GrassToGas - Grass To Gas: Strategies to mitigate GHG emissions from pasture based sheep systems

Aim of the project:

To develop new breeding solutions for the industry by finding ways to identify animals with lower environmental impact, which can then be selected as part of genetic improvement programmes.

Introduction

The purpose of the project is to combine international scientific and industry expertise to generate new knowledge and applied solutions for the mitigation of GHG emissions in sheep. GrassToGas will identify individual animal, feed and environmental attributes associated with feed and water intake efficiency for pasture-based sheep production systems. The potential impact would be relevant for the mitigation of GHG emissions within 5 - 10 years and beyond, by the application of the results from this project into sheep breeding programmes designed to produce cumulative reductions of GHG emissions of around 1-3% p.a.

What: The goal is to develop new breeding solutions for the industry by finding ways to identify animals with lower environmental impact, which can then be selected as part of genetic improvement programmes. The project will use state-of-the-art sensor technologies, recording equipment and novel protocols to measure these traits at an individual sheep level.

Why: More than 30% of the Earth’s total land mass is used for grazing livestock production, mainly by ruminant animals. The evolutionary adaptation of the ruminant’s ability to convert pasture to animal products such as meat, milk, and fibre may have been successfully harnessed, but ruminant production has an unwanted byproduct of an important greenhouse gas (GHG), methane.

Where: The research is been done in eight leading research institutes located in UK, France, Uruguay, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand and Turkey.

Main project activities:

The project aims to produce tools to measure, or accurately predict, feed efficiency and methane emissions from both individual animals and sheep systems, which will provide the international industry with the means to breed, feed and manage sheep with reduced environmental impact as part of genetic improvement initiatives. It will also contribute towards addressing the argument about the effect of eating meat on global warming, with sheep making use of land often unsuitable for other agricultural production.

Concept and approach:

The first phase of the three-year project, which runs until September 2022, will test different technologies and equipment, such as sensors, imaging techniques, electronic feeders and faecal markers, for their ability to accurately predict feed intake and methane emissions from sheep. Using promising technologies identified in the first phase, experimental work will then investigate the relationships between feed efficiency and methane emissions from sheep housed and at pasture. Genetic control of methane emissions and feed efficiency will also be investigated in the project, by assessing the differences due to breed, sire, genetic line or breeding values.

The research at SRUC will use lambs bred from sires sourced from the Texel Sheep Society’s texelplus programme, to investigate the effects of sire and breeding values on these measurements. The data will be analysed to quantify the economic and environmental benefits of improvements in feed efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Texel Sheep Society R&D manager Ed Smith said: “This is a targeted area of research activity, collaborating with likeminded organisations on a global scale. “The Society is extremely pleased to have been invited to have a supporting role in such an important topic delivered by a distinguished group of international researchers,” said Dr Smith.

British Texels have become popular across the world over the last 20 years supporting greater efficiencies in sheep production in a variety of climates and forage-based production systems, said Society chief executive John Yates. “The breed has become a major solution to the many sheep industries challenged with improving financial sustainability of their industries, while improving production efficiencies. “The breed is known for converting lower quality forage to high quality protein effectively, increasing carcass production and ensuring greater resilience to a variety of disease challenges experienced in many different environments.

Project consortium:

Coordinated by: Dr. Joanne Conington, Scotland's Rural College, SRUC, (United Kingdom)

  • FRANCE: INRA - UMR 1388 GenPhySE, INRA GenPhySE,
  • URUGUAY: National Agriculture Research Institue, INIA
  • NORWAY: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, NMBU
  • IRELAND: TEAGASC - Agriculture and Food Development Authority and Sheep Ireland CLG
  • NEW ZEALAND: AgResearch, AGRES,
  • TURKEY: International Center for Livestock Research and Training, ICLRT, Turkey

More information: 

  • The GrassToGas project started on 1 October 2019 and runs until 30 September 2023. 
  • Twitter: @GrassToGas

Presentations and posters:

Research articles: