Many people are surprised to learn that one of the causes of global warming is methane released from animals. It’s released when the animals burp or fart (or pass gas as my mother would prefer me to say). Livestock production, especially cow production, is at an all-time high as our demand for meat and dairy increases yearly.
Cows are going to pass gasses; it’s natural. But the not so natural diets many cows are fed that consist of grains from corn and soy can disrupt their digestive systems and cause them to create more gas than if they were grass fed.
The New York Times has a piece about 15 dairy farms in Vermont that are trying to curb this problem. They aren’t taking their cows off grain feed and letting them grass feed; rather, they are adjusting their diets to
include more plants like alfalfa and flaxseed — substances that, unlike corn or soy, mimic the spring grasses that the animals evolved long ago to eat.
The program was started by Stoneyfield Farm
for the dairy farms that supply their milk. The results so far are being viewed as positive.
Guy Choiniere, one Vermont diary farmer participating in this experimental program, says his cows are healthier since they began this diet at the beginning of this year. “Their coats are shinier, and the breath is sweet.”
That’s not the only positive sign.
The methane output of Mr. Choiniere’s herd had dropped 18 percent. Meanwhile, milk production has held its own.
Reducing methane output from cows can help in the fight against global warming.
Cows have digestive bacteria in their stomachs that cause them to belch methane, the second most significant heat-trapping emission associated with global warming after carbon dioxide. Although it is far less common in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it has 20 times the heat-trapping ability.
Worldwide production of milk and beef is expected to double in the next 30 years because of demand (but not necessarily need – most people in developed nations eat far more beef and drink far more milk than is needed). Finding a way to reduce methane output from the additional cows has become increasingly urgent.
Right now the Vermont program is just a pilot program, but if it continues to be successful, it could be moved to non-organic farms and have an even greater impact.
(MNN homepage photo: craetive/iStockphoto)