It’s oppressive on a hot morning in a barn, even in the shade of a long-distance shelter where the cows graze. On a regular farm, they gather around the dining room, but here at UC Davis they choose from special blue bags, which monitor the time and quantity. Like the Obesity Supervisors, the researchers themselves here are not only interested in the statistics of the cows, but in how they are.
Veterinarian Frank Mitloehner has led me to another type of feeder, which can be easily broken like a small piece of wood. They catch small sticks that release the machine when they see a cow with its head on it. “This is like candy to them,” Mitloehner says. I put my head into the machine as Mitloehner shows a small tube inside: “This study measures the methane they emit, and this happens every three hours for all the animals in the study.”
Cattle, you see, have a serious air pollution problem. In order to break down a strong plant, their intestines act as a deterrent. They are packed with methanogen, a tiny cell that produces cellulose to make fat fats, which cattle turn into meat and milk. But those methanogens also produce methane, a especially greenhouse gases that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, due to its vibrating molecules. This air is hot, and this means seasonal heat.
Mitloehner states: “Methane is another thing – an unexpected result – of the unique ability of mammals to digest padi,” says Mitloehner. But just because cows can eat does not mean it is easy for them. Because the food the cows eat is deficient, the animals have to eat a lot of food to survive, and from time to time bring it back to their stomach for further analysis – which “chews.” This results in a continuous explosion or, as scientists call it, an enteric eruption.
Multiply the species by the number of cattle in the world. In order to fulfill the unmistakable human interest in cattle and milk, a a billion cows they are now roaming the earth. A paper published in September in the newspaper Natural Foods and a global team of researchers found that food worldwide produces 35 percent of global warming. Beef is the source of one-fourth of the output, and 8% comes from milk.
However, methane remains only about ten years in the atmosphere, while carbon dioxide persists for many years. If scientists can figure out how to increase the number of bulls being hit, it can cause air leaks, and we can see its effects in the same weather. That’s why Mitloehner and other researchers are experimenting with additional features such as seagrass. They also play around with fats – charcoal, in particular – which enter methane in the gut.
That’s why Mitloehner is making a concerted effort to identify the feed of his cattle: Using high-performance and research methods of methane, they can show how a particular method can reduce enteric emissions. “We’ve found that, depending on the additives you’re experiencing, we can reduce enteric emissions anywhere from 10 to 50%, and that’s exciting,” says Mitloehner.