Holistic Management of Methane

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

There are many different approaches to livestock and to ecosystem management - this paper looks at one of them


An Exploration of Methane and Properly Managed Livestock through Holistic Management

What is the problem?

Concerns about methane emissions from conventional livestock production has been much publicised.

What did the research involve?

Questions about livestock and methane are frequently posed in discussions of Holistic Management and the use of domestic livestock for eco-restoration and as food sources. This paper offers an overview of methane as a greenhouse gas and examines the dynamic of methane in the carbon cycle and the role of livestock.

What were the key findings?

Methane is a powerful short-lived greenhouse gas (a single molecule lasts in the atmosphere from 9 to 15 years) that is approximately 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time span. The most important methane sink is the lower atmosphere where it is oxidized into carbon dioxide and water. But soils are also a significant sink, capturing approximately 10% of methane emissions.

Domestic ruminants – cattle, sheep, goats, etc. – emit methane as a result of bacterial digestion of cellulose in the rumen, that is, the first of their multiple stomachs. Their methane emissions vary with size, breed and feed, but for beef and dairy cattle are in the range of 164 to 345 mg per day.

Healthy, well-aerated soils – a characteristic quality of grasslands under Holistic Planned Grazing – harbor bacteria called methanotrophs, which break down methane. Soil-based decomposition of methane may be equal to or greater than ruminant methane production, depending on animal den sity, soil type and soil health.

Despite large populations of grazing animals worldwide before the introduction of agriculture, atmospheric methane concentrations cycled between approximately 350 and 750 ppb, but did not increase beyond that concentration.


Final comment

Holistic Planned Grazing is a fundamentally different approach to livestock and to ecosystem management, in which livestock production is only one element of the process.

Whereas conventional livestock production manipulates pieces of the ecosystem in an effort to maximize production and profits, thereby leading to the complication and expense of dealing with unintended consequences.

Holistic Planned Grazing strives to put all of the pieces back together and relies on nature’s millions of years of experience with the grazer-grassland environment to balance the whole.

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