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Earth Power Hardware Science Technology

Cows On Treadmills Produce Clean Power For Farms 640

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the mooves-you-to-tears dept.
separsons writes "William Taylor, a farmer in Northern Ireland, recently developed the Livestock Power Mill, a treadmill for cows. Taylor uses the device to generate clean, renewable power for his farm. Cows are locked into a pen on top of a non-powered, inclined belt. The cows' walking turns the belt, which spins a gearbox to drive a generator. One cow can produce about two kilowatts of electricity, enough energy to power four milking machines. It may seem like a kooky idea, but Taylor could be onto something: According to his calculations, if the world's 1.3 billion cattle used treadmills for eight hours a day, they could provide six percent of the world's power!"
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Cows On Treadmills Produce Clean Power For Farms

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  • Re:Meat cows? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:25PM (#31897538)

    I'm not sure I want my cows exercising. Their muscles will get tough and stringy.

    It may be a bit more expensive and resource consuming, but fat, lazy cows are what I want.

    For steaks, sure, but for ground beef, you want it lean.

    Unless you are making hamburgers. All the best burgers have higher fat content. The leaner the burger the more non-meat stuff you have to put in to get it to stick together.

  • Re:Food? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:46PM (#31897954) Journal

    Apparently you've never watched cows grazing out in an open field

    I grew up near a dairy farm and watched the cows quite often. They'd run across the field, go in groups and investigate anything that made a noise or entered the field. They stood still when they were eating, but walked around quite a lot at other times.

    Maybe you just have lazy cows near you?

  • Re:Methane (Score:5, Informative)

    by pehrs (690959) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:54PM (#31898088)

    Methane has indeed a high global warming potential compared to CO2, however that calculation misses one important fact. And that is that methane has a rather limited limited lifetime in the atmosphere, around 12 years. After that it breaks down and to a large degree it goes back into circulation, becoming new methane eventually.

    When you burn oil you release CO2 that has a life cycle of (conservatively) tens of thousands of years.

    This means that if you kill off all cows and other methane production today you will see the methane effect start to wean after about a decade. Stop burning coal today and the effects will last longer than civilization has existed. As we are speaking of additive effects on the climate you quickly realize that you probably should be much more worried about the gases with long lifetimes and/or high GWP (CO2, HFC-23, SF6 etc) and less about those gases with short lifetimes/low GWP.

  • by ericvids (227598) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:59PM (#31898192)

    Who really cares about energy when we are dieing from a bad hamburger...

    Hamburger meat is most often made from ground beef. The beef is ground because it's tough. The beef is tough precisely because of exercise.

    Prime cuts actually come from the type of cows that are restricted from moving so much in the farm. Not sure if they're healthier, as they do have more marbling (fat), but I'm just saying that hamburgers WILL be the only type of beef available if all cows exercised. :P

  • Re:What? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:06PM (#31898316)
    Many cows are fed corn. [] Get over it.
  • Re:Food? (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheLink (130905) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:10PM (#31898424) Journal

    Uh, that's almost like promoting junk food that tastes crappier but is a bit healthier for you ;).

    Beef isn't the healthiest of foods for humans ( [] ).

    So if you're going to eat beef, you might as well be eating beef that tastes good.

    On the other hand if you want to have a healthier diet, eat more vegetables and regularly eat oceanic fish (the ones lower down the food chain with less mercury and crap). You can still have a nice steak once in a while.

    p.s. if you actually like very lean cuts of beef, then I guess you don't have to worry about the heart disease risk, not so sure about the cancer risk tho.

  • Re:Food? (Score:5, Informative)

    by crmarvin42 (652893) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:40PM (#31898976)
    How many generations are you separated from the farm Ellie??

    Don't bother answering that, it's retorical. Animal production farms are always associated with crop production farms where the manure is spread on fields as fertilizer. Landfills are full of trash, not animal waste (unless you count cat and dog feces).

    We don't feed 75% of our grain production to ruminants. We don't even feed 75% of our grain production to livestock (which includes pigs and poultry). According to the USDA [], nearly a third (~ 4.25 billion bushels) of domestic corn production is expected to be used for ethanol in 2009/10. In the same season, ~5 billion bushels (~45%) will be used for "Feed and residual uses" which includes both human consumption and livestock use, and another ~2 billion bushels will be exported.

    As to the original topic, putting cows on treadmills, I don't see it being feasible. Cows are rough on equipment, so the treadmills would need to be very robust. Cow manure is very corrosive, so they'd either have to use expensive equipment that is durable, or have a high rate of failure of various parts. I do have to admit though, that cows do a fair amount of walking in free stall barns, but I just don't see how you'd get them to use the treadmills instead of walking up and down the isles as they do now. IMO, it's a case of something being technically plausible, but ultimately unfeasible.

    Definitely an intriguing idea though. I'd be interested to see if they could do something similar with an animal that is raised in a more confined environment, like a gestating sow. It would require that she get more food, but her appetite already oustrips what she's allowed to eat so that's not an issue (whereas dairy farmers don't want their cows to be wasting any of the energy that could be going into milk production, and the cows are already offered ad libitum feed). It would come down to whether the electricity a sow could generate would save the farmer more money over the increased feed, equipment, and management costs.
  • Re:Food? (Score:5, Informative)

    by crmarvin42 (652893) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:59PM (#31899312)
    Correction # 1:
    Cattle are not as sedentary as you may believe. Range raised beef cattle walk between 2.8 and 4 kilometers/day according to a 1991 study published the Journal of Animal Science []. This means they are already doing a lot of walking. The real question is whether we can capture that energy they are already spending, and turn it into electricity at a price that is acceptable. (I doubt that they can, but I could be wrong)

    Correction # 2:
    Exercise does not increase "stress byproduct" concentrations (what every that's supposed to mean), unless the exercise in forced. As I mentioned before, the animals already do a fair amount of walking on their own initiative. In that case the actions taken to force the exercize would be causing the stress, not the exercise itself.

