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Can we have our steak and eat it: The impact of breeding for lowered environmental impact on yield and meat quality in sheep

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posted on 2023-05-03, 21:40 authored by Suzanne RoweSuzanne Rowe, Sharon HickeySharon Hickey, Wendy BainWendy Bain, Gordon Greer, Patricia Johnson, Sara Elmes, Cesar Pinares-Patino, Emily Young, Ken Dodds, Kevin Knowler, Natalie Pickering, Arjan JonkerArjan Jonker, John McEwanJohn McEwan
Global agreements in place to reduce methane emissions in livestock are a potential threat to food security. Successful but independent breeding strategies for improved production and lower methane are in place. The unanswered questions are whether these strategies can be combined and how they impact one another, physically and economically. The New Zealand economy is largely dependent on pastoral agriculture from grazing ruminants. The sheep industry produces ∼20 million lamb carcasses for export each year primarily from grass. Methane emitted from the fermentation of forage by grazing ruminants accounts for one-third of all New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. Here, we use sheep selection lines bred for divergent methane production and large numbers of their relatives to determine the genetic and phenotypic correlations between enteric methane emissions, carcass yield, and meat quality. The primary objectives were to determine whether previously shown physiological differences between methane selection lines (differing by ∼12% in methane) result in a negative impact on meat production and quality by measuring close relatives. The results show no negative effects of breeding for lowered methane on meat and carcass quality. Gross methane emissions were highly correlated with liveweight and measures of carcass weight and negatively correlated with dressing-out percentage and fat yield (GR). Trends were similar but not significant for methane yield (g CH4/kg DMI). Preliminary evidence, to date, shows that breeding for low methane may result in animals with higher lean yields that are economically favorable even before carbon costs and environmental benefits are taken into account. These benefits were seen in animals measured for methane on fixed intakes and require validation on intakes that are allowed to vary.


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© 2022 Rowe, Hickey, Bain, Greer, Johnson, Elmes, Pinares-Patiño, Young, Dodds, Knowler, Pickering, Jonker and McEwan. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • English

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Frontiers Media S.A.

Journal title

Frontiers in Genetics




Rowe, S. J., Hickey, S. M., Bain, W. E., Greer, G. J., Johnson, P. L., Elmes, S., Pinares-Patino, C. S., Young, E. A., Dodds, K. G., Knowler, K., Pickering, N. K., Jonker, A., & McEwan, J. C. (2022). Can we have our steak and eat it: The impact of breeding for lowered environmental impact on yield and meat quality in sheep. Frontiers in Genetics, 13, 911355.

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