Environment

Cows fed tropical leaves burp out a lot less methane

Cows fed tropical leaves burp ...
Cow burps are a major source of greenhouse gases
Cow burps are a major source of greenhouse gases
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Cow burps are a major source of greenhouse gases
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Cow burps are a major source of greenhouse gases

Much like a partner might make the decision to stop cooking a loved one beans for breakfast, scientists are investigating ways to reduce the methane emissions from cows by altering their diets. The latest promising development in the area comes from scientists in Mexico, who have found that supplementing cow food with leaves of tropical trees and flowers can cause a sharp decline in their gaseous output.

Methane from cows is a big problem for the environment, as it is from other sources, because as a greenhouse gas it is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide due to its superior radiation-trapping abilities. So with more than 90 million cows plodding around the US alone, scientists have been moved to explore ways to reduce the environmental impact of the livestock industry.

While plenty might assume that bovine backends are responsible for releasing methane, most of it comes from cow burps, around 90 percent of it, in fact. In any case, researchers have made some progress toward limiting the damage, with Australian scientists recently discovering a strain of seaweed that can reduce bovine methane emissions by 99 percent.

The latest study doesn't offer quite such game-changing numbers, but does present a new potential tool in the effort, and the results are nothing to sneeze at either. Scientists at the Autonomous University of Mexico State studied cows across four sites in Mexico that had been fed grasses mixed with leaves from leucaena trees and cosmos flowers, both native to the region.

The leaves contain tannins that kill bacteria and disrupt the fermentation process that the animals use to break down their food (and make methane), without interfering with their digestion. The addition of the cosmo flower leaves were found to reduce methane emissions by 26 precent, while the leucaena leaves cut them by 36 percent, compared to a regular grass diet. What's more, the scientists found that the leucaena leaves actually served to improve the cows' milk production.

Although the plants used in this pilot project were local to tropics, the researchers say plants containing tannins in other regions could be identified and used to soften the blow of the bovine belching, putting a dent in global greenhouse gas emissions in the process. They presented their work at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union last month.

Source: American Geophysical Union

10 comments
aksdad
Cow-burp-global-warming (CBGW) is the new anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder...it does! I wonder if any of the scientists working on these lucrative government-funded studies related to global warming...ahem...climate science have ever considered what the optimal global temperature should be.
fb36
Garlic is also a powerful natural antibiotic. I don't know if anyone tested feeding fresh garlic to cows.
TomBateman
The little dog laughed to see such fun.. and the cow jumped over the moon :)
TheAnalyst
I cannot argue with the scientists. But my common sense tells me that there were more cows and animals before 19th century. The Greenhouse effect should not be there before 19th century. The whole ecosystem consists of all living organisms and the Earth itself. If there is hole in this ecosystem then it is due to certain man made things. We need to figure out those and curtail those. We should not fix the nature we should minimize our alternations to the nature. We should not transport species from one area to other. So I guess they are hunting around the bushes and wasting their time and our money.
watersworm
Plants containing tannins ??? OK let the cows drink liters of a (good) Bordeaux red wine. A new market, yesss !
DanielWilliams
The optimum temperature for economic success is 13C: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/21/perfect-temperature-for-economic-success-is-13c-climate-change On the issue of agricultural emissions (which contribute up to a third of all warming), many valid options exist to mitigate emissions from a number of sources. Renewable energy lifestyle news-site at http://www.re-update.com/2017/01/13/the-future-of-agriculture-balancing-emissions-reductions-with-a-growing-global-population/
Aross
Stop feeding them corn and super e coli bacteria.
DaveWesely
Interesting, I would have assumed the rumen works symbiotically with microbes to break down the feedstuffs. If the tannins inhibit microbe growth, that would imply a less efficient digestive process. But if it improved milk production - and I would assume rate of gain as well, where did the digestive improvement come from? Could it be the leucaena leaves were easier to digest?
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Grass fed beef from naturally watered grass is an eco-friendly proposition.
ljaques
Unfortunately for us, healthy cows emit unhealthy farts. Good, honest, hard-working cows who are grass-fed produce more methane than crap-fed caged cows which are turned into pink slime. Sest lavvy, folks. (C'est la vie, French for "that's life", for those of you in Rio Linda.)