Saturday, January 24, 2009

Year of the Ox - ruminations

The Ox and various other herbivores like sheep, goats and deer belong to a family of cud chewers called ruminants. They all share in common, the ability to regurgitate their food for repeat chewing because they have multiple compartments of their stomach to digest the grass they eat.

The first part of their stomach is called the rumen (hence ruminant) where the plant-based swallowed food undergoes some early digestion. The more solid part of the partially digested food, is recalled periodically into the mouth for more chewing when the ox is not grazing. The re-chewed food passes then into a larger compartment (the biggest) called the reticulum. The is the definitive fermentation chamber where gut bacteria help digest the otherwise indigestible plant products such as cellulose so that valuable nutrients may be extracted. The presence of this enormous fermentation chamber is really why ruminants have such a large barrel-sized belly. You may think the ox or cow isn't doing very much standing in the middle of the field, but actually he is happily fermenting away stuff, and producing lots of gas to be burped out or farted out.

By contrast, herbivores such as the rabbit do not have such an efficient process for extracting nutrients from the food they eat. They are not true ruminants. However, they do have also a fermentation chamber for doing pretty much the same thing. Their caecum (the part of the large intestine where the appendix is attached to) is where this occurs. But because this is so far down the alimentary tract, the valuable nutrients cannot be easily absorbed from the fermented food. Rabbits therefore have to re-eat their s*** (called scientifically coprophagy). The rabbit produce a softer form of s*** called caecotrope, which they regularly re-eat. This is an essential part of their diet, and rabbits denied this s*** eating, suffer from severe malnutrition.

Why do I belabour this point?

Well.... times are going to get really tough this year. Resources are pretty limited. That's why the gahment (Singlish for 'government') is digging into our reserves. At our level, we need to be more efficient in our personal lives and work practices, and maximize the utility of whatever resources we can muster. The Year of the Ox, does remind us of the need to 'ruminate'.

The question is whether we will be like the ox, that is able to redigest our food by regurgitation (true rumination), or whether we will be like the rabbit engaging in s*** eating.

Food for thought.

Have happy Lunar New Year in this Year of the Ox!!

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