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NH Scientists: Plant-Based Oils in Cow Feed Cut Climate-Altering Methane Emissions

By Kathryn Carley

New research from the University of New Hampshire could help dairy farmers increase profits while reducing their effect on the climate.

Scientists said adding a plant-based essential oil blend to cow feed can improve a cow's digestion and reduce the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Andre Brito, associate professor of dairy cattle nutrition and management at the University of New Hampshire, said the findings are especially true for pasture grazing cows and shows a happy cow makes for a healthier environment.

"If those animals are provided those conditions, they'll be more productive," Brito pointed out. "Then the amount of methane that's being emitted by those animals is diluted because they're producing more product."

Brito reported adding the plant oils led to a more than 6% increase in milk production, which is good news for the majority of New Hampshire dairies, especially small to mid-size operations with smaller profit margins and higher equipment costs.

Still, Brito noted the research findings could translate to larger, industrial-size dairies. The factory farms often hold thousands of cows, generating significant methane emissions through their hearty burps and manure, which is often stored in large, polluting lagoons.

Brito acknowledged although the plant-based oils are readily available for use, farmers must weigh the economic benefits and overall environmental impact.

"Any investment that the farmers would make in a product has to be tied to economics," Brito stressed. "Even though farmers overall, they are conscious about the environment and they want to make sure that there is less carbon, nitrogen footprint out of their farms."

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