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5 Ways Cows Can Help the Environment

5 Ways Cows Can Help the Environment

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

Epicurious, a popular food site, recently announced they would no longer post recipes with beef because of cattle’s role in climate change. However, cattle can play a positive role in climate change, and farmers and ranchers are proactively working to reduce methane output. Here’s how!

1. Livestock is one of the best tools for land management

Livestock is used by ranchers to better manage the land, which benefits the soil, water, and biodiversity. This works by good grazing management and cattle grazing in the right places. It’s also suitable for native plants, wildlife, and managing fire risk.

2. Cows can cut emissions

The Nature Conservancy recently highlighted a metanalysis titled, “Reducing Climate Impacts of Beef Production,” which showed that ranchers who own both grasslands and beef could cut emissions by 50%. This is especially true in the U.S. and Brazil.

How does this work? Well, when cattle graze, their hooves dig up the soil, where seeds then drop in from neighboring plants. Cow manure acts as the fertilizer, and the grasslands thrive because they’re a carbon sink. In Texas, one cattle rancher, Meredith Ellis, is sequestering 2,500 tons of carbon (after enteric emissions) a year. This is equal to taking 551 cars off the road.

3. Grass-fed vs. Feedlot

95% of all cattle start their lives on grass then finish them in the feedlot. Many argue that feedlot cattle contribute to atmospheric methane more than grass-fed. However, it’s just the opposite. Grass-fed cattle emit approximately 20% more methane because it takes them about a year longer to reach market weight.

Animal nutrition companies are also researching ways to further reduce the release of methane anywhere from 3% to 50% through animal feed. Cows burp more when they eat roughage in grass versus a highly nutritious and tailored feedlot diet. When the roughage breaks down, methane is produced.

4. Dairy Digesters

The dairy industry has benefited from anaerobic methane digestors for quite some time now. How? Dairy farms collect the manure and plow it into rubber-lined ponds next to the barns. Each of these helps capture methane. The methane is then used as electricity for the farm or sold back on the grid.

Farms that do this are GHG-negative because they use methane instead of fossil fuels. California has committed to a 40% reduction of dairy methane emissions by 2030 just by using digesters.

5. Cows are actually carbon neutral

Contrary to popular belief, cows are neutral carbon emitters.

This is because, over time, they do not emit more carbon than they eat. When cows eat plants, it consumes carbohydrates, which contain carbon.

After the plant enters their stomach, they bring it back up to chew some more; then it goes back down into their stomach to be digested by the microbes, called methanogens.

This is when a portion is belched as methane and is released into the air. This methane is to blame because it’s 28 times more potent as a GHG than CO2. However, the good news is that it only lasts in the air for about eight to ten years. Then, it converts into one part CO2 and two parts H2O via hydroxyl oxidation.


The Bottom Line

As long as no more cows are introduced on the planet, no additional CO2 is added. And, since the global cattle population has been steady at around 1 billion for the last ten years, yet methane has still steadily increased, we should not solely be focused on cow belches. So, continue to enjoy your steak and burgers!

D2D-illustration Bottom Line