"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze...
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."-Wordsworth

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nature's Complexity: The Winter Wren's Song

Let me direct your attention for a moment to re-focus on the amazing-ness of nature. I was sitting by my window today and heard (and saw) an American Goldfinch sitting on a tree. So I opened my window and played its song on my computer...lo and behold more goldfinches arrived. It reminded me of a lecture I heard in my ornithology class not too long ago about bird songs.

We were learning about songs and calls. Did you know that birds don't produce sounds using the same organs as we do? In humans we produce sounds via our vocal chords. Birds don't have vocal chords. Instead, they have a syrinx, which is where two bronchi (tubes) come together. They make their calls and song by expanding and contracting the membranes of the syrinx and vibrating them. Because they have paired bronchial openings, birds can often sing in more than one frequency at the same time!

A good example is the winter wren. When you hear these little birds they sound so much larger than they appear. Their song is very rapid-fire or bubbly-sounding and highly complex. Below is a link from a great website that shows sonograms of different birds alongside their songs and even slows the songs down so the human ear can more fully appreciate their complexity. It blows my mind!

If you want to hear a crazy bird sound, you need only search out the Greater Sage Grouse or a Ruffed Grouse. The male of these species produces his "song" by rapidly moving his wings and creating a vacuum which creates sound from the air rushing in and out of his air sacs. This is called a non-vocal sound. Below is a link to the sonogram and song. If you click the arrow on the Ruffed Grouse title it will take you to a video of the mating display that goes along with this sound. I also added a youtube of a Greater Sage Grouse in action, as this cannot be missed!

If I find any more cool birds, I will post them here! Stay tuned!

The Music of Nature: Celebrating Nature at Hand. http://www.musicofnature.org/home/

YouTubeVideo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9zKd3dfz8I&feature=related

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Story of a Corn-Fed Feedlot Cow

With the banana project on hold, let me talk instead of corn-fed beef and its origins. I just read an excerpt from Michael Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for a class. It detailed the interesting process behind feed lots. Here are the main points and reasons I feel corn-fed beef should be avoided. Prepare yourself, and I suggest not eating while reading the following:

1. Cows are fed a mixture of corn, liquefied cow fat or blood, a protein substitute consisting of urea and molasses and a slew of antibiotics including Rumensin (an acidity buffer) and Tylosin (which lowers the incidence of infection of the liver). They are also fed estrogen.

2. Cows are kept lying and standing in their own feces all day long.

3. The corn itself is raised as a monoculture, raised and reaped by gas-guzzling machines. So our corn is backed by petroleum companies.

4. Even if cow products are not fed to cows, the chicken, fish and pigs are fed cow products and hence the circling back to feeding cow products to cows. The result of such cannibalism can be seen in Mad Cow Disease.

5. The cows are not made to eat mostly corn (Why?-because it's cheap). They are made for foraging. So we are force-feeding them food just to fatten them up faster. Veterinarians are kept very busy on the feedlots, dealing with bloated cows (which if untreated will suffocate due to an inflated rumen pressing against their lungs) and acidosis (literally killer heartburn due to the acidity of the corn). Cows only live about 150 days on the feedlots because any more could ruin their livers.

6. Due to the extensive use of antibiotics in animals, diseases are becoming antibiotic-resistant and we must therefore find more and more antibiotics to respond. These animals would have a lower incidence of sickness simply if their diets were changed.

7. The massive quantities are manure produced at these feedlots simply sit in lagoons on the property because they are so high in nitrogen and phosphorous that they kill any plants they are applied to. The waste which in smaller quantities could be used as fertilizer now just sits and sometimes ends up in the watershed due to leakage. Aside from high levels of nutrients, this waste also contains hormones, heavy metals, and chemicals. In essence, a natural fertilizer is turned into toxic waste.

8. Leakage of such manure into our watersheds causes dead zones, which are oxygen-poor areas with nothing but algae thriving there. The excess algae can suffocate everything else in the water.

9. Eating cattle in general is terrible inefficient use of resources. The ratio of feed to flesh is extremely high.

10. Feeding cattle a mainly acidic diet selects for new strains of high acidity-resistant bacteria, which would do some serious damage to our usually well-defended highly-acidic stomach. Normal bacteria are usually killed by the acidity in our stomachs, but if new bacteria evolve to tolerate such acidity they could be consumed by us and then cause an outbreak.

And so I’ve sufficiently freaked myself out enough to continue my practice of avoiding beef altogether. I hope this brief summary has made you think about what is in your McDonald’s hamburger.

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollen (Chapter 4)