Saturday, December 9, 2023

U of Guelph researching how cow burps contribute to global warming

First Published:

Researchers from the University of Guelph are doing a deep dive into cow burps. Belching bovines release methane, which is a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

The research is helping farmers breed cows that burp less, thereby emitting less greenhouse gas.

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Christine Baes from the University of Guelph said, “Overall in Canada, probably one to three per cent of the emissions are caused by dairy cows, but what we’ve seen is there’s quite a bit of variation between individual animals, so what we’re looking to do is to find out which animals are really using their feed to produce milk and which ones are sort of, burping it out.”

Baes is leading the Resilient Dairy Genome Project, where researchers working out of the Ontario Dairy Research Centre in Elora have developed a method to determine how much methane a cow will burp out.

The research is being used by the dairy industry to select bovines for breeding that produce the same amount of milk as other cows but release less methane making Canada the first country in the world to officially select for methane efficiency.

Baes says reducing methane emissions from cows can make a difference in combating climate change because methane has a global warming potential 28 times that of carbon dioxide.

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Despite popular misconceptions, it’s not the cows’ rear ends that are causing the problem, about 95 per cent of the methane produced comes out of the front end of the animal.

The research is done by using what’s called a green feed machine, where a cow is enticed to stick its head inside by a bit of food. The machine then takes about five minutes to measure the methane the cow is breathing out.

The research facility is owned by Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph. The facility house about 500 cows with about half of them being used for research.

Baes’ project began in 2020 but grew out of research that started in 2014. She says there are no plans to stop, “we know that we can do a lot here and make a big impact.”

A paper published by Baes and her team says 14 per cent of global human-made greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock.

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