Quiet Mowers: Cows are good for environment
By Amy Thomas
'Contrary to public perception, cows are quite useful to the environment. I know most think that cows are stinky creatures that make these unsightly paths through beautiful green fields.
There is some truth to that. And cows love wild onion, which makes their breath a little strong. They also burp a lot as part of their digestive process.
Cows have four compartments to their stomachs, which makes them very efficient at digesting grass. Cows will consume a lot of forage in a short period; they swallow without chewing.
When they are lounging, they burp up the consumed forage (cud) and chew it up good so it can be digested in another part of their stomach.
That is like a person enjoying a chocolate bar repeatedly.
Cows can be very good environmental helpers if managed properly. If cows are happy and healthy and the temperatures are not excessively high, they will graze for up to 10 hours a day. A tractor will not do that without gas.
When they are dry, their ideal outside temperature is 32 degrees. Keeping excessive leaf matter down can control some of the dangers of wildfires.
One cow can keep one acre of land mowed for a year with very little supplement. And a cow does not complain or rust in the rain.
While they are grazing, they are depositing fertilizer (manure and urine). Unlike horses, cows will distribute fertilizer over the entire field instead of leaving it all in one place. They walk and spread, just like those little red fertilizer- spreaders that you push around your yard.
Cows' fertilizer is actually better than commercial fertilizers because it contains more carbon. Carbon makes it easier for plants to absorb the nutrients they need. Thus, cows are self-propelled premium-fertilizer spreaders.
When cows mosey across the green fields, their hooves act like aerators. This is good for the environment because it allows oxygen to get to the roots of the plant to help it grow. Also, if the ground is not aerated, a compaction layer or crust can form at the surface, which causes nutrients to run into the streams.
If I could compare a cow to a piece of mechanical equipment, it would be like a tractor with a 60-inch deck with an extra gas tank, a fertilizer attachment and an aerator attachment run by a robot. It would have to have emission controls.'
• Amy Thomas is an agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, she specializes in livestock for Forsyth and Stokes counties.