Cows fed seaweed in bid to tackle climate change

Methane emitted by burping, passing wind and making manure reduced by 30 per cent

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 31 August 2018 17:26
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Scientists mixed seaweed into their feed and sweetened it with molasses
Scientists mixed seaweed into their feed and sweetened it with molasses

Dairy cows are being fed seaweed in a bid to tackle bovine methane emissions and its effect on global warming.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), added small amounts of the ocean algae into the feed of a dozen holstein cows and and sweetened it with molasses to disguise the salty taste.

They discovered methane emissions released by cows burping, passing wind and making manure were reduced by more than 30 per cent.

“I was extremely surprised when I saw the results,” said Professor Ermias Kebreab, the UC Davis animal scientist who led the study. “I wasn’t expecting it to be that dramatic with a small amount of seaweed.”

Professor Kebreab added that his team planned to conduct a six month study of a seaweed-infused diet in beef cattle starting in October.

More studies will be needed to determine its safety and efficacy, and seaweed growers would have to ramp up production to make it an economical option for farmers.

Dairy farms and other livestock operations are major sources of methane, a heat-trapping gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Researchers worldwide have searched for ways to reduce cattle emissions with various food additives such as garlic, oregano, cinnamon and even curry – with mixed results.

If successful, adding seaweed to cattle feed could help California dairy farms comply with a state law requiring livestock operators to cut emissions by 40 per cent from 2013 levels by 2030.

“If we can reduce methane on the dairy farm through manipulation of the diet, then it’s a win for consumers because it reduces the carbon footprint, and it’s for dairy farmers because it increases their feed efficiency,” said Michael Hutjens, an animal scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Additional reporting by AP

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