The cows on Joe Towers’s dairy farm have been burping a lot less since he began adding a little garlic to their feed.
They seem to like the flavour but he is not doing it to keep them happy. His 400 cows have taken part in the largest trial of adding a natural supplement to cattle diet to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas they belch.
Scientists found the mix of garlic and citrus extract reduced methane emissions by up to 38 per cent. The effect was produced by adding only about 15g of the supplement to the cows’ daily feed.
Mr Towers hopes the results, published in a study involving the dairy research and innovation centre at Scotland’s Rural College, will help consumers to feel less guilty about eating meat and dairy products. About 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock and a third of that is from methane, which traps 25 times 31.12.19, 16:30 Page 1 of 2 more heat than carbon dioxide but remains in the atmosphere for a shorter period. Most of the methane produced by cattle comes from their burps.
The trial also found that milk yield rose by up to 8 per cent. The cows were also less stressed because the garlic appeared to deter the flies that bother them.
The supplement, which is blended in Abertillery in Monmouthshire by the Swiss company Mootral, had no effect on the milk’s taste or smell. Several methane-reducing supplements have been tested on cattle, with the University of California showing that seaweed could reduce methane by 60 per cent. Garlic is cheaper and more readily available.
Mootral’s supplement costs about £50 per cow per year, which could be recouped through higher yields. It also claims the supplement reduces udder infections, saving on antibiotics.
However, Mootral concedes that farmers may need an extra incentive to buy the supplement and has developed a system of “cow credits” under which the benefit of the methane reduction could be sold to those seeking to offset their emissions.
For Mr Towers, one of the greatest benefits is improving the image of dairy farming, which he says has been tarnished by unfair attacks by environmentalists who ignore the nutritional benefits of milk. “This is a good opportunity to show the dairy industry does care about the environment,” he said.