Hamilton

This Ontario farmer says he's cutting emissions one cow belch at a time

On a cold winter’s day, the brown and white cattle munching on hay in the pasture stare, moo and poop like any other. But it’s their burps that make them special, says Dave Braden, a small beef farmer in Puslinch, Ont., between Hamilton and Guelph. 

Dave Braden says he's bred his cattle to need less food and therefore emit less methane

man stands in field with cows behind him
Dave Braden has 26 beef cattle graze on hay and grass on his Puslinch, Ont., farm, just outside of Hamilton. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

On a cold winter's day, the brown and white cattle munching on hay in the pasture stare, moo and poop like any other. 

But it's their burps that make them special, says Dave Braden, a small beef farmer in Puslinch, Ont., between Hamilton and Guelph. 

They're cattle bred to eat about 10 per cent less feed and therefore produce about 10 per cent less methane than the average bovine, he said. That means every time they belch, they're emitting less of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. 

"They look the same, and they act the same, but they're just more efficient," Braden said. 

Watch: Farmer explains why he's striving for more efficient cattle

Ontario beef farmer says his cows burp less methane, are better for environment

3 months ago
Duration 1:05
Dave Braden is a small beef farmer outside of Hamilton who is breeding cattle to emit less methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and be among the most efficient in Canada.

The former Hamilton city councillor, who represented Flamborough in the early 2000s, said he's been "hooked" on efficiency for decades — he started with building an environmentally friendly home — and is now striving for his 26-animal herd to be among the most efficient, and lowest emitting, in Canada.

Not all of his animals eat 10 per cent less, but he's hoping to get there in about four years, he said. He purchases semen from a farmer in Alberta, whose bulls are among the most efficient Braden said he's ever encountered. Over time, each generation of his cattle become more and more efficient.

Braden's environmental passions started in the early 1970s with building energy efficient homes, including his own and then extending to livestock when he bought his first cow. 

Initially, Braden said he focused on breeding horned Hereford cows and bulls that would thrive on a free-range, grass-only diet. That means no grain, feedlots or machinery, lowering Braden's overall fossil fuel footprint, he said.

Braden took it a step further about 20 years ago, when he began breeding his cattle to be the efficient bovine they are today, he said. 

"I care about the environment a lot and I do like doing things a bit different," Braden said. 

"I get a bit of a charge out of trying new things that aren't in the book. This makes me feel like I'm looking after the land well and producing a good product." 

Breeding one part of reducing cattle emissions

Methane is a "potent" greenhouse gas that's responsible for 30 per cent of global warming, says the federal government's website. Nearly 30 per cent of Canada's methane emissions come from the agricultural sector. 

Cattle are responsible for 86 per cent of the sector's methane, which they burp out as they digest food. Some methane is also released from manure. 

The beef industry has made strides, lowering its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent between 2014 and 2021, according to a new report by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. 

That helps toward meeting the global pledge of reducing methane emissions by 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030 — a pledge Canada supported in 2021. 

A cow
The horned Hereford cattle thrive on a grass-only diet, Braden says. (Samantha Beattie/CBC)

Farmers have adopted a range of strategies to lower their emissions from changing what they feed cattle to how they grow their food, said Ghader Manafiazar, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University who specializes in beef production and management. 

For example, he's investigating if adding kelp to dairy and beef cows' diets reduces the amount of methane they naturally produce. 

Breeding cattle for efficiency, like Braden is doing, is an important aspect of reducing emissions, said Manafiazar.

He noted that beef cattle today are about 30 per cent more efficient than 20 years ago for this reason. 

"The breeding approach is cumulative and permanent," Manafiazar said. "Every year we are improving a little bit."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Beattie is a reporter for CBC Hamilton. She has also worked for CBC Toronto and as a Senior Reporter at HuffPost Canada. Before that, she dived into local politics as a Toronto Star reporter covering city hall.

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