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Low-Methane Sheep Sought

By breeding sheep to produce lower levels of methane through a genetic program, New Zealand farmers aim to help tackle climate change, the Guardian reports

According to the New Zealand news outlet Stuff, farmers currently rely on what are called "breeding values" to choose animals with certain coveted traits like meat yield or offspring survival. Soon, breeders in New Zealand will be able to consider rams' methane production into that calculus and breed animals that produce less methane, it adds. To gauge their methane production, the animals are placed in an accumulation chamber for about 50 minutes, a process that must be repeated within two weeks, according to the Guardian. That data is then added to genetic information to determine their methane breeding value, New Zealand's Beef and Lamb Genetics adds.

"This is a global first for any species of livestock. Launching the methane breeding value gives New Zealand’s sheep sector a practical tool to help lower our agricultural greenhouse gases," Mark Aspin, the general manager of Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, which in part funded the breeding tool, says in a statement.

Stuff adds that farmers would have access to breeding rams within about two years, and that it's estimated that breeding could lead to a 1 percent decline in methane emissions each year.