“[W]hat traces of human civilisation would future scientists find in the strata of the Anthropocene epoch?
One feature of the fossil record we are creating for the basal Anthropocene strata is unlike any past geological transition.
Millions of years from now, palaeontologists will likely excavate a disproportionately large number of bones belong to large to medium-sized mammals. Weirdly, they may think, the fossils are almost entirely of just a small handful of species. And their bones are on every continent apart from Antarctica.
Their discoveries will be a sample of our cows, sheep, goats and pigs which we have selected, transported and reared in their billions to feed the seven billion of us.”
“Consider animal demographics in an intensive agricultural world, says Jan Zalasiewicz: “Instead of having a natural terrestrial ecosystem consisting of two or three hundred vertebrate species all coexisting and all being moderately common, we and the creatures we keep have suddenly exploded as populations.”
About 60% of the weight of all the back-boned animals on the Earth’s surface today is our livestock. The mass of all the people takes up another 30%. The remaining nine or so percent is all of the wild creatures.
Any individual land animal’s chances of being fossilised are extremely poor … However, [some] researchers speculate that enough livestock die on the range or get swept away in floods for them to take more than their fair share of the coming palaeontological limelight in the Anthropocene boundary layers.”
The academic year has come to an end, and an exciting summer of research is just around the corner!
Last month we went to Mangaiti Station, the North Island’s only merino stud breeder. It was the end of lambing season and, as you can see below, the weather was still a bit cold and some of the new lambs had been given felted jumpers for added warmth. As the Kiwis say, “Cute as!”
Luckily, we were just in time to help with tagging the stud lambs, which basically involves three simple steps:
1) identify which lambs belong to which RFID-tagged ewes;
2) use a handheld RFID reader to identify the ewes;
and 3) put a temporary visual ID tag in the lamb’s ear, using an applicator not unlike the one that pierced my ears.
Later, each sheep will be given an EID tag as well as a more permanent, and non-reactive, brass ID tag.
Sometimes the electronic ID tags are lost and, occasionally, the tags cause infection and need to be removed. When we were there, the old-fashioned metal shears above were used to cut the pin holding the tag in one ewe’s ear, leaving a circular, tag-shaped hole where the infected flesh had rotted away. The ewe gave no indication she was in pain, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this scenario could be easily avoided with the use of different materials or through better tag design.
One thing that’s been made abundantly clear to us–and especially so during lambing season–is that merino breeders and growers are heavily invested in doing whatever they reasonably can to ensure that their animals don’t only survive, but actually thrive.
I’m currently writing up some of my observations for a paper I’ll be giving at the CSAA conference next month in Sydney, and I’ve found the concept of tinkering (via Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms) to be particularly useful in thinking about what it means to be bound to livestock in unsentimental ways and still genuinely care for them.
Now, what else is happening?
Well, next week Catherine and I are heading down to the South Island to visit Glenaan Station, Mt Hay Station and Beckford Farm, which is home to some gorgeous coloured merino, and we hope to visit a few more stations in Otago before the end of the month as well.
I’m also busy preparing for a seminar on fantastic ethnographies that I’ll be giving at RMIT at the end of the month–inspired, in part, by Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” and based on a paper I’ll be giving at the ASAANZ conference in December.
And as if that’s not enough, we’ve got five incredibly cool design projects happening this summer so be sure to stay tuned for updates on what we’re doing and making!
Update 16 November
I broke my ankle last week and am not going anywhere until the new year. (Boo! Hiss!) On the upside, we’ll still be doing some awesome design work over the summer, so please stay tuned for updates from me and some awesome research assistants!