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How Much Methane Do Cows Produce?

cows in the farm

It is estimated that a single cow will burp around 220 pounds of methane every year. This is equivalent to about 3.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Because of how bad carbon dioxide is for the environment, it’s no shock that cows are a leading problem for climate change activists.

Interestingly, not all cows produce the same amount of methane, though. Certain livestock is much more environmentally friendly. Meanwhile, certain organizations are looking for ways to tweak the microbiomes inside cows to produce less methane.

If you are interested in learning more about how much methane cows produce and ways that scientists are combating the problem, keep reading.

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How Much Methane Do Cows Produce? Explained.

Once again, scientists estimate that one cow produces 220 pounds of methane every year. If you extend this estimation to the entire cattle population, which is about 1 billion, cattle are responsible for 220 trillion pounds of methane a year.

Because of how much methane is produced by cattle, beef cattle make up 2% of direct greenhouse gas emissions in the United States alone. If you include all cows and other ruminants into this figure, the species is to blame for 4% of the US greenhouse gases produced.

cows grazing
Image Credit: Pixabay

The Relationship Between Methane, Cows and Climate Change

When most people talk about climate change, they most often talk about carbon dioxide emissions. Although carbon dioxide is longer-lived than methane, methane is actually much more potent and more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

Because of how potent methane is, it is one of the leading causes of climate change. What happens is that methane creates hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gases that lead to around 1,000,000 deaths every year and global warming. It is estimated that 30% of global warming is due to the increased use and production of methane.

Shockingly, most of the methane is produced by the agricultural industries. Livestock emissions alone, which include manure and gastroenteric releases, make up 32% of methane emissions caused by humans. Agricultural methane is not just connected to cows, though. Other forms of agriculture, such as paddy rice cultivation, also result in methane-producing bacteria.

Salers cows
Image Credit: Fabien Monteil, Shutterstock

Not All Cows Produce the Same Amount Of Methane

Interestingly, not all cows produce the same amount of methane. Researchers around the world are finding that certain herds and species produce less methane than others. It is predicted that certain cows produce less methane due to the microbiomes inside the cow’s stomachs.

By specifically breeding cows with more effective gut biomes, it is estimated that methane production from cows could decrease by 50% in the near future. 50% is a huge decrease in produced methane and can help fix the methane problem.

Looking To the Future

The problem with methane production from cows is not the fact that cows produce methane. The problem lies in how many cows are produced today for human consumption. Because of this fact, many scientists and advocates are looking for ways to fix the problem.

Many vegans and animal rights activists argue that eating less beef will fix the problem. Only by stopping the rapid consumption of beef will fewer cows be produced and less methane put into the air. Although this argument is true, many people are not willing to give up their diet of beef.

Wagyu Beef on wooden plate
Wagyu Beef on wooden plate, Kankitti Chupayoong, Shutterstock

Since it’s not currently feasible for the entire global population to give up beef, other scientists are looking for ways to make cows more environmentally friendly. As researchers in Scotland have been working on, breeding cattle with more effective gut biome can reduce methane emissions by quite a bit.

Other researchers have been working on vaccines to improve the cow microbiome, ultimately leading to the same results as the Scottish researchers. In other words, it looks like the future of cow and methane production lies in scientists’ ability to find the most effective way to breed cows with the most effective gut biomes.

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Final Thoughts: Cows & Methane

As of now, cows are responsible for billions of pounds of methane production every year. Because of this fact, cows and the food production industry are largely responsible for anthropogenic climate change. Luckily, great scientists are finding ways to improve the cows’ gut biome so that fewer methane emissions are produced.


Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

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