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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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Last week we talked about becoming more environmentally friendly and how difficult a charge that can be in the veterinary field &mdash and in fact for the entire agricultural sector.

I am purposely ignoring things like pesticide and fertilizer run-off, aggressive grazing and deforestation, soil degradation, and other such issues that come with an increase in intensive farming, otherwise this would be a 50-part blog series that is also way out of the realm of my expertise. I’d like to instead focus on what a few farms are doing to be more environmentally friendly.

Vermont Dairies — Changing Cow Diets to Reduce Methane

Although this is certainly not breaking news, researchers have found that by simply changing a cow’s diet from one based heavily on corn and soy to one containing flaxseed, alfalfa, and other grasses high in omega-3s, they can change the metabolic pathways enough in the gut to decrease methane production and emission. A handful of dairies in Vermont have been taking this science seriously for a few years now. And the best part? Not only have their methane emissions decreased, but their vet bills have, too.

Solar-Powered Dairy in South Carolina

The Happy Cow Creamery outside of Greenville, South Carolina, has installed a solar-powered hot water system. Although at first this may not sound like much (reportedly, the Happy Cow Creamery is the first commercial organic dairy farm to install such a thing), hot water is used extensively on dairy farms from everything to barn and milk parlor cleaning to the actual pasteurization process.

Cow Treadmill Generates Electricity in Northern Ireland

I’ve saved my favorite example of eco-friendly farms for last. William Taylor, a dairy farmer in Northern Ireland, has come up with the most ingenious invention: the Livestock Power Mill — a treadmill built specifically for cows.

Attached to a generator, this non-powered belt is on an incline, so the animal has to walk forward to keep from slowly sliding back. As she walks, gears drive the generator, producing electricity. The prototype design produces enough power for four milking machines, which is quite impressive for one cow alone. Imagine the type of electricity generated if even a relatively small herd of 100 cows were sweating to the oldies on these things! One further advantage of having your cows work out is that some studies have shown that cows that are more physically active produce more milk.

Apparently this Livestock Power Mill isn’t William Taylor’s only invention. He’s also made a special pen designed to prevent cows from from kicking vets during exams. I just might have to get my hands on one of those…

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: MariusdeGraf / via Shutterstock

Comments  2

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  • Cow Treadmill
    01/04/2013 06:14am

    "Attached to a generator, this non-powered belt is on an incline, so the animal has to walk forward to keep from slowly sliding back."

    It's a super idea, but I wonder if this frightens the cow and the possible negative effects of stress.

    Thoughts?

  • 01/04/2013 05:05pm

    Many Holsteins are fairly placid and as long as they're not in pain (or grossly aggravated) they can be quite amicable to new environments. From the one photo I've seen of this contraption, the incline is not very steep at all. I am assuming there is a period of adjustment for the cow to get used to it, but I would imagine it doesn't take long for her to get the hang of things. There are actually some relatively complicated automated milking parlors in some very large dairies that involve automated turn-stiles and rotating milkers that seem more complicated and stress-inducing than this invention.

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