cows in field

The Passing Wind


I was out in the pasture Saturday morning calling my beef cows to join me in moving to the next paddock. It’s best to assemble the team of moms at the gate so the calves don’t get separated. Paddock shifts can be extremely stressful if you leave babies behind. The boss cow and I usually
have a few minutes together as this gathering of the herd unfolds.

I was admiring how slick she had become after just a few weeks of munching grass---when it happened. She arched her back and dropped a 30 cent nutrient shower of green material to the earth. My fellow graziers liken this action to passing it through a screen door. “Whew, that was a good one bossy,” I said. The rest of the girls, seeing me near their opening to breakfast, came running, belching and seemed to find joy in relieving themselves. It was the epitome of a flatulence fest or basically cows being cows. I too, had some pent-up green house gases so I followed Forrest Gump’s analogy of “I had to go, so, well, I went.” A guy just being a guy, I suppose.

I opened the gate to the pasture utopia and watched the cows disperse into the succulent forage as the calves frolicked about, and wondered how this beautiful scene could be construed as a national tragedy. And there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s Mother Nature’s way ya know, animals eating this grass. It’s like peas and carrots. I’ll take a cow on pasture over a car’s exhaust any day. Here I am giving animals their natural diet and environment, covering up our precious topsoil, sequestering carbon in the root zone, feeding a nation and also receiving blame for gas emissions. I’m in a quandary of what I should do, feed my community or manipulate the rumen bugs.

Have no fear; the gaseous CEO’s are here. I read with interest in this paper, the research going on by U.S Dairy and Dairy Management Inc.’s Innovation Center on how we humans want to make the “Cow of the Future”, to solve our industry’s greenhouse gas emission problems. Talk about passing wind for any regenerative farming future. Humans are great aren’t they, let’s keep blaming the cows, feed them a myriad of feeds in confinement, tinker with their intestinal tracts and then justify to the consumer that this is sustainable. If it was, maybe our farm wouldn’t be one of the last holdouts in our town.

I am very suspicious indeed, of words like diet modification, targeting, engineering, production efficiencies and the University of Alberta’s research in genetic selection for methane for my bovine
buddies. Holy cow Bossy, pretty soon you’ll have your own internal Glade Air Freshener. I have been around long enough to get a sense that these processes smell like inputs farmers will have to buy. Is this research really needed from the dairyman’s checkoff dollars? At a time when 15 cents per hundred is needed at the farm to, oh, I don’t know, maybe pay for family health insurance.

Haven’t we messed with our foundation mothers long enough? How many more additives and feeding strategies do we need to give the perfect forage machine, to compensate for our modern farming practices. Have we made our animals the scapegoats, in our quest for a cheap food system and cleaner air? Can we admit there may be an alternative to fooling with the inside of a cow?

This is where grass-based farming methods have taken root by allowing animals to feed themselves, feed the farm family and also the underground livestock. This natural grassland system has worked for thousands of years, way before we arrived to modernize it. The secret to the methane debacle is in the soil and a farming system that keeps it covered. Does anyone remember the Bison roaming over the vast grassland prairie? This was our foundation and strength that we still rely on today. Remember the Lord doesn’t farm without livestock.

Being a simple man, I can’t come to grips with the researcher’s notion that God’s grazing animals are such environmental heathens. It just doesn’t add up for me that an animal eating fresh grass and delivering earthworm food back to the soil has become such a grievous act of gas exchange.

I admit this issue of hot air perplexes me at a time when our economy is riddled with debt made from decisions made out of this thin air. Shouldn’t we be investing our dollars in the next generation
of real green collar jobs, (farmers), local food systems and soil conservation instead of perpetuating the idea of same, but different. Instead of blaming the cows for all the greenhouse gases, take a look in the bathroom mirror after you have ingested Grandma Brown’s beans and admit gas is a natural thing.

Troy Bishop, New York
Published in Lancaster Farming 5/30/09