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Cows: The Surprising Heroes in the Battle Against Climate Change

Cows as climate carers: Biodynamic agriculture's perspective on methane emissions

Published on December 21, 2023

Cows emit a gas called methane, which has an impact on the climate. However, it is possible to mitigate this impact by adopting biodynamic agriculture practices. By carefully managing what cows eat, how they are kept, and encouraging natural cycles, cows can be transformed from contributors to climate change to caretakers of the land and the climate.

“Whether cows do damage to the climate or whether they are carers of the land depends also on our views and actions,” writes Lukas Maschek, research assistant in the Section for Agriculture at the Goetheanum, in the magazine ‘Fonds Goetheanum’ on the topic of Cow and Climate, adding that “they can only become climate killers when people instrumentalize them as that.” A bold statement?

Ruminants produce methane during their digestive process, which is one of the gases that affects the climate. However, if we consider the entire impact cycle, a more nuanced picture emerges. Biodynamics, as a circular agriculture approach, aims to minimize waste. This means that harvesting and processing residues are transformed into animal feed, and cow dung is used as a fertilizer for pastures. When cow dung is utilized in this way, it becomes a habitat for microorganisms and insects, which serve as food for amphibians, reptiles, bats, and birds. Moreover, cow dung promotes the diversity of living organisms in the soil by contributing to the formation of humus.

In addition, humus-rich soil helps sequester carbon dioxide and increases water retention. Both have a positive effect on the climate and extreme weather conditions. Grazing and mowing also stimulate root growth: grass grows fine, and deep roots absorb carbon dioxide from the environment.

If animals are kept in accordance with soil capacity, the methane emitted becomes part of a positive spiral. Over the years, methane is converted into carbon dioxide, which is absorbed by healthy soils and plants. This process maintains and supports soil fertility.

Environmental Reporter