So this week, I am fortunate enough to be spending my time at the Royal Welsh Show. I can’t fail to be impressed by it, it is refreshing to see a show which maintains it’s agricultural focus and its been a great opportunity to talk to Welsh farmers about what theissues are but also have a bit of a look at what advice and research they have going on concerning GHG emissions reductions and climate change mitigation.
On my wanders round the stands I came across a booklet produced by Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) which was entitled Reducing methane emissions from sheep and thought that it would be a good subject for this week’s blog, so here goes.
The Welsh government (as in England) has set out a commitment to reducing GHG emissions by 3% per year from 2011. In Wales the percentage that comes from agriculture is estimated to be around 9% of total emissions.
For sheep production, reducing methane emissions is the main challenge. And as we all know, the actual amount of methane produced by an animal depends on various factors including the level of feed intake, feed quality and differences in an animal’s own efficiency of food conversion.
How to reduce methane emission from sheep
HCC advocate hat here are various different options that will help to reduce emissions from sheep. These can broadly be divided into two categories – nutritional strategies and increasing efficiencies.
One of the ways to reduce the amount of methane emitted by the sheep is to alter the diet that they are eating. This can be done by changing the feed components that they are eating, or adding specific compounds that are designed to suppress methane production. Welsh research is currently looking at the use of high sugar grasses, the addition of garlic to feed and also breeding high lipid content oats (to suppress methane production). Once the results are published, we will keep you up to date.
This approach is based on reducing methane emissions per kilo of lamb produced. Methane production is linked to energy requirements and feed intake therefore although increasing production increases the total energy requirement (and methane produced) the proportion of energy that is required for maintenance is reduced. When you are looking at levels of production, the overall methane emissions per unit of output is lower for more productive animals. However, a slight word of caution, while improving profitability is one of the key principles to reducing methane emissions, to be effective it needs to come from a drive to be more efficient rather that just by increasing inputs.
The HCC have done research into the potential to use production traits in breeding and breed more efficient animals, and then looked at what the effect is on the methane emissions from those more productive animals. Genetic improvement is able to play a vital role in improving production efficiency. Data from HCC (as from EBLEX in England, available in the Toolkit) shows that using high index rams can provide financial benefits ranging from £2 to £3.50 per finished lamb.
Increasing rearing percentage, growth rate of slaughter lambs and increased longevity in replacements and breeding stock will also reduce methane emissions and produce more efficienct animals, and these are traits which can be used in genetic selection.
Research has just finished in Wales looking at the effect of breeding sheep for individual traits on methane emissions. Traits looked at were lamb growth rate, carcass confirmation and weight, lamb survival, ewe litter size and ewe longevity, and the model considered both hill and lowland flocks.
The full results are available here, but the results show that a reduction in methane emissions is possible from looking at breeding regimes and maximising efficiency. Changing management to make your flock more efficient will reduce emissions. For example improving traits such as lamb survival through improvements in flock management will lower methane emissions per tonne of carcass produced.
To read the full report please click here. And if you are visiting the show, do come and say hello, I am in the green pavilion.