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Rethinking Methane – Why Livestock Are Not the Problem and Could Be a Solution

The biogenic-carbon cycle shows how methane converts to Carbon Dioxide, is captured by plants through photosynthesis and is stored as carboyhydrates in plants that are then consumed by ruminants. Note that biogenic-methane and fossil methane are chemically identical. It’s their role in this natural cycle that makes them different. See the full size version of this graphic from UCDavis’s Clear Center here.


Cow burps and farts – that’s mostly what first comes up when people talk about agricultural methane, making it seem kind of silly. So why all the concern? It’s because methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, about 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide for the decade it lasts in the atmosphere. But, there are two kinds of methane. There’s Biogenic Methane – the kind of methane from cattle and wetlands, and there’s the methane associated with fossil fuels. The difference between them is that biogenic methane is part of a larger carbon cycle. Thus, as Dr. Frank Mitloehner and the Clear Center explain in the 4:57 video, if scientists are successful in further reducing the amount of methane our livestock produce, they can actual produce a temporary cooling effect and slow climate change.

Want More?

Just last week, Dr. Mitloehner wrote about some current research about the use of lemongrass as a supplement to reduce methane output from cattle. You can also read more on biogenic-methane at the Clear Center.

If you’re interested in the research on seaweed’s ability to reduce cattle methane, here’s a past article on that:

Seaweed Can Reduce Methane From Cows, But….

And if you’d just like another cow fart joke, we’ve got that too:

How to Harvest Methane

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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