Increasing the economic weighting on methane production in breeding goals for cattle could reduce methane intensity by 24% by 2050, new research from the Netherlands has shown.

Wageningen University researchers say selective breeding will make a valuable contribution to methane reduction strategies that could be used to achieve the 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals set by the EU.

The study suggests that genetic selection of low methane-emitting cows is a practice which will greatly help reduce the contribution of the dairy sector.

Previous selection experiments have shown a decrease in methane production when selecting for low methane lines.

The challenge

If any country decides to change their animal breeding strategies to reduce methane production from cattle, and to achieve the expected breeding impact, the researchers say the level of predictability of the methane output is key.

The only way to achieve that is to have enough animals’ data, both predicted genetic and actual methane output.

In order to actively select on lowering the enteric methane emission of dairy cattle by breeding, data on 100 farms, with on average 150 cows each, needs to be collected for at least two years, in order to achieve the desired reliability of the genomic prediction.

This type of data collection is under way in Ireland. VistaMilk researchers in Teagasc Moorepark are currently harvesting methane production data from the dairy herd there.

The study concludes that animal breeding, which exploits natural variation in methane emissions, is an additional mitigation solution that is cost-effective, permanent and cumulative.