Speaking at the 2018 Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) Genetics Conference, Stephan Conroy of ICBF described the research project that is currently on-going at Tully Progeny Test Centre, Co. Kildare.
In collaboration with Teagasc, this project aims to tackle the issue of methane emissions from beef cattle, in an effort to reduce the sectors contribution to climate change.
Stephen explained that “the RumenPredict project aims to measure methane emissions from over 300 cattle” passing through the progeny test centre.
He highlighted that: “Agriculture is seen as a big offender in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as methane.”
Furthermore, the potential of methane (CH4) to affect global warming is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide.
Stephen noted: “When retailers visit Tully, the first thing they mention is the environmental footprint of the cattle; they mention GHG emissions such as methane.”
According to Stephen, the main objective of the research is to “increase the understanding of the diet, host genetics and rumen microbiome (bacteria) on feed efficiency and methane emissions”.
“This will affect both profitability and environmental sustainability of beef production,” Stephen explained.
The rumen microbiome and relating that to the host animal’s genetics is being researched.
This is to investigate “if there is any heritability in terms of passing on these rumen microbiomes from animal to animal through breeding,” Stephen explained.
Through doing this “strategies can be identified to mitigate methane emissions through breeding,” he noted.
Therefore, this has the potential to lower the methane emissions and thus, the environmental footprint of beef production.
Stephen explained that in order to measure methane, “a GreenFeed system was installed at Tully”.
“This system allows for individual animal methane measurements to be collected,” he added.
Each animal is fitted with an electronic ear tag which allows the GreenFeed to identify each animal individually.
Referring to how the system works, he said: “As the animal approaches the GreenFeed, a small amount of feed is given.”
While the animal is feeding, the apparatus “estimates methane emissions from the animal by extracting the air surrounding the animal’s head and filtering it by a sensor. This determines the amount of methane the animal emits in-between feeding”.