The New Zealand sheep industry could be the first to reach carbon zero, Southland sheep farmer Leon Black says.

He owns Blackdale Stud, which breeds Textra and Tex-Coopworths and provided AgResearch with about 10 stud rams and ram hoggets to be tested for methane emissions recently.

AgResearch has developed the technology to measure the oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane emitted from sheep.

The data is used to develop breeding values for lower-carbon sheep.


"The sheep industry has done a good job of lowering emissions as we have dropped 30 per cent on 1990 levels.

"Now, if we tweak the genetics the right way we will be the first industry that is carbon zero," Black said.

AgResearch scientist Dr Suzanne Rowe, of Invermay, said the farmer-led project was exciting and she was pleased to see it being taken to the farm gate.

Listen to Jamie Mackay's interview with Leon Black from Blackdale Stud on The Country below:

The technology has been 10 years in development and is incorporated into single animal stalls or chambers, which are built on to trailers so they can be taken on-farm.

An AgResearch technician delivered the trailer to Black's Ermedale property, near Riverton, twice, initially about three weeks ago and then last Thursday.

He also visited a Pāmu farm in Te Anau last week.

The results will be added to the Beef + Lamb New Zealand (BLNZ) database, which provides genomic breeding values and the data also goes on DNA profiles.

"When farmers and breeders come to choose rams they can select ones with the low methane emission breeding value."


AgResearch has also bred flocks and lines of higher and lower emission sheep at Woodlands near Invercargill.

Rowe said there were bigger differences in methane production between individuals than between breeds.

AgResearch's methane emissions measurement trailer was at Blackdale Stud, near Riverton, last week. Photo / Yvonne O'Hara
AgResearch's methane emissions measurement trailer was at Blackdale Stud, near Riverton, last week. Photo / Yvonne O'Hara

"Our lower methane lines are more productive than our higher lines.

"They produce more wool, are leaner with a higher yield, their breeding values are $8 to $10 more than the high lines and we don't know why."

"We are looking at all New Zealand's national breeds and will put together a database to measure the national flock," she said.

"Two years ago Pāmu helped us do the first tests on farm.

"Last year we rolled out the beta testing with Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, which helped pay for half the test costs."

They expected to use the technology on cattle, goats and deer as well.

The next step was to look at rumen fluid, its bacteria composition and its effect on methane production.