Friday, December 20, 2013

Learning To Live

Sometimes I forget that I am only 24...because many days in soul I feel like I am 768. I also have magical powers. Just kidding. Wanted to make sure I hadn't lost you already ;)

As I sit here in the hospital, it's hard not to watch the many people doing the same thing. Waiting. While they wait, people are reading, watching the news, talking on the phone or like me doing all of the above. It's easy when you are so busy and so tuned in all the time to forget what life is all about.

It's easy, especially during the Holidays, to forget to take a breath and laugh or act a little silly. Silliness is what the Thomas girls have in spades :) and I have no problem telling you to stop being so serious.

 We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.                                                                                   -George Bernard Shaw

So as we get even closer to Christmas, do me a favor. Take a few seconds and laugh with those close to you. Snuggle the pups. Start a food fight. Get covered in flour as you roll out sugar cookies. It doesn't matter.

After all, this is the most wonderful time of the year...but only if you take some time to enjoy it :)

Sorry for the cell phone pic...but you can tell we are NO NORMAL family. What is normal anyway though? ;)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Humans Are Animals Too...Remember?

After feeling pretty combative today (the machine I need to run my samples is broken...which means all of my samples will NOT be run before I head home to take care of my family), I remembered a video I took a couple of months ago when I moved my recent piglets from the farrowing room into the nursery but never did anything with. 

You see...there's a dark side to pigs. And I don't mean in that the farmer abuses them, being raised inside makes them mean and angry and unnatural and mutated way. The dark side is that pigs can be pretty darn aggressive. Not necessarily to humans...although I did have one massive Duroc boar that absolutely hated me for some reason. No, they can be very aggressive with each other

Surprised? If you think about it, you shouldn't be! 

All animal societies require pecking orders. Somebody has to be at the top which means somebody has to be on the bottom. If you have watched enough National Geographic or Animal Planet you can easily see that the animal kingdom likes to fight dominance out. And in case you forgot, humans are technically Primates. And we really aren't so different in fighting for dominance, it just doesn't always involve fist-fights these days

So why do I say there is a dark side to pigs?

Well because that fight for dominance can end up in death for one or both (sometimes more than 2 are involved) of the pigs involved in the main fight. If two pigs just won't give up they can die from injuries sustained during the fight or simply die from exhaustion and stress. 

When do pigs fight?

The main reason pig fights break out are when groups of pigs are trying to establish a pecking order. Somebody has to be the Boss, whether it's a Boss Sow or simply Boss of the Pen. This tends to happen when pigs are mixed.

Mixed? Here are some examples:

1. You have a pen of sows and you need to introduce some recently weaned sows into the pen as well. 
        Things to consider:
            -Are the sows you are introducing a similar size and age of the sows already in the pen?
            -Are any of the sows being introduced INTO the pen or already IN the pen particularly moody or                   combative?
            -Do you have enough space to make sure there are areas for the loser sows to go hang out and stay                  away from the grumpy sows?
            -Will there be enough feeding space to make sure the bottom of the pecking order gets enough to                    eat without the Boss Sow eating her share as well?

2. You recently weaned multiple litters of piglets and must move them into the nursery pens. Most often it is impossible to leave only litter mates with litter mates as pens are usually large enough to house several litters at once (remember the national average is about 10 pigs per litter). They must now establish a pecking order. 
             Things to consider:
                 -Size of pigs
                 -Size of pen
                 -Feed and Water access

3.  When boars (uncastrated males) get together. Boars are probably the strangest creatures in the world. It's like testosterone poisoning ruins their brains (sounds's not surprising that humans and pigs are so very similar). If they are raised together and kept together forever then there are usually few problems. But if you take a boar out of his home pen to go breed sows and forget to put him back for a couple of days then you might as well forget putting him back ever. Because as soon as you put him back, it will be WAR. Big Angry (sometimes Tusk Wearing) Boars fighting each other? Definitely not something you want to ever witness or have to break up. The one time I had to do it (boar got out of his pen, then lifted the hinges on another boar's pen to fight) I thought I was going to get killed, but I couldn't let them kill each other. Even though they were bound and determined to do it. 

The most important thing to remember when mixing pigs? Never, ever, ever mix just 1 pig into a new pen (unless it's a 2 pig pen or there is absolutely no other choice). Mixing multiple new faces into a pen keeps the resident pigs from beating up on only one pig. 

When I am asked questions about pig behavior, I tend to compare pigs to the guy who wants to fight everybody after he drinks a little too much whiskey. Most of the time they are pretty calm, OK relatively calm, friendly, inquisitive (yum your boots and calves taste yummy) creatures, but everybody has bad days right?

