Reducing Cows Environmental Impact

Bessie producing methane

Andreas Aluia- Forestry

Sean Davenport- Environmental Science

Haley Goulet- Animal Science

Picture this. Miles of rolling green fields sprawled out in front of you, dappled in hundreds and hundreds of black and white cows. Their heads low as they graze the young grasses covered in early morning dew. Behind you the farmer is preparing the barns for the cows return in the afternoon. Each breath of air making you feel renewed with the peace and clean air of the countryside. But how clean is it?

 

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Managing Overpopulated Feral Horses in the Great Basin, USA

Emily Bartone, Natural Resource Conservation; Charlotte Sedgwick, Animal Science; Derek Tripp, Building Construction Technology

Feral, invasive horses crowd government-managed corrals

The Great Basin of the United States is currently inhabited by over 80,000 wild non-native horses. Being a wild non-native species, they survive without the assistance of humans in a region outside of their native distribution range. The horses we now see in the Great Basin were brought to this continent by Europeans during colonization. Historically, large predators such as mountain lions and wolves also roamed the landscape and could control these populations. Humans eradicated nearly all large predators during the past century of extensive development. This has left many prey species, including horses, free to expand without limit (Jackson, S., 2018). Continue Reading

Assessing and Combating the Enteric Methane Contributions of Ruminants

Authors: Melissa Bonaccorso (Natural Resource Conservation); Morgane Golan (Animal Science, Pre-Vet); Ben Phaneuf (Building Construction Technology)

In a new effort to better quantify the methane emitted by livestock, researchers are utilizing methane-collecting backpacks on cows.

Most of us have the best intentions when making decisions at the grocery store – we often try to choose what is best for our health, and many of us have environmentalism in mind, as well. It can be difficult to know what is best, and all the contradictory information out there can leave us frustrated and confused. It seems that every few months there is a new set of rules for how we are supposed to eat: vegan, vegetarian, antibiotic-free, gluten-free, cage-free, GMO-free; and when it comes to beef, grass-fed is now all the rage. Unfortunately, if environmental sustainability is your motive, grass-fed beef actually does more harm than good. Ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats, are animals that are able to subsist on plant matter because they have a stomach compartment, the rumen, in which microorganisms digest these cellulose products. However, this form of digestion, known as enteric fermentation, comes at a cost. The microbial ecosystem of the rumen generates methane as a byproduct of this fermentation, in a process called ruminal methanogenesis (Lassey 2006). Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas, and is of critical importance because it has a global warming effect that is 28-36 times that of carbon dioxide (EPA). Nearly half of all human-caused methane emissions come from agriculture, and livestock contributes nearly 70% of CH4 emissions from the agricultural sector (Vergé et al. 2008, p.132; Lassey, 2006; Wysocka-Czubaszek 2018). In the context of the US specifically, methane accounts for 10% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, and 26% of these methane emissions comes from enteric fermentation – the second-highest portion next to natural gas and petroleum systems (EPA). While its concentration in the atmosphere is much lower than that of CO2, methane is 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is, and has the potential to contribute 18% of the total expected global warming up to the year 2050, next to carbon dioxide’s 50%  (Milich, 1999). Thus, while CO2 tends to get the most public attention for its contributions to climate change, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas, which calls for more significant consideration.

An average of 30 million animals per year are slaughtered for the beef industry in the US, and an average of 2 million animals, with an additional 3.4 billion pounds of beef, are imported to the US from Canada annually (ERS, 2015). In addition, about 9 million milk cows are active in the US in 2016 alone (statista.com). In all, approximately 20 billion pounds of beef is consumed in the US each year, accounting for approximately half of the American dietary carbon footprint (Waite, 2018). The amount of CH4 emissions from ruminants in 2016 was equivalent to 170 million metric tons of CO2 (Center for Sustainable Systems, 2018). To put these numbers into context, the effect of greenhouse gas emissions produced by annual US beef consumption is equivalent to that which would result from a car driving around the entire Earth 22,000 times (space.com; ewg.org). In response to the severity of methane output via enteric fermentation, the scientific community has become increasingly concerned with identifying resolutions that are considerate of productivity within the agricultural sector, as well as environmental efficiency.

