The Truth About Cow Emissions

( – Minnesota Public Radio last week reported on efforts by researchers at the University of Minnesota-Morris to reduce methane emissions from dairy cows by feeding them red seaweed from Hawaii.

UM-Morris professor Brad Heins has been using a device to measure the amount of methane emitted when cows burp. To get the cows to use the device, they were given small pellets of corn known as “cow candy” once the cows stayed by the device long enough to get measured.

Heins told MPR that adding seaweed to their diet could reduce methane emissions from cow belches by around 40 percent.

The goal is for the device to measure the methane output of each cow around 7-10 times a day.

While methane is also emitted from cow manure, cow belches are the major source of methane emissions.

According to experts, reducing the amount of methane in the atmosphere could slow global warming and allow for more time to develop long-term strategies to limit the emission of carbon dioxide, which is believed to contribute to climate change.

In 2018, researchers in California found that adding seaweed to a cow’s diet could lead to a reduction in methane emissions from cow belches.

However, researchers at the University of Minnesota are also studying genetic links to methane production by studying a special herd of 1964 genetic Holsteins maintained in St. Paul whose genetics were “frozen in time,” Professor Heins said. The researchers are looking to see if there is something in their genes that regulates methane differently than today.

What is unclear, however, is whether the methods tested by researchers to reduce methane emissions could work in the real world.

Cattle and dairy farmers would be required to regularly monitor their cows to measure methane levels and switch to another additive if and when the seaweed becomes ineffective. This would require additional costs and labor, things the American farming industry could not afford.

Additionally, Heins told MPR that to scale the production of the quantities of red seaweed necessary to feed millions of cows would require a huge effort and cost.

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