On New Zealand farms, scientists cut down cow burps to save world

More than a dozen calves wait at an experimental farm in New Zealand to be fed Kowbucha, a probiotic that studies show reduces burps or methane emissions.


Kowbucha powder is mixed with a milk-like drink that is fed to calves at the Massey University farm in Palmerston North.

Regular feeds are part of a series of tests performed by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra since 2021 to assess the effectiveness of probiotics is in reducing methane emissions. New Zealand is committed to reducing biogenic methane emissions by 10% below 2017 levels by 2030 and by as much as 47% by 2050.

The “real eureka moment” came when the first tests suggested that calves emit as much as 20% less methane when they receive the probiotic supplement, said Shalome Bassett, the principal scientist at Fonterra Research and Development Centre.

“Probiotics are amazing because they are a truly natural solution,” Bassett told Reuters. ‘Whatever we do, it should be something that is easy for the farmer to use, should be profitable, and we need to make sure it’s good for the cow and has no impact on the milk.”

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The trials in progress have shown similar and promising results, she said. If this goes on, Fonterra hopes to have Kowbucha sachets in stores by the end of 2024, Bassett said, before farmers have to start paying for the burps.

Fonterra said he had no pricing information for the bags yet.

Certain food additives available internationally have been found to be more effective. Royal DSM’s Bovaer food additive can reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent in dairy cows and more in beef cattle.

Fonterra said Kowbucha likely provides an easier solution generally, as farmers only have to feed calves when they are raised, considering that its impact should be lasting.

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