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New fodder for cows to combat climate change

Times of India , Tuesday, September 09, 2008
LONDON: The burping of cows is to go green in Britain as part of the environmental exercise to reduce carbon emissions.
The cow releases more carbon gases from its mouth than from its rear, animal scientists have concluded. Animal nutritionists have in turn come up with a changed diet as an answer to the problem.
Worldwide there are 1.5 billion cattle and their collective belching is thought to account for five per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
If every dairy farm in Britain changed to the new diet it would remove the equivalent of 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, nutritionists told The Times .
Chopped straw and hay are the vital ingredients to settle a cow's stomach and reduce emissions of methane by 20 per cent.
This material is used as bedding for cattle and cows usually have little appetite for it. But just as children are coaxed to take their medicine by cloaking it in a syrup, cattle are being fed a blend of foods that makes it irresistible.
The secret is to cut straw or hay into strips 6 cm to 7 cm long and to mix them with silage, wheat, maize, soya or sugar beet. A dairy cow needs only 4.4 lb (2 kg) a day, a tiny percentage of the 130 lb daily ration of forage it would otherwise eat.
Jim Begg, director of Dairy UK, said: "Everyone knows that cows produce methane and the presumption is that nature must take its course. But this terrific initiative shows how we can make the dairy sector even greener and give consumers the low-carbon products they want."
David Beevor, a former professor of animal science who now works for the animal nutritionist Keenan Rumans, said: "Cows have to chew more on this feed, which helps to break it down, increasing the production of saliva and aiding fermentation in the stomach. This enables more feed to be converted to milk."
Gerald Watkin, 48, who farms at Borth, near Aberystwyth, Mid-Wales, has 140 dairy cattle and has been giving his herd the new feed mix.
"If I put out yellow straw for them the cows would not touch it. They might play with it like a child who won't eat his greens. But with this feed mix they can't pick out the straw. The cattle also seem more contented and are chewing the cud longer because they have more fibre. Their health has also improved and lameness is less of a problem and milk yield is up," he said.
Initial results show that the diet reduced the amount of methane produced per litre of milk from 30 litres to 24 litres in trials on farms attached to First Milk, a cooperative of 2,600 dairy farmers producing 16 percent of Britain's milk.
Farmers involved in the trial reported a 15 per cent higher milk yield. The average production is 24 litres a day but this increased by three or four litres.