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Research Impact Highlights - Environment

Lower emissions, same productivity

Paul Smith, Sinéad Waters, David Kenny, Stuart Kirwan, Stephen Conroy (ICBF) and Alan Kelly (UCD)

Methane, produced during the breakdown of feed in the forestomach (or rumen) of cattle and sheep, accounts for 60% of Irish agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, the first large scale characterisation of methane emissions in Irish beef cattle was published and conclusively showed that, on average, some beef cattle can produce 30% less methane emissions for the same level of productivity. Emissions were calculated using a novel index termed residual methane emissions (RME). Cattle exhibiting a low RME phenotype provide the potential to simultaneously reduce the national herd’s methane emissions while concurrently ensuring animal productivity is unaffected. Results from this study, which has been published in the American Journal of Animal Science, highlight the potential to select more environmentally sustainable animals, while at the same time not having a negative impact on their performance – and indeed profitability. Further work is ongoing to study the biology underpinning this trait, with the aim of potentially incorporating it into the national breeding indices for Irish beef cattle.

Contact: paul.smith@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: University College Dublin and Irish Cattle Breeding Federation.
Funding: FACCE ERA GAS RumenPredict project; Horizon 2020 MASTER project; Teagasc.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption


Breeding for earlier slaughter

Alan Twomey and Donagh Berry

A new tool to aid farmers in breeding animals that will reach slaughter at a younger age has been developed, to reduce the environmental footprint of beef farms. As part of GREENBREED, a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine stimulus project, genetic models have been developed to generate breeding predictions for age at slaughter. The breeding predictions were validated and will be deployed by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) in Autumn 2022. This is the first tool available to Irish farmers that allows for the breeding and selection of animals that will reach slaughter at a younger age. There is the potential to reduce age at slaughter by more than one month on-farm through sire selection. Incorporating age at slaughter into Irish beef breeding objectives will improve profitability of beef herds, while also reducing their carbon footprint.

Contact: alan.twomey@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Irish Cattle Breeding Federation.
Funding: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption.