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Volume 15, Issue 25 ~ June 21 - June 27, 2007

The Cow Jumped Over the Moon

That’s not so far out as this convoluted tale of cows and global warming

For anything that goes wrong or fails to meet expectations, more than one scapegoat emerges.

–Old Yankee saying

I see by the Wall Street Journal the latest scapegoat in the global warming issue is the humble moo-cow, which in a way could be expected. Cows get more than their share of blame for various woes and reasons.

Wasn’t it Mrs. O’Leary’s cow that kicked over the lantern that started the Great Chicago Fire?

When tuberculosis was common, wasn’t it the milk of the cow that was blamed? (I endured TB as a kid, but laid blame on the farmer.)

Isn’t whole cow’s milk being blamed for obesity in kids? The healthy choice now is to take all but two percent of the fat out — if not all of it. Some new mothers, their babies (or doctors) disdain cow’s milk in favor of much more pricey formulas.

Dairy farmers across the country are following the passenger pigeon into oblivion, and not all because their farms are good sites for development, or because profits, if any, are slim. Cows have this curious thing; they want to be milked before sunrise and in late day, 365 days a year, rain or shine, zero or one hundred degrees, holidays or when the farmer needs a vacation. They’re not like a cat, which can take care of itself and no one need clean up after it.

Of Cats, Cows and Cream

In my young days, we didn’t buy commercial cat food; cats thrived on milk and table scraps. On the farm, the milk came straight from the cow, warm and sometimes squeezed directly from the nozzle to barn cats, who knew when milking time arrived.

Cats Zelda and Karla in my home up here in North County won’t touch a bowl of milk, warm or cold. Our vet, Bob Etter, says milk can cause stomach woes. Is cats-and-cream really a myth?

And what’s with cows. Are they really villains? Hey, they provide the main ingredient for butter pecan ice cream.

Taste the milk of a goat, and you’ll really appreciate the milk of a cow. When I was a child, goat’s milk was what I had to drink; by comparison cod liver oil was a treat. But Mother and Dr. Potter insisted I drink it. Nor did cottage cheese, one of my favorites, come via a cow. The cottage cheese made for me on occasion from goat’s milk wasn’t much better than the liquid version.

Also, might I add on behalf of bovines, that you get less kicking when you milk a cow than a goat; most cows get fed when being milked. They’re probably tired of carrying a gallon or more fluid in their udders, and they’re much more docile than most nanny goats.

I know a lady who is allergic to cows’ milk and can’t stand the milk of goat or soybean. But her dietary needs dictate cereal in the morning, so she pours orange juice on it. I wish mother had thought of that, but one didn’t see orange juice on the table back in the Great Depression.

Think of what a trip to the market would be like if it weren’t for the humble cow. Less choice in beef, cheeses, yogurt — and what about creamed soups and chowders? Also, whipped cream to top off a dessert. The phony aerated or frozen variety usually melts away before you get a chance to down it.

The Wrong End of the Cow

Yet in the issue of global warming, the cow is emerging as one of the biggest scapegoats of all.

According to the Journal and scientists it contacted, decomposing manure produces methane, a greenhouse gas that, ton for ton, is 21 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

We’re also told that methane accounts for 16 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. That’s appreciable, though not when compared with CO2 (from autos and other emissions), which accounts for 75 percent of the earth’s total.

An average cow of 1,329 pounds produces about 1,329 pounds of manure a day. (I believe it; as a 13-year-old, I had to shovel the stuff morning and evening for 121⁄2 cents an hour for a neighboring dairyman.) Of that, 11 pounds are volatile solids.

The methane produced from the manure of that 1,329-pound cow is equal in the long run to five tons of CO2, comparable to the typical auto at 20 miles a gallon being driven 12,000 miles a year.

Nothing the cow can do about it; when you gotta go, you go, and cows are fed to capacity because the better the feeding, the more milk produced.

A Cow Pie of a Scheme

In Columbus, Ohio, a company by the name of American Electric Power is planning to get richer via the dung of the cow in a convoluted scheme the likes of which could be responsible for much of the scoffing at the subject — or at least why much of the citizenry doesn’t take the issue seriously.

American Electric Power gets into the act big time, not because it has found a way to make cow flops energy producing, which would be quite an accomplishment in the fight against global warming as well as the water quality of the Chesapeake and countless waterways on this globe. Now we’re entering the quagmire of global politics.

In the fight against global warming, credits are given to companies that help reduce global warming. AEP burns coal to generate electricity, translating into 145 million tons of carbon monoxide a year, tops in the nation. As I understand it, it would cost AEP a fortune to upgrade its facilities to meet current standards. But more than a few things can be made less expensively by obtaining credits — and that’s too complicated to fathom.

AEP has turned to cows, not for milk, but to gain credits. Its plan is to pay a middleman to cover with plastic tarps the lagoons where rotting manure sends methane into the atmosphere among the greenhouse gases. Under the tarps, the methane gas would be captured and diverted to flares where it is burned. The bottom line: Less harmful emissions.

Dung-Done Deal

Who and what come next in the scapegoat parade? Pigs? Chickens? Farmers? Hair sprays have cleaned up their act a bit, SUVs haven’t, nor have many power plants. I dare say that if AEP used the money it plans to spend to buy credits to instead clean up its coal-burning facilities, it would do more in the fight against global warming than it would to put diapers on all the cows in Ohio.

But it appears the deal will go through. Two hundred farms of about 2,000 cows each are predicted to sign up in the dung-done deal. In my ex-farmer’s way of thinking, we should be thankful AEP’s planning doesn’t include any mention of getting rid of cows in the first place. Enough said.

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