Wanting to fight is the reason why there are guys running around with boards in the middle of pig show rings, because if two pigs want to get together and fight, a quick board between them and pushing them in separate directions is the best way to redirect their attention. 

I love pigs, I really do, but they are not always as cute and cuddly as people like to believe. Understanding they aren't as cute and cuddly as you believe can help you understand why pork producers handle pigs in the manners that they do. Because ultimately we want pigs and people to be as safe as possible.

NOW, the video I took is of the 2nd situation, when I had to wean pigs and ended up mixing pigs from a couple different litters together. Why didn't I make the fighting stop? I monitored the situation to make sure that it wasn't getting too out of hand (at which point I would have separated the combatants, i.e. moved EITHER the aggressor OR the aggressee into a different pen) but otherwise pigs have to develop a pecking order and too much interference from me would not do much good. By the next day, this pen was a little scratched up from the fighting but settled into months of happy cohabitation otherwise. 

Keep in mind this post has not been an entirely comprehensive explanation of behavior in pigs, but has merely been designed to show you a pig behavior that is not witnessed much outside of pork production (since most people are 3+ generations removed from farming) and to give you an idea of how complex taking care of livestock can actually be. It can often be a series of tough choices. Which pigs can I mix? Where can I move them if the sow at the bottom of a pecking order in a pen is in danger of malnutrition or has injuries from the Boss Sow beating her up/eating all of her food? What is best for the health and happiness of the animals? Do I have enough space to separate problem pigs or do I need to remove them from the barn altogether? The list of questions and balancing acts is endless. But at the end of the day, their health and happiness is the most important thing of all. 

If you have any questions/concerns, please contact me and I will be happy to discuss this further! 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

All I Want For Christmas

Lately I have been fully living the running around like a chicken with its head cut off. And it's not because of things I am being forced to do, but things I am forcing myself to do. Man, I need to talk to myself about this little issue cuz it is wearing me out!

This week has been dedicated to running ALL of my lab work. That's right, all of it. I'm trying to do in 1 week what most people do in a month or two. Not because it can't be done in one week but because nobody wants to do as much lab work in one time period as I have been doing. And to top things off, machines aren't cooperating which is putting me behind schedule.

Behind schedule for what you might ask. Going home. All I Want For Christmas is to go home. I am emotionally worn-out from being so far away from all of those I love. The boy. My sisters. My mom. My friends in Wyo. Oh yea, and of course, being away from my babies.

Tuesday is D-Day. It's my last final (and by last I mean ONLY final of the semester...and LAST final EVER!) and I want to jump in my truck and hammer down right after it is over. I will not waste one minute.

If that means I have to run samples over the weekend and finish up Christmas presents at the same time then so be it.

Other than my emotional needs I am racing home to help out my Mama. She's had a rough year...and that's saying something because I feel like the 10 years since my Dad died have been rocky as a whole. She broke her femur in February, then her hip in October. And when she broke her hip, she popped the plate holding the femur together out of place as well. To the point that it is pretty darn close to poking a hole in the skin and exposing the insides of her leg to the world. Making you cringe? Yea me too. But she is having surgery next Friday to hopefully fix the problem. And I want to be home to help her in any way I can.

It seems like the Christmas season is a bumpy one for our family. We lost my Dad 4 days before Christmas. Mom spent most of one year in and out of the hospital fighting an infection that almost killed her. One Christmas both Mom and I were on crutches (I had broken my leg, she had knee troubles that ended up causing the infection). I dealt with kidney stones last season and this season Mom will be in the hospital until a couple of days before Christmas. And these are only the events that stick in my mind.

In no way shape or form are we as badly off as many other families. We have always had each other's backs and have always had food, clothing, and a roof over our head but man is this time of year hard. It's taken me until just a year or two ago to rekindle my love of the holidays. Too many years of bad happenings will do that to a body.

So maybe I will change my holiday wishes and say that All I Want For Christmas is to go home...and for Mom's leg to finally be fixed.

Nothing like bad situations to give you some perspective. So if you ever wonder why I am so passionate about helping people who are down, it's because I've been there. Am there. And we have always had a helping hand.

So in the spirit of this wonderful time of year, I hope you help someone in any way you can. Whether it is donating gifts, food, money, time, or offering a kind word and a support system, it doesn't matter. Sometimes when all bets are off, any help is better than none at all. And you never know, you might just help someone fulfill their Christmas wish.

*Sorry for the semi-depressing post! This has been on my mind a lot lately. In the spirit of cheering up, I think I want to move to Canada...because WestJet airlines pulled an awesome holiday surprise off. I don't care if it was to promote a good was fabulous. Check it out!*

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The End Is Near

After a long week, this weekend was like a breath of fresh air... or should I just say semi-lazy air?

