Feeding Cows Oregano Might Reduce Greenhouse Gases

10 September 2010

Cow picture

Methane - a major greenouse gas - comes from cow belches and farts. According to climate change site Earthsave, "Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together. Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by about 31% since pre-industrial times, methane concentrations have more than doubled."

However a scientist at the Penn State Department of Dairy and Animal Science in the USA has found that feeding cattle oregano produces a decrease in methane emissions by 40%. In a series of laboratory experiments and a live animal test, an oregano-based supplement not only decreased methane emissions in dairy cows by 40 percent, but also improved milk production, according to Alexander Hristov, an associate professor of dairy nutrition.

The natural methane-reduction supplement could lead to a cleaner environment and more productive dairy operations.

"Cattle are actually a major producer of methane gas and methane is a significant greenhouse gas," Hristov said. "In fact, worldwide, livestock emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane." (which is methane produced by human activities like agriculture).

Methane is a natural product of the digestive processes of animals such as cows and other ruminant like sheep or goats. Reducing their emissions would be beneficial in the struggle to diminish global warming.

Experiments revealed another benefit of the gas-reducing supplement. It increased daily milk production by nearly three pounds of milk for each cow during the trials. The researcher anticipated the higher milk productivity from the herd.

"Since methane production is an energy loss for the animal, this isn’t really a surprise," Hristov said. "If you decrease energy loss, the cows can use that energy for other processes, such as making milk."

Hristov said that finding a natural solution for methane reduction in cattle has taken him approximately six years. Natural methane reduction measures are preferable to current treatments, such as feed antibiotics.

Hristov first screened hundreds of essential oils, plants and various compounds in the laboratory before arriving at oregano as a possible solution. During the experiments, oregano consistently reduced methane without demonstrating any negative effects.

Following the laboratory experiments, Hristov conducted an experiment to study the effects of oregano on lactating cows at Penn State's dairy barns. He is currently conducting follow-up animal trials to verify the early findings and to further isolate specific compounds involved in the suppression of methane.

Hristov said that some compounds that are found in oregano, including carvacrol, geraniol and thymol, seem to play a more significant role in methane suppression. Identifying the active compounds is important because pure compounds are easier to produce commercially and more economical for farmers to use.

"If the follow-up trials are successful, we will keep trying to identify the active compounds in oregano to produce purer products," said Hristov.

Link:

http://live.psu.edu/story/48055

Blog by Julian Jackson

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