The innocent-looking, cud-chewing bovine has been under attack of late as a cause of global warming and climate change. The digestive process of this trusty farm animal is known to release methane into the environment, while their stinky cow patties release ammonia. Currently, cows are estimated to contribute 9.5 percent of global greenhouse gases. As the debate heats up over climate change, cattle farming, and vegetarianism, researchers are looking at ways to protect you from the noxious gases released by these gentle beasts. Read on to see what is being done to protect your nose, your air, and your water supply from the effects of cattle.
6. The Drug Experior
The Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug called Experior, which is used to reduce the emission of ammonia from cattle waste. This drug is specifically targeted to beef cattle. The benefit of this drug is that it decreases ammonia gases in the atmosphere, which have a foul odor and can cause a gassy haze in the environment. Also, it prevents runoff of ammonia from cow manure into lakes, streams, and rivers. Ammonia can also travel to water sources through rain and wind. Studies show that Experior is safe for beef cattle and causes no adverse effects in humans who consume this beef.
5. Seaweed Cattle Feed
Studies at the University of California, Davis show that the addition of seaweed to cattle feed decreases the amount of methane gas burped by the animals. Digestion in cows entails a fermentation process that occurs as food travels through the bovine’s four stomachs. Gases released in the fermentation process include methane, which cattle discharge into the air by belching. Seaweed seems to decrease methane production by inhibiting an enzyme. An added benefit of the seaweed diet is that it increases milk production as well. Studies in Australia have shown that seaweed can decrease methane emissions from cattle by as much as 99 percent.
4. Probiotic Feed
Researchers at Texas A&M, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, have been working on a probiotic feed for cattle. This bacteria-based probiotic was designed to prevent nitrite poisoning in cattle. Improper nitrate levels in cow feed and in the grasses pasture-fed cows consume can lead to the conversion of nitrates into nitrites. As the digestive process of cows metabolizes nitrites, they turn them into ammonia or nitrogen gas. Therefore, an added benefit of the decreased nitrite levels is a decrease in methane production in cows.
3. Leucaena Leaves
Researchers in Mexico have been studying the effects of adding tropical Leucaena leaves to cattle feed. The Leucaena leaf diet decreases methane emissions from cow belches by 26 percent. An added benefit of adding this nutritious plant to the cattle diet is that it results in three times the milk production.
2. Planting Trees
In Latin America, some ranchers are dealing with the problems of deforestation and methane gas emission simultaneously by planting trees where cattle graze. As cattle require land for grazing, they deplete forests. Ranchers are now implementing strategies to restore depleted soil and increase ecosystem diversity. The silvopasture system is a solution that combines trees, cattle, and grazing in one ecosystem where they benefit one another. Trees can provide food and shade for cattle while also absorbing harmful greenhouse gases. A study in Columbia found that silvopasture resulted in decreased emissions by 25 to 50 percent.
Not all cows emit the same amount of gases. By studying the genes of cattle, those who are less likely to belch can be bred for a more environmentally friendly herd. The digestive process in a cow’s gut forms gases that cows release into the environment through belching. Some microbes that populate the gut are more likely to form methane gases than others. Science has determined that genetics play a factor in determining which microbes are more likely to inhabit a particular gut environment. By breeding only less gassy cows, methane emissions from cows could theoretically be drastically reduced.Related: Buying Ground Beef? Avoid Picking up Contaminated Meat