Climate change: Giant pill stops burping cattle

New feed is intended to reduce methane emissions

Beef as bioreactor? © IMSI MAsterClips
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Like small factories, cows emit large quantities of greenhouse gases during ruminating. With a giant pill containing active ingredients to reduce the formation of methane and make the feed more useful for cattle at the same time, researchers want to defuse the phenomenon.

Not too long ago, the problem of beleaguered cows becoming complicit in global warming was more likely to be ridiculed. The realization that there are many responsible persons and thus numerous adjustment screws in the fight against the global warming, sets itself now by slowly. In addition to natural gas emissions, power plants, traffic, industry and households, cows also contribute to climate change through methane, which is produced during digestion.

"According to estimates, the methane concentration in the atmosphere has increased almost sixfold in the past 50 years and now contributes about 20 percent to the greenhouse effect, " says Professor Winfried Drochner from the Institute of Animal Nutrition at the University of Hohenheim.

Whether cows should now stuff catalysts in the butt, spiegel.de quoted the mocking demand of the Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner in the United States. "Firstly, cows release the methane in the front and not in the back, and secondly, a large tablet would be enough, " said Drochner, calling for pragmatic action in all areas. "In livestock farming, too, we have opportunities to combat global warming, " the scientist continues.

Cows as Kilimakiller?

Exactly calculated, cattle are one of the major sources of methane at about four percent complicit in climate change. Tendency is rising: In emerging markets, meat consumption is growing worldwide for a new middle class whose parents belonged to a generation that could not afford beef steaks. "This development can not be prevented. But with new methods, we could reduce the impact of cows on the greenhouse effect to three percent - and save money at the same time, "predicts Drochner. display

"The fact that cows produce methane is actually a natural process. Because the greenhouse gas binds hydrogen, a waste product that is produced during the digestion of grass. This microbial degradation is called fermentation and is vital for ruminants, "says Drochner.

Cows could be even healthier if they supplemented their diet with sprouted grains or extracts, as Drochner now found out: "Seedlings contain substances that can reduce methane production and make the feed more usable for the cow." Instead of heating up the climate, the animals would make good use of the feed - and reduce the costs for farmers.

Tannins as a miracle cure

"Tannins" are the names of these miracle substances that the expert in animal nutrition would like to obtain directly from plants in order to administer them to the cows directly or possibly with an impulse. "As a fist-sized" giant tablet "- called: bolus - microbially active substances in such a pill could be in the cow's stomach for several months, dissolve slowly and expel the methane reduce, "says Prof. Dr. med. Drochner. "This method of administration would be extremely useful and would facilitate the use of the method worldwide, including in areas with extensive livestock farming, where appropriate."

Further influencing possibilities in areas with intensive animal husbandry: more fats in the animal feed and a more even feeding over the whole day distributed. "An animal that continuously chews and digests improves its body's metabolism. It's like humans: several meals over the day are much healthier for the organism, "says Drochner.

The most important, as the most efficient measure, but is the development of the bolus, says Drochner. "We are still looking for sponsors, " the scientist continues. But since the "giant pill" is not only climate-friendly, but ransoms in cash, the researcher is optimistic that it will be able to catch up in the short term.

(idw - University of Hohenheim, 16.03.2007 - DLO)