When it comes to genetics a lot can be accomplished through selective breeding and a knowledge of what is trying to be accomplished.
You need to look no further than the significant differences among breeds of fancy pigeons, cats and dogs, to see what can be accomplished, albeit the process is not necessarily a quick one.
So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when I read about the possibility of breeding cattle to produce less methane.
According to a recent article in the Western Producer, scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia, in collaboration with universities in Europe, Israel and the United States, have conducted research that has shown it is possible to breed cattle to reduce their methane emissions. The genetic makeup of an individual cow significantly controls the level and type of methane-producing microbes in its rumen.
One has to applaud the approach as being one that addresses a source of greenhouse emissions in a reasonable fashion.
But, we also shouldn’t be pointing to accusing a finger at cattle as the problem when it comes to greenhouse gases.
When European settlers arrived in North America there were massive herds of bison roaming the Prairies, the herds numbering an estimated at 30-60 million in the late 18th century, depending on the source, and of course no one was taking head counts. But, around the world there were once far more wild ruminants producing methane than there are today.
Domestic cattle herds have taken over as wild populations of bison, wildebeest and other wild ruminants around the world declined in numbers.
That is not to suggest we shouldn’t look to ways of reducing the methane domestic cattle produce, and the two most logical approaches would be to find genetic lines which naturally produce less of the gas, and to work on feed formulations which would reduce less gas when consumed.
Certainly greenhouse gas emissions from every source need to be looked at.
While there are those who see climate change as no more than a horror story being told to keep people focused on it rather than other ills of the world, and others who suggest the changes are just the natural processes of the planet at work, it seems folly not to work on limiting the human dynamic of the equation.
There might be an added cost to raising cattle which produce less methane gas, but there is also value in slowing climate change that could turn currently arable land into unproductive areas which in terms of feeding a still growing world population is not a good thing.
Calvin Daniels is Editor at Yorkton This Week.