Page 48 - RealDirtENG2017new
P. 48
Krystal Schipper
Are cow burps and farts changing our climate?
It is estimated that about 10 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from farming, and that methane, coming largely from livestock, accounts for one- third of that 10 per cent.77 So yes, burping and farting cattle are a source of methane. Every farmed and wild ruminant, including cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and bison,
has a four-chambered stomach called
a rumen. Bacteria in this stomach help them break down their food. Methane is generated during this process. The impact that livestock such as cattle can have on the environment can vary signi cantly, based on a number of factors: feed quality, genetics, and the part of the world in which the animal is being raised, just to name three.
Modern advances in genetics and nutrition have led to more environmentally-ef cient animals, and farmers and scientists continue to work towards reducing the amounts of methane produced by cattle. About a decade ago, a farmer in Prince Edward Island began feeding his cattle seaweed from nearby beaches, in an effort to lower his feed costs.78 A researcher
at Dalhousie University discovered
the farmer’s feed mix reduced methane emissions from the cattle by up to 20
per cent – and after moving to Australia, the researcher continued experimenting with many different types of seaweed. He eventually discovered a type of seaweed that, when added to cattle and sheep feed, could reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions by up to 70 per cent. That’s almost equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by all of India every year.79
Greenhouse gases are not actually gases from a greenhouse. They are a series of gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, which act as a shield that traps heat within the earth’s atmosphere – much like the way a greenhouse retains heat. This process is contributing to
climate change.
What about manure and water?
Manure is an excellent natural fertilizer. However, farmers depend on clean water on their farms for their families, livestock, and crops, and manure can contaminate that same water if it isn’t managed properly. Nutrient management planning, which covers manure, commercial fertilizers, and all other nutrient sources for farmland, makes sure that crops and soils get all the bene ts of the nutrients, without harming the environment. Here’s how it works:
• Testing soil and manure: by knowing exactly what nutrients are already present, what’s needed and when, farmers can add only what the soil or speci c crop in their  elds can use.
• Calibrating or adjusting manure and fertilizer spreaders: to know exactly how much is being applied, and that it’s being applied correctly.
• Managing stored manure: manure shouldn’t be put on the land during the winter months, because there is a higher chance of it washing away with snow melt, and not penetrating frozen ground. Farmers must make sure that they have the right facilities to store safely all the manure that their livestock produce over the winter.
• Locating new farm buildings: making sure they’re far enough
away from neighbours and natural resources, like water and wetlands. How far depends on the type and number of livestock, whether there is a stream or pond nearby, etc.
• Planning for emergencies: knowing what to do if things go wrong, so that a response is quick and effective.
So what about the smell of manure?
There’s nothing like the smell of manure to come between farmers and their non-farming neighbours. It can waft from barns and storages, but is strongest when manure is spread on  elds as fertilizer. There are many different techniques
and technologies to reduce the smell of manure – like composting solid manure or adding odour-minimizing additives
– but unfortunately, it’s a fact of farm
life that isn’t about to go away. To avoid affecting the plans of their neighbours, many farmers let them know in advance of manure spreading.
48 The Real Dirt on Farming
Kaitlyn O’Neill

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