Is Pasture Grass the Solution to Methane from Cows?

Research shows fish oil supplements can reduce methane from cows, but why go to the trouble when pasture grass gives the same benefit?
By Amanda Kimble-Evans
December 2010/January 2011
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Maybe we've had the solution all along to the problem of methane from cows: pasture grass.
PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/BRYAN FOUTCH


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Taxing livestock burps and farts? Cows genetically modified to be less gassy? The U.S. government is certainly thinking outside the box to solve the problem of methane from cows and the livestock industry. But what if the solution is already in the box? Some innovative farmers and researchers have discovered the key is omega-3 fatty acids, naturally found in pasture grass.

As ruminants, cattle are designed to consume a variety of grasses found on pastureland. A diet high in grains and fillers — the standard in our industrialized food system — upsets the fermentation process in a cow’s rumen. It appears cheap corn- and soy-based feed and a confined lifestyle have created a bad case of industry indigestion.

Recent research from the University of Dublin has found that adding omega-3s in the form of fish oil to the diet of cattle can reduce methane emissions. “The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow’s gut,” says Lorraine Lillis, one of the researchers at the university.

But, how many cows have you seen eating fish? Instead of supplementing an already improper diet with more unorthodox additives, the better solution to the “emissions” problem may also be the simplest: Eat grass, emit less methane.

Scientists working for Groupe Danone, makers of Dannon yogurt, found that when cattle were on pasture in the spring, they were healthier. When they added omega-3-rich grasses to their feed year-round, the cows not only released less methane, but also produced about 10 percent more milk. Now U.S. dairy producer Stonyfield Farm is piloting a program in Vermont, adjusting grain feed to include alfalfa, flax, and other plants high in omega-3s.

The cows’ methane emissions are calculated by the University of Vermont, which analyzes the chemical composition of their milk through a process called gas chromatography. With the right pasture and a winter feed that simulates pasture, some farmers are seeing an 18-percent reduction in methane emissions. If achieved nationwide, that kind of mitigation could account for almost three-quarters of the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the dairy industry 25 percent by 2020 (an agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy). Plus, milk from pastured cows is often several times richer in omega-3s than milk from industrial dairy cattle, according to several studies.

Putting cows back on pasture where they belong makes for healthier cows, healthier humans, and a healthier planet.








Post a comment below.

 

Tony
11/9/2012 11:11:17 PM
so feed them gm soy that is rich in fish oils

Aaron Lucas
6/25/2012 4:50:44 AM
http://www.3news.co.nz/Cows-fed-super-grass-could-produce-more-milk/tabid/421/articleID/144214/Default.aspx

T BRANDT
2/12/2012 7:11:58 PM
Grass fed/finished meat is better for our health and better for the environment, given that pastures more closely mimic Nature than cropland, but the govt intervention to limit methane production is strictly a power play for more & bigger govt. The Nannycrats want complete control of us.... The methane expelled by animals is the pproduct of oxidation of carbon based food stuffs. The carbon in that food was obtained by extracting it from the atmosphere and the flatus merely returns it to the atmosphere. It's a complete cycle: NO NET CHANGE in GHGs.

Corinne
1/30/2011 4:52:35 PM
We raise lowline and smaller grass fed Dexters and have had no problems selling beef to those who want leaner and smaller cuts. I think the larger ranches will continue to concentrate on size and fat content until diets change.

Charles Tutt
1/20/2011 1:31:22 AM
# SteveR 1/19/2011 12:54:40 PM Yes...but. Most, if not all cows are already ( and have always been)pasture fed in New Zealand, however, methane emissions from stock remains the greatest source of green house gas emissions in New Zealand. As milk and milk solids commodity prices increase, there is more and more pressure for farmers to convert to dairy, putting pressure on other resources. Too much of anything in one place will create an issue until we find a way to close the loop and find uses for all by-products. We must also be looking for a way to capture methane and put it to use or reduce intensive farming practices. Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/sustainable-farming/grass-fed-cattle-zm0z10zrog.aspx#ixzz1BYfPPgbm I'm just wondering how you're measuring all those cattle farts. How do you do that?

Lynda H
1/19/2011 9:05:12 PM
I read once that one cow produced as much methane as a whole football team, and I've wondered ever since - how did they measure that? Some amusing mental pictures come to mind... I suppose you could count the farts, but that doesn't indicate methane content. Also, billions and billions of wild animals used to roam this planet before man claimed most of the habitat for himself. They would have farted too. We've replaced only a fraction of these animals with livestock, so why is their flatulence a problem? Not arguing, just trying to get a handle on it.

Royce Vines
1/19/2011 6:50:50 PM
All the greenies seem to pick on everything other than people. No ever mentions the farts and belches performed by folk, especially after an especially good time.

Bryan Roberts
1/19/2011 1:01:19 PM
Another thing to note would be the DDGS (distillers dried grain solids) left over from ethanol production is also a high-protein livestock feed that does not upset the rumination process; all your ethanol naysayers who say ethanol production will cause world-wide food shortages have been grossly misinformed as the spent grain solids will actually put on more weight than their whole counterparts. So lets make ethanol, feed the spent grains to cows, collect their manure in biodigesters and pull methane from there; we get milk AND lots of energy...

SteveR
1/19/2011 12:54:40 PM
Yes...but. Most, if not all cows are already ( and have always been)pasture fed in New Zealand, however, methane emissions from stock remains the greatest source of green house gas emissions in New Zealand. As milk and milk solids commodity prices increase, there is more and more pressure for farmers to convert to dairy, putting pressure on other resources. Too much of anything in one place will create an issue until we find a way to close the loop and find uses for all by-products. We must also be looking for a way to capture methane and put it to use or reduce intensive farming practices.

leslie
1/19/2011 11:13:45 AM
Family dairy farmers in western Washington state have for years spread manure in their fields and harvested excellent hay which they put into long silage tubes to be fed over the winter. Cows are turned out on pasture all day, so minimal amount of manure in barns, minimal amount of concentrated methane production. Not good enough for the feds, though, they mandated several years ago that these farmers had to install manure ponds and/or tanks for the barn collection, which always seemed to us that it would actually produce more methane.

Tom Layman
1/17/2011 4:40:09 PM
Read Salad Bar Beef by Joe Salatin, Copyright 1995. This is not new news. But, it is good news, if more and more farmers are listening!

James Snyder
12/27/2010 4:02:35 PM
It is not quite that easy. Much of the cattle industry has bred cattle for todays market that are more suited to fattening in a specific amount of time on a diet primarily of grain. Old varieties of cattle can continue to do very well on pasture but these breeds are becoming more difficult to find and they are not production oriented. We raise Belted Galloways, a somewhat rare Heritage breed on pasture and hay but have had to crossbred them to get any performance gains for reproduction or weight of gain. There are not enough farmers anymore willing to risk their livelihood on grassfed cattle. It takes too much work and skill that is no longer available as many of our older farmers and ranchers retire. Eliminating farm subsidies for commodity crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat would go a long way toward making grassfed cattle more profitable as land prices could come down, pasture acres wood increase and we farmers would all be on a level playing field. Consumers would benefit with more healthy and locally produced food.








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