Sunday, May 22, 2016

ATI Wisdom Booklet 6: Science - Sheep! Part Two

In the last post, we covered the first five reasons that sheep can teach us about meditation. Although, honestly, I really learned more about common misconceptions about sheep.

  • I hope that this section is meant to describe Biblical techniques for dealing with insect control because no one dumps tar and herbs on livestock anymore.  I will concede, however, that many insecticides are oily. 
  • Insect infestation decreases animal weight gain, but not because the sheep stop ruminating.  Remember, a ruminant who stops ruminating is a dead animal.  No, the animal is so busy chewing at sore spots that it eats less food in the first place and uses some of the energy that would go towards gaining weight goes towards healing the injuries from the insects and from the chewing.
  • "Relaxed and peaceful" is a relative term in livestock.  Yes, if your sheep are actively running away from a predator, chewing their legs off from fly-strike, or overheating from lack of shade, they won't ruminate right then.  On the other hand, when it's time to chew cud, the sheep will chew cud.  I've watched cows chew cud between contractions during labor while a tractor is running nearby and the overhead cooling fans are running on high.  This makes me very skeptical that "peace" let alone "relaxation" is needed for cud-chewing.

  • Sheep do not swallow sticks and stones while eating.  If they did, the sticks would be chewed up during rumination.  The stones would sit at the bottom of the rumen or in the reticulum for the rest of their lives.  In fact, the fact that heavy objects will sit in the reticulum is used to treat some diseases.  Since ruminants will eat small pieces of metal - think wiring from fences - farmers have the animals swallow a magnet.  The magnet will sit in the reticulum and hold any metal swallowed in place so it cannot hurt the animal.
    • The process is a lot like stuffing a pill down a cat's throat except that the cow weights over 1,000 pounds and the neck of a cow is the strongest portion of their body.  It's pretty much a wrestling match between the head of a restrained cow and the farmer and funny as hell to watch. My husband has had older cows who will "catch" the magnet in their reticulum, wait for him to walk away, then spit the magnet out into the feed bunk.  It took 3 separate attempts to get one cow to finally let the magnet fall into her rumen.  
  • Be grateful that most ruminants can't spit up stones.  If you haven't seen a llama or an alpaca spit, look up a video on YouTube and imagine how much worse it would be if the horrible smelling rumen-juice was mixed with gravel.
  • Nothing wrong in this section, thanks primarily to World Book Encyclopedia.
  • I don't think the author ever defined rumination.  Rumination (in animals) is the process of moving food that has already been eaten back up to the mouth so that the material can be chewed again.  

  • So, I'd go about explaining cellulose differently.  Cellulose is a specific type of carbohydrate formed in plants.  It's quite strong and hard for most organisms to digest, although certain bacteria can digest it easily.  Ruminants like sheep use bacteria to break down cellulose.  In fact, the entire rumen is a giant bacterial tank.  Rumen health - e.g., keeping the bacteria in the rumen alive and happy - is critical for the health of a ruminant animal.
  • The reason sheep ruminate is so that the bacteria can access every little bit of the plant material possible.  Rumination is exactly like humans grinding up food using a mortar and pestle or a food processor.
  • Sheep and other ruminants do pretty much live on digesting bacteria that pass from the rumen into the abomasum.  The bacteria convert the energy in grass to protein and use the protein to build structures and reproduce.  The cows digest a certain amount of the bacteria to get enough protein to stay alive.   
  • Having said that, making the jump to "sheep get nourishment from meat" is a bridge too far.  

  • I have no idea where the author got the idea that liquids do not go through the rumination process.  They do.  The entire process from beginning to end is chocked with liquids and gooey.

  • ATI likes their fat-shaming, eh?  Yes, overweight animals are more likely to be cast, but the two biggest reasons for casting in sheep are pregnancy and having a full fleece of wool.  
  • I suspect, although I could be wrong, that the average cast sheep doesn't roll over in the middle of rumination.  The sheep lays down to ruminante, then is off-balance when she tries to stand up and rolls over onto her back like a turtle.  
  • The treatment for cast is very simple: you put the sheep back on its feet.  In sheep, usually a single person can flip and lift the sheep.  We occasionally have a cast cow when a cow who was giving birth wiggled in the straw and caused her spine to end up lower than her feet.  Cows are much larger so multiple people are needed.  
  • Yes, casting can lead to death due to bloat and loss of circulation - but this takes a while and reversing casting takes a few minutes tops.  Hence why shepherds are needed.....

  • It's pretty rare for a healthy herd animal to decide to take off from the flock alone.  Sheep, cows, goats and other herd animals that do that face strong danger from predators, so most herd animals will become extremely agitated and frantically try to return to the flock rather than be alone.
  • Now, sheep are good at getting themselves stuck places that they cannot get out of.  They get cast.  They get stuck in brambles.  They are known for getting stuck in holes and ditches - that's why shepherds carry crooks - to aid pulling sheep out of weird places.  So, the sheep gets stuck and freaks out until someone comes to get them out of the tight spot and send them back to the herd.
  • The other problem is when a small herd breaks off from the large herd.  In cows, if less than 5 cows get out of a group or pasture, they are generally afraid to move very far from the rest of the herd.   What this looks like is a small group of cows who are outside of their pasture, but still stand by the fence. (This makes putting them back in the right place reasonably easy.)  If six or more get out, though, the cow feels that the "new" herd is safe enough from predators and they will take off.  Our farm's "best" distance record is currently held by a group of steers who got out and ended up 5 miles away at a different dairy farm before anyone noticed they were gone.  I don't know what the "small herd/large herd" divide is in sheep, but I bet every good shepherd knows.... :-)

  • Oh, fuck no.  That's complete bullshit.  In ruminants, a downed animal is a dead animal.  
    • The exact same cascade of problems that can occur in a cast sheep happens in a ruminant  who has a broken leg - gas builds up in the digestive system, the animal develops pressure sores from being unable to shift, and the animal dies within days of pneumonia and massive bacterial infection when the digestive tract ruptures from the pressure sores.
    •  There's no way that a shepherd can do all of the things needed to keep a downed sheep alive - placing a tube in the stomach to relieve bloat, adjusting the position of the sheep hourly, carrying it food and water - and still protect the remainder of the herd especially back in Biblical times.
    • Applying this to humans is horrific.  It's never ok to purposefully hurt another person under the guise of saving their life.  

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