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Professor David Bellamy

Cows and Sheep May Safely Graze?

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As a youngster in a post war London I was brought up on lamb and anchor butter from New Zealand.

My first dabble into TV commercials was with WOOLMARK NZ, in what became a successful attempt to slow down the ingress of synthetic fibre into the carpet market. I still meet sheep farmers around the world who greet me their thanks and a pint of beer.

I still delight in your butter and lamb which I can buy in my local supermarket, the latter at half the price of the local product sold in our village butchers shop.

What a strange world we live in now bombarded with the rhetoric of food miles let alone tourist miles.

Hence I beg leave to put in this plea for the good husbandry of these two ruminants.

Cows and sheep are Mother Nature’s own brand of internal combustion engines. They get their energy by “burning” cellulose, the same stuff wood is made of.

During their life they produce all sorts of useful things; butter, cheeses, curds, dripping, gelatine, hide, horn, yoghurt, lamb, lard, milk, mutton, tallow, whey and wool.

Each one is a solar powered, self building, repairing and regenerating mobile mini supermarket. The solid waste from which is recycled, returning organic compost to the soil.

At the end of their useful lives any potential waste can be turned into heat and power.

Both of these amazing mammals depend on teeming hordes of ever smaller, internal combustion engines, (mini beasts, yeasts and bacteria) that live within their complex stomachs.

Chewing is not enough to crack open the tough cellulose packaging that wrap the goodies in each and every plant cell.

To release the energy rich fuels, (sugars, proteins and fats) stored within the cellulose boxes that make up the grasses and herbs, they need the power of the digestive enzymes of all their internal helpmates.

Without these, all cud chewing ruminants and non-vegetarian humans could not gainfully graze.

Please note even cows and sheep are not strict herbivores because they can and do digest these tiny animals relegating them to the ranks of the omnivores.

Exhaust from these internal combustion engines both large and small contain carbon dioxide and methane and thereby hangs my tale.

The molecules of carbon that make up their flesh, wool, hide, burps and farts is not fossil carbon.

It was sequestered from their pasture rarely longer than a year and most within a few days before their release back into the atmosphere.

Although somewhat modified by human influence they are part of the 97% of the main cycle of carbon dioxide that makes the living world go round. Not the 3% that the global warmers say are tipping the World, towards an omnivore driven armageddon.

Please note that long before the days of New Zealand lamb the world’s paddy fields, termite mounds and rotting organic matter were producing their fare share of greenhouse gasses including methane.

The IPCC reckon there is an annual production of 600 million tonnes of methane of which 25 million tonnes remain in the atmosphere. An increase of 25million tonneswould raise the temperature by a mere 0.005 of a degree centigrade.

Not much to worry about, especially if you take into account, the fact that since 1999 the rate of increase of atmospheric methane has slowed down dramatically. Surely these ruminants should be left to safely graze.

Unless they are strict vegetarians, I beg the carbon cops not to tax these exemplary carbon trading internal combustion engines that do such wonderful things by chewing the cud.

The green dream of bio fuels has already turned into a nightmare of starvation across the poor world while devastating local biodiversity.

Since the far off days of good old British mutton and horse drawn milk carts, more and more small farmers have gone to the wall of extinction. With ever larger farms worked by machines not people, soils have lost much of their structure and hence their self-draining and nutrient retaining capacity.

In consequence they need massive applications of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides all of which guzzle fossil fuels in their production and application.

The good news is that over the past 25 years farmers both great and small have joined forces with the Queen Elizabeth 2 Trust, DOC, conservation groups and other local and national stakeholders. Together they are working wonders of what I like to call the green renaissance.

Together they are dealing with the many feral plants and animals, while putting their patch back into more bio diverse and hence more sustainable working order.

My own small part in this was when I had the privilege to work with TVNZ and Massey University on a book and TV series called “Moa’s Ark” ready for the Treaty of Waitangi Year.

I also made another famous TV advert “Old Mans Beard Must Go” and was there both at the start and completion of the world boggling mouse proof fence around the mountain-tops of Maungatautari.

My case rests, when it comes to the future of New Zealand butter, beef, lamb, leather, mutton and wool please don’t fart in the face of common sense.

If you don’t believe a pommy botanist then log on the truly luscious fat tail from Viv Forbes a farmer in Oz: http://www.damaras.com/newsletters/200805.pdf