Grass: It’s What Cows Want to Eat
NOTE: This is a guest post from Rob Moir, director of the Ocean River Institute.
I am alarmed by greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere. When I urge people to reduce our carbon footprints, at times I get push back that methane is much worst than carbon and that cows are at fault for the methane. So I went to the cows and spoke with Leslie Cox, live-stock manager of the Hampshire College Farm Center in Amherst MA for my internet talk radio show. During the morning milking, Leslie introduced me to cows with a distinctive white stripe around their middles. This is a very rare and highly esteemed breed of cow called Dutch Belted. They were milked in the Netherlands as far back as the 1600s. The cows remind me of Prius cars. Lean and compact with excellent grazing ability and forage efficiency they produce as much milk as do the larger corn-guzzlers. The cows handle easily which is fortunate for the college students working the farm. These cows have been “barn-trained” to do their business outside further benefiting pasturelands.
Dutch Belted cows are known for intelligence and friendly disposition, except for Bethany who is short on the friendly but not intelligence. Bethany is red and white. This is a rare form of an already rare breed of cow. She has sired many offspring who all have names beginning with “B” out of respect for Bethany. Cookie, a black and white cow named for an equally distinctive cookie, is a friendly cow. Milking cows must give birth annually. Leslie watches the calendar tacked up in the barn carefully to be sure birthing happens in late spring when their favorite food, pasture grass, is at its most nutritious. The milking cows are set to pastures containing the highest percentage of protein while the young heifers bound about in a pasture gone to seed where there is more cellulose in plants. They don’t need the extra calories in tender grass. That cows prefer grass to feed was proven when a heifer Leslie sold to a farmer, much to the farmer’s surprise, walked right past the feed trough out into the pasture for a munch.
Pasturing is better for cows than is the feeding of more acidic corn-concentrated pellets or silage. Corn-fed cows are more in need of antibiotics and farmers are more tempted to administer bovine growth hormones. Eating grass, what they’ve been eating for millions of years, cow give off less methane than do trough fed cows. Leslie believes the bigger improvement for reducing green house gas emissions comes about when ruminants play no part in the cattle corn conspiracy. This begins with the tilling of fields for corn releases carbon into the atmosphere. More carbon gas comes from the production of fertilizers spread on the corn fields. The burning of fossil fuels to harvest and transport corn further burdens the atmosphere with pollutants. By promoting grass fed cows and cattle we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save the planet, and enable cows and cattle to be happier. Bethany and Cookie’s offspring, cow and cattle, will be glad you did.
Ocean River Institute educates and assists greater personal involvement in conservation, environmental monitoring, and protecting ecosystems. ORI facilitates the grassroots efforts of groups working at local and regional levels. Moir’s Environmental Dialogues is broadcast live every Wednesday at 9AM Pacific Time on The Green Talk Network. For free iTunes podcast search “Moir’s.” Grass, It’s What Cows Want to Eat is the June 22 broadcast and is episode #47. Next week, we’ll feature Rob’s update on how people are saving dolphins in Florida from dying due to fertilizer applications during the summer.