More than 300 liters of climate-damaging methane – that’s how much a single cow emits per day. Exactly how high the methane gas content is in each case depends, among other things, on the type of feed. In fact, such a large amount of methane formed during the digestion of plant food is a significant burden on the environment. Recently, researchers have found that feeding red algae can curb “digestive methane gas emissions” in cattle by up to one-fifth. However, questions still remain.
Dampening the rise in CO2 emissions from factory farming – with red algae?
Compared to harmful carbon dioxide (CO2), methane gas is many times more dangerous. Because factory farming is increasing exorbitantly worldwide, methane levels have currently reached a new record high. Environmentalists and researchers are alarmed and have been working hard for years to find solutions. The higher the proportion of cellulosic grass or hay in animal feed, the more methane ruminants emit in the course of the digestive process. Special plant-based additives, on the other hand, can reduce methane formation somewhat. The red alga (Asparagopsis taxiformis) plays an essential role here.
More red algae, less methane
Recent research has shown that the administration of red algae as part of daily feeding can reduce methane emissions by nearly 80 percent. When the plant substance is administered in addition to the usual feed mixtures consisting of grain, hay and corn, sheep, bulls, goats and cattle have been shown to excrete significantly less air and excreta. At the same time, the researchers found that the composition of the feed mixtures can also play a significant role in reducing methane emissions. Low-hay feeding, for example, is associated with up to an 80 percent reduction in methane.
The quality is not affected
The red algae-fed juveniles all grew normally and were characterized by excellent health. The quality and taste of their meat did not leave anything to be desired either.In the tests it was even possible to show that the animals could theoretically be fed a less substantial feed. Accordingly, with the addition of the algae, it is conceivable to reduce the overall cost of feeding cattle and sheep and increase meat production.
Cattle and Co. in the “field test
In principle, according to experts, it is advantageous for the animals if the nitrogen and energy cannot be released in the form of excreta, but can be used by the living creatures themselves. Therefore, quite a few research teams are currently working on finding other algae species that can help reduce methane emissions and improve animal welfare.
Animal welfare always in focus
Scientists at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere in Canberra have been able to prove that methane is responsible for a staggering 23 percent of global warming caused by greenhouse gases. In addition, they found that methane – extrapolated over a 20-year period – has an effect up to 86 times stronger than CO2. Undoubtedly, the global breeding of cattle, sheep and goats is one of the main causes of the environmentally harmful gas.
For many years, scientists were concerned with reducing methane gas emissions in ruminants. So at first glance it is very surprising that a plant substance alone, the red alga, can succeed in achieving this goal. However, the corresponding studies have not yet been fully completed. The investigation is ongoing.
The digestive system of cattle, cows, bulls, goats and sheep is a highly complex structure. The individual processes involved in digestion are also complicated. Many researchers are therefore of the opinion that it would take much more than red algae to actually achieve the objectives.In view of the complex digestive processes, the addition of red algae alone cannot be sufficient to achieve the ambitious goals. Sometimes the most promising opportunities and possibilities are hidden in the details that were initially overlooked.
Video: How we can reduce methane emissions from cows with red algae
In a new episode of our climate series, our host Vincent looked at the issue of methane emissions from cows and goes into more detail about the latest research findings on the possible “red algae solution.” Sounds exciting? See for yourself …
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