Some 300 ewes from a commercial flock have had methane emissions recorded by Teagasc as part of the agency’s research on reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with sheep production.

The ewes were sampled from one of the two Sheep Ireland central progeny test (CPT) flocks targeted by Teagasc for the measuring of methane emissions data this year as part of the collaborative Greenbreed project.

The method used for measuring the methane emissions has been used in Irish research flocks since 2018, with this month’s work being the first time that such measurements were taken from a commercial flock in Ireland.

Measurements will be taken from pedigree flocks in the future

Teagasc plans to take methane measurements from a further 1,200 commercial ewes this year, lead researcher on the project Nóirín McHugh has said.

It is also intended that measurements will be taken from pedigree flocks in the future to allow for more environmentally efficient sheep to be bred into the national flock, McHugh added.

Valuable data

The data gathered on the ewes’ methane emissions will be combined with other CPT flock data, such as ewe parentage and liveweight records, to determine the most environmentally efficient sheep within each commercial flock.

The commercial methane measurements may also lay the groundwork for the inclusion of methane emissions information in Sheep Ireland breeding indices, Teagasc has said.

Measurement equipment

The portable apparatus used by Teagasc to take the emissions measurements - a portable accumulation chamber - consists of individual spaces into which ewes participating in recording can enter for the duration of the measurement.

The emissions of the animal is then determined by an analysis of the air breathed out while each ewe is in their individual space.

The method has been determined by researchers as capable of delivering comparable results to the more expensive and immobile full respiration chambers, with the benefit of being able to be transported to commercial farms to gather data, rather than being fixed within a research facility.

To date, approximately 1,500 ewes have been evaluated in the same portable recording unit in Teagasc research flocks.