Meat & Livestock News

Low Methane Sheep Genetics Research: Your Questions Answered


  • Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) is investing in low methane sheep genetics research to provide farmers with tools to manage emissions, with significant interest and participation from the farming community.
  • The Cool Sheep programme, funded by MPI and supported by AgResearch, aims to identify and increase the supply of low methane-emitting rams, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the national flock.
  • The research ensures that selecting for low methane does not compromise other desirable traits, with guidance available for farmers to incorporate methane selection into a balanced breeding programme.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has garnered considerable attention from farmers regarding its pioneering research into low methane sheep genetics. As this topic is set to be discussed at B+LNZ’s upcoming Annual Meeting, the organisation aims to shed light on the project and address common queries.

Why the Focus on Low Methane Sheep?

B+LNZ recognises the importance of providing farmers with a variety of tools to tackle ruminant methane emissions, a concern voiced by many in the agricultural community. While not all farmers may opt to use low-methane sheep, the initiative offers a proactive choice for those looking to demonstrate their efforts in managing emissions.

This approach is increasingly relevant as New Zealand’s red meat and wool exporters encounter growing discussions around greenhouse gas production with global market customers.

Research and Development Efforts

The Cool Sheep programme, a world-first initiative funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and supported by AgResearch, is at the forefront of this research. It aims to fast-track the identification of low methane emitting farms within the breeding sector, thereby enhancing the availability of rams that can contribute to lowering methane emissions in New Zealand’s national flock.

This programme has sparked international interest, with countries like the US, Ireland, and the UK beginning to invest in similar genetic research.

Programme Participation and Impact

The enthusiasm for the Cool Sheep programme is evident, with over 20,000 rams already tested and plans to test an additional 5,600 rams in 2024. The programme’s popularity has led to a waiting list for farmers eager to use portable accumulation chambers (PACs) for measuring their animals’ methane emissions.

Balancing Traits and Economic Performance

Concerns about potentially compromising other desirable traits in the pursuit of low methane genetics have been addressed through extensive assessment. Research indicates that low methane sheep tend to be leaner, with a different fatty acid profile in their milk and fat, without negatively impacting economic performance.

Sheep selected for low methane emissions have shown to be more profitable than their high methane counterparts, reinforcing the viability of incorporating low methane selection into a comprehensive breeding strategy.

Funding and Future Directions

The project is primarily funded by MPI, with contributions from B+LNZ and participating farmers. This collaborative effort not only advances the low methane research but also enhances the broader genetics programme, facilitating the management of hard-to-measure traits like meat quality and immunity.