Transcript on the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP), Genetics

​This eight minute video was produced to communicate the outcomes of the Climate Change Research Program from the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program - Genetics. It provides information to help land managers select and breed livestock with traits that produce less methane emissions to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This research has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to help prepare Australia’s primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector.

Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry
Transcript – RELRP Genetics Video (Final) – Science proves it’s possible to breed green livestock

14 June 2012


  1. Voice Over:
    Livestock producers are used to selecting bulls or rams they wish to buy with particular traits.

    Growth-rate, calving or lambing ease, fertility traits are all high on the list when looking for that perfect sire.

    But one day it might be possible to select sheep or cattle that also have a smaller environmental footprint, with Australian scientists proving that it is possible to breed livestock that produce less methane. The world-class research conducted in Armidale, New South Wales was just part of 39 research projects coordinated by Meat and Livestock Australia, through the Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP). The RELRP has delivered new knowledge in five main areas: genetics and animal selection, nutrition, rumen microbiology, farming systems and waste management.

  2. Voice Over:
    Robert Herd, principal research scientist from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Beef Industry Centre in Armidale said given methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in global warming potential, the aim of the project he was involved in was simple.

    Dr Robert Herd, Principal Research Scientist, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), University of New England (UNE):
    The research here is looking at natural variation between animals in their methane emissions, to see if it might be possible in the future to breed animals that naturally produce less methane.

  3. Voice Over:
    The ability to individually measure methane in large numbers of cattle has been an important advance for researchers in the search for low methane emitting animals.

    Dr Robert Herd, Principal Research Scientist, NSW DPI, UNE:
    This project started two and a half years ago. One of the first things we needed to do was to build the facilities in which we can measure individual cattle methane production. So behind me you can see ten chambers that are constructed here in an animal house in the University of New England Campus in Armidale. We believe this is the largest facility in the world for doing this kind of research.

  4. Voice Over:
    Dr Herd said that methane production is largely related to how much an animal eats.

    Dr Robert Herd, Principal Research Scientist, NSW DPI, UNE:
    When we measure methane production we also measure feed intake, because we know that methane production is largely related to feed intake. So we're very careful in our research to make sure we identify those animals that eat normally, are productive, and are producing just a little bit less methane per kilo of feed intake. So our trait of interest is called 'methane yield'. How much methane an animal produces per kilo of feed that animal eats.

  5. Voice Over:
    Having measured more than 500 animals, Dr Herd has noticed some significant variations in the amount of methane emitted.

    Dr Robert Herd, Principal Research Scientist, NSW DPI, UNE:
    Between the highest and lowest of methane emitters we are seeing a threefold variation.  So that means, in our herds there are some animals that are naturally producing quite low levels of methane.

  6. Voice Over:
    He said because all the animals were from pedigree research herds, they could easily determine which sires produced progeny with a lower methane yield.

    Dr Robert Herd, Principal Research Scientist, NSW DPI, UNE:
    We’ve bred animals in our Angus research herds at other stations in New South Wales. We’ve brought them here to Armidale and then tested each animal for its feed intake, its methane emissions and its methane yield. Because they’re from a research herd, we can go back to their pedigree, identify their sire and we now know there are sires in our research herds whose progeny produce less methane.

  7. Voice Over:
    NSW DPI Angus herds from the Department’s Trangie, Grafton and Glen Innes research stations were used in the research project.  Dr Herd said he expects the results to apply to other cattle breeds.

    But it's not only cattle producers who may benefit from this research. Hutton Oddy, NSW DPI Principal Research Scientist, has been analysing and interpreting genetics data from methane reduction research in sheep flocks.

    Dr Hutton Oddy, Principal Research Scientist, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), University of New England (UNE):
    The work here has been initially to try and develop a method and a protocol for the measurement of methane in sheep, secondly to measure lots of sheep and determine if there’s any differences between sires. As there has been, we’ve also look for differences in underlying biology.

  8. Voice Over:
    Dr Oddy said the results indicate that the trait of reduced methane is low to moderately heritable in sheep.

    Dr Hutton Oddy, Principal Research Scientist, NSW DPI, UNE:
    The main result that we've seen so far is that there is natural variation in methane production by sheep.  This suggests that it will be possible for selection.  We’ve looked at progeny of many sires and there are differences between sires.  And we've taken animals which have high and low methane production and we've investigated what's happening inside them. We found that they have differences in the size of their rumen and the rate of passage of food through their rumen, and that's perhaps not surprising, because what it shows is that those animals which retain more food in their rumen produce more methane. We've estimated the size of the rumen using a CT scanner and the rate of passage with other methods.

  9. Voice Over:
    Both cattle and sheep researchers indicated that the research needs to look for more than just methane emission reduction and the research suggests that animals producing less methane are just as productive.

    Dr Hutton Oddy, Principal Research Scientist, NSW DPI, UNE:
    So far we've seen no difference in any of the other production traits in animals which differ in methane output.

  10. Voice Over:
    And it's the future that New England superfine wool producer Gerard Stephen from Warrane is focusing on. Gerard Stephen and his family run a 25,000 self replacing superfine Merino enterprise including a first-cross lamb operation on 7,200 ha north west of Armidale. Mr Stephen said producers are slowly beginning to realise how big an issue methane production is becoming.

    Mr Gerard Stephen, Superfine Wool Producer, ‘Warrane’, New England:
    I think throughout the bush there's a little bit of scepticism, but I think there's also a little bit of reality too that we know that animals produce methane. And I think that deep down, farmers really want to do something about it, but we're not sure how we are going to do something about it and affect our bottom line.

  11. Voice Over:
    He said research like this plays an important role in future livestock production.

    Mr Gerard Stephen, Superfine Wool Producer, ‘Warrane’, New England:
    The less methane that animals churn out, the less harm we're doing to the environment. And I think that's got to be a good thing And it may take a long time for that research to actually hit pay dirt, but I feel it's got to start somewhere. We just can't say it doesn't exist.  And I'm sure that if technology or genetics give us an edge to produce less methane, I'm sure we’ll go down the track and use it.

  12. Voice Over:
    Doctor Herd explains that there is more than one reason why producers could benefit from this research. Small improvements in feed conversion will be significant over a herd or industry.

    Dr Robert Herd, Principal Research Scientist, NSW DPI, UNE:
    Reducing methane from livestock has two opportunities for farmers; first is that methane actually represents a loss of feed energy. If we can reduce that loss of feed energy, animals will actually be a little bit more productive. So that's the first win for farmers. The second win is under the new CFI, the Carbon Farming Initiative, farmers would be able to earn credits if they can demonstrate they are adopting methodologies like breeding for low methane that reduce methane, they can earn a carbon credit which they can trade for money.

  13. Voice Over:
    The Climate Change Research Program funds research projects and on-farm demonstrations to help prepare Australia's primary industries for climate change and build the resilience of Australia's agricultural sector into the future.

    The Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program is supported by funding and in-kind support from the following partners:

    University of Melbourne
    University of New England
    University of Queensland
    University of Western Australia
    University of Wollongong

    Thank you to the following participants of this video:

    Dr Robert Herd – NSW DPI, Beef Industry Centre, UNE Armidale
    Dr Hutton Oddy – NSW DPI, UNE Armidale
    Mr Gerard Stephen – ‘Warrane’ sheep station, Armidale


Last reviewed: 30 September 2020
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