Here are some things that happened this past week:

As you can tell, they were a little crowded. Goodbye sweeties!
All of my pigs (all 97 of them) left this week...which was both a relief (means I can leave for home right after my one and only final) and kind of a depressing event. I've said this before, but it's bittersweet to see animals go, even when you want them to leave for selfish reasons. But I'm needed at home, so I guess it was time to say goodbye to the piggies. 

I had a presentation to give for my Toxicology class and let me just say that if you really want to make Med students heads spin, start telling them about Mycotoxin Regulations in animal feed. I shouldn't still get a little thrill from that, but oh man Med students are sooo smug and sure of themselves...and being able to show them how much they don't know/never realized about Agriculture is exciting. OK I'm a little evil...admitting there's a problem is the first step though right?

The Animal & Food Science Grad Students had a Career Panel which involved 5 professionals from all walks of life/career choices coming and answering our questions. They were all fantastic and truly admirable people, from professors to private industry to state government, and the message I carried home with me was have faith that what will happen will happen, and you will know the right opportunity when it smacks you in the face. Not exactly news, but as I'm coming up on the end of my college career...this is a statement I have been trying to hang onto (and it was nice to hear the same thoughts from somebody other than myself). 

Because I am leaving for home next week I have been frantically trying to get all my lab work done before I leave. If you wanna know why research and lab work takes so long it's because it is soooooo miserable that you have to stretch it out. Trust me, sprinting through it is not endearing it to me either. I'm not sure what is going to happen with my Mom so I want to make sure I can stay home as long as I am needed.

And last but not least, I pieced an entire quilt top together yesterday. I desperately want to post a picture but I can't...until after Christmas :) It was the most calming day ever. Which led to the laziest day I have had in months...aka laying on the couch watching Hallmark movies. And I mean simply laying on the couch watching Hallmark movies. 

I've had a lot of time to think today and while I won't bore you with the many things that ran through my head here are a few of the most important ones:

1. How has Christmas become the time where we buy and buy and buy and buy? I've seen commercial after commercial tempting people into buying the absolute most number of presents they can for their family members. The more the better, and the more expensive, even better. Where has the spirit of giving gone? And I don't mean the giving of numerous expensive gifts...I mean gifts that are truly from the heart. Last year I told my family I wanted them to donate money to some charities in my name instead of giving me presents. I still ended up with some presents, but the true spirit of Christmas isn't in how much money we spend, but how much we help our fellow man and world. 

2. This is my last semester of classes. Ever. Where will life take me from here? This is a daunting question and one I know will work out however it is supposed to...but it still makes my throat close up and my heart squeeze. 

3. We have become a very selfish society. Wrapped up in what we have or don't have, how many likes we get on Facebook, how many people read our stories or don't read our stories. I thought long and hard this week about why I started blogging and why I made a second Facebook page for the blog. Heaven knows it hasn't been for the popularity. What I realized was it was mainly so I wouldn't overwhelm my Facebook friends with a bunch of posts all the time and so I had a place to stream my thoughts. Although why I felt the need to send them out into cyberspace still escapes me...but I can't be sorry I have started because it will give me a way to look back years from now and see how things have changed. 

4. News people are way too dire. "Has the worst passed yet? Find out at 11." C'mon, we got a little freezing rain. Do not make it sound like the world is coming to a quick and frosty death after this pitiful "storm". There are places in far worse shape than here. 

5. I have become far too domesticated. It's almost as scary as looking for a job. 

As usual some of this did not come out as eloquently as it was written in my head. If only I could invent a technology that could capture thoughts and images and make them visible to others, then many of my problems would be solved, and my dreams would all become hit movies. As it is, I think I will just go prepare for my last week of class. Ever. Sorry I had to repeat that. It doesn't feel real yet. 

As for the evil part? This can help for sure right?

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Strange Things You Do When You Live Alone

Coming home to an empty house today was as familiar as that faded old t-shirt you wear until it literally shreds off your body. Stepping into the silence was as calming as the ocean tide.

Who am I kidding? The first sentence was completely true, the second one not so much. Living alone is an adventure that everybody should go on. It can be the world's greatest and world's worst roller coaster ride in the world, sometimes all in the span of a few breaths.

As I prepared for bed last night I found myself thinking about some of the bizarre things that happen when you live alone. Then again some of these things happen when you live with other just can't blame other people when you live alone.

Like misplacing that purple Pyrex pan I make meatloaf in. Can't blame it on my housemates...unless maybe the mice have developed the skills necessary to make heavy glass dishes disappear. Maybe the pan went to the same place that some of my clothes have gone. You know what I'm talking about right? That eerie kingdom that houses misplaced socks and tarnished old memories.

What about the sounds that the house makes in the dark? Those sounds wake me from a dead sleep on a regular basis.

