BURPING sheep are the subject of a ground-breaking study at Writtle College which aims to tackle global warming.
While most people do their bit for the environment by recycling food packaging, switching off lights and saving water, student Francine Gilman is researching ways to stop sheep from belching so many harmful greenhouse gases into the environment.
As part of her MSc in Livestock Production Science this spring, the 24-year-old is studying to improve the digestive systems of sheep with therapeutic essential oils.
"Of all the greenhouse gases produced by agriculture as a whole, methane from livestock accounts for 80 per cent, so it is a major problem all over the world," said Francine.
"Sheep – and cows even more so – produce vast quantities of methane so if we can reduce that even by a small amount it will have a far-reaching effect."
Francine's first job is to investigate which essential oils are likely to be most beneficial.
She will then spend hours in a laboratory, undertaking endless tests to see which ones, or combinations, will have the right affect on the sheep's digestion.
She said: "There are thousands of essential oils and we regularly use only a small number of them.
"I will look at the impact the essential oils have on how the sheep metabolise to see if they help them to convert their feed more efficiently and cause less nutrition wastage, and belching.
"The essential oils are split into components so you can see the interactions between each one.
"Each component will have between 60 and 300 minor components, so there are endless combinations.
"This is the type of research which could go on for years and years, but if I manage to make one small breakthrough I will be very happy."
The subject of Francine's research has already impressed major agricultural company NFU Mutual, which has presented her with one of their five Centenary Awards, which covers 75 per cent of the cost of her full-time Masters course.
Francine, who lives in Colchester, said: "Receiving the centenary award has made a huge difference to me as I am now able to devote more time to my studies and achieving the best results that I can.
"Also, knowing that I have a company like NFU Mutual supporting and believing in me is a massive confidence boost."