Portable accumulation chambers designed to measure methane emissions from cattle are the latest tool developed by AgResearch for the primary sector’s fight to find ways to reduce its climate impact.
The chambers allow scientists to bring this new technology to the farm, enabling farmers to accurately measure their herd.
These measures will help farmers understand what the climate change impact is from their herd and individual animals, and assist in breeding lower emitting animals.
For the beef industry, it could be extremely useful because it can measure beef cattle in an industry where the animals are almost always kept outside on pasture, AgResearch senior scientist Dr Suzanne Rowe said.
“It would take an hour – you bring them in, you measure them and put them back out again. It’s really hitting the numbers because up until now, cattle have not been able to hit the numbers.
“We have been able to hit the numbers in sheep and we have been able to do small numbers in cattle, but nothing at scale.
“This will offer scale in a way that we have never had before.”
Rowe said it is the first time a portable system for measuring methane emissions has been developed.
“We’ve built a relatively simple chamber that can go where the animals are. The cow walks into the chamber and we capture all of the gas that’s emitted from that animal for just one hour. We then use this data to rank animals according to their emissions.
“We’ve been doing this for many years with sheep, with thousands of measures on farms around New Zealand, and we’ve been able to prove that is an accurate and effective method.”
The welfare of the animals is monitored when using these portable chambers for both cattle and sheep, and in the rare event they become stressed they are removed from the chambers.
The chambers are designed to be transported by road to farms or central locations where the cattle can be quickly and efficiently tested to see how much methane they naturally emit.
They could also be used for measuring feed intake, feed efficiency or to test different grazing strategies, forage or pasture species and the methane that is produced.
“That feed information is also going to be really valuable as a management tool as well as using the methane information.
“It gives us a choice. It gives us an alternative to either sitting back and accepting the average that the animal emits and paying for that or cutting stock numbers.”
The chambers rank the animals as high or low emitters, making it a valuable tool to validate low methane as an EBV trait in the beef industry and as a BW trait in the dairy industry.
For the dairy industry, Rowe sees it being used as a supporting tool for the dairy genetics companies as they look to develop low methane-emitting cows.
It will allow companies such as CRV and LIC to validate their bulls by measuring the emissions of their daughters.
This could rapidly speed up the process for developing bulls with breeding worth values around low-methane emissions.
The chambers offer benefits to other nations that farm livestock and there has already been interest from abroad, she said.
“Our portable sheep chambers are now in use in other countries such as the UK, supporting their efforts to reduce farm emissions.
“We are looking forward to trialling the portable cattle chambers overseas, particularly in countries where they have extensive grazing systems and don’t have the infrastructure such as fixed respiration chambers that we are fortunate to have in New Zealand.”
The immediate next step is to work alongside the dairy companies and validate the bull measures they have completed so far, and work with Beef + Lamb NZ’s beef progeny tests to get low-methane breeding values available to farmers.