Reducing methane in cow burps in the short term

“Feeding cows seaweed may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelming impact of global greenhouse gas emissions. Not so … The reality is that we are at a point on climate change where we have to throw all this spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.”

Sarah Ann Smith, Director of the Super-pollutants (meaning methane) program at the US-based Clean Air Task Force.

Ok, back to reality…

In our last article, we touched on the intersection of several issues relating to beef production, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the gaps between the public perception of the industry and reality. While there are a lot of moving parts, a quick recap includes:

So, while everyone has to eat, and although Canada and Canadian Beef account for a very small portion of GHG emissions, it is important that we all play our part in reducing the environmental footprint of beef while still doin’ what Alberta does best… servin’ up safe, delicious, nutritious, and sustainable Alberta beef.

As Gentec Head of Beef Operations John Basarab previously stated, there are several ways progress can be made towards achieving these objectives, with each one delivering results on differing time horizons. And while all three can be initiated simultaneously, today, we focus on those that can have an impact relatively quickly. These include altered feeding regimes, the inclusion of feed supplements, and practices that reduce the time to harvest.

For an update on these, we turn to one of Gentec’s supporting pillars, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC livestock specialists, including Dr. Karen Beauchemin, working out of the Lethbridge Research Centre, are pursuing several strategies to reduce the GHG impacts of livestock, with much of the work looking at ways to reduce methane emissions. Methane alone accounts for roughly 50% of total GHG produced on a typical beef or dairy operation.

The good news is that AAFC research has identified multiple ways of reducing methane in the immediate term. Many focus on changes to cattle feed or supplementation regimes. And if one believes that “many hands make light work” then the challenge may not be as insurmountable as initially thought. Many big names in the industry are working hard to realize gains in protecting our environment:

  • DSM produces a supplement called BovaerÒ that may reduce methane emission from dairy cattle by up to 45%.
  • Mootral, a garlic / citric supplement, has shown reduced methane emission by a similar amount. Closer to home, Lakeland College (Gentec alumnus Obi Duranna) is investigating the impact of garlic feed-supplementation on methane production.
  • Tim Horton’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, is involved in research showing that adding lemongrass to cattle diets can reduce methane by about 1/3.
  • Other big names looking for ways to reduce GHG emissions of beef include Alltech, Syngenta and Cargill.
  • Seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis, has some of the most studies and significant reductions in methane production when used as a feed supplement – estimated to be 82% or even higher (99%) under specialized conditions.

More and more work is also being done directly by producers and their representative organizations. Gentec collaborator, Lakeland Agricultural Research Association’s (LARA) Forage and Livestock Program Manager, Megan Wanchuk, points out that:

“LARA has evaluated the yield and nutritional value of alternative feeds (chicory and plantain), which studies have shown to reduce the environmental impact of cattle through decreased rumen ammonia production and reduced urine nitrogen. We are evaluating yield and quality of different cover crop blends for silage or grazing to find an alternative to cereal monocrops that can improve soil health and reduce the amount of fertilizer required. And we’re always looking for opportunities to explore ways to improve the operational efficiency and environmental impact of our members.”

Immediate gains are also beginning to arrive from a source previously viewed as offering benefit only over the much longer term. AAFC has noted that significant gains in efficiency and GHG emissions can be achieved by improving the reproductive performance of cows in a way that reduces the need for replacement heifers.

Gentec-developed EnVigour HXTM, the genomic tool to calculate breed composition and hybrid vigour, also forms the foundation of Gentec’s 2nd generation of products, including the Replacement Heifer Profit IndexTM score. The RHPI combines hybrid vigour with several traits of critical economic importance to beef cow/calf producers, allowing them to better select “genomically” for fertility, longevity, and lifetime productivity. See the case study (scroll manually to page 13) and follow up article in The Blade (scroll manually to page 20)


















At the Grill with William Torres: Beef, creating memories ever since carnivores have been around

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about the best cuts for BBQ season and the pleasures that go with them.

With the May long weekend out of the way, this signals the start of BBQ season.

Let’s talk about our favorite cuts of beef to grill or what to order when dining out. Some of ya’ll might opt for the easy burgers and all-beef hot dogs so I’ll quickly cover those as well. Since there are many options, I’ll give you some of my go-to recipes and cuts, plus what’s available out there for you.

Let’s start with burgers. There are so many options but my favorites are The Keg’s prime rib burgers available at Costco, I really like these for their juiciness, thickness, and seasoning. Costco also offers Angus burgers, which is another good, juicy and flavourful choice. Another option is President’s Choice sirloin burgers from Superstore. We usually buy cheese buns, and top them off with fresh tomatoes, onions, and lettuce.

On the wiener side, if you’re a fan of the $1.50 hot dog at Costco, then their Kirkland signature all-beef wieners are for you (and me, lol). A triple pack of 12 runs about $22.29.

Now onto the real memory-creating moments. Remember, there is no “chicken fork”—but there IS a “steak knife”!

My top five steaks in ascending order are:

  • Skirt steak: although not my top choice for steak-eating alone, it is the #1 choice for fajitas. Side note, fajitas is the Spanish word for little skirts, hence “skirt steak”. Chickens don’t have a skirt cut so there is no such thing as chicken fajitas. Now you know. Thin-slicing and marinating this cut with an acid-like citrus juice to help breakdown the fibers makes for easy grilling and prevents that tough chew when you take a bite of those delicious tacos.
  • NY strip: A strip steak is the half of a porterhouse or T-bone without the filet mignon. Cut from a little-used muscle on the loin, this steak is particularly tender—though less so than the filet mignon or ribeye. It carries a nice richness due to its marbling. A New York strip will have a thicker fat cap around the meat, which is helpful for retaining juices during the cooking process. You may not want to chew through this thick fat but it will be a boon during the cooking process.
  • T-bone steak: A T-bone is probably one of the most recognizable steaks due to the t-shape of the bone and meat. T-bones offer the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you’ll get a lean filet. On the other, you’ll have a marbled strip loin with plenty of flavour. This cut is like the porterhouse steak we will discuss next but without the fullness on the filet side. T-bones can be a great cut to share for those who like a little bit of everything in their meats.
  • Porterhouse steak: As I said, a porterhouse is a bone-in short-loin steak like a T-bone but with a heftier portion of tenderloin filet than the T-bone can offer. It’s one of the best cuts you’ll find in a steakhouse. Due to the size of the cut, a porterhouse steak is generally featured as an option for two guests or for sharing with the table. Porterhouse can be temperamental and delicate so be sure to cook it on the grill or in a big, high-quality searing pan deep enough to allow the juices (I always use butter, quartered garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs) to simmer in the pan while your meat is searing. Tilt the pan every so often and spoon the juices over the top of the steak to soak in all the flavours.
  • Bone-in ribeye: In my opinion, this cut is the “BEST” cut of all steaks. All bones are full of a substance called marrow. In steaks, marrow comes in two forms: red marrow and yellow marrow.The yellow marrow in steak bones is positively delicious. Cowboys used to call this prairie butter, and it’s one of the most underused, underappreciated ingredients out there. When you cook your steak, the yellow marrow seeps through the bone and into your meat to give it a smoother, buttery flavour.

Side note, a Tomahawk is a bone-in ribeye with at least five inches of rib bone left intact. The higher price comes from the added prep-time in butchering this cut. So, bone-in ribeye for me it is.

How to grill and for how long is your choice. I prefer medium to medium-well. If you cook your steaks well-done, please unfriend me and unsubscribe from this newsletter. 😊

Bon appetit!