Stopping cows from farting

Professor Ermias Kebreab explains the trial

The above title is actually false, which I'll explain shortly. Yet I'm sure it grabbed your attention. After all, we generally think that cows are making too much methane gas that contributes to climate change and that it's coming out as farts. 

Turns out that is false. While they do emit a considerable amount, 95% of it is coming from their breathing and not from the other end. This little detail was revealed to me recently during a visit to UC Davis' feed lots where they are studying ways to reduce cattle emissions.

Food bloggers had been invited by the creators of Mootral, a new supplement created by Swiss company Zaluvida. UC Davis is world-renowned for its agricultural programs and is one of the few research centers in the world that can handle many types of animal studies. Mootral is in California for a six-month trial of their supplement to test it in our conditions. 

It should be noted that California's Air Resources Board and other agencies have been tasked with reducing factors that contribute to climate change - and that includes through agriculture and livestock. These studies help toward these efforts. 

We were met by UC Davis Professor Ermias Kebreab; Don Harper, in charge of the cattle operations at UCD; and Breanna Roque, a graduate student working on the Mootral trial. 

Harper explained the feeding that the cows receive and the nutrition involved, especially at finishing lots. The primary focus at UCD is for the large cattle operations that feed the masses of Americans who are used to cheap beef in grocery stores. These operations focus on finishing the beef off with corn and other ingredients rather than on an entire life of grass grazing.

Video shows the corn, steamed/pressed corn, cotton seed, almond husks, 3 stages of feed mixture moving to more corn, molasses, added vitamins/minerals

One interesting bit of information was about how blessed our California cattle are. Due to our agricultural bounty, their feed is often supplemented with byproducts that we humans don't consume. Some examples would be the husks from almonds or from cotton seeds. Not only do they help to rid us of these excessive byproducts, eliminating waste going to landfills, etc., but it takes them out as competing with humans for other products that we both eat, such as corn. Other ingredients included processed corn and spent grains from alcohol processing. Added to the feed mixture is molasses and other vitamins and nutrients, providing a very precise nutritional mix. 

the feeder
The Mootral is all natural. It consists basically of garlic and citrus extracts that are added to feed pellets and given to the cows at only 15 grams per day. The Mootral works to reduce the amount of gases created in the cattle's digestion by as much as 30%. 

I had to ask how the emissions are measured and that's when we learned the fact about the breathing. The cattle are encouraged to eat out of a special feeder that they stick their heads in. As they breathe, a fan system sucks up their exhalations into a device that is able to measure how much methane, hydrogen, oxygen, etc. is exhaled. 

There are many companies and scientists trying different methods to reduce emissions. Professor Kebreab tells us that after the Mootral trial there will be another one with dairy cattle and a seaweed supplement.

We finished with a nice dinner at the UCD Meat Lab. If you are local and did not know, you can buy meat from some of UCD's butchered animals from their Meat Store.