USU studies how better diets and less gassy cows can help with climate change

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LOGAN — Researchers at Utah State University are looking at ways to improve the air quality by focusing on methane gas that cows release into the air.

We've all had to pass gas and so do cows but for them, it's on a pretty regular basis.

The USU researchers believe the right diet can cut pollution from cattle. "Cows are responsible for about 8% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the livestock sector," said Juan Villalba, a researcher at USU.

He is heading up the project that has a $7 million grant from the USDA. Villalba said the areas where cattle graze are changing. "The nutritional quality of rangelands is declining with changes in climate, increases in temperature."

Lower-quality food means more gas. His team believes a better food source can help.

His team will place islands of mostly legumes out on the range and monitor to see if it impacts the amount of methane their cows put out.

"In order for it to be sustainable, it has to be profitable, so that's going to be a significant factor in all of this," he said. "Look at the cost and benefits of this process."

Villalba said there is an educational component to the study by showing agricultural producers of the future how increased productivity through better diets can offset the cost of planting those legumes.

"More efficient for everybody, not just for the animals," he added.

This study is still in the early stages. It's expected to last about five years.

Villalba says while methane makes up a small piece of our pollution problem and stays in the atmosphere for a shorter amount of time, it does have a stronger greenhouse effect.

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Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson often doubles as his own photographer, shooting and editing most of his stories. He came to KSL in April 2011 after working for several years at various broadcast news outlets.


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