Planet Friendly's How

Cows Can Be The Solution?

Here in NZ we have a raging a debate about the impact of cows.  I’m a soil scientist and staunch environmentalist so what I’m about to say may surprise you. 

Cows are not a major cause of water pollution and global warming from agriculture.  Overuse of fertilisers/chemicals and shonky grazing practices are the cause.

Cows have gotten a bum climate rap, which is not to say industrial dairying or beef feedlots are environmentally sound.  They’re not.  They are huge energy guzzlers, pollution generators, inhumane and rely on unwise monoculture crops to feed the cows.

Animals grazing naturally on grass can actually help to create deeper, healthier soils that clean up water.   Fertilisers and chemicals, not cow manure, are the major causes of NZ water pollution.  Urea, antibiotics, prescription drugs, pesticides and  manufacturing wastes are the water pollution culprits. Blaming cows pooping in streams for river pollution is sadly simplistic. The most potent causes of farm water pollution have been erosion, farm chemicals and  water soluble nitrogen and phosphorous fertilisers moving into streams and aquifers. Our mega tonnes of cow manure are a valuable source of  soil fertility  when distributed from the rear end of a cow onto diverse grass pastures.

As for the charge of being climate wreckers, animals grazed naturally are actually an important part of maintaining and improving  grasslands: those oceans of  vegetation have always played a role in cooling the earth’s surface.

What’s more, microbes on the soil and leaves of healthy pastures can eat many time more methane than cows burb.  Cows on organic, high brix, diverse foliage burb less methane than cows on urea-fuelled pastures, and much less than cows fed grains in feedlots.  This is a case of Nature’s GIGO response – Garbage In, Garbage Out.  Cows fed pastures high in nitrates from excessive fertiliser use DO generate more methane and more nitrate in their urine. Cows grazing on diverse, organic pastures generate less methane and less nitrate in their pee.

The quality of soils and nutrition makes all the difference in health outcomes for the animals, us and the environment.

Pastures actually help cool the atmosphere by lifting heat from ground level through evapo-transpiration from grasses.  Plant sweat can cool the Planet!  As that cooling water vapour rises it carries bacteria from leaf surfaces into the stratosphere where the heat can dissipate harmlessly into space.  The now highflying bacteria become the rain drop nuclei and ice crystals that create the  dense white clouds which reflect the sun’s heat and provide us more consistent rain, along with atmospheric cleansing.

 That’s in a well-functioning natural system.  What we have now is  many fewer forests and pastures along with a low, brown chemical haze of transport and manufacturing pollution that blocks the plant-warmed air from rising as it should. 

Healthy, diverse taller pastures  grown on microbe-rich soils suck CO2 out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it in the soil carbon sponge. This natural enrichment process can store (sequester) tonnes of deep carbon per hectare per year. With continued regenerative fertilising and grazing practices, this rapid soil carbon storage can be permanent.  A modest, already demonstrated amount for pastures is 1.5 tonne carbon banked per hectare per year. If all 11 million hectares of NZ’s improved pastures were managed regeneratively, the CO2 stored would be enough to off-set all of NZ greenhouse gas emissions.  Add to that impressive number, we would get carbon emission off-sets from expanded, permanent, native re-afforestation plantings and  New Zealand becomes carbon  negative, which means we would have an substantial income source from selling cow based carbon credits and go from global warming black hats to agricultural white hats.

Support Planet Friendly Cows …..Eat More Butter!

Phyllis Tichinin  True Health Ltd and Helia

 A version of this article also appeared in Bay Buzz June 2022