emissions in Irish beef cattle and one of the largest studies conducted worldwide.
The first large-scale study to measure methane emissions in Irish beef cattle conclusively shows that some beef cattle can produce up to 30% less methane emissions, on average, for the same level of productivity.
Researchers say the project, which was led by Teagasc in collaboration with University College Dublin (UCD) and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), is the first stride towards identifying and ultimately breeding low-methane-emitting cattle in a bid to improve the environmental sustainability of the national herd.
To date, the genetic selection of low-methane-emitting ruminant livestock has been limited by the relationship of methane output and feed intake.
Teagasc Walsh Scholar PhD student Paul Smith explained: “In general, when on the same plane of nutrition, animals that consume more feed tend to produce more methane on a daily basis.
“This relationship has so far made it difficult to breed low-methane-emitting animals without negatively impacting feed intake, which is a key driver of animal productivity, particularly in forage-based production systems.”
However, Teagasc’s Professor Sinéad Waters, Professor David Kenny, Paul Smith and Stuart Kirwan, along with UCD’s Dr Alan Kelly and ICBF’s Stephen Conroy, working collaboratively through RumenPredict (a project funded by Era-Gas), have recently developed a novel approach to quantifying emissions in beef cattle, capable of disentangling the relationship of feed intake with methane output.
In their study, recently published in the American Journal of Animal Science, the group showcases the benefits of utilising a new concept, termed residual methane emissions (RME), to select low-methane-emitting animals without affecting animal productivity.
RME can be defined as the difference between an animal’s actual and expected methane output, based on the quantity of feed that it consumes on a daily basis and its body weight.
The study is the first large-scale measurement of methane emissions in Irish beef cattle and one of the largest studies conducted worldwide.
It was also the first to employ GreenFeed technology to measure methane emissions in Irish cattle, with the technology now deployed across Teagasc, UCD, and ICBF research facilities, to build national capacity to accurately measure methane emissions.
“We calculated RME values for 282 beef cattle undergoing feed efficiency and methane measurements at the ICBF Progeny Test Centre in Tully, Co Kildare,” Mr Smith explained.
“After ranking animals as high, medium and low on the basis of RME, low RME animals produced 30% less methane, but maintained the same level of feed intake, feed efficiency, growth, and carcass output as their high-ranking RME contemporaries.”
The researchers said that identifying and breeding from the most productive, yet low-methane-emitting cattle would be critical for the continued economic and environmental sustainability of Ireland’s beef industry.
“The work completed by Paul Smith and the team has helped us identify the key methane trait, which we must focus on for methane mitigation in the future,” ICBF geneticist Dr Andrew Cromie said.
“The next step for the ICBF, Teagasc, and UCD team will be to broaden research into the relationship between RME and other important traits at a genomic level, with a view to harnessing this information within our national beef cattle genetic selection indices,” he added.
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