Methane is immensely damaging to climate change, in fact, second largest contributor to it and a large part of methane emissions is from livestock.
When we put seaweed supplements in cows’ fodder, methane emissions can be controlled immensely,
But when it comes to market seaweed as a commercial product for cattle, there are many steps involved that would need regulators’ approval too.
Methane is accepted as a dominant greenhouse gas and damages climate immensely after carbon dioxide and as for agricultural methane, 70% of it comes from enteric fermentation, i.e. chemical reactions taking place in the stomach of grazing animals (including cows) as plants split. Now, the animals expel such methane in eructation and flatulence.
There are about 1 billion cattle scattered all over the world, so putting lid on methane emissions is easy through controlling enteric methane. But then, alternatives involve a lot of cost, such as altering the diet or adding fat etc. A study conducted in 2015 suggested about using seaweed as an additive to normal diet, is helpful in reducing methane production but such was a lab research and was not backed by experiment on live animals.
In the field of sustainable agriculture that is studied widely, our focus is transfixed on livestock. A study is published emphasizing upon the red seaweed (Asparaguses) is potential to reduce methane emissions and costs when used as a food supplement. Undeniably, if such finding are implemented on a wider scale and encouraged extensively in form of commercial crop, this bears potential of remodelling the cattle production scenario as a economic option and environmentally sustainable industry.
Truly, ruminant animals (cows, sheep and goats) have powerful digestive system that can consume plant material which is, otherwise hard to digest for humans and animals as we have simple stomach. Such charateristic is because of their “four compartment stomachs” especially the rumen compartment that carries a variety of microbes that carry out fermentation and split it into nutrients.
But then, the process also generates carbon dioxide and hydrogen which don’t get absorbed within the stomach and methanogens, i.e. the microbes that produce methane, utilize such compounds in methane formation which is output by cow’s body.
The problem got under analytical lens initially in 2019 where it was established that if the fodder of supplementing dairy cows constitute about 10 ounces of seaseed per day, their methane emissions was brought down by 67%.
But, the cattle consuming such large quantity of seaweed, gave up on regular feed which also affected their milk production and is a clear downside for those in dairy business.
Then comes our new study which put numerous questions linked to answers, that are crucial to consider if we should opt for seaweed supplements in cattle farming.
Efforts were put to uncover scores of secrets, such as :
• the safety of seaweed if we store these for a period of 3 years,
• if microbes could be amenable and in harmony with seaweed, that produce methane in cows, rendering it ineffective,
• if seaweed’s effectiveness is compromised when reducing methane emisisons, when cows are given certain type of diet,
With Less Amount of Feed, Better Growth Achieved:
For conducting study effectively, minimal quantity of seaweed, i.e. between 1.5 to 3 ounce was added daily in diet of 21 cows for 3 weeks. Though animals took time in getting used to to the seaweed taste, but they developed a liking for it.
As per observants’ expectations, there was abundance of oxygen released, around 750% more and mostly through mouths as lesser methane was produced in their inner systems. For hydrogen leaves less impact on climate. Seaweed supplements cast little impact upon the cows’ CO2 emissions.
Besides, seaweed’s efficacy was also established, especially when such was under freeze storage for a period of 3 years and then microbes present in the digestive system of cows, showed little tilt towards seaweed that did not undermine its effects.
Further, during experiment, each of our cows were fed a variety of diets of three types, such as dried grass like alfalfa and wheat hay, that are called forage. Additionally, cattle also find fresh grass, grains, molasses and almond hull and cotton seed, as mouthwatering.
As such, as we added more quantity of forage in cows’ diet, production of methane increased in rumen, which increased scientists’ curiosity to check how forage levels were brought under effect when seaweed reduced overall methane formation. Further, there was a heavy reduction in methane emissions that cattle expelled by 33% to 52%, while the amount of seaweed consumption also played a role there. Conversely, emissions from low-forage diet cattle also plunged by around 70% to 80%. Such a difference is because of an enzyme’s lower concentration that contributes in methane production in the guts of cattle.
Another significant finding was increase in body weight which was by upto 20% as result of this. Such was also a benefit to livestock owners as they needed to buy less fodder. To gain clarity, suppose a person with a thousand cattle spends a lot in feeding cows to grow and this amount could be reduced by US $40,320 to $87,320 against the seaweed parameter, which cattle ate.
It is still not known how seaweed supplement would ensure weight gain among cattle, but going by the earlier research, it mentions a handful of rumen microorganisms can utilize hydrogen which is not blended with methane production to generate nutrients sparked with energy that the cow can utilize for additional growth.
When a consumer group sampled the meat from cattle that was developed under our supervision, there was no major difference in smoothness, juiciness and flavour between cattle meat that was put on seaweed and the ones that were not.
Considering about circulation of seaweed for widespread consumption as additive to fodder involves many steps. Initially, scientists would need to reckon designing aquaculture techniques for producing seaweed on a wide scale, either in the ocean or in tanks erected on land. Besides, any regulator, in case of America, there is US Food and Drug Administration, whose approval is needed, to use it as a feed supplement for cattle managed for commercial purposes.
Finally, famers and ranchers can also help reducing cattle’s emissions and can thus make money. Going further, we have climate scientists whose guidance would need to be sought for measuring methane emissions and to monitor any reduction therein from cattle. No doubt, such rules can also give huge credits to those involved from carbon offset programs, launched across the world.