Significant enteric methane production, and the overall increasing trend in GHG emissions by the beef and dairy industries, are symptomatic of a high demands for livestock products (Place, 2016). Many environmentalists and animal-rights activists advocate for a drastic decrease in or even total elimination of beef and dairy consumption in the American diet. Reduction in meat and dairy consumption is certainly linked to a lower personal environmental impact: the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the average meat-eater’s diet are about 1.5 to 2 times those of vegetarians and vegans, respectively (Scarborough, et al. 2014). But most people are resistant to altering their diet in such a radical way, due to a plethora of social and physical barriers; global demand for meat products is actually increasing at a rate faster than land availability can accommodate (Kwan, 2011; Jenkins, 2004; Verge, 2008). In fact, demand for beef and dairy products in the US is expected to increase 70% within the next 36 years (Place, 2016). Although veganism and vegetarianism can help reduce total greenhouse gas emissions, we simply cannot rely on everyone to adopt these lifestyles if we are to make significant changes with haste. In addition, campaigns to reduce meat consumption pose a threat to cattle farmers’ incomes. Harsh restrictions on the beef and dairy industries, or campaigns to reduce the consumption of these products across the nation and world, are both insufficient and would also pose a threat to those whose livelihoods depend on these industries. For these reasons, research teams including veterinarians, environmental specialists and other invested individuals, are collaborating to identify strategies for reducing ruminal methane emissions, without harming invested parties. To minimize the impact of ruminal methane emissions without negatively affecting animal welfare and the livelihoods of stakeholders, we propose the integration of dietary supplements into ruminal feed to naturally inhibit methanogenesis.

One of the most promising methods of reducing ruminal methanogenesis without posing a threat to the industry or the animals is through supplementation of the animals’ diets. Since feed efficiency and methane production are intrinsically linked, ruminants reared on cellulose-based diet, such as those destined to become the beloved “grass-fed” beef, will produce more methane, and for a longer time than they might otherwise, since the cellulose-based diet is not conducive to optimal growth of the animals (Tirado-Estrada et al., 2018). Experts in the field have acknowledged that completely altering the diet of every ruminant on earth is not feasible: grain-based diets can be costly and are often inaccessible (Tirado-Estrada et. al., 2018). It is possible and cost-effective, however, to improve the digestibility of the livestock diet by replacing some of the fiber content with protein-rich concentrates, while still utilizing the typical pasture-based diet. Increasing the digestibility of the diet of dairy and beef cattle can reduce methane emissions in two ways: first, by helping these cows reach market weight sooner, thereby limiting the amount of methane that each cow can produce throughout its life, and second, by inhibiting the process of methanogenesis in the rumen. Any compound with a high protein/low fiber content would be a fine contender for the improvement of the ruminal diet, but those that are naturally sourced, readily available and less costly are most ideal for the animals, the environment, and stakeholders. An excellent option which meets this criteria has been identified: mangosteen peel powder (MSP). Mangosteen peel powder, or Garcinia mangostana, is very highly regarded among animal nutritionists, because it does not negatively affect the crucial microbial populations of the rumen, but can reduce the population of methanogens, the microorganisms most responsible for methane production, by up to 50% in a safe manner (Polyorach et. al., 2016). The utilization of MSP in feed has been found to significantly reduce methane production between 10-25% (Wanapat et al. 2015; Manasri et al 2012; Polyorach et al. 2016). Aside from reducing the population of methanogens, protein-rich plant concentrates present in mangosteen peels, called saponins and tannins, have also been found to minimize the growth and activity of methane-producing protozoa in the rumen, without inhibiting their function entirely (Wallace et al, 2002, Patra 2011). Supplementing the diet with naturally derived plant compounds such as this effectively reduces methane production, and does so without causing significant consequences to the animal’s microbial system or putting the animal at risk for ruminal disease (Patra, 2010).

