Can We Make Cows Less Gassy to Reduce How Much Methane They Release?

Tackling climate change is all about coming up with practical solutions. To address exhaust-releasing cars, we’ve introduced hybrid cars. To address the pollution caused by burning coal, we’ve started relying on renewable energy like solar and wind. And to address the methane released by cow gas… well, that’s one area that scientists haven’t really tried to touch. After all, how do you make a cow fart and burp less?

Surprisingly, there is a simple way to tackle a cow’s flatulence. No different than a person, the primary thing that makes a cow gassy is its diet. With some appropriate adjustments, farmers can provide cows with a diet that satisfies their bellies without causing nearly as much methane escaping their bodies.

The Agence France-Presse profiled one such eco-conscious farmer, Marie-Francoise Brizard. She’s able to cut down cow methane by as much as 65 percent. Her main secret is no secret at all really: It’s letting her cows eat a diet that almost entirely consists of grass.

You might assume that all cows eat grass, but most farmers don’t consider grazing to be an efficient way of feeding their livestock anymore. Instead, farmers supplement their cows’ diets with corn and soy, two items that amplify the amount of gas the cows wind up releasing. Corn and soy may be cheap and filling, but they also ramp up the methane.

Methane is not just as bad as typical carbon emissions, it’s actually worse. Methane traps heat at 20 times the rate that carbon dioxide does, making it a major component in warming the planet.

In addition to grass, Brizard relies on a few other earth-smart foods for her cattle. Alfalfa, linseed and beans are known to generate more Omega-3 fatty acids. That’s good not only for the milk the cows produce, but also because these Omegas block the bacteria that generates the methane. These dietary staples further help to reduce the harmful emissions.

Unfortunately, it’s not likely for too many beef and dairy farmers to follow suit. In order for cows to eat mostly grass, they need a lot of land on which to graze. Farmers are already taking up a lot of valuable space – and prompting further deforestation – in order to raise their animals. With the human population’s current demand for cattle, it probably wouldn’t be practical to have them all grass-fed.

The good news is that farmers don’t have to go all in on this plan like Brizard to meaningfully reduce their livestock’s methane emissions. Mixing in some of the aforementioned crops that naturally help reduce gas can play a part without breaking the bank or taking up too much space. France is currently considering promoting a moderate dietary plan that will help farmers to cut methane by 20 percent rather than the full 65 percent. By starting slow, it puts less of an economic burden on the farmers and shouldn’t alter the taste of the milk.

Since most of us are not personally responsible for feeding cows, the best thing we can do to contribute to reducing methane emissions is to change our own diets to include less beef and dairy. By helping to lower the demand for farmers to raise cattle, we’re similarly lowering the amount of cows that are around to burp.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

65 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 years ago

How about not raising billions of cows for death, you human scumbags?

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Grace Adams
Grace Adams2 years ago

About half methane from agriculture is from poor manure management and should be easily solved. Cattle should be raised only on land suited only for pasture, not row crops. Beef should be only a by-product of dairy, not a separate industry. This all means cutting way down on meat consumption, and also cutting down some on dairy. If cows are brought in for night to barn, methane can be captured under peak of barn roof and added to that from manure management. Certainly we should tax greenhouse gas emissions including methane from livestock as CO2 equivalent (20 times as bad as CO2 itself. Our weather/earth observation satellites ca n use gps to locate emissions sources within a few yards. Of course we also need to locate and tax leaks of methane from fossil fuel infrastructure (everything from fracked gas fields to leaks in gas distribution lines). Methane is greenhouse gas emission regardless of its source.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Cows belong in fields of grass.

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Leigh EVERETT
Leigh EVERETT2 years ago

This is no revelation. It's just plain sense.

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Pablo B.
.2 years ago

i like pic

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

"She’s able to cut down cow methane by as much as 65 percent. Her main secret is no secret at all really: It’s letting her cows eat a diet that almost entirely consists of grass."

Wow. No kidding. Give an animal its normal diet and see the difference in digestibility.

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Natasha Salgado
Past Member 2 years ago

Leave the cows alone stop eating them--how about that option which should be the only option. Unbelievable

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Nah, that is just nature and it is in their nature.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thanks

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