Or the fact that I have to sleep facing my bedroom if facing whatever monstrosity comes through my door is really gonna help me (NOT!)

How many people can claim they have an entire loveseat devoted to simply serving as fabric storage?

Or a patio table turned kitchen table that is covered by an ironing board, packages, and giant Reese's Peanut Butter Cups? That's a Half-pound cup right there. Talk about coma material. 

Or have a massive wooden quilting frame taking up most of the dining room area and blocking the bathroom? Because walking through the frame is now the easiest way to reach the second bathroom. 

Living alone is dangerous. And I don't mean in that some stranger is going to break down my door and murder me in my sleep kinda way. Trust me if something out of the ordinary were to happen my neighbors would swarm my house. Seriously. No, it's dangerous because you let your dishes pile up and wait to wash them until Saturdays because you can eat off of paper towels for a few days (since filling up and draining the sink is such a terribly taxing ordeal ya know). And when you misplace things you have only yourself to blame. And your list of favorite TV shows that you must watch every week becomes so long and such a fixture in your life that everybody who calls you knows when NOT to call you.

It's no wonder hermits and mountain men wear the cloak of oddity so well. Living alone is a dangerous ordeal. Especially when only doing the things you absolutely want to do becomes your sole goal in life because you don't have anybody else to care for.

I know what you are this gal is a complete disaster. She could rival any man in her slovenliness and is so darn lazy that she can't even wash her dishes regularly like a normal human being.

Hey. Living alone is a whole different ballgame. If you only have yourself to answer to and yourself doesn't care, then what's it matter?

I still cook. I still clean. I craft on a regular basis. I am a champion at getting school work, personal projects and projects for everybody and their brother done in a timely manner. So who cares if the dishes aren't done and I have to sleep facing the door?

I cannot wait to live with people again. Scratch that, I can't wait to have my pups back!

But seriously, let's be real. It's the end of the world as we know's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine. 

Bless my heart, I've cracked.

Happy Monday y'all!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 29 & 30: Farewell My Favorite Month

This last week has not been a good week for following through with the 30 day AG blog challenge. It's not that I have been busier than usual, because I haven't...but I've been busy making memories with my sweetheart (who I only see for short periods of time every couple of months or so). Do you think you could forgive me for not keeping up with the challenge? I hope so!

It's been an interesting week (and month), one filled with the highest highs and the lowest not anywhere near the lowest lows. There has been an engagement, a vehicle breakdown, plans being changed, my final Masters project ending, and to top the boy's visit off...a train ride :)

I don't know what it is about my farm boy (and most farm boys) but if it is big and it runs on diesel...he is so there. Without question. 

So we went and experienced the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, which is definitely southern Kentucky almost to Tennessee. The Big South Fork Recreational Area actually falls in both Kentucky and Tennessee but that's another one of my random facts you will probably never need. To make it even better we rode in the cab with the engineer...Hallelujah and Praise the Lord! 

It's not a very long train trip, 2 hours time-wise, but only about 10 miles one-way (20 miles round-trip...I'm really bad with numbers so I thought I would just help you out haha). But it's still a pretty one and takes a quick half hour stop at an old coal camp in Stearns. One of Cody's goals in life? Getting inside of a coal mine. My goal? Me surviving him surviving that trip. Don't get me wrong, coal mining is an honorable profession...but I would never have survived being a coal miner's wife. It would give me an ulcer, a heart attack and turn me into a bitter old woman before my time. 

But riding in the cab? Definitely made the trip worthwhile. Not only did we get to ride forwards...we experienced driving backwards, uphill, as well. Jealous? I am. Now if only you could witness a Wisconsinite trying to figure out what Kentuckians are saying...major accent differences!

So at the end of my favorite month of the year I wouldn't change a thing. Especially since I still have one more night to enjoy the company of my sweetheart...who looks awfully lonely on the couch which means it's time to end this post. Enjoy the photo montage and help me in saying: Farewell November! Helllllooooo December :)

I get to ride in the cab?!?

Barthell Coal Camp

Kentucky and Tennessee Rail Way Cars

This is what it looks like to drive a train backwards

And this is how tight the path is...wanna touch some rocks??

Farewell, Farewell.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Day 28: A Day Of Thanks

It seems this week that I have completely fallen off track with my 30 day blogging. But it seemed to me that my time would be better served cooking, sewing and cuddling my boy on this oh so special Thanksgiving.

In fact he helped me cook and sew...and told me that he was by far, better at than I was. I guess this is what
happens when one ring makes you instantly domesticated? I didn't realize that such a small item could so drastically change ones outlook on everything. And had the power to domesticate the man! Maybe I should just count my blessings and accept that this may be one of those insanely rare turn of events. Don't think I am ever going to have to worry about trying to foolishly change my boy.