    Correction # 3:
    It is the intramuscular fat that is responsible for the great taste. Backfat is often cut off by consumers and not eaten due to texture issues, and sometime for cooking issues. Kobe beef is completely unlike anything raised for the general consumer market, so trying to draw conclusions based on that niche market is inadvisable.
  • Re:Food? (Score:4, Informative)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:05PM (#31899388)

    Why we insist on feeding 75% of our grain production to ruminants baffles me.

    For beef cattle, we do it because they bulk up faster on grain than on grass. It is possible to buy range-fed beef, though if I recall it is substantially more expensive. The rancher is a business man and he makes better profits feeding grain to his cattle to get them ready for slaughter. This in turn enables him to sustain his (usually modest) livelihood and enable the consumer to afford beef as a staple rather than as a luxury. If all beef were range-fed then the economics of beef production would be totally different.

    For dairy cattle, they are often range-fed in my region (New England) but due to freezing temperatures cattle have to be fed on silage in the winter. Otherwise they'd stop producing milk and we'd either have to import milk from outside the region, or go without.

    So, we feed 75% of our grain production to cattle so we can have readily available beef and milk. Why we think we need so much beef is another question, and one that does make me scratch my head a little.

  • Re:Food? (Score:3, Informative)

    by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:41PM (#31899892) Journal

    More my issue is that the original studies used something like 30 model countries, and found the correlations in under half of them; in the other half they found no correlation, or inverse correlation. The original researcher published a commentary on this, which effectively said "I think eating fat is bad; if we ignore half the data, you can kind of see it." Then other people took that and ran with it, ignoring whatever in the data was inconvenient.

    In short, the actual assertion that saturated fat intake causes cholesterol problems by itself comes from extremely shaky data. It's been proposed that the problem is the intake of too much starch, which prevents the metabolism of said fats; but then, you have nutty people coming up with things like the Atkins diet, missing the point on that too.

    So we have silly people deciding that any intake of fat is bad for you; and other silly people deciding that any intake of starch is bad for you. Welcome to Earth; everything here has a brain made out of mostly fat.

  • Re:Food? (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday April 19, 2010 @04:29PM (#31901672)

    Brazil's success making ethanol from sugar cane doesn't make U.S. companies' practice of making it from corn any less of a scam.

  • Re:Food? (Score:4, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:38AM (#31908558) Homepage Journal

    For beef cattle, we do it because they bulk up faster on grain than on grass. It is possible to buy range-fed beef, though if I recall it is substantially more expensive.

    We eat beef primarily because they will stand in a feedlot and chew cud instead of breaking down fences or harming each other trying to escape, like Bison. Unfortunately, this feedlot approach results in sick animals, period, the end. So we treat the animals with antibiotics. The cattle can't move around so they don't develop any muscle tone. The result is insipid and often unsafe beef. Sure, it costs more to buy grass-fed, free-range beef, but the quality is superior in every way. Meanwhile, I'm buying buffalo meat at comparable prices; you can't put them in a feedlot, so all of them are grass fed. Actually, there is a movement today towards native grasses, at least in this country; native grasses don't ever need to be fed because they grow in what a permaculturist would call a guild, with each plant providing for its fellows. Some grasses anchor soil, some fix nitrogen, and some send deep tap roots to mine the lower parts of the soil for minerals. This native grass will support nearly any kind of animal; the "improved" grasses commonly planted for animal grazing tend to be species-specific. For instance, the pasture mejorado being planted in Panama causes increased beef production in the cows, but a horse will starve in the field. And more importantly for the beef, it produces a lower quality of meat with reduced flavor and texture as compared to the native grasses. So ranchers who are aiming for quality rather than quantity are very much replanting their ranges in native grass.

    So, we feed 75% of our grain production to cattle so we can have readily available beef and milk. Why we think we need so much beef is another question, and one that does make me scratch my head a little.

    Beef is delicious. The real question is why we need so much milk. Milk subsidies in the USA led to the production of milk hormones to increase their production... or was it the other way around? Thanks, Monsanto. Regardless, we produce so much milk that we have to invent new ways to get rid of it, which is why we got all that Recaldent-brand gum which is made from milk. It would be nice if we could get some milk paints out of it, so we could use less of the toxic bullshit housepaint that we tend to use, but I guess the chemical lobby would put a quick stop to that. The really sad part is that the rest of the world is less than interested in hormone-infested milk (rBGH has been proven to increase udder infections which means that milk with rBGH also has increased levels of both antibiotics and pus from infections in it... I like my milk with extra pus, how about you?) so the only place we can get rid of it internationally is those parachuted milk powder bombs that we keep dropping on the third world.

    Ending all food subsidies would be a very good way to improve the quality of food production in the USA, not to mention, it would enable the free market to provide us with more logical foodstuffs.

If A = B and B = C, then A = C, except where void or prohibited by law. -- Roy Santoro