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OSU scientists studying cattle feeding methods

“... Research has found grain-finished beef has a lower carbon footprint, less methane release, than grass-fed beef because of cattle’s more efficient utilization of feed in the finishing phase.”
SARA PLACE
OSU ANIMAL SCIENTIST

Much is being said these days about greenhouse emissions, the release of methane gases, and carbon footprints as the global warming controversy continues.

Oklahoma State University animal scientists have been studying what, if any, effect different methods of finishing, the final feeding stage before slaughter, has on those topics.

All four-stomached animals, sometimes called ungulates from their split hooves, go through complex digestion processes after eating. At one stage, in order to conduct the digestion process, they must belch gases through their mouths. The gas is methane, known to be a major contributor to greenhouse emissions that can be trapped in the atmosphere above the earth, causing a warming of the earth's atmosphere.

How much cattle contribute to greenhouse emissions and, ultimately, global warming, has been argued for decades. Some states, like California, have recently enacted legislation changing or limiting the way cattle are managed so as to reduce the amount of methane they release.

The greatest amount of methane released usually comes from concentrations of the animals in large dairies and feedlots. How much cattle contribute to world greenhouse emissions has been controversial for a long time, with scientists on both sides of the issue making claims and counterclaims.

Sustainable cattle production, in which cattle are grazed on grass, has been promoted for some time with the claim those animals are not fed hot grain diets. Proponents of this idea say such cattle production is superior to the more typical feedlot finishing of cattle before slaughter.

OSU animal scientists, led by Sara Place, have been comparing the differences of grazing cattle on pasture and feedlot feeding.

Their research has found grain-finished beef has a lower carbon footprint, less methane release, than grass-fed beef because of cattle's more efficient utilization of feed in the finishing phase, she said. Fewer days on feed provides a greater amount of beef produced per animal.

Grass-fed beef contributes to sustainable beef production by utilizing forage resources to produce food from plants largely inedible by humans, she said.

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