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New Zealand: Revolutionising Methane Emissions Measurement

Image credits: AgResearch New Zealand
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AgResearch, one of seven Crown Research Institutes in New Zealand, has developed portable technology to quantify methane emissions from cattle directly “on the farm”. The technology will contribute to initiatives that mitigate the climate change impact of livestock in New Zealand and around the world.

The Portable Accumulation Chambers are designed for easy road transport to farms or central locations, where cattle will be quickly and efficiently tested to measure how much methane they naturally emit. This data will offer farmers insight into what the climate change impact is from their herd and individual animals, and assist in the selective breeding of lower-emitting animals.

Image credits: AgResearch New Zealand

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas emitted by ruminant animals like cattle, has a relatively short lifespan but a significant impact. Climate change legislation includes targets for reducing methane emissions.

One approach to achieving reductions in methane emissions, without reducing livestock numbers, is to breed animals that naturally emit lower levels of methane. The effectiveness of this strategy has already been demonstrated in sheep, and low-methane dairy cow genetics are expected to be in the market within the next few years.

Similar to the portable accumulation chambers currently employed by AgResearch for sheep in New Zealand, the portable cattle chambers offer additional testing methods alongside the existing methods, such as the fixed “respiration chambers”. Unlike these stationary chambers, the portable ones allow testing on-site, eliminating the need to transport animals and subject them to prolonged stays in fixed chambers.

According to an AgResearch senior scientist, Suzanne Rowe, “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 well-being of the animals is closely observed when the portable chambers are in use for both cattle and sheep. If the animal experiences stress, they are immediately removed from the chambers.

The team anticipates that the portable cattle chambers will be a valuable addition for farmers, in addition to the fixed respiration chambers. They will use the chambers along with feed efficiency monitoring. Additionally, there is initial evidence from sheep studies suggesting that the data collected in the cattle chambers might offer crucial insights into feed intake, feed efficiency, and methane emissions.

The deployment of portable chambers and the development of low-methane genetics are integral components of a broader nationwide initiative, involving industry partners, aimed at assisting farmers in their efforts to decrease emissions.

The technology is also being used internationally. “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,” Rowe stated.

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