COVENTRY, Vt. (AP) - Vermont dairy farmers Tim Maikshilo and
Kristen Dellert, mindful of shrinking their carbon footprint, have
changed their cows' diet to reduce the amount of gas the animals
burp - dairy cows' contribution to global warming.
Coventry Valley Farm is one of 15 Vermont farms working with
Stonyfield Farm Inc., whose yogurt is made with their organic milk,
to reduce the cows' intestinal methane by feeding them flaxseed,
alfalfa, and grasses high in Omega 3 fatty acids. The gas cows
belch is the dairy industry's biggest greenhouse gas contributor,
research shows, most of it emitted from the front and not the back
end of the cow.
"I just figured a cow was a cow and they were going to do
whatever they were going to do in terms of cow things for gas,"
said Dellert. "It was pretty shocking to me that just being
organic wasn't enough, actually. I really thought that here we're
organic, we're doing what we need to do for the planet, we're doing
the stuff for the soil and I really thought that was enough."
She learned it wasn't. The dairy industry contributes about 2
percent to the country's total greenhouse gas production, said Rick
Naczi, a vice president at Dairy Management Inc., which funds
research and promotes dairy products. Most of it comes from the
cow, the rest from growing feed crops for the cattle to processing
and transporting the milk.
To satisfy consumers' demands for sustainable production, the
Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in Rosemont, Ill., is looking at
everything from growing feed crops to trucking milk to reduce the
industry's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. That
would be the equivalent of removing about 1.25 million cars from
U.S. roads every year, said Naczi, who manages the program.
One way is by feeding cows alfalfa, flax and grasses, all high
in Omega 3s, instead of corn or soy, said Nancy Hirschberg, head of
Stonyfield's Greener Cow Project. The feed rebalances the cows'
rumen, the first stomach of ruminants, and cuts down on gas, she
said. Another way is to change the bacteria in a cow's rumen, Naczi
When Stonyfield first analyzed its contribution to global
warming in the late 1990s, the company thought its factory in
Londonderry, N.H., produced the most greenhouse gases.
"And when we got the report and our number one impact on
climate change was the milk production, we were completely
stunned," she said.
A study showed that the single biggest source was the cow's
enteric emissions: gas.
The company funded energy audits on farms and research on small
manure digesters so farmers could produce energy from methane gas.
But Hirschberg said she had no idea what to do about enteric
emissions. Then she learned what Group Danone of France, majority
owner of Stonyfield and best known in the U.S. for its Dannon
products, was doing about its methane.
By feeding their cows alfalfa, flax and grasses, they were
cutting down on the gas passed.
The milk is tested at a lab at the University of Vermont to
determine its fat content, a process patented by French nutrition
company Valorex SAS, through which the enteric emissions are
Since January, Coventry Valley Farm has reduced its cows'
belches by 13 percent. At another farm, they've gone down 18
Maikshilo and Dellert have also noticed a difference in Hester,
Rosebud, Pristine and their other cows. The coats of the black and
white Holsteins and brown Jerseys are shinier and they've had fewer
foot problems and no stomach ailments, they say.
So far, it hasn't cost them any more for their custom-made
grain, which the cows only get in the winter. Now they're out
grazing on grass in the pasture, getting as many Omega 3s. And the
farm's vet bills have gone down.
It's a win-win for farmers, said Naczi.
"It's just the right thing to do," he said.