Dietary additives are already widely used to supplement cattle feed, which makes further supplementation feasible once high-protein supplements, like MSP, are made readily available in the national market. For example, Rumensin is a feed additive that has been used in the cattle industry for over 4 decades (Greenfield et al., 2000). The active ingredient in Rumensin is a coccidiostat, meaning that it is an antibiotic specifically geared at killing coccidiosis bacteria in the animal body. Rumensin is an attractive product because of its prevention and control of disease, as well as its capacity to improve feed efficiency by 4% (“Data on Dairy Science”, 2012). Because of the traction and popularity associated with this feed supplement, which improves productivity while also combating a severe public health crisis, there is potential for MSP to be utilized in a similar manner, with the intent to mitigate the impending public health crisis of climate change.

In anticipation of concerns among farmers and other food animal industry leaders that dietary supplementation would be too costly, it is important to emphasize that methane reduction and productivity are not mutually exclusive; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Dietary manipulation, as a means by which to decrease methane emissions, may also have the attractive quality of improving feed efficiency and animal productivity (Lovett et al., 2003). Protein rich, plant-based supplements are capable of improving milk production and composition, daily weight gain, and feed conversion efficiency (Khan et al., 2015). In other words, with the use of dietary supplements, animals can be brought to their goal weight more quickly while producing higher-quality meat. The inclusion of such methane-inhibiting concentrates has been found to correspond directly with more rapid animal development and increased body weight while potentially reducing enteric methane by up to 40% (Benchaar et. al., 2001, Lovett et al., 2003). The investment in dietary supplements may therefore ultimately result in money saved that would otherwise be spent on longer rearing times to get animals to their goal weight. The inclusion of protein-rich plant concentrates also has the potential to not only decrease enteric methane production but also increase the fat content in milk when included in the diets of dairy cows (Tirado-Estrada et. al., 2018). Integration of protein-dense supplements into the diet may be the most feasible option for increasing productivity while decreasing enteric methane production by dairy and beef cattle. For this reason, dietary supplementation of this sort is considered the most appealing and cost-effective option to motivate farmers to adopt more sustainable practices (Patra, 2010).

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References

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Overuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Leading to Antibiotic Resistance

Vanessa Sheehan – Animal Science

Caley Earls – Natural Resources

Brett Duran – Building Construction Technologies

Industrial livestock farms rely on antibiotics as a growth additive for production (Akoury, 2015).

Antibiotics are very common to come by in the average person’s life. People rely on antibiotics to treat many different bacterial infections that they may contract. But what happens when antibiotics do not work? Many families, including the Wade family, know the horrible answer to that question. Young Brock Wade was a very happy, active, and healthy 9-year-old boy who had gotten hurt while playing outside. He only had a few minor cuts and bruises, but this led to a raging infection that almost took Brock’s life. It began with Brock complaining of a little arm pain, then excruciating arm pain and being unable to sleep. He then lost consciousness that resulted in him being rushed to the hospital. Many tests and false diagnoses later, it was discovered that Brock had contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The infection was so advanced that it had spread to his arm, heart, and lungs. Brock was put on multiple antibiotics in an attempt to kill off the infection, but in the end had to undergo many invasive surgeries during a month-long hospital stay in order to treat the MRSA infection. Luckily for Brock and his family, he did make a full recovery (Bailey-Wade, 2015). Continue Reading

The Poultry Pandemic

Free range laying hens, happily going about their business. (Eat Drink Better 2011).

Free range laying hens, happily going about their business. (Eat Drink Better 2011).

Archana Gopal- Animal Science

Jill Beiermeister- Science

The average American eats 250 shell eggs per year, according to Discovery Education, which means on average, the U.S. eats more than 76.5 billion eggs. However, would you want your eggs to come from chickens who potentially carry bacteria and diseases? Continue Reading

Climate Change

Susan Canty – Animal Science

Jesse Kattany – Environmental Science

Josh Rebello – Building Construction Technology

cow

INTRO

     Right now beef production is responsible for 2.2% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U. S. causing climate change (Gurian-Sherman, 2011). This may seem like an insignificant amount but it equates to the yearly emissions of 24 million cars (Gurian-Sherman, 2011). One single cow produces anywhere from 66 to 132 gallons of methane per day, while a car usually holds about 16 gallons of gas (Ross, 2013). We usually think of climate change as connected with urban technology such as transportation and energy use. The vast majority of people are unaware that our food choices have such a large environmental impact and it is only increasing because of us and our consumption demands. Continue Reading

