Hallelujah hormone

2014-10-08 00:00

Then our heifer only has to survive lions and tigers and redwater, and we have to avoid taxis, Ebola epidemics, the Banting diet and the taxman to reach an age when we have our own kids.

Village Vet

THE calf dropped gently on to the dusty turf. It was a large heifer and the labour had not gone well. Her head kept being deflected on the pelvic rim as the cow pushed. With some effort I reached deep inside the mother to straighten the neck of the foetus and, with ropes attached to the legs and head (via hooks inserted into her eye sockets), it took two strong men to pull her out. She was stressed and messed, but breathing. As I cleaned her nose of the foetal membranes and she breathed her first hesitant breaths, I took a while to reflect on how lucky she was to be alive. Uncomfortable and confused, but very much alive. And how fortunate I was to witness the event.

Historically, the fortunes of cattle and people would have followed similar paths, differing only from the perspective of religious beliefs and the length of time to sexual maturity. According to Christian doctrine, all living animals originated from those rescued by that maritime maestro Noah, who would have lived, according to some sources, around 2 000 years before the birth of Christ, some 4 000 years ago. The gestation period of cattle is roughly nine months and the young heifer becomes sexually mature at around two years of age. The average generation change would then be in the region of three years, which would result in just over 30 generations per 100 years. According to my limited mathematics, this means, starting 4 000 years ago, 1 200 bulls and 1 200 cows in succession would have had to find each other attractive enough to mate, be fertile and produce a heifer calf. Every time — not one failure — culminating in the calf at my feet. An absolutely uninterrupted family line. It is staggering to comprehend!

Now, go with the scientists who believe every living thing has a common ancestor from which it evolved and the numbers become astronomical. It is currently believed mammals first made an appearance some 200 million years ago. That means close to 60 million successful matings must have taken place before our calf was born. Not one misfire. All the infertilities, mortalities and the likes would have resulted in a dead end. And go back further, if you like, to 3,5 billion years ago when life began.

And if that is not impossible enough, think of this. At the point of conception of every single one of those couplings, the fastest sperm got to the egg first and fertilised it. Yes, our calf, (and you and me for that matter), was the product of a race of some three billion sperm cells (humans about a 10th of that, a mere 300 million cells).

And we are the result of only one of those. In actual fact, we are all the Chad le Clos of the sperm world.

There is some more good news. This product of a single sperm and a single egg then multiplies over a nine-month period (cattle as well as people) until birth when the human body has in the region of 100 trillion cells (cattle, by virtue of their size, a lot more but I can’t be exact — I haven’t taken the time off to count them — all organised into systems more sophisticated than anything ever constructed by our scientists. In nine months!

And more often than not, the end result is absolutely perfect. So what if your legs are slightly shorter than a ramp model, or your ears stick out a bit or you cannot run as fast as Usain Bolt.

Then our heifer only has to survive lions and tigers and redwater, and we have to avoid taxis, Ebola epidemics, the Banting diet and the taxman to reach an age when we have our own kids. A piece of cake, comparatively.

So when you are having a nightmare involving the bank manager at 2 pm in the morning, or you are at Kings Park watching the Sharks lose the game in the last second, or Juju is irritating you again, and you end up all maudlin and feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t! In the great scheme of things, it is insignificant.

Remember, all the others who have fallen off the twig on the end of the branch of the tree of life.

We, who are clinging on to this most beautiful planet, for all our self-perceived faults and stresses, are incredibly privileged and precious.

• The Village Vet is a practising veterinarian.

• You can follow the exploits of the Village Vet at www.villagevet.wordpress. com

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