We trudged next door to one of my neighbors and had a short visit before heading to town and co-hosting Thanksgiving dinner with friends of mine from school. How do you co-host Thanksgiving you might ask? You split up the food making duties that's how! I can only classify it as co-hosting because there were 3 fellow students that enjoyed Turkey Day with us. One from India and 2 from China...needless to say they were surprised at how much we ate, what foods we had cooked, and we didn't do a very good job of explaining why Thanksgiving is so important to Americans.

I guess it is one of those things that is bred into us, like the color of our eyes, the dimples in our cheeks, and the instinctive love of the country we are so very lucky to live in.

So on that day of Thanks, I was so very grateful to have family that I love (even though I was far away from them), a brand-new fiance, and wonderful friends to spend the day with.

My list of thanks is probably a mile long...but friends and family will always be the most important. And what Turkey Day is truly about.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Days 25-27: Does Anything Ever Go As Planned?

I'm not really sure why we make plans because they never turn out the way I expect. I guess it's a good thing the boy and I are both getting really good at rolling with the tide.

We headed north to Cincinnati on Monday to go to a cookbook signing for The Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond). If you haven't experienced the awesomeness of The Pioneer Woman (cooking show, recipes, blog, etc) then you really need to check her out. She is pretty damn awesome. So much so that I've even gotten my family hooked on her show. But I've been planning to go to this signing since she first posted the schedule. It was to be my belated birthday present to myself...that may sound selfish, but cooking is never selfish.

We get most of the way to Cincinnati and my pickup sputters. Sputters. Loses power. Then dies. On the side of 1-75. With people flying by at 70+.

Of course my personal mechanic gets out and starts checking everything over. An hour goes by and he has finally exhausted what he can do with no tools. And the pickup is deader than a doornail. So I call State Farm to get a tow. Three hours later we finally get a a garage about 2 miles up the road. Seriously. We were sitting right near an exit, with our flashers on and apparently we were impossible to find. Yep. Three hours. 

By this point we had more than missed the signing, so we spent the night in a hotel and the shop fixed my pickup in the morning.

I cried when I realized I was going to miss the signing. I didn't even care that my pickup was broken down. But missing the signing? That was just too much. Luckily I called the bookstore and they got my books signed for me anyway. I even told the woman at the bookstore she was My Hero. Can you tell they made it very clear on the signing list that I was really upset I was missing the whole deal?

So the boy and I got a mini-vacation in the middle of our vacation. It may have not been in the plans, but we went with it. I'm not sure why I was supposed to miss the signing, but I know it was for a reason. And I got my cookbooks in the end :)

Tuesday involved finishing our trek to Cincinnati, drinking for a couple hours in a bar, and going to see Catching Fire. Which didn't turn out the way I was expecting. I just hope this new director doesn't ruin the final book...cuz I would cry then too. But driving home in the snow made it all worth it :) Oh how I have missed the white stuff. OK so it wasn't much...but better than nothing right?

On this eve of Thanksgiving, my now domesticated boy finished my quilting frame :) as I made some brownies and pasta salad to take with us to dinner tomorrow, then made dinner. Did I mention the boy busted his tooth on a bacon sandwich this morning? Yep, now everybody thinks I'm abusive. Did I mention he accidentally almost broke my nose? This was definitely not our couple of days. 

As you can see I'm not sure why we ever make plans...they never work out the way we planned. But sometimes that can be a blessing in disguise :)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 24: Romance Is Overrated

Little did I know when I wrote yesterday's post that today would definitely require a sense of humor. The boy had promised me a belated birthday breakfast (that he was going to make). Unfortunately he left his bag of free potatoes at Wisconsin.

Forgetting the taters for your tater-loving girlfriend? Not the best start to a birthday breakfast.

B: How about pancakes?
Me: I just made pancakes a week or two ago. How bout you just pull those out of the freezer and heat them up?
B: Fine
*Pancakes get eaten (while watching Die Hard 2...oh joy haha)*

As I was eating breakfast I called my mom because my sister has been having car troubles and I figured I better catch them before they left for work and went to church. So we chatted away and I got up to do the dishes. At this point the boy started grumbling and kept yelling at me to sit down. But I was don't mess with a woman when she's cleaning. Especially not when she's cleaning and talking to her Mama.

When I finally sat down, he pulled his pinkie finger out with a ring on it and said "Wanna get hitched?"

Oh be still my fluttering heart. The sheer romance of the whole situation still takes my breath away ;) I am still laughing about that...apparently by not sitting still I ruined his plan. Although I don't see how it could have gotten anymore romantic than it did.

Some people make elaborate plans. My boy? True romantic. All the way.

