This just in from our agri-ecology desk: Stonyfield Farm, that yogurt maker run by a bunch of Vermont hippies, is experimenting with the diets of its dairy cows after French dairy farmers have established that feeding them flaxseed and grass rather than corn and soybeans lowers the threat of global warming.
How? Well, it seems that cows are walking, mooing compost heaps. As a third- or fourth-grader we learn that cows have a stomach with four distinct chambers. In the process of digestion, they regurgitate their food and chew on it awhile, the so-called chewing of the cud. (Whenever I regurgitate my food, I do my best not to chew it. Then again, I have only a one-chamber stomach.) Apparently, cows also belch a lot. What they belch is methane gas. In other words, cows have mouth farts, especially if what they eat is mostly corn and soybeans.
The Anatomy of a Cow’s Stomach
A California scientist (why does this not surprise me?) has put cows in airtight tents to measure just how much methane gas their mouth farts produce. I suppose the scientist’s job is to light a match and see what happens. Through this careful adherence to the Scientific Method, he has determined that cows annually produce 200-400 pounds of methane, an even worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So the thought is that reducing this methane will help ease global warming.
French dairy farmers, being a very cheesy people, were the first on the case. An article in the New York Times detailing all of this quotes one of the Frenchies in Vermont as saying his cows' breath smells sweet because of the diet of grass and flaxseed that are higher in fatty acids than corn and soybeans, improving the cows’ digestion. Ironic that the French appear to worry about how their cows’ breath smells when they don’t give a hang sometimes about their own hygiene. I’m just saying.
Hey, buddy, can you spare a Tic-Tac?
I once dated a girl whose belches could kill a house plant. My disapproving best friend called her a fat cow. Hmmmm. That makes sense to me now.
At this writing the Obama administration has not articulated a position concerning cows’ mouth farts. But, based on the President’s record so far with advocating higher-mileage cars and non-carbon-based fuels and generally not being a booster of global warming, I suspect that he will soon announce an initiative to establish guidelines for how many mouth farts a cow can have. Having not heard much from Al Gore since he won the Nobel Prize, I think Mr. Inconvenient Truth would be an excellent director for a new agency, the BMFA (Bovine Mouth Fart Authority).
A young Al Gore with a mouth-farting Black Angus.