Do these Photons from space make my cow butt look big?
Ok, so not exactly the title for a scientific paper, but it’s still worth considering cow-butt-photons. It struck me this morning, as I was calmly working the cattle through the corrals to load them onto the livestock trailer to take them in for harvest. As the animals turned the corner into the loading alley and the sun gleamed off of their chunky backsides, I just couldn't help but notice what an amazing culminating moment this really was.
These animals have spent the last two years of their lives extracting energy that came here from the sun through space and converting it into bones, protein and fat. I'm going to repeat that for you, because, well, it deserves a repeat. Energy flew through space on to earth’s surface in Marin County, and through a miraculous chain of events, this steer’s giant butt in front of me was headed into feed our friends, families and communities. Just let that sink in for a second. I know we are all over-stimulated with amazing facts, but if you really let that sink in, that is some straight up Game of Thrones magic. Like Jon Snow back from the dead type sh#t.
The sun shoots energy through a vacuum more than 92 million miles away. It falls on the soil and plants, who then take this energy and put it to work through the power of photosynthesis. The plants convert that light into sugars and starches and feed the gazillion microbes in the soil, that then re-feed the plants, and create organic matter that makes it all run. Then these herbivores, who have developed intricate stomachs that are able to process plants through a series of chambers to extract this space energy, turn it into bone, muscle and fat. In goes space energy, out goes ribeyes. Shut…..your…..mouth. David Blaine move over. That miracle would be just fine enough, but it doesn't really stop there.
All the while these herbivores are converting space energy into muscle and fat, they are also restoring the landscape. While exploring the nuances of the ecological merits of restorative grazing deserves its own entire post, I will say a few things here that anyone who doesn't like, can fight with me about later. These specifically and well-managed herbivores, converting energy from the sun, manage to increase the actual number of species of plants across the landscapes they inhabit, when managed according to their evolutionary history.
With our amazing day jobs at Sonoma Mountain Institute, we've seen, over the last 5 years, consistent increases in biodiversity across all the landscapes where we have brought the cattle to graze. We've seen invasives, like thistle, decrease up to 70% in some cases. We've inherited properties that had no grazing for 15 years that looked horrible. They had 60% thistle coverage, terrible soil structure, and impenetrable thatch. In one season, with managed impact of cattle, we saw amazing changes with increases in desirable species and decreases in the proportion of invasive plants.
I think sometimes because I've been doing this for long enough, that I get numb to how amazing all this truly is. It's a miracle unfolding every day. I couldn't help but feel amazingly grateful as these beautiful animals walked down the alley to get on the livestock trailer. They had converted space energy into wonderfully abundant food that would be on the plates and in the bellies of the friends and family that we hold dear. We are able to play a role in helping steward along these animals that restore the landscape, create healthy protein, and then end up becoming nourishment for our friends and family.
And here I am, in this moment. This culminating moment of time, where the photons from space, gift of life and vibrant ecology, are coming together in the ultimate sacrifice; that we may be nourished. As I close the trailer door, I look the animals in the eye, who we worked diligently to ensure had a peaceful transition, I filled with gratitude photons. Our team is grateful and honored to be part of this process and to be able to put this food on your plate. Thank you for letting this magic into your homes and into your being.