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A dash of oregano, please

Alex Hristov is onto something big — greenhouse gas big! Cows chew and belch all the time. It’s what they do. And when they do it, they emit methane gas — big time, says the Penn State University dairy scientist.

Passing it one way or another, livestock generate about 37% of one of the world’s most potent contributors to climate change. That’s according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Key Points

Oregano ingredients may reduce methane emissions by 40%.

Penn State University work also achieved a 3-pound milk increase.

Too expensive for now, feed compounds have yet to be developed.

Knowing that, Hristov began experimenting with a gas-reducing ingredient right in most folks’ cupboards. In October, he reported on his dairy research with oregano at an International Greenhouse Gases and Animal Ag Conference. American Agriculturist recently caught up with him to discuss the on-farm potentials of his findings.

First, his findings:

An oregano-based supplement cut cow methane emissions by 40%.

A little more than 17.5 ounces per cow per day did the job.

Milk production increased by about 3 pounds per cow per day.

“Any cut in the methane emissions would be beneficial,” says Hristov. “Since methane production is an energy loss for the animal, [improved milk production] isn’t really a surprise,” he adds.

So, just add a dash of oregano?

Not so fast, cautions this researcher. “It’s too early for practical recommendations. We need more research.”

Hristov used bulk oregano, not your usual grocery store herb. “And at this point, it’s too expensive. With more than 40 different ‘oregano’ plants, there’s tremendous variability in oregano composition.

“We’re looking at specific ingredients in oregano [carvacrol, geraniol and thymol] that can be produced synthetically and are more economical for farmers to use. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

And, yes, he acknowledges, more research funding is needed.

Herb benefits hogs, too

Oregano essential oils are also beginning to show up in swine rations. As little as a half-pound to 1 pound per ton of ration are being used in sow and grower rations “as a natural approach to gut health,” says Dr. Bob Evelizer, veterinary for Ralco Nutrition, Marshall, Minn.

The ingredient is cited as a nutraceutical with potential to lessen antibiotic use and boost natural immunity. It promotes healthy gut tissue for nutrient absorption, he explains. Beginning with sow rations, one study found higher levels of immune cells in the blood, which were transferred to suckling pigs via the colostrum.

Evelizer notes that another study added oregano oils to drinking water of suckling pigs. The oils reduced incidence of scours and pre-weaning mortality. Oregano oils, high in phenolic acids and flavoids, favor good gut bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

This article published in the December, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.