New York is one of the largest dairy-producing states in the nation. It’s home to more than 600,000 dairy cows. 

But Jenifer Wightman, a senior extension associate at Cornell University, says cows create more than milk. They also produce methane, a climate-warming gas.

“The majority of New York state agricultural emissions are methane,” she says.

Decomposing manure releases the gas. So do the microbes in the cow’s gut as they break down grass and other plant material.

The methane is then released to the atmosphere from the burps and farts of the cow.

But tweaking a cow’s diet can cut those emissions by up to 40%, according to some estimates. Providing feed that’s easier to digest, adjusting the proportions of nutrients, and supplementing with certain additives can help reduce the methane produced.

Wightman says it also boosts milk production because less of the energy contained in the feed goes to waste.

“As you improve the feed efficiency of the cow, more of the feedstuffs go into producing milk, and less of the feedstuffs come out as methane,” she says.

So she says fine-tuning cows’ diets can be a cost-effective way to maximize milk production and minimize climate pollution.

Also see: Texas dairy farmers go whole-hog to keep their cows cool in a warmer world

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media