Meat & Livestock News

New Portable Technology to Measure Cattle Emissions: A Step Forward in Reducing Methane

In a significant advancement for agricultural emissions research, the Crown Research Institute in New Zealand has developed Portable Accumulation Chambers (PAC) to measure methane emissions from cattle. This new technology is set to play a crucial role in understanding and reducing the climate impact of livestock farming.

The Technology and Its Application:

The PAC system, designed for easy transportation to farms or central locations, allows for efficient testing of cattle to determine their methane emissions.

This method is a first for cattle, although similar systems have been successfully used for sheep since 2015. Dr Suzanne Rowe, a senior scientist at AgResearch, explains, “The cow walks into the chamber, and we capture all the gas emitted from the animal for one hour. We then use this data to rank animals according to their emissions.”

Methane Emissions and Climate Change:

Methane, a greenhouse gas 25-30 times more potent than CO2, has a shorter lifespan (12 years) but significant environmental impact. StatsNZ’s end-of-year report for 2022 showed a reduction in methane emissions in 10 out of 16 regions between 2021-2022.

With climate change legislation including methane reduction targets, breeding low methane emitting animals is a viable strategy to achieve reductions without decreasing stock numbers or production. This approach has already been proven in sheep, and low-methane dairy cow genetics are expected to be available in the market within a few years.

Advantages of Portable Cattle Chambers:

The portable cattle chambers complement existing testing methods, such as fixed “respiration chambers” in Palmerston North, which require animals to be transported and spend extended periods in the facility. The welfare of the animals in these chambers is carefully monitored, with stressed animals being promptly removed.

Wider Implications and International Interest:

The development and use of PACs, along with the advancement of low methane genetics, are part of a nationwide effort involving partners like LIC, CRV, Pāmu, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

These efforts support farmers in reducing emissions. Dr Rowe notes that the chambers could offer insights into feed intake and efficiency, as well as methane emissions. New Zealand’s portable sheep chambers are already in use in countries like the UK and Norway, and there are plans to trial the portable cattle chambers internationally, particularly in countries with extensive grazing systems and limited infrastructure.