Moves to accurately measure the level of methane gas produced from Irish grass-based cattle systems are set to accelerate this summer.
A “GreenFeed machine” — a feed bin on a trailer that can measure methane — will arrive on four identified farms to gather methane data on animals as they graze next month.
The Green Breed project, spearheaded by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and Teagasc, follows the successful collection of methane data from some 1,400 cattle in indoor systems at ICBF’s Progeny Test Centre over the last four years — the largest-known biogenic methane dataset in the world.
Speaking to the Farming Independent, Dr Stephen Conroy, Manager of the Kildare-based ICBF Centre, said: “It’s a really positive development. The trailers are ready and on July 1, we’ll put them out into fields of different production systems, including a dairy-beef farm, suckler farm and a dairy farm so we can catch information on cows, calves and weanlings at grass.
“Small amounts of concentrate (30g) will be dispensed to the animal every 30 seconds while their head is inside the feed bin. Ideally, we want to keep them at the machine for three minutes, so it will do six drops, 180g in total.
“As the animal is eating that meal, the machine will suck the animal’s breath up through fans and sensors will monitor the methane output of that animal through algorithms which will generate the data. We will station them in a paddock where the cattle will use it. More training will probably be needed for the pasture system than indoors because in the shed, animals are more curious.
“We know from our indoor research that if they access it every four hours, we’ll get an accurate reading.
“Currently, our suckler bred heifers are putting out 220g of methane per day on total mixed ration, the suckler-bred steers are producing an average of 240g per day, and the suckler bred bulls are producing 130g of methane per day, but they were on a higher concentrate diet up to now.”
Asked when results would be ready, Dr Conroy said: “We need to follow the life cycle of the animal from the calf right through to slaughter — that is the focus this summer, get these machines out, do a blueprint, and get more out again next year.”