It’s unquestionable that cattle offer sustenance and even livelihoods for people worldwide, but every juicy steak or cold glass of milk comes with an unintended consequence: runaway methane emissions. Like all ruminants, cows release this greenhouse gas as a byproduct of healthy digestion. Yet with roughly one billion-head in the global herd and a growing appetite for beef and dairy products in China and the global market, methane emissions from cattle are only making atmospheric warming worse.
The good news is that scientists, inventors, and policymakers are working to solve this problem without crippling a global industry (and taking food off our tables). But will their research and efforts be up to the task of reducing methane emissions from dairy cows and beef cattle? Let’s take a look.
What causes the global cattle population to burp up more methane than the entire greenhouse gas emissions of Libya, Ireland or Afghanistan? The answer has to do with how cattle digest their food. As ruminants, cows rely upon their digestive tract and specialized rumen to perform enteric fermentation, breaking down the complex carbohydrates of their typical diet (hay, grass, and even corn to a lesser degree) into simple sugars.
One major byproduct of that process is methane, which is then belched by cattle into the atmosphere. While methane gas only lingers for a short time, it aggressively turns up the global thermostat, getting us closer to temperatures that will be catastrophic for producers worldwide.
So, we see the problem, but what’s the fix? In the last few years, researchers and innovators have come up with some interesting strategies to address the methane emissions from cattle. One that is being beta tested right now is a burp-catching face mask that can be fitted to cows with a zip-tie style apparatus. This tool has some promising early results and might possibly curb methane emissions in cattle by 53%.
As innovative as it is, that solution doesn’t address the actual problem upstream. Rather than trying to capture methane before it hits the atmosphere, producers are better off reducing the overall production of the greenhouse gas. Some studies are showing that by feeding cattle seaweed, we can reduce the methane herds produce by 90%. The right seaweed species can inhibit an enzyme that produces methane during the digestion process, allowing cows to harness energy without belching large quantities of this destructive byproduct.
Better still, cows eating seaweed receive numerous health and performance benefits that might otherwise require a more complex and expensive assortment of feed supplements to achieve. Our studies show that dairy cattle feed efficiency drastically increases milk production, in some cases to the tune of 5.1 extra lbs. of milk per day. For those concerned with herd health management, seaweed feed supplements like Tasco® can increase immune response and resilience.
Breakthroughs are only useful if they’re implemented, so the great news is that we are seeing some countries, states, and companies putting findings from seaweed research papers into use. Large-scale beef cattle trials conducted in Alberta, Canada show that seaweed diets not only reduce methane emissions but enhance the performance and carcass quality of cattle. The red meat industry in Australia is leveraging seaweed as part of their strategies to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. And in the United States, legislation was just proposed to fund research into methods to reduce the methane released in cow burps by experimenting with feed, particularly with seaweed as animal feed.
Best part of all this is that obtaining seaweed from the right company providing seaweed feed supplements for animals can ensure that solution isn’t worse than the problem. At Tasco®, our sustainable seaweed harvesting monitors the health and viability of this natural resource. We control the harvest with specified limits and leave 5 cm to 20 cm of the seaweed holdfast, ensuring rapid regrowth and a reliable resource for the future.
Add the additional carbon that Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed captures and the ability to grow this resource without using up more land, and you have a natural livestock feed supplement that allows you to eat your steak and save the planet too.
Want to learn more about how seaweed feed is reducing methane emissions from dairy cows and beef cattle? Contact our team to talk about how seaweed is a sustainable solution for producers worldwide.