Considering the Purple Cow Pill


August 09, 2015

Soon there may be a new solution for problematic burping. A Purple Pill, of sorts, except for cows rather than humans. Folk might have heard it said that cow farting contributes to high methane levels, which depletes ozone. However, the cow methane problem comes from cow belching rather than their farting.

Being a ruminate, cows have a four stomach digestive system (actually a four compartment stomach). Ideally suited to grazers (cows) and browsers (goats), the rumen (the first stomach) allows cows to eat a lot of grass at once, not chew it, and store it. Later, when they are relaxing, they cough/burp up a cud (a mouthful of that non-chewed stomach stuff) and properly chew it. Thus, a cow does a lot of cud chewing and burping.

Figuring the United States alone has roughly 40 million cows, about 30 million beef cattle and 10 million dairy cows; there is a whole lot of burping going on. Like humans, cows digestive system have a complex community of microbes in their stomach helping break down food. One of those beneficial microbes creates methane in the process. To counter this methane development, some folk are proposing an additive to cattle feed to reduce the microbe’s ability to produce methane.

Hmm, it isn’t enough that pharmaceutical companies have convinced us humans to take a pill so we can ignore our bodies normal warning sign of when to lay off some foods. Now we are going to give cattle a little purple pill as well.

Contrary the popular stance, the methane burping problem is not a cattle digestive problem, but a human digestive problem. Consider the 30 million beef cattle. The 30 MILLION CATTLE who exist on American soil exist because the U.S. population is having a problem eating meat sensibly. All it takes to eliminate the methane problem is for U.S. folk to eat less beef. An easy solution if it were not centered on changing people’s gastronomic normal.

Life is much easier for humans if they place blame on creation other than themselves. Cattle, after all, are doing no more than being cattle. Humans, though, have to go a long way to justify eating double and triple decker hamburgers rather than single patty burgers or eating16-ounce steaks rather than 4-ounce steaks. The production of 30 million cattle is not a cattle problem, but one of human over consumption.

Yet the methane problem is more complicated than a number problem. Huge numbers of cattle mean they are not raised naturally. Rather than spending a life on grass, most cattle are shipped to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s). Concentrated operations mean cattle no longer eat grass but many products that are not a cows normal diet. By far, corn is the largest product in the non-grass grass diet. Corn might not sound too bad, except, ruminant stomachs do not process corn well. Bad stomachs not only compound the methane problem, but also encourage stomach-balancing drugs. With a CAFO system that normalizes drugs already in place, it easy to have the cattle industry and the public accept one more purple cow pill.

Appropriate beef consumption, on the other hand, lends toward a balanced meat system where the methane problem goes away. Grass-fed beef (beef raised on grass from birth until death) is a system that lends itself toward a near-zero, zero, or negative carbon footprint. To raise cattle on grass allows for the conversion of more carbon into oxygen than any cow is burping. When visitors walk our pastures at the farm, they find our grass/green plants to cattle ratio mean we are producing more oxygen than carbon. If U.S. consumption of beef were at appropriate levels, the CAFO system becomes much smaller, the methane problem goes away, and cattle live pastoral lives.

Pastoral living means much more than what a cow experiences. The intersectionality of cows wellbeing to the fullness of creation means a pastoral life leads to healthier air, healthier water, healthier soil, and healthier people. The only downside seems a non-creation one, agriculture pharmaceuticals will have to keep their purple cow pill to themselves.

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