Sometimes we all come in, sit down at our computers, and wish for something silly that will make us laugh and take a good, deep breath. So that’s what this week’s article in the Livestock Section is all about. A little breather and a chuckle, with thanks to the Arrogant Worms.
I am Cow, hear me moo
I weigh twice as much as you
And I look good on the barbecue
Yogurt, curd, cream cheese and butter’s
Made from liquid from my udders
I am Cow, I am Cow, Hear me moo (moo)
I am Cow, eating grass
Methane gas comes out my ass
And out my muzzle when I belch
Oh, the ozone layer is thinner
From the outcome of my dinner
I am Cow, I am Cow, I’ve got gas
I am Cow, here I stand
Far and wide upon this land
And I am living everywhere
From B.C. to Newfoundland
You can squeeze my teats by hand
I am Cow, I am Cow, I am Cow
I am Cow, I am Cow, I am Cow!
Want something more serious?
Here’s a little about that Methane bit…
We’ve written a lot about methane here at On Pasture. So here’s a quick summary:
The primary reason folks are interested in methane output from ruminants is that, as greenhouse gases go, it’s much more efficient than other gases at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Though methane only makes up about 9% of our planetary greenhouse gas emissions, it traps 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide (CO2). If you’re counting, nitrous oxide is even more potent. Though it makes up about 5% of U.S. emissions, it traps 300 times more heat than CO2. It comes from agricultural and industrial activities as well as from burning fossil fuels and solid waste.
Methane is a product of ruminant flatus and eructation (farting and burping). It’s a natural by-product of rumen microbes turning forage into compounds that the animal can absorb. The more fibrous the forage, the more methane is produces. Grains are easier for the rumen to digest, so some have argued that the feedlot system that relies on grain rations is a better way to produce beef. But in a feedlot, it’s the manure that hits the methane fan. The large manure piles or lagoons created by feedlot systems create oxygen-free conditions and the bacteria working to decompose these piles of poop release methane. Now some folks are using methane digesters to turn all that methane into energy that powers lights, fans and more in dairies and feedlots.
Scientists estimate that “Enteric Fermentation” (a fancy term for what goes on in a ruminant) and management of their manure makes up about 32% of total methane emissions in the U.S. and cows are about 95% responsible for that 32%. That makes them relatively powerful, or as some folks might say “silent but deadly.”
Solving the Methane Problem
Scientists are working hard to reduce the methane output of ruminants. One early solution was antibiotics to suppress the bacteria that produce methane and reduce the animal’s ability to absorb nutrients. That means that more of what the animal eats goes into producing meat and milk. However, using antibiotics to promote growth is being discouraged now because of concerns the practice could contribute to antibiotic resistance. So scientists are studying alternatives.
One alternative suggested by ARS microbiologist Michael Flythe and a team of researchers is biochanin A, a component of Red Clover. Others have suggested oregano, seaweed, and even lemongrass. Other solutions include simply feeding animals higher quality feeds and raising more efficient animals. It’s something we’re very good at here in the United States and Canada where the carbon/methane footprint is much lower than for livestock raised in other parts of the world.
For just a little more about methane, check out this article featuring Dr. Frank Mitloehner a professor and researcher who works to present the latest, most accurate research we have on animal agriculture and air quality in regard to climate.