Australian farmers are signing up their sheep and cattle in droves to take part in a proposed methane vaccine program offered by CSIRO Livestock Industries.
Over 635,000 sheep and 410,000 cattle have so far been signed on to participate in the proposed program that will involve use of a commercial methane vaccine.
"We are thrilled with the response in recent weeks," says Dr Rob Kelly, of CSIRO Livestock Industries, "but we still need more to join our program."
"Our goal is to have 1 million cattle and 2 million sheep available for vaccination every year from around 2005 to 2012," he says.
The methane vaccine discourages 'methanogenic archae' - ancient living organisms which inhabit the animal's rumen and produce methane by breaking down feed.
"Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas - around 21 times more potent in greenhouse terms than carbon dioxide," says Dr Kelly.
"Sheep and cattle produce significant amounts of this gas as part of their normal digestive process, producing around 14 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse emissions, measured in CO2 equivalents," he says.
"Based on our current experimental results (in sheep), we expect that the commercial vaccine will be able to reduce methane emissions by about 20% in these animals - or a total saving equivalent to that which would result from a reduction of 300,000 tonnes in carbon dioxide."
"We also expect that there will be some modest gains in productivity on these animals' liveweight. In sheep it may also improve wool production, as methane is a waste gas from feed digestion. A reduction in methane production should leave more nutrients available to the animal."
It is anticipated that the program will offer the following benefits:
* Vaccine available at minimal cost or free for some or all of the program
* Productivity gains
* Participation in greenhouse gas abatement to help reduce global warming
* Possibility of labelling/marketing/trading as environmentally friendly and sustainable
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