Getting around the cow-burp problem

Yesterday evening, we dined on free, ethical and carbon friendly meat, when a wood pigeon flew straight at one of our windows and with a loud bang crashed into our garden, with a broken neck. Last Autumn, the first one flew into a neighbours tree and plummeted into a flower bed. Now it just so happens that pigeon breast is one of my favourite foods so it was double bonus. Whether and indeed how our garden is turning into some sort of pigeon Bermuda Triangle I don’t know, but I’m not complaining.

While there are a lot of wood pigeons in Britain, 2.7 million according to the BTO, I am not suggesting the whole population can convert to eating pigeon. But it did get me thinking, about free and/or low- carbon meat.

One of the big arguments against eating meat from ruminants like cattle and sheep is that as they digest the fodder they’ve consumed, they release methane in burps and farts. And methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Of course if the vast amounts of methane trapped in permafrost and under the sea as methane hydrates, are released as the Arctic warms, methane from ruminants will pale into insignificance. But for now, cow burps are a big issue.

And this is a problem for people like us promoting the value of cows and sheep living outdoors grazing on grassland with more than just rye-grass in the fields, as opposed to living in sheds eating maize silage and processed wheat.

So, if we’re not all going to go vegetarian (which would be a disaster for grasslands all over the world) how about eating meat from animals that are not ruminants? Wood pigeon is one – though as they fly it’s a bit tricky to keep them on your farm. What about rabbit? It’s another tasty low-carbon meat, no rabbit-burps to worry about. Rabbits also happily live on grasslands full of wildlife.

After the Normans introduced them as a luxury food item and for their pelts, rabbit farming (in warrens) was for centuries a significant part of the rural economy. It took many centuries but eventually they became established in the wild.  They were seen as a problem by landowners, but provided free food for the rural poor. Myxomatosis put paid to that. But perhaps their time has come again?

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About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
This entry was posted in agriculture, biodiversity, carbon storage, climate change, Ecosystem services, farming, grasslands, grazing, Miles King and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Getting around the cow-burp problem

  1. Tony Morton says:

    We should certainly be making more use of the enormous deer population in the countryside. Here in the east of England, Essex Wildlife Trust has carried out surveys for the last two years on the impact that deer are having on rare and declining woodland wild flowers. Deer numbers are far in excess of a level where levels of damage are acceptable, we find flowers like the Oxlip reduced by factors of ten from surveys in the 1970s, and there is no regeneration in woodlands from tree seedlings or from coppice where anyone still tries to do that, all the shoots are eaten off and the coppice stool dies. Is it any co-incidence that wildflowers on roadsides have also declined so much? Farmers with arable fields next to woods report a noticable reduction in the yield from their crops due to deer browsing, and only a few days ago I saw a herd of 40 Fallow standing in the middle of a field of wheat in braod daylight. With no natural predators the Deer Iniative are estimating an annual population growth of 25%. The local demand for venison is growing, the suppliers cannot keep up with demand, the limiting factor is getting the landowners to carry out deer control at effective levels. Something to think about.

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