New Zealand has 10 million cows and 31 million sheep – That’s 7 sheep for every person (it used to be 20 sheep per person!), or to use the official unit of measurement: a crap-load of farm animals for one little country.
Cumulatively, New Zealand’s crap-load of farm animals belch up quite a bit of gas. In fact so much, that they are New Zealand’s primary contributors of greenhouse gas.
This flatulent problem sparked debate in parliament a few years ago, as to whether we should introduce a “fart tax”. This would have put money into research to counter these gas emissions – what with climate change and all that. Farmers, who stood up and protested in true farmer fashion, did not meet this proposal kindly. – Mud was thrown at politicians, and one opposition MP drove his tractor up the steps of parliament (I wonder if he drove it all the way from his farm into central Wellington?). So the lawmakers clearly got the message that a fart tax would not fly in New Zealand, and they scrapped the bill.
But did you ever wonder why cows are so gassy?
Well it’s because of the way their digestive system works. The tough cellulose that lines each grass cell is very difficult to break down into bits that can be digested. That’s why humans can’t eat grass.
But cows and sheep have “4 stomachs” (really, this is one stomach, with 4 compartments) which contain rumen bacteria – this is why cows and sheep are known as rumens.
The grass is partially digested in the first compartment before it is regurgitated back up and chewed again. Mmm. This regurgitated grass is also called cud, hence the term ‘chewing the cud’.
Once the cud is well mixed with saliva, it passes through to the rest of the stomachs where it is fermented by the rumen bacteria, which breaks the nutrients down into a form that the cow can absorb. A byproduct of this fermentation is methane gas. The cow mostly burps it up but occasionally a build up occurs, which makes for an explosive cow. But that is another story altogether.
Without these bacteria, the cow wouldn’t survive – it would starve. Without the cow, the bacteria wouldn’t survive – they’d have no home and nothing to eat. So really everybody wins…except for the atmosphere. And polar bears.
And that is the story of New Zealand’s problem with flatulence.
Cows burp up methane, this goes into the atmosphere, causes the climate to warm, causes ice to melt, polar bears need ice, polar bears die.