Skip to the content

“Breed for CH4nge” an industry collaboration that will help the industry to breed sheep with a naturally low carbon footprint.

AHDB are delighted to share news of our involvement in “Breed for CH4nge” an industry collaboration that will help the industry to breed sheep with a naturally low carbon footprint. There are a number of exciting elements to the project that align closely to AHDB’s research interests, and the genetic services delivered by Signet. The project will enhance our knowledge of genomics, breeding for parasite resistance and CT scanning, whilst assessing the benefits of using Portable Accumulation Chambers (PAC) to predict methane emissions in grazing sheep.

For the latest information, please see the press release below.

Samuel Boon, AHDB/Signet Breeding Services

Project Press Release 

The sheep sector has been awarded £2.9m from DEFRA's Farming Innovation Programme, delivered by Innovate to carry out an industrywide project designed to breed sheep with a naturally low carbon footprint and in turn help English farmers to make a positive contribution to UK agriculture’s journey towards net zero.

Called Breed for CH4nge - Breeding Low Methane Sheep and led by Innovis, leading supplier of performance-recorded rams, the three-year initiative will measure methane emissions from a total of 13,500 sheep in 45 flocks, collect the necessary data and build and develop the tools required to genetically reduce methane emissions and improve the efficiency of the national flock. The project will eventually demonstrate the impact of low-carbon sheep on whole farm carbon footprints.

Innovis will partner with other progressive, performance-recording maternal sheep breeder groups including Sheep Improvement Group (SIG), breeding the Exlana, Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders (PRLB) and the Centurion Group of Dorset Sheep Breeders to deliver the research and host on farm events.

Scientific input, technology and additional genetics expertise will be provided by SRUC and Harper Adams University, while Signet Breeding Services, part of AHDB, will provide performance recording services. Industry and supply chain partners – Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), Pilgrims Pride and Waitrose, will help steer farm system modelling including the use of carbon calculators and will drive an integrated knowledge exchange (KE) programme. National Sheep Association (NSA) will provide a direct and important link with the wider industry and a ‘guiding hand’ regarding policy issues.

Innovis chief executive, Dewi Jones explains: “We are an alliance of forward-thinking sheep farmers and commercially driven breeders applying genetic science and using performance-recording to deliver profitable maternal genetics at significant scale, all of which are designed to make the most efficient use of grass and forage to produce sustainable and healthy lamb of high nutritive value. Making use of grasslands by way of sheep grazing also helps sequester carbon into the soil.”   

He continues: “This partnership unifies us with academics, a key lamb supply-chain and industry bodies whose networks extend to thousands of English and UK sheep farmers. We’ve all delivered many successful projects, applied research results on-farm and communicated with a wide audience but never before combined forces; BLMS will consequently build on and strengthen existing relationships.”

The project will initially develop on-farm protocols and use new innovative tools and technologies including Portable Accumulation Chambers (PAC) to predict methane emissions from grazing sheep alongside measures of health, production and efficiency traits at the individual animal level.

Further measurements, including rumen size and microbiota, will improve understanding of the underlying biology and ensure that reductions in methane emissions positively contribute to sustainable genetic improvement of ewe productivity on UK grass and forage.

This comprehensive set of information will enable understanding of the genetic control of these characteristics and DNA sampling will allow relationships with the underlying genome of the sheep to be investigated. This will result in tools to compare the breeding value of sheep in the flocks, identifying breeding stock that will contribute to improving farm carbon footprint.

Dr Mark Young of CIEL says “Modern genetic tools provide the means to focus in on hard to measure traits like methane production then incorporate them into balanced breeding programmes using DNA based genomics tools. The wider breeding programmes that Innovis, PRLB, SIG and Centurion run use such tools very effectively so they are well-placed to reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of sheep production using genetics. This is greatly needed to meet our Net Zero aspirations.”

To widen the Breed for CH4nge project’s impact beyond the 45 flocks involved, plans are to roll out a wide-reaching communication programme with other sheep breeders and farmers throughout England, in collaboration with supply chain partners and wider industry bodies, including NSA. The initiative will be designed to identify the most effective ways of communicating the project’s outputs and implications to other farmers and help support them to make genetic changes.

Dewi Jones adds: “We collectively believe that this project will help to further improve the sustainability of our sheep by using genetic science and breeding to naturally reduce the amount of methane which is a natural by-product of the sheep’s forage digestion process. Combine with the integrated knowledge exchange programme, and we have an initiative that will ultimately reduce flock carbon footprint, help improve sheep farmers’ productivity, sustainability, resilience and profitability.

About the author

Laura Eyles

Laura Eyles

Laura has joined the Signet team as a breeding specialist, she comes from an agricultural background having grown up on a sheep farm in Cornwall, where they keep commercial ewes and run a small flock of pedigree Charollais sheep.

Laura has a strong interest in animal breeding and genetics having studied Animal Science (BSc Hons) at Harper Adams University. During her time at Harper, she spent an industrial placement in Cumbria working for a sheep breeding company and some of our clients may recognise her from this role. Since graduating she has worked for a large cattle breeding company before joining us at Signet to lead on a number of Signet’s sheep breeding projects.