After three and a half years of mucking around Florida cow pastures, veterinary entomologist Philip Kaufman has collected 62,320 dung beetles. That comes to about 60 beetles a day, if you’re counting. What’s the secret to his beetle-catching success? The New York Times Green Blog has got the scooper—erh, scoop:
He collected fresh dung with an ice cream scooper, then packed it into small pouches that he froze in his lab. He set up pit fall traps, or mesh-covered funnels partly buried underground that were baited with the thawed dung balls. Positioned at a slant, the mesh encouraged beetles to fall into a bit of PVC pipe from which they could not escape. After placing the traps, he would return within 24 hours to investigate the day’s catch.
Squatting around cowpats paid off: Kaufman’s research on the diversity dung beetles has just been published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. He isn’t the only one with an affinity for dung beetles though. The little critters actually do a lot of a farm’s clean-up work, eating through the dung that can quickly pile up when a single cow produces 82 lbs of manure a day. Cow farmers have been asking Kaufman for dung beetles to stock their farms.
Read more about the fascinating world of dung beetles at the Times.
Image via Flickr / mbarrison
If you thought a cow was good only for its milk and meat, then we’d have you know that somewhere between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, there is an Amtrak train chugging along on moo-power.
Amtrak is currently running its Heartland Flyer train on a mix of traditional diesel fuel and biodiesel produced from cow products, in an experiment that Amtrak argues could make railroads more eco-friendly.
The Heartland Flyer uses about 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year to move 84,000 people. For this one-year test run, Amtrak will replace 20 percent of that fuel with biodiesel, produced from tallow from Texas cows. The fat from the cattle, which is normally used to make animal feed and soap, will now instead help power a train.
Some people play Mozart to unborn babies in hopes of increasing their brain power, or talk to their plants in hopes of making them grow faster, so will subjecting cows to hours of video footage of the verdant Swiss Alps make them more productive?
Well, we don’t know yet. But a Russian farmer has invested the time and the LCD TV’s to find out.
News reports indicate that the farmer has rigged one side of his shed with 40-inch LCD TVs so that one row of cows can watch footage of the Swiss Alps, where the grass is green and the skies are blue. The cows on the other side are afforded no such diversion.
The farmer is monitoring his cattle to see if the TV-watching cows are more “happy and productive.”
TV is great, but you know what might be even greater? Letting the cows out of the shed once in a while to let them get a taste of the real green stuff.
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The rocky economy has led some beef ranches to downsize not just their acreage, but the cows themselves. Minicows, which are shorter and more compact than more standard breeds, produce one-half to three-quarters of the meat of regular-sized cows, but consume less than half of the feed eaten by standard-sized bovines.
These cows aren’t genetically engineered—instead, they’re the offspring of a breed that was popular in the 1800s, before feed became cheap in the mid-twentieth century. Today, farmers once again want more beef for their bucks spent on feed, and so they’re increasingly investing in the minicows, which originally came to the U.S. from Europe.
These mini-mooers might also be more environmentally friendly than bigger bovines. Fans say they produce less methane, a gas linked to global warming. And because they eat less, they help keep grazing fields greener and healthier.
Anyone else craving sliders?
Image: flickr/Thunderchild tm
In the ever-tightening race for soft drinks to win the taste buds of the masses, the competition might soon come from cow urine—in India, at least.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group, is currently developing a soft drink made from cow urine that will be called “gau jal,” which is Sanskrit for “cow water.” A flavor for the beverage hasn’t yet been determined, but the head of the Cow Protection Department, which has overseen most of the planning, has assured us that “it won’t smell like urine and will be tasty too.”
Cows are considered holy in India, and their urine is believed by many to have medicinal properties. Some Hindu groups, including RSS, say cow urine can cure illnesses including liver disease, obesity, and cancer, and it is sometimes drunk during religious festivals.
One can only speculate whether cows have a preference for names like Princess or Lady. But according to a new study, pretty much any name is better than none at all.
When British scientists asked 516 U.K. dairy farmers, half of whom had named their cows, the other half of whom hadn’t, about how much milk their animals were producing, they found that the cows with names produced more milk—a whopping 500 pints more a year, in fact. That’s an extra 6,800 gallons per year at a typical farm!
The reason for the significant increase, according to Catherine Douglas of Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, is that calling cows by name, and thereby presumably giving them personal attention, cuts their level of cortisol, a stress hormone that inhibits milk production.
As we’ve mentioned before, about 18 percent of methane from human activities is generated in the guts of livestock. As such, cow belching, which is how much of this potent greenhouse gas sees the light of day, has become an important environmental concern. In an effort to make cows less gassy, scientists have tried everything from transferring special methane-reducing bacteria from kangaroo guts into cow guts, to garlic supplements, to promoting a switch to kangaroo-burgers.
But no one wants to be in the field measuring cow burps. Now a team of scientists from New Zealand have a designed a model cow to study the issue in the lab. In fact, they’ve built a whole herd of virtual cows, named Myrtle, Buttercup, Jesse, Ethel, Daisy and Boris. Each consists of a system of tubes, pumps, jars, monitors, and blinking lights which simulate the entire bovine digestive system.
As News 3 reports: