There’s a simple fix for the emissions in cow’s burps: Just give them a little seaweed
At Straus Dairy Farm on the California coast north of San Francisco, there’s a long history of sustainability. Cow poop is turned into electricity that powers the farm, including an electric truck that delivers cattle feed. The family farm, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2023, launched the first organic creamery in the country, and was also the first make a “carbon farm” plan, working with university researchers to study the climate benefits of techniques like adding compost to soil. This summer, it also became the site of the first commercial trial of a new solution: adding red seaweed to cattle feed to help reduce emissions from cow burps.
In the trial, emissions of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—dropped by an average of 52%. For some cows, methane emissions from burps fell by as much as 90%. The results echo what researchers found in controlled studies at universities. The seaweed works because it contains compounds that mimic the enzymes that form methane in a cow’s stomach as it breaks down food. “It interferes with that enzyme, and that reduces emissions,” says Ermias Kebreab, a professor and associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis, who studies seaweed’s impact in cows.