Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Something to ruminate on

When cattle lie down in a field most folk think, understandably, that they are chewing the cud.

Cattle are ruminants, which doesn't mean that they have four stomachs - a common misconception - but that their single stomach has four compartments which allows them to chew their food once, regurgitate it and chew it (the cud) a second time. One of the side effects of this is that ruminants produce methane gas which is one of the unwelcome greenhouse gases threatening the world. "Fart" taxes have been proposed to fund research into how to reduce this antisocial behaviour.

But to get back to my original discussion - most ruminants prefer to lie down when they are 'chewing the cud' because there is an element of stress while doing so.

Sheep, goats deer and even giraffes are also ruminants. After you know about their rather bizarre digestive habits you might wonder why we eat them. I've eaten beef, mutton, venison and goat meat - and there's still the first time for giraffe - and I reckon I can cope with their whiffy habits.

But to get back to my original discussion - the old greybeards reckoned they - the cattle, that is - can smell rain coming and lie down so that they have a dry, warm patch of pasture to rest on while the bad weather lasts. Sunday and Monday, out walking the dogs first thing, the cows and their calves in the field at the back of the house were all lying down, and the greybeards were borne out because the rain came down in torrents. This morning they were all standing and feeding - the cattle, again - and now the clouds are high in the sky and it's sunny.

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