America’s Poultry Problem

Lead Author: Stephen Lukas, B.S Environmental Science ’17

Contributing Authors: Maximillian Teibel, B.S Turfgrass Management ’17 and Adele De Crespigny, B.S Animal Science ’17

INSIDE THE BEAST: POULTRY FARMING IN MODERN AMERICA

The camera pans to a paper hung on a sheet metal wall that reads a quote by American philosopher Wayne Dryer: “…the highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know about.”  Seconds later, farmer Craig Watts leads the film crew through the entrance of the windowless aviary, behind the iron curtain of Watts’ family “partner” farm of the Perdue Company.  Inside, hundreds of featherless, and sickly bird-like creatures cover the feces-ridden cement floor, barely leaving space for Watts and the crew to enter.  This can only be described as a concentration camp for Gallus gallus domesticus – the domesticated chicken.

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The Effects of Antibiotic use on Livestock Animals, Groundwater and Humans

Julia Hathaway (Environmental Science)4323

Lauren Rae (Animal Science)

Evan Lunetta (Forestry)4323

Have you ever taken a bite out of your favorite food or sipped tap water and thought to yourself, “is this going to make me sick?”  Perhaps poured an ice-cold glass of water from the sink, gulped a refreshing sip and wondered if it could kill you?  Most people would say no.  Unfortunately, in just a short-while, this will no longer be a question we can answer no too.  The New York Times posted an article just a few days ago titled, “Fear, Then Skepticism, Over Antibiotic-Resistant Genes in Beijing Smog,” reporting smog over China containing antibiotic resistant genes. The Times described the smog spreading through the city, “like pathogens in a pandemic disaster movie” (Tatlow, 2016, para. 5). Chinese citizens are scared, especially for their children. The article quoted a young Chinese actress saying she wanted to pick up her 11-month-old daughter and run away because the smog would make it easier for her daughter to become sick (Tatlow, 2016). The most alarming part is the Chinese are so used to their disease ridden air, the antibiotic resistant contaminated air is only of mild concern given their other current environmental hazards (Tatlow, 2016). As alarming as that truth is, the Chinese are not the only people impacted by antibiotic resistant bacteria. The Center for Disease Control stated that antibiotic resistant bacteria now affects 2 million Americans each year and results in 23,000 deaths (CDC, 2016, para. 2).  The CDC estimates by 2050 antibiotic resistance will have killed 10 million people worldwide (Walsh, 2014, para. 1).  Imagine, in just a few more decades as human population reaches an all time high, death by antibiotic resistant bacteria will become even more common than death by cancer and unlike cancer, there is no hope of treatment (Walsh, 2014). Continue Reading

Regulation of Free-Range Systems for Chicken Health and Welfare

Fig 1. Comparison of yolks in eggs produced by grass-fed chickens (left) and grain fed chickens (right). Paige, E. (2009, 13 September). Free range eggs versus confined grain fed eggs. Health Banquet. Retrieved from http://www.healthbanquet.com/free-range-eggs.html)

Fig 1. Comparison of yolks in eggs produced by grass-fed chickens (left) and grain fed chickens (right).
Paige, E. (2009, 13 September). Free range eggs versus confined grain fed eggs. Health Banquet. Retrieved from http://www.healthbanquet.com/free-range-eggs.html)

Un-ideal free-range system 'Survival Gardner'. (2015, 18 August). Free-range eggs versus regular eggs - a scam? Retrieved from http://survivalgardener.com/2015/08/free-range-eggs-vs-regular-eggs-a-scam/

Un-ideal free-range system
‘Survival Gardner’. (2015, 18 August). Free-range eggs versus regular eggs – a scam? Retrieved from http://survivalgardener.com/2015/08/free-range-eggs-vs-regular-eggs-a-scam/

