Organisation - October 10, 2013

Laughable

Kees van Veluw: Dutch artist Tinkebell has had herself sterilized because the world’s supply of phosphate is running out. I have been asked that question in my time, albeit in a very different context. I had a good laugh.

Dutch artist Tinkebell has had herself sterilized because the world’s supply of phosphate is running out. Phosphate is an important component of artificial fertilizer and if it runs out, we’ve got a problem on our hands: we won’t be able to produce enough food to feed the world. The world population must stop growing so fast. So I’ll get myself sterilized, said Tinkebell, and went right ahead and did it. Impressive!

Which WUR researcher is going to follow her example? Have you been sterilized yet? I have been asked that question in my time, albeit in a very different context. I had a good laugh.

Pupils at the Pantarijn secondary school in Wageningen asked for a guided tour of a nature reserve which is grazed by beef cattle from Veld en Beek organic farm. It was a lovely August morning when 20 spotty 15-year-olds cycled off to Renkum, smoking and giggling, for the tour I had the honour of guiding. We went through a bit of cowpat ecology (‘Yuck, shit, flies, it stinks!’), heard the amazing story of the cinnabar moth on ragwort (‘Beautiful caterpillars!’) and stood around a 4000-year-old burial mound (deep silence as I told them that 4000 years ago stone age teenagers walked around here herding cattle), ending up in amongst a herd of 20 three-year-old blaarkop cattle. Huge horned animals weighing 500 kilos.

I told them enthusiastically about heifer calves and bull calves, and how the one becomes a dairy cow later and the other becomes beef. The really exciting part of the story was the bit about castration. ‘That is done under anaesthetic when they are six months old using forceps to close off the testicles.’ You could see the boys feeling the pain and hear the girls giggling. ‘But why is that done?’ asked one of the boys. ‘Well the meat of castrated bulls is tenderer, there is more meat on them and they calm down because there is less testosterone in their systems.’ A spotty youth suddenly came up to me. ‘Sir, I have a question. You are so calm; have you been castrated too?’


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