Cows are notorious for lazily standing around, nonchalantly chewing their cud while staring into space. Ambitious cows may also spend some time swatting the occasional fly with their tails. It is a simple life, constantly inundated with bouts of flatulence and burps. In fact, the global cattle population is the largest contributor of methane gases in the atmosphere: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that cattle “account for about 28% of global methane emissions from human related activities”.
There are 1.2 billion cows in the world, each equipped with four stomachs full of flora that release gases during the digestive process. Each cow emits over 600 liters of methane created when bacteria in their gut break down all the fibers swallowed by the animal. Globally, livestock produces 80 million metric tons of methane annually! That is a whole lot of gas.
|How will small family owned dairies
be able to afford the state-certified
consultants to track animal emissions,
fill out mandatory reports, and meet
their methane-offset obligations?
Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology conducted a unique study that tested the amount of methane released by individual cows. Methane is a concern, since it is 23 times more effective than carbon dioxide at absorbing heat.
Researchers attached plastic inflatable packs to the cows. Once the cows adjusted to having a red balloon strapped to their backs, they began eating as usual and provided researchers with the required data: The ‘balloon’ backpacks soon filled up with gas collected by an attached tube than ran from the device to the cows’ stomachs. This gas was then analyzed, allowing researchers to determine that an average 550 kg cow released over 800 liters of methane daily. This is much more than expected and provided evidence that cows could account for 30% of methane emissions in Argentina
In order to reduce to the amount of methane released, cows are occasionally fed grasses that are easier to digest than grains like alfalfa. Gramina, an Australian biotechnology company, is even engineering a special grass that will help cut down on all the bovine burping.
Burping is considered rude at the dinner table, but who knew it was such a big environmental issue?
Check out more info at the Epa’s ruminant livestock page
Related article can be found at Reuters