Thursday, October 24, 2019

Talkin' pies

Cow pies that is. Greenish-brownish gold. Grasslands tea, uh, leaves. Yeah, that's it. Tea leaves.

A kind reader recently proposed that I write about real stuff in the real world rather than scyfye. Specifically, he mentioned cowpies. And since cowpies are actually quite a fascinating real world subject, here we go.

Cattle (cows henceforth, as I stipulate that while "cows" are female cattle, cattle themselves are commonly referred to in the aggregate as "cows," even by cattlemen) eat grass almost exclusively. Even when in confinement for feeding in preparation for slaughter, most of the cow diet is grass in the form of hay, with only a couple of percent of high energy input  coming from, typically, corn. And corn itself is the seed of a grass. Yes, it's true, and a somewhat little known fact, corn (more commonly maize most places on the planet) is a grass. So are wheat, barley, rye, sorghum, millet, etc. Butt I digress.

Now you and I and most other carnivores and omnivores can't eat grass almost exclusively. Not if we want to survive and not starve to death. Oh, we can eat grass and even derive a tiny bit of nutrition from it, but we can't derive anything approaching adequate nutrition from grass.

If you've ever chewed on a piece of green grass you've tasted a bit of sweetness. That sweetness comes from the liquid flowing through the grass plant and from the liquid contained in the cells which we've liberated via mastication. But that little touch of sweet is almost useless to us as a foodstuff. More than 99.999 percent of the nutrients in grass are locked up in plant cellulose, and we cannot digest cellulose. We can eat grass, and it'll pass through our gut just fine, but we'll get essentially zero nutrition from it.

Cows, on the other hand, can digest cellulose. Or more properly, cows and their symbiotic gut bacteria can digest cellulose, and as a team the cow and the bugs can then access and utilize the nutrients unlocked in the digestive process. Cool, huh?

And when the grass passes through the cow in the form of manure, the manure breaks down and returns to the soil a great many of the nutrients the cow "borrowed" from the soil to make more cow stuff.

There's a circle of life going on there, and it's not just cows, either. Pretty much all herbivores fertilize the soil. As do all carnivores and all omnivores, including humans. Yes, I know that we first-worlders rarely shit in the woods. That's only because we've outsourced the delivery to our municipal waste handling systems though.
Good for rollin' in, too!


Here's how the whole life on planet Earth thing works. It all needs energy to exist, and all of that energy comes from a star. Ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine (and many more nine-nine-nine's than that) percent of the planet's life gets the energy it needs from Sol -- the sun. A very tiny fraction of life, microbes living deep beneath the surface, seem likely to derive their energy from radioactive elements down there. All of those radioactive elements came from a star that exploded long before our own sun formed.

So all life on this planet gets the energy it needs to exist from stars, nearly all of it from the sun. That is THE basic fundamental of life.

On the landmass of earth, plants grow. They need building blocks to make plant stuff and they need energy. You know where the energy comes from. The plants convert sunlight into plant energy via photosynthesis. With that energy they can build and fuel plant cells by assembling building blocks. The building blocks are mostly hydrocarbons, assembled from the hydrogen in water (rain and snow) taken up from the soil and from carbon taken in from the air. The plants also need micro-nutrients, most of which are dissolved in the water the plants take up from the soil.

Herbivores eat the plants, and that's where herbivores -- be they mammal, reptile, bird, insect, or microbe -- get the energy they need to function as well as the building blocks and micro-nutrients they need.

Carnivores -- meat eaters -- kill and consume herbivores, and it is from the flesh of prey that they get all the energy and building block stuff they need to exist, grow, and reproduce.

Some life is omnivorous. Humans, for example. Omnivorous life derives energy and building blocks from both plants and animals.

The bottom line reality of life is that nearly every organism on the planet gets its energy directly or indirectly from the sun, and everything else, directly or indirectly, from water and air. The very few exceptions, so far as we can tell, get the energy they need from radioactives, which came from a different star, and everything else from water and air.

While we're on the topic, all of the non-energy stuff plants and animals require to function -- all the chemical building blocks including water and carbon and micro-nutrients -- every bit of that also came from long ago exploded stars.

This is also true for all life in the oceans.

All life on the planet is star stuff.


There are fundamental facts in this universe which do not change regardless of what humans do or say. Knowledge of this reality is important to think about and understand because it provides vital scale, context, and perspective.


  1. A lesson well told.

    From cow pies to star stuff, I like how you tied it all together.

    I dub thee, Naval Air Cowman, the Science Guy. (Bill Nye, call your agent, you're fired.)

    1. Very kind words, Sarge. Much appreciated.

      I'm nothing approaching a real scientist. I just take real scientist stuff I've read, mix it in with observation over time, and write what I believe to be true. A little lesson like this is fun and perhaps somewhat helpful but it's woefully incomplete.

      Given the fact that to my incomplete understanding, that one science guy is perhaps a bit more of a propagandist than anything else, I really need to take a more rigorous approach to writing these things. It's a good reminder, and whether you intended to or not, you've done a good thing today my friend!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Well, we got us some science here, and hopefully not too much fiction. Learned something, too.
    Still need to watch where we step.

    Now, with all this time writing, I hope you are not neglecting our future dinners.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Another little known fact, our future dinners are really good at taking care of themselves! While the rest of the word frets over my punishing work schedule I'm mostly reclining in splendor and sipping umbrella drinks!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting John!

  3. You can also burn dried cow pies... That's what the 'net' under the old wagons was for. Buffalo 'chips' and whatever chips they could find.

    1. Makes a great campfire, and the ashes can be used as baking powder in campfire baking.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. One thing I know about cow byproduct. Shut the tractor off, when clearing a jam in the spreader. A friend did not, and she said that all of a sudden the speared was working, and the manure fork she cleared the jam with was at the other end of the field!

    1. Cows are sneaky and get up to all kinds of mischief.

      Thanks for stoppong by and commenting!