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Here’s something you might not have known: cows belch. A lot. Great Big Buuuuuuurps.
Why should we care? Because, these cow belches are a threat to Earth. Emanating from deep within one or more of the four tummies that cows have, the belches are essentially little explosions of methane – the potent, greenhouse gas that’s contributing to climate change. Oh, come on, you might think, those docile, sweet-faced, cud-chewers can’t really pose a serious problem… can they? Yes, and the danger has been documented. By putting cows in air-tight tents and using some sort of device we probably don’t want to know about, ag researchers have found that your average burping bovine expels some 400 pounds of methane a year. There are 400 million cows in the U.S. alone, so those “eruptions” add up.
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This gaseous reality has prompted the good folks at Stonyfield Farm, the organic yogurt company, to launch a methane-reduction program for cows on 15 farms in Vermont. The most promising method turns out to be something simple: diet.
Over the eons, cows evolved to thrive on grasses that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which promote less-burpy digestion. As today’s industrial agribusiness developed, however, cows were taken off their natural diet and put on feed mixes of corn and soy, which leads to acid reflux and cow tummy aches.
By switching the diet to include such plants as flaxseed and alfalfa that have high Omega-3 content, methane eruptions are down 18 percent. Moreover, the health of the cows improve, their breath is sweet, their coats are shinier, and they’re able to live longer and produce milk for more years. As one of the farmers says of his cows, “They are healthier and happier, and that’s what I really care about.”
Maybe there’s a lesson in this about our own diets.
“Greening The Herds: A New Diet To Cap Gas,” The New York Times, June 5, 2009.