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HomeFarming NewsNew UK project to breed low methane-producing sheep
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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New UK project to breed low methane-producing sheep

A revolutionary project across the waters in the UK, which focuses on breeding low methane-producing sheep, is set to help farmers to contribute to net zero.

Breed for CH4nge – Breeding Low Methane Sheep and led by Innovis, supplier of performance-recorded rams, is spearheading the industrywide project.

The project, which is designed to breed sheep with a naturally low carbon footprint, has been awarded £2.9m in funding from DEFRA’s Farming Innovation Programme.

The three-year initiative will measure methane emissions from 13,500 sheep in 45 flocks.

They will collect the necessary data and build and develop the tools required to genetically reduce methane emissions and improve the efficiency of the national flock.

The project will eventually demonstrate the impact of low-carbon sheep on whole farm carbon footprints.

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Innovis will partner with other progressive, performance-recording maternal sheep breeder groups, including Sheep Improvement Group (SIG), breeding the Exlana, Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders (PRLB) and the Centurion Group of Dorset Sheep Breeders to deliver the research and host on-farm events.

Low methane-producing sheep

Scientific input, technology and additional genetics expertise will be provided by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Harper Adams University, while Signet Breeding Services, part of AHDB, will provide performance recording services.

Industry and supply chain partners – Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), Pilgrims Pride and Waitrose will help steer farm system modelling, including the use of carbon calculators and will drive an integrated knowledge exchange (KE) programme.

Meanwhile, National Sheep Association (NSA) will provide a direct and important link with the wider industry and a ‘guiding hand’ regarding policy issues.

The project will initially develop on-farm protocols and use new innovative tools and technologies, including Portable Accumulation Chambers (PAC), to predict methane emissions from grazing sheep alongside measures of health, production and efficiency traits at the individual animal level.

Further measurements, including rumen size and microbiota, will improve understanding of the underlying biology and ensure that reductions in methane emissions positively contribute to sustainable genetic improvement of ewe productivity on UK grass and forage.

This comprehensive set of information will enable an understanding of the genetic control of these characteristics, and DNA sampling will allow relationships with the underlying genome of the sheep to be investigated.

This will result in tools to compare the breeding value of sheep in the flocks, identifying breeding stock that will contribute to improving farm’s carbon footprint.

Productivity and sustainability 

To widen the Breed for CH4nge project’s impact beyond the 45 flocks involved, plans are to roll out a “wide-reaching” communication programme with other sheep breeders and farmers throughout England, in collaboration with supply chain partners and wider industry bodies, including NSA.

The initiative will be designed to identify the most effective ways of communicating the project’s outputs and implications to other farmers and help support them in making genetic changes.

This project will build on international research on breeding to reduce methane emissions from sheep to the point of industry implementation in UK flocks.

The range of data being collected in this project will enable researchers to look at the relationships of methane emissions with other traits that are important for productivity and sustainability of UK maternal sheep flocks.

This will enable researchers to design “the most appropriate” breeding programme to reduce methane emissions from profitable sheep.

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