Do Cow Farts Contribute to Global Warming?

  • Article
  • April 29, 2015

We won’t lie, when the topic of cow farts came across our desks, it led to a few smirks and raised eyebrows, but we all agreed with the underlying topic. The heart of the matter – caring for the environment – matters to all of us, and we know it matters to you, too.

We reached out to Juan Tricarico, Ph. D., who is the director of the Cow of the Future project at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and asked him to set us straight. Here’s what we found:

First and foremost, Tricarico said cows release 97 percent of all methane gas by burping rather than farting. Unlike people, cows burp without a sound. While it’s true that the methane in cow burps is the greatest contributor to dairy’s carbon footprint, we asked how much that adds up in the scheme of things.

Tricarico said that the carbon footprint of the U.S. dairy industry – from farm to table -- is approximately 2 percent. For reference, according to the EPA, when it comes to the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions, more than 30 percent comes from electricity production, nearly 30 percent from transportation and the rest comes from other sources. 

Regardless of its individual contribution, each and every day dairy farms and companies work to find ways to bring that number down even more. For example, the Cow of the Future project brings together farmers and researchers to identify science-based opportunities to reduce enteric emissions in ways that are economically viable and socially acceptable. They are focusing on improving dairy cow nutrition, genetics and health.