But I'm not complaining. Not at all. Because if the boy had proposed to me in a really imaginative way I would have wondered what the heck had happened to the guy I knew. The farmer who buys me a truck but keeps it for himself...because he needs it more than I do right now. The man who drives 10 hours one-way just to see me whenever he can. Who spends hours doing pig work on his vacation...especially on the day he proposed to his girlfriend. I could go on, but my boy is not overtly romantic. Or emotional. But that doesn't mean he doesn't love me. And wouldn't move heaven and earth to protect me.

It's pretty funny how things turn out. I am one of the biggest romantics in the world...I cry during Disney movies, Hallmark movies, books, etc. And now I am marrying one of the world's most secret romantics...who just doesn't know how to show it. No worries though, at least we have the right outlook on life...just the like the couple in this article.

So whadya say? Wanna get hitched? :)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 23: Humor Needed, Sanity Optional

Once upon a time there was a not-so-fair maiden waiting for her handsome prince to arrive. He would bring with him great tidings of joy and wonder.

Wait a second. Probably shouldn't mix fairy tales and Christmas stories. Next thing I know I will be dreaming of killer reindeer, monster dogs and Peeta Mellark. I can only imagine how that would turn out....especially dreaming about Peeta. He is after all the best character to dream about. I asked the boy if I could name a kid Peeta. He rolled his eyes and told me only if he could name a kid Bubba. Nevermind...not making that bargain!

In case you couldn't tell, I was graced with the presence of my boy today (and for the next 8 days!!). Since we only see each other every couple of months this is quite the treat. Or nightmare. I haven't decided which yet. Especially since he loooooves to drive me crazy. And by crazy I mean INSANE. On purpose. 

Which ends up with us bickering. A lot. In fact we were told to start a comedy show. If people enjoy watching large men being punched by small women then we would make a killing. If you don't enjoy bickering and violence...well you are out of luck on this deal! 

If you want some humor to end this day..the boy is only 23, yet showed up today looking like an 80 year old man, bent and shuffling. When you are 6'5", bent in half, and barely walking I'd say a chiropractor is in dire need...but what do I know? To make matters even better, he's turning grey! 

Visitors are always welcome at my house but you need a large dose of humor. Luckily sanity is only optional. 

Happy Saturday! :)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Day 22: Pointing Fingers Never Pays

Recently I have spent large portions of my time trying to dispel the fear associated with "factory farms" face to face with individuals. On Wednesday I presented to another set of high school AG classes and for the most part it was a great day.

I did have one shock. Even though it shouldn't have been a shock because I have been waiting for this for weeks. Before I had even begun the last presentation of the day I had one student tell me that factory farms were the most evil thing on the planet. And that chickens are pumped full of hormones like they are on a processing line.

Horror of horrors, she had just quoted the recent Chipotle campaign to me. Without saying Chipotle. Or where she had heard/seen these spectral images.

Hormone use is always covered in my presentations, because hormone use in pigs and poultry is illegal. Like really illegal. You can look it up if you don't believe me. Especially if you just paid extra money to buy that pork or poultry that was labeled as "hormone-free"...when it's all as hormone-free as anything can be (remember that hormones are in everything NATURALLY so there is no such thing as hormone-free food).

Anyway, that comment ended a day that had begun with the following commentary:

I still find myself reading comments on everything (even though I promised myself long ago I would cease to do that! Especially since it often makes my blood pressure rise...) and this comment is one I find frequently.

"Small farms are being destroyed by larger farms. Our state has lost many 100 cow dairies because of the larger dairy farms taking over."

Now I am no dairy farmer but that statement always burns me. Because I am dating a man who works on equipment for dairy farmers in Wisconsin for a living. And whose friends run 100 cow dairies. As far as I am concerned if 100 cow dairies were disappearing for good then Wisconsin would cease to exist as a state. Seriously.

Yes, "small" farms can have a difficult time competing with "larger" farms, but if you truly want to thrive then you will find your niche. When I see that comment I immediately think how many of those dairies that sold out had no succession plan or nobody interested in taking over? How many people just decided farming wasn't something they wanted to do anymore? How many of those people were going to make a killing selling their land to developers? Or who found an opportunity that was far easier and much more lucrative than milking cows? (For example: an 800 cow dairy near Cody had financial issues and ended up giving up milking cows to raising heifers for a larger dairy because it was just such a better financial option for them.)

Is it really the fault of the successful farmer when somebody else goes out of business? I'm not trying to be insensitive here but to me it seems like business acumen may be what is missing. As far as I am concerned if you really want it then you will find a way. No matter how hard. No matter how awful.

Do I have all the answers? Hell no.

