Clem claims Climate Clever Clovers courageous – not clueless

Back in October I posted a piece on cow guts.  In it I mentioned two avenues to remediation of methane evolution from ruminant guts, the methane affecting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and global warming (a hot topic). Due credit was given to research to modify the cows through breeding, and to changing cow rations through the choice of plants fed to them (seaweed in the study cited there).

Michelle took exception to the cow breeding effort, and she knows something of cattle… but I’m from the school of ‘If it works, give it a shot’*. And while some livestock breeding efforts can result in bizarre critters, tweaking their genes so their gut microbial flora are less offensive doesn’t appear at first blush to belong in the category.

Earlier today I was tracking down a reference in a plant science paper of interest and through some sort of serendipity stumbled onto a paper whose title begins: Climate Clever Clovers.  Really.  Alliteration can be tough enough one letter deep; two letters – well, I’m impressed. Fortunately, these clovers are not cleistogamous or the authors’ cleverness could have gone even further. The paper is out of Australia, the clover in question is Subterranean (Trifolium subterraneum), and the breeding approach is quite sensible.  AND – their method is not specific to Subterranean clover… so one might imagine work on alfalfa, other clovers, heck – even soybean (which is occasionally used as emergency forage for ruminants) could be coming along in the future.

subterranean clover.jpg

Above ground, or superterranean, portion of subterranean clover?  Innocent enough.

In the introduction section of their paper the authors note:

Methane production is influenced more by feed characteristics than animal genetic factors (EPA, 1995). The chemical composition of feed, in particular, is a major driver of ‘methanogenic potential’ (the amount of methane produced by rumen microbes during fermentation of feed), and dietary supplementation with fat and plant secondary metabolites have been shown to reduce enteric methanogenesis (Grainger and Beauchemin, 2011; Tang et al., 2014). As the response to direct selection of animals for low methanogenic potential in the rumen is likely to be slow (Shi et al., 2014), the methanogenic potential trait in pastures is a strong candidate for marker-assisted selection (MAS).

And so long as we’re pointing out fascinating coincidences – the Shi et al. paper is about sheep. I haven’t checked, but if Dr. Shi is female, I’d have to excuse myself until such time as I might recover. But I digress.

Now the seaweed story cited earlier needs to take a step back. This clover technology is simpler in implementation – no need to have an ocean frothing about in your back yard. Cows are already used to eating clovers, farmers are already used to seeding clovers in their pastures. Clovers are legumes, so they’ll do some natural nitrogen fixation. Clever, clever, clever.

Has the planet thus been spared from anthropogenic global warming?  Dunno mate, lets put a brisket on the barbie,  crack open a beer, share some dairy products and have a look see.  Whatdayasay??

And yes, Brian… this is three in a week.  Haven’t yet figured what that is all about.  It just is.

*not affiliated with the school of hard knocks. Accreditation may also be suspect – but the tuition is very reasonable.



  1. Clem, you are so droll.
    I’m fairly convinced that cows are not only much kinder, gentler and more tolerant creature than we humans are, but that they have a better chance of long term survival on Earth given their talent for digesting cellulose. Therefore, out of respect for symbioses of which we know little, we should observe them and their miraculous stomachs without tinkering for another millennium or so. If we are still around then perhaps we will know enough to tinker. Or maybe we will have learned enough humility by then not to want to tinker. Or the earth will be so scorched by climate change neither humans or cows will be around anymore. I don’t know which way it will go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michelle… and thanks, I think.

      I forgot to point out that the ruminants in question needn’t be restricted to cattle and sheep. Wild ruminants grazing pastures and wild lands can take advantage of foods causing less methane escape during digestion. There is an additional benefit to the consuming ruminant – better feed efficiency. The loss of gaseous methane is also a loss of energy to the host critter. Not necessarily a big deal to a beast feeding in pastures of plenty; but on parched and sparse rangeland the difference in energy per kilo of food consumed can be a life saver.

      Tinkering. I dunno, growing an improved strain of clover hardly seems much different than shipping live animals to the mainland for a market; or me selecting soybean lines with higher protein content for an edge in what is now a 3,000 year old market. Some things we do because we can, others we do because we must.


  2. Neat idea. While we’re at it, can we reduce phytate, to both reduce water pollution and phosphorus fertilizer needs?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least within soybean we can reduce seed phytate, if you are interested I can point you to some publications on exactly that. Interestingly (for me at least) is the driver to look into lowering seed phytate levels comes from the water pollution angle. Animal nutrition and phosphorus as a necessary plant nutrient are both stakeholders in the matter, but the Chesapeake Bay watershed is so politically significant that it pushes the agenda. Lake Eerie has begun to follow on behind the Chesapeake Bay – it now having its own ‘bill of rights’ being cussed and discussed in the court system here in Ohio. I can only imagine other US watersheds will also begin to pipe up as we go along.


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