As the gate closes on Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Future Farm Lanercost, a final field day was held to summarise what had been achieved over the farm’s five-year tenure.
This three-part series will summarise three of the programmes run at Lanercost over the past five years. Part one will look at the use of low methane sheep genetics.
Speaking at the final field day, B+LNZ’s CEO Sam McIvor says the philosophy behind the Future Farm was for it to be used as testing ground for new technologies and farm systems and take risks that commercial farmers would not be prepared to take.
While changing priorities within B+LNZ meant the organisation chose to finish the lease on the 1310ha hill country farm near Parnassus in North Canterbury, the farm had been used as a testing ground for a number of technologies. These included low methane sheep genetics, using AI to make rapid genetic gain in sheep, B+LNZ’s Farm Plan, adaptive cropping in an increasingly regulatory environment, greenhouse gas modelling to reduce emissions and dealing with parasite resistance.
Low methane sheep
For around 15 years, AgResearch has been breeding and testing low methane emitting sheep and by using Portable Accumulation Chambers (PAC), sheep breeders around New Zealand now have the opportunity to identify the low emitting sheep within their flocks.
Speaking at the Lanercost field day, Dr Suzanne Rowe gave a background on the breeding programme and some of the physiological differences that have been identified between high and low emitting sheep.
Low methane sheep tend to have leaner, higher yielding carcases, they have smaller rumens and eat smaller amounts more often than their higher emitting flock mates. The papillae in their rumens are smaller and denser and they have a slightly different microbe profile so fermentation is different.
While reproductively the two lines are the same, low methane animals grow slightly more wool.
One of the key outputs of this work is the development of Estimated Breeding Values for methane emissions and AgResearch has been working closely with B+LNZ Genetics on this. This will allow commercial farmers, who want to include methane production in their selection criteria, to do so.
To test low methane genetics in a commercial hill country environment, B+LNZ sourced five low emitting rams from AgResearch’s Woodlands high-performance flock and used them over 880 of Lanercost’s commercial crossbred ewes. Three hundred of the female progeny were retained, and their reproductive performance was measured, as was the productivity of their progeny.
In 2022, 248 ewes resulting from the low methane breeding programme on Lanercost were run through the PAC trailer to have their emissions measured. All were found to be low. This showed that the genes held through the offspring despite the change in environment. This was a good indicator that the breeding values for methane emissions were accurate and the genes would work in a commercial setting.
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