But as far as I am concerned, blaming the successful farmers for the problems of the not-so-successful farmers seems like a cop-out. Because I guarantee you that the hope of most small farms is to grow...and when they grow, will that suddenly make them the enemy as well?

Just as the fighting amongst organic and conventional (I will admit that I sometimes have a hard time with this, but I am trying to be more understanding) must end, the finger pointing must end as well. Blaming others for personal problems never accomplishes anything. Except to alienate friends and create a divide that may never be bridged.

So instead I vote we applaud those who are successful and help those who need a leg up. Because someday soon that might be me needing a leg up. Without the dairy cows of course ;)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day 21: For Mom

Today is my birthday. I'm not putting this out into cyberspace for recognition...but as an explanation for the nature of this post. 

Today most of all, I am extremely thankful for my family. 

Especially my Mama. 

Everybody loves their Mama and mine has always been one of my best friends. Sometimes I forget what I have told her and what I have told my boy...which ends up being a never-ending source of frustration for him but hey!

I won't wax poetic but my Mom is one of the most amazing people I have ever known. Because she is by far the strongest person I have ever known. Not so much physically anymore, especially not after this year. In fact, she's fragile...and it's extremely hard to accept. But mentally and emotionally she will always be my Beacon of Strength and the perfect example of how a Mom should be.

A little bit crazy (in a good way), extremely thoughtful, hard-working, resilient, a tough exterior with a soft inside, and a whole lot sarcastic. 

No matter how old I get, I still find myself sometimes wishing for my mommy to make everything all better. To just be able to sit in a recliner with her and know that everything will be okay. That a hug from her and some cookies can make the worst days seem like a piece of cake. 

I am so incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful Mom to hold onto. So on my birthday, I dedicate this day (in spirit) to her. Because without her, I wouldn't be here. Literally. And figuratively as well. 

And because I can't resist...I will share how incredibly wonderful and adorable my boy is. All you have to do is check out the card he mailed me (even though he will be here this weekend!!)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day 19: You're in Grad School For What?!

It's been a day here in Kentucky. Interesting, confusing, and poignant altogether. My mentor in the pig group defended for his PhD today and while he's not leaving just yet, it was still a poignant moment for me. As for the rest of the we go.

I have some nasty patches on my arms that popped up as soon as I got this batch of pigs in and after dealing with the itchiness and the pain for weeks I finally went to the doctor. I was honestly terrified they were going to tell me that I had an allergy. To pigs. Which wouldn't exactly be a deal killer...I would just have to start taking more precautions and probably end up on allergy shots. But thankfully they said it looked like eczema.

So now if people ask why my arms look like someone with leprosy I can give them a good answer. And I can almost guarantee you that this flare up is from stress.

But just to be sure I also made an appointment with a local dermatologist. Her first question was what are you going to grad school for? My favorite question to ever be asked in the whole wide world. Why do I want people to know I am in grad school for Pig Nutrition? Not because I love nutrition (cuz I don't) but because it never ceases to get some fantastic responses from people.

                     Pig Nutrition?! I've never heard of such a thing! What do you do??

You can't exactly tell people that basically you collect pee and poop all day because they just wouldn't get it. I was unfortunate enough to end up in the hospital 3 days before Christmas last year for a severe kidney infection (thanks to kidney stone problems) and ended up needing a stint put in (which let me tell you is probably the most painful thing EVER...I think my left kidney remembers how much that hurt because every now and then it aches but I tell it to play nice and it stops. Of course).  But I was asked why the heck we needed Pig Nutritionists? My response: somebody has to feed the pigs.

It opens up a world of questions when people come into contact with something new. I feel bad for my family because they are always trying to explain to people what I am doing with my life...and most of the time those people walk away shaking their heads in confusion and awe. But maybe the fact that my degree exists will eventually assuage any fears those individuals have when it comes to food production. Maybe they will look me up with questions.

But back to the dermatologist! As soon as I explained what I do with my life, her next question was:
 "Is antibiotic use in pigs rampant like it is in cattle?" Whoa, whoa, whoa was basically what I was thinking. But after we had a quick discussion about antibiotic use in cattle and pigs, she asked "Well what about dairy cows? Do they overuse antibiotics to prevent mastitis?" Wow. If that isn't proof that consumers are concerned about food production, then I don't know what is.

I was just happy that I knew enough to give intelligent responses and hopefully they will think twice when they hear about antibiotic abuse taking over livestock operations. But that is why I love being asked what I do. Because people inevitably ask you the questions that they need to hear honest, truthful answers to...from somebody who actually has a clue.

I shudder to think what terrifying answers would have been given to these women from somebody that had a nefarious agenda (like getting rid of livestock production and antibiotics use in livestock or seeking to solely promote their product based on the Farm selling Drug-Free beef from the other day!)

