In a recent study, researchers at Penn State University determined that feeding cows seaweed could reduce the amount of methane released by these animals. Methane contributes to climate change, making up about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, and ruminant animals contribute about 27% of this gas. According to the researchers, feeding seaweed to cows could reduce their methane emissions by 16%.
The benefits of seaweed on cattle’s digestion were dramatic, and researchers have concluded that it can help farmers produce beef and dairy more sustainably. Last summer, researchers added seaweed to the diets of 21 beef cows, and they tracked weight gain and methane emissions. After two weeks, the seaweed-fed cattle gained weight and burped 82% less methane than the control cows. This was the first study to examine the effects of seaweed on cows.
To begin producing seaweed for use in livestock feed, researchers need to develop a farming system. While seaweed is difficult to harvest in the ocean, scientists are currently working on farming it for human consumption. This algae shifts the cow’s ruminant function and makes them more energy efficient. While the cultivation process takes 90 days, it can be done anywhere. Researchers plan to open a two-acre farm in Hawaii this summer.
This straightforward technique could pave the way to sustainable livestock production. However, scientists haven’t yet determined whether feeding cows seaweed will have any lasting effects on the climate. Until such a study is completed, this strategy should be tempered. If this is successful, it could help to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.