Cow Powered Treadmill, Really?

cow powered treadmill, animal abuse, As humans get fatter and use ever more energy to remain comfortably numb, we seem to be losing our sense of irony. And our humanity.

Latest evidence, cow-powered treadmills.

Supposedly an eco-friendly source of energy production, this device invented by William Taylor of Northern Ireland traps a cow on a tilted non-powered belt. The cow slides down if it doesn’t continue to walk forward. As it walks the belt moves, spinning a gearbox that drives a generator which produces small amounts of electricity. A feed box at the front of this cruelty chamber, er Livestock Power Mill, is alleged to motivate the cow.

The May 2010 issue of Popular Science crows about the idea in an article titled “The Energizer Cow.” At first the piece alleges that most cows “mill around aimlessly in pens” but a paragraph later says “cows walk as many as eight hours a day while grazing.”  Apparently cows aren’t popular enough to qualify for more science in Popular Science. Confine any creatures (including science writers) in pens where they’re deprived of their natural activities and chances are you’ll see them “mill around aimlessly.”

The device has a very modest energy output of “up to” two kilowatts, hardly worth Taylor’s pricetag of $100,000 for a 50 cow system. Popular Science envisions confining the world’s cattle as living generators. The magazine ends the piece with this exuberant idea: “If the planet’s 1.3 billion cattle used treadmills for eight hours a day, they would provide 6 percent of the world’s power.”

Sorry Popsci. Studies showing cows make more milk when they get exercise aren’t based on trapping animals naturally inclined to socialize with fellow herd members as they forage for the most nutritious plants in a grassland together. In fact studies indicate that a cow’s happiness, yes happiness as it can best be determined, goes a long way toward increasing health and milk output.

Cows are perfectly suited to walk through pastures feeding on grass, converting this substance (inedible to humans) into protein-rich foods. Pastured cattle are environmentally beneficial for many reasons. The pasture itself reduces greenhouse gasses via carbon sequestration which more than offsets the cattle’s methane, especially when compared to feedlot animals. In fact pastures do a much better job of retaining topsoil, improving soil fertility and removing carbon dioxide from the air than cultivated farmland. Not to mention that grassfed cattle live healthier, more natural lives. It’s a win-win, easier on the environment as well as the conscience.

For two-kilowatts, try a cheap solar panel. This technology doesn’t moo sadly as its calf is taken away nor smell the grass just beyond a lifetime of confinement. Try some humanity.

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About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is a writer and editor, perhaps due to an English professor's scathing denunciation of her writing as "curious verbiage." She's the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. (lauragraceweldon.com) She's working on her next book, "Subversive Cooking" (subversivecooking.com). She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she is a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, talk to chickens and cows, discuss life’s deeper meaning with her surprisingly tolerant offspring, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art.
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