Going Green with Large Animals: Part 1
As the New Year rolls around, we inevitably start to think about New Year’s resolutions. I am not immune to this habit and although I struggle with keeping said resolutions each January, I still have the best of intentions. One recurring resolution common for many people I think is to be more environmentally friendly.
Being greener at home is vastly different than greening it up in my line of work. Sure, I recycle whatever I can get my hands on in the kitchen and use re-usable bags at the grocery store, but at work? In the medical field, this type of environmentalism is far more difficult. Most of this has to do with issues of sterility. I don’t think clients would be too thrilled if they saw me re-using a syringe and needle because I didn’t want to waste supplies! To go along with single-use medical devices, there is also the packaging that goes along with it. Have you ever seen all the plastic caps and wraps and bags that encase a single IV catheter?
In the large animal veterinary world there is a device called a drench gun. For small ruminants such as goats and sheep, a drench gun is a device that allows someone to administer oral medication (usually a dewormer) to a large group of animals in rapid succession. This "gun" is really just a syringe in a plastic or metal holder with a hand squeeze. When connected to a bottle of medication, the syringe, when deployed, will fill with a pre-selected volume of medication based on the animal’s weight. In fact, the term "drenching" is used to mean giving an oral liquid medication to a farm animal.
Automatic syringes are another device often used in large animal husbandry, most often on large cattle operations. These devices are similar in nature to the drench gun, but administer subcutaneous or intramuscular injections. Often connected to a large bottle (usually either a dewormer, vaccine, or antibiotics in the case of a large herd disease outbreak), the self-filling syringe measures the volume dispensed per your prescribed setting. Measurements will not vary too drastically when treating a herd of beef cattle all within roughly the same age and body weights, making the automatic syringe extremely efficient when working herds of hundreds of animals. With this tool, the only thing changed between animals is the needle.
Although both the automatic syringe and drench guns are nice, these inventions were made purely on the basis of efficiency, not with the environment in mind. And while I still haul all the cardboard boxes that once contained medical supplies to the recycling center, along with empty plastic bottles that used to contain IV fluids, I feel there’s not much more I can do.
Even more depressing is the fact that methane, a by-product of the fermentation process going on in all ruminant digestive systems, is a greenhouse gas. In fact, the EPA estimates that globally, ruminants produce about 28% of methane emissions. That’s a lot of belching and farting cows!
However, as I was becoming increasingly despondent over my hole-in-the-ozone-creating patients and feeling as though my pitiful attempts at recycling a sterile saline bottle here and a plastic IV catheter cap there were really all for naught, I came upon some enlightening news. It appears that some enviro-friendly farms are really trying to make a difference and not only slash their methane mark but also have their cows produce their own electricity!
Stay tuned next week to meet some of these ingenious farmers!
Dr. Anna O’Brien