Happy free-range chicken in ideal system Bufkin, M.T. (2015, 28 March). The truth about free range chickens. The Truth About Agriculture. Retrieved from https://thetruthaboutag.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/the-truth-about-free-range-chickens/

Ideal free-range system
Bufkin, M.T. (2015, 28 March). The truth about free range chickens. The Truth About Agriculture. Retrieved from https://thetruthaboutag.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/the-truth-about-free-range-chickens/

Conventional caged system (2015, 23 August). Why the Israelites could eat grasshoppers but not pork: the reason for old testament dietary laws and the huge implication they have for our health today. Wellness in the Word. Retrieved from http://www.wellintheword.com/single-post/2015/08/23/Why-the-Israelites-could-eat-grasshoppers-but-not-pork-The-reason-for-Old-Testament-dietary-laws-and-the-huge-implication-they-have-for-our-health-today

Conventional caged system
(2015, 23 August). Why the Israelites could eat grasshoppers but not pork: the reason for old testament dietary laws and the huge implication they have for our health today. Wellness in the Word. Retrieved from http://www.wellintheword.com/single-post/2015/08/23/Why-the-Israelites-could-eat-grasshoppers-but-not-pork-The-reason-for-Old-Testament-dietary-laws-and-the-huge-implication-they-have-for-our-health-today

Kelly Dalton – Building and Construction Technology

Mackay Eyster – Environmental Science

Jonah Miller – Natural Resources Conservation

Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous illustrators of the ability for individual choice is the number of different products available at a grocery store. Stores contain row after row of bright boxes, innovative packaging, and promotions emphasizing which products are the healthiest or most natural. Each eye-catching box presents a nutrition label, and consumers are expected to use that information, combined with the claims on the boxes and in the aisles, to decide which products are the best for them and their families. There is an ever-growing emphasis on purchasing ethical products, but misleading labeling practices can make it difficult for consumers to effectively make ethical purchasing decisions. Consumers may be presented with eggs labeled “cage-free” or “free-range,” and they may choose to support those products due to the implication that the laying hens were treated better or more humanely than those who produced the unlabeled eggs; unfortunately, this is not always the case. While unlabeled eggs come from hens living in their own individual chicken-sized shoe boxes, eggs with labels such as “free-range” may differ only in that they come from hens living in one collective, slightly-larger shoebox. The latter hens’ shoebox might have a door to the outside, but they may not ever actually go through it. While the latter hens are more able to move around than those in the individual shoeboxes (commonly referred to as battery cages), they often become aggressive and violent towards each other due to the constant forced interaction. Even still, the eggs from the shared shoebox carry a “free-range” label that portrays them as more ethical than those from the conventional systems, and consumers attempting to make ethical choices pay higher prices for free-range eggs under the assumption that they truly are. It should not be a consumer’s responsibility to ensure that provided information is accurate, and producers should not be able to manipulate consumers with misleading information in order to charge a higher price. As such, the matter of empty “free-range” labeling must be addressed. 

Consumers should be able to read labels on products and understand their meaning without being mislead by producers.

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Does antibiotic use on concentrated feed animal operations negatively effect human health?

Drew Fournier, Bacherlor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation

Natalie Boisvert, Bachelor of Science Animal Science

Jim Shea, Bachelor of Science Turf Grass Science and Management

Kevin Calantone, Bachelor of Science in Building Construction Technology

 

An 11 year old perfectly healthy athletic girl named Addie suddenly became sick with a high grade fever and hip pain that refused to subside. Her mother promptly took her to the hospital where they diagnosed her with an antibiotic resistant staphylococcus infection (Pond, 2015). Within twenty-four hours of the diagnoses, she was being kept alive by machines and was declining by the hour (Pond, 2015). Doctors used every known antibiotic and drug to combat the vicious infection however, it was not enough. After suffering from a stroke Addie lost the capability to use her left arm and leg. She also lost vision in her left eye and nearly lost vision in her right eye in addition to losing ⅓ of her body weight (Pond, 2015). This tragedy happened so fast that no one could have foreseen or cured the horrific illness. Addie is not the only victim to suffer from life threatening bacteria and for sure will not be the last. Continue Reading