On that note, I will leave you with the following shocking fact:
I was told about a 22 pound organic turkey (on a farm near where my family lives) that costs $400. I wouldn't pay $5 for turkey (I do not like turkey), much less $400! Yikes. I definitely need to look into this craziness.

Wednesday, here we come!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Day 18: A Cause For Concern

It seems that the weeks of rising early and going, going, going are starting to wear on me. I'm not complaining, just apologizing in advance for the lack of epic awesomeness in the following post.

Today an individual asked me if this ----------------->
was used for sows. Now this person has a degree in Animal Science and is working on a Master's in Swine Nutrition. I had all I could do not to smack my forehead in awe. But I politely stated that no it was used for cattle.

I am concerned about the Agricultural programs at universities. The example above is a poor one because the student is not from the US, but I have noticed my fair share of inadequacies in Animal Science and Agricultural classes.

It is a cause for concern because the majority of students in Animal Science programs are female now. And the majority of those are pre-vet majors. Now  I don't care what everybody has told them but they are not all going to make it TO vet school, let alone through it, let alone making it as a respected veterinarian.

We were extremely lucky in Wyoming because the professors have a very hands-on, practical use, mindset. They want the students to actually DO the things they are being taught. But I've noticed here in Kentucky that the opportunity for as many hands-on activities is limited. The unit managers aren't as happy to have people underfoot who aren't working there. The largest problem is the lack of funding...not to mention that funding for Animal Science and Agricultural programs have taken some very serious hits nation-wide (some places more than others) which is unfortunate because these programs are seeing increases in the number of students.

Especially increases in the number of students who have little to no animal experience and especially no agricultural experience. City kids most would call them. Now I can't say that I wasn't missing a large chunk of knowledge, especially when it came to pigs and crops when I ended up in the Animal Science program...but if I had never been afforded the opportunity to APPLY what I was learning in the classroom to a real-world situation, then I'm not sure I would really have learned much of anything. The best way to learn how to farm or ranch is basically to do it.

We used to make fun of CSU because they didn't have any pigs. We would get kids up for the practical portions of the Academic Quadrathalons that had absolutely no idea how to give a pig a shot or what processing a piglet entails. As Dave used to say "It's a sad day in the world when you can graduate with an Animal Science degree and never touch an animal."

It seems like such a disservice to students, universities, and future employers not to give a college student all the opportunity they could possibly need to learn as much as possible.

I think it would be a great idea to have every student graduating with an AnSci degree or even an Ag degree be required to rotate through farms throughout their time in college. Even if they have experience in Ag or a specific species of livestock, it would be fantastic for them to gain extra outside knowledge. It never hurts to see how other people are performing tasks or making decisions...eventually it comes in handy. The problem would be getting a program set up that would allow farm and university cooperation...not to mention finding farms that would allow a never-ending stream of obnoxious college students to filter through. This is another idea that requires some more thought, but there has to be a way.

I'm determined to find a way to make sure that practical experience sees a revival in Animal Science degrees. If only so that there are absolutely no students who mistake a headgate as something useful in restraining a sow. How can we educate others if we don't have a clue ourselves?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Day 17: Poor Marketing-How Do We Make It Stop?

I got a not so pleasant surprise as I was driving towards the highway this morning.         ------------>

I'm sure most of you have experienced the following sequence I am about to describe:

1st thought: Rip the sign out of the ground.

2nd thought: Would it be too inappropriate to call and ask exactly what DRUG-FREE means?

3rd thought: How do we make this stop?

Now I understand you have to sell your product and that consumers like to know that their meat is "drug-free"....but ALL meat is drug-free. So what exactly does drug-free mean? Does it mean that your cattle were never vaccinated, never treated with antibiotics when they got sick, or what?

I had a sneaking suspicion that if I looked this farm up I would not like what else they had to say. It was no surprise that their Facebook page said their beef was drug and hormone free.

Why am I so concerned about this you ask?

Because statements and marketing gimmicks like this are what I fight on a regular basis. I give presentations to high schools and local community organizations and the end of the presentations always include slides on antibiotic use in livestock AND hormones. I stress that withdrawal periods on drugs (the amount of time necessary for the antibiotic to clear the system) are followed before an animal may go to harvest. The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) monitors and tests meat for drug residues. And as far as hormones? Every thing in the world has hormones. Meat has hormones, vegetables have hormones and your birth control has more estrogen than either the meat or vegetables.

From left to right: M&Ms represent nanograms of estrogen in a single birth control pill, a baked potato, a
 steak from a steer treated with growth-promotants, a steak from an untreated steer. (Borrowed from Mike Martz)

Borrowed from Joan Ruskamp 

Was Drug-Free the best wording choice they could have made? I guess it makes money, but continues to portray a negