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All Tomorrow’s Bovines: The Science of Creating a Climate-Friendly Cow and Why Your Stupid Vegan Friends Might Be Right After All

This awesome artwork is courtesy of Illustrator Brad Alston. http://www.sharkseatingpeople.com.  @sharkseatingpix

This awesome artwork is courtesy of Illustrator Brad Alston. www.sharkseatingpeople.com  @sharkseatingpix

RISING ABOVE a grove of oak trees, the sun peeks through the morning mist to shine down on Willamette Valley’s Lochmead dairy farm and the serenity of its dew-covered, emerald fields.

The smell, as they say, is something else.

Manure from roughly 1,100 cows is being “flushed” from the animals’ homes. The shit sloshes down a long, thin canal—a steadily flowing stream of cocoa-colored slurry—until it arrives in a large concrete pit just past the thick rubber knee-high boots of 72-year-old Jock Gibson, the farm’s co-owner. I’m standing next to him, wearing sneakers and regretting my choice of footwear.

Gibson, whose family has farmed here since 1941, seems inured to the smell. I’m not. The odor bullies all other smells from my nostrils, causing a burning sensation behind my eyeballs. It feels like my optic nerve is being repeatedly plucked like a ukulele at a luau. But I’m not here because of the stench wafting off all this crap. I’m here because of what I can’t smell. I’m interested in a powerful—and odorless—greenhouse gas called methane.

Methane is second only to carbon dioxide as the leading cause of human-made climate change. And, although it emanates from sources as wide ranging as rice paddies, landfills, and melting arctic permafrost (not nearly as “perma” as we might hope), it’s livestock—sheep, cattle, and dairy cows mostly—that make up the planet’s single largest human-related source of methane. And, per animal, dairy’s methane far outpaces the meat industry’s footprint. As a lover of dairy, I find this disturbing. Luckily, there are smart folks on the case.

One of the solutions might be found here on Jock Gibson’s farm, in the river of poop flowing into the pit. (More on that later.) Elsewhere, a handful of intrepid researchers are working diligently to unravel a scientific Gordian knot: how to make a climate-friendlier cow. They’ve discovered our planet’s fate might just depend on investigating—no kidding—shit and burps. Our story—which is literally as dark and mysterious as the inside of a cow—begins at her mouth and ends with her backside. Like a Saturday night turned sour, our odyssey starts with some innocent grass and ends with us mired in crap, seemingly at our wits’ and world’s end.

Read the Full Article at The Portland Mercury.