From New Zealand to the US, Kenya to Colombia, scientists are on a mission to make livestock less gassy

A schoolchildren’s painting of a container outside the Mazingira Centre, an environmental initiative of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya) photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Ruminants such as cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats produce nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane, which is the most emitted gas and is released through belching.

Scientists are working on ways to reduce those emissions, including by breeding animals that burp less, adjusting their diets so they produce less methane and planting trees in pastures.

“We domesticated ruminants over 10,000 years ago and relatively little has changed. It’s time that got an upgrade,” said Elizabeth Latham, co-founder of Texas-based Bezoar Laboratories. Her company is working on a type of probiotic—helpful bacteria or yeasts in the digestive system—which has shown a 50 percent reduction of methane emissions in cattle during research. . . .

Thousands of miles away, New Zealand’s AgResearch has bred sheep to produce 10 percent less methane. . . . “The beauty of breeding the animal to be low methane… is it’s permanent,” Rowe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding the team is conducting similar research on cattle and deer. . . .

Attempts to reduce methane emissions from livestock are not limited to the world’s most affluent nations. In India, a national programme to boost the milk production of cows and buffalos by improving their diet is also helping the environment, according to Rajesh Sharma, senior manager at the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). . . . The tailored diet means each animal produces 12 to 15 percent less methane, according to Sharma. Over the past five years, the programme has reached about 2.6 million of the nearly 300 million cows and buffalos recorded in India’s 2014 livestock census, he said.

In Kenya, scientists are testing various local grasses to see if they improve the productivity of livestock, which would reduce the amount of emissions per kg of [milk and meat].

Cows are placed in respiration chambers where scientists measure the methane emissions from different feeds available in East Africa, said Lutz Merbold, senior scientist at the Mazingira Centre, a Nairobi-based research institution. . . .