This Ontario farmer says he cuts emissions one cow belch at a time
On a cold winter day, brown and white cows eating hay in the pasture look, moo and poop like everyone else.
But it’s their burps that make them special, says Dave Braden, a small beef farmer in Puslinch, Ont., between Hamilton and Guelph.
They are cows bred to eat about 10 percent less feed and therefore produce about 10 percent less methane than the average bovine, he said. That means every time they belch, they release fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“They look the same, and they work the same, but they’re more efficient,” Braden said.
Watch: Farmer explains why he strives for more efficient cows
The former Hamilton city councillor, who represented Flamborough in the early 2000s, said he was “stuck” on efficiency for decades – he started by building an environmentally friendly house – and is now trying to make his 26-animal herd will be one of the most efficient. , and lowest emitting, in Canada.
Not all of his animals will eat 10 percent less, but he hopes to get there in about four years, he said. He bought semen from a farmer in Alberta, whose bulls are among the most efficient Braden says he knows. Over time, each generation of his cows became more efficient.
Braden’s environmental passion began in the early 1970s with building energy-efficient homes, including his own and then expanded to livestock when he bought his first cow.
Initially, Braden said he focused on breeding horned Hereford cows and bulls that thrive on a free-range, grass-only diet. That means no grain, feedlot or machinery, which lowers Braden’s overall fossil fuel footprint, he said.
Braden took an extra step about 20 years ago, when he began breeding his cows to become the efficient bovine they are today, he said.
“I care a lot about the environment and I like doing things a little bit differently,” Braden said.
“I get a little compensation for trying new things that aren’t in the book. It makes me feel like I’m taking good care of the land and producing a good product.”
Breeding plays a part in reducing cattle emissions
Methane is a “potent” greenhouse gas responsible for 30 percent of global warming, says the federal government. website. Nearly 30 percent of Canada’s methane emissions come from the agricultural sector.
Cattle are responsible for 86 percent of the sector’s methane, which they burp while digesting food. Some methane is also released from manure.
The meat industry has made strides, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent between 2014 and 2021, according to new report by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
That helps meet the global pledge to reduce methane emissions to 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030 — a pledge Canada backed by 2021.
Farmers have adopted a variety of strategies to lower their emissions from changing what they feed their cows to how they grow their food, said Ghader Manafiazar, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University specializing in meat production and management.
For example, he is investigating whether adding kelp to dairy and beef cows’ diets can reduce the amount of methane they naturally produce.
Breeding cattle for efficiency, as Braden does, is an important aspect of reducing emissions, Manafiazar said.
He noted that beef cattle today are about 30 percent more efficient than 20 years ago because of this reason.
“The breeding approach is cumulative and permanent,” said Manafiazar. “Every year we improve a little bit.”