Coast-Cow-Consumer Project

Suppression of enteric methane emissions (burps) from livestock has the potential to drastically reduce the global production of this greenhouse gas, which is about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This project aims to develop a well-balanced seaweed additive for cattle feed that helps address this issue and offers major benefits to the environment, dairy and beef production, and the working waterfront.

Research has shown that certain tropical red seaweeds contain compounds that can influence digestion of macronutrients in livestock rumen and reduce methane production. However, there are major limitations to working with these particular seaweed species, such as costs to cultivate and process them and limited production capacity. At the request of algae and dairy producers in the region, we are screening Gulf of Maine seaweeds and microscopic algae with demonstrated, scalable production potential for their nutritional effect of influencing rumen fermentation in livestock. Our team of scientists is a unique and exciting mix of experts in algal physiology, microbiology, animal health, soil science, sociology, and economics. With support from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund and USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, we are tackling a problem of regional importance that can have impact on the global release of a major greenhouse gas.

Project Participants and Roles

We use state-of-the-art equipment and high-throughput protocols in our research. In the Bigelow Laboratory Analytical Facilities, we’ve developed in vitro batch assays that mimic a cow’s rumen system for rapid comparisons of algal candidates and use mass spectrometry to screen for promising compounds. Members of our team at the W.H. Miner Institute conduct further testing to determine fiber digestibility and shelf stability of our algae-based products. The best algal candidates, some of which come from Bigelow Laboratory’s National Center for Marine Microbiota and Algae collection, are being developed as additives to be used in holistic animal feeding trials with dairy cows at partnering research farms at University of New Hampshire and William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute. These studies explore impacts of the supplements’ nutritional profile on methane burps, milk quality, and milk yields of individual cows, as well as the implications to manure and soil health for grazing and conventional herds.

We demonstrate applications of our research in real-world scenarios through the development of college curricula and extension activities. Colby College is integrating project elements into undergraduate coursework to further critical thinking and problem-solving skills in an academic setting. Teams at the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment and Cornell Cooperative Extension are producing interactive kiosks and educational materials that introduce our project efforts to the public.

We are also conducting economic analyses with partners at Colby College, Syracuse University, and University of Vermont to explore pragmatic entry points into the supply chain and cost-benefits of using seaweed feed supplements for organic and conventional dairy in New England. In parallel, Clarkson University is using life cycle assessments to evaluate the cradle-to-grave impact on greenhouse gas emissions of the most promising seaweed additive candidates – including impacts to manure quality and utility in anaerobic digestion or as fertilizer – to ensure the final products represent a net greenhouse gas reduction and true seafood-based solution.

Funding Support

  • Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund
  • USDA AFRI Sustainable Agriculture Systems Program
  • USDA AFRI Organic Research and Extension Initiative

For more information, please email us at the Center for Seafood Solutions at:

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