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Measuring methane emissions from individual sheep, an update from SRUC.

Measuring methane emissions from individual sheep, an update from the team at SRUC.

(Written by the team at SRUC, for more information please find contact details below)


Livestock farmers are under pressure to optimise resource use efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and specifically methane, from ruminant livestock production systems. Globally, sheep release around 700 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere per year (FAOSTAT 2020).

Carbon calculators currently do not account for differences between individual sheep in methane production. However, research has shown that there is variation between sheep, even within a flock, in the amount of methane they produce on the same diet and at the same live weight. Methane emissions are partly under genetic control and so could be changed over time by selective breeding.

If producers are likely to be rewarded in future for reducing (or penalised for increasing) methane emissions from their flocks, then we need to be able to measure these emissions, particularly from sheep managed on typical UK grass-based systems.


Images: Copyright SRUC

Portable accumulation chambers (PACs) can be used to rapidly measure methane and other gas emissions from individual sheep kept in a variety of systems (including at pasture) and locations, since they are portable. PACs are aluminium boxes, approximately 1m long, that house individual sheep for short periods of time (50 minutes). Air samples are collected during this time and methane concentration can be analysed and daily emissions quantified. 

Results from preliminary trials of the new PACs owned by SRUC support research findings from New Zealand, Ireland and other countries: methane emissions from sheep are feasible to measure on-farm using Portable Accumulation Chambers (PAC) under UK conditions and that there is variability between animals in methane emissions recorded by PACs that could potentially be exploited within breeding programmes. The next steps are to collect PAC measurements of methane from more well-recorded sheep across generations, in order to investigate the genetic control of emissions in UK sheep and genetic relationships with other important traits. This will allow methane measurements to be incorporated into breeding programmes for UK sheep in the most appropriate way.  



For more information contact: Nicola Lambe ([email protected])  John Gordon ([email protected]) Kirsty Mclean ([email protected])

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.