Ground-breaking new portable technology to measure methane emissions from cattle “on farm” will bolster efforts to reduce the climate change impact from livestock in New Zealand and overseas.

The Portable Accumulation Chambers, developed by crown research institute AgResearch, are designed to be transported by road to farms or central locations where the cattle can be quickly and efficiently tested to see how much methane they naturally emit. These measures will help farmers understand what the climate change impact is from their herd and individual animals and assist in breeding lower emitting animals.

Methane is a relatively short-lived but potent greenhouse gas emitted by ruminant animals such as cattle, and methane reduction targets are included in climate change legislation. Breeding animals that naturally emit less methane is one way of achieving reductions without cutting stock numbers. It is already proven in sheep, and low-methane dairy cow genetics are expected be in the market in the next few years.

Like the portable accumulation chambers already in use by AgResearch for sheep in New Zealand, the portable cattle chambers provide further options on top of testing methods already in use, such as fixed “respiration chambers” which are located in a facility Palmerston North and require the animals to be transported there and spend extended periods in those fixed chambers.

“This is a first using a portable system like this to measure methane emissions from cattle,” says AgResearch senior scientist Dr Suzanne Rowe.

“We’ve built a relatively simple chamber that can go where the animals are. The cow walks into the chamber and we capture all of the gas that’s emitted from that animal for just one hour. We then use this data to rank animals according to their emissions. We’ve been doing this for many years with sheep, with thousands of measures on farms around New Zealand, and we’ve been able to prove that is an accurate and effective method.”

The new Portable Accumulation Chamber to measure methane from cattle

Welfare of the animals is carefully monitored when using these portable chambers for both cattle and sheep, and in the rare event they become stressed they are removed from the chambers.

“We think the portable cattle chambers will be an important addition to the toolbox for farmers, in addition to the fixed respiration chambers. We will use the portable chambers alongside the feed efficiency monitoring we already do, but there is also preliminary evidence in sheep that the measures taken in the cattle chambers may provide us some important insights on feed intake and evaluating feed efficiency, as well as methane emissions.”

The use of the portable chambers and development of low methane genetics is part of a wider nationwide effort with partners such as LIC, CRV, Pāmu, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Ministry for Primary Industries to support farmers to reduce their emissions.  

The Portable Accumulation Chamber for cattle in use

Dr Rowe says the chambers offer benefits not just for New Zealand, but also for other nations that farm livestock.

“Our portable sheep chambers are now in use in other countries such as the UK, supporting their efforts to reduce farm emissions. We are looking forward to trialling the portable cattle chambers overseas, particularly in countries where they have extensive grazing systems and don’t have the infrastructure such as fixed respiration chambers that we are fortunate to have in New Zealand.”

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