The Return of the Aurochs — Along With Some Baggage

David Cassuto

Ever seen an aurochs?  Ever heard of one?  Answers to the latter query may vary but the response to the former is assuredly “no.”  The aurochs is an ancestor of domestic cattle and went extinct in 1627.  Though domesticated 8,000 years ago, it also lived in the wild in much of Europe until the end of the Middle Ages.

Today, there is an effort to bring back the aurochs using a technique called “back-breeding.”  Here’s how they hope it will go:

Scientists will first scour old aurochs bone and teeth fragments from museums in order to glean enough genetic material to be able to recreate its DNA. Researchers will then compare the DNA to that of modern European cattle to determine which breeds still carry the creature’s genes and create a selective-breeding program to reverse thousands of years of evolution. If everything goes as planned, each passing generation will more closely resemble the ancient aurochs.

More on Cows and Climate

fart_cow_1Following up on the post below, this article in the NYT bears a look.  Some in the dairy industry (e.g. Stonyfield Farms) are experimenting with feeding dairy cows green plants instead of corn to see if it lowers their methane output.  Guess what?  It does.

Cattle fed alfalfa and flax emit less methane than those fed the industrial ag diet of corn and soy (apparently most of the emissions come from burps rather than the other… — who knew?).  Guess what else?   Cows that eat food that they can digest naturally also live longer than those who eat grain.

I suppose I should rejoice that the dairy industry has begun examining such issues but I am too busy worrying about the likelihood that dairy and beef cattle production will double over the next three decades.  As the article mentions, the cattle industry already poses more of a threat to the atmosphere than cars and trucks combined.  Somehow, I don’t think alfalfa and flax are going to solve this little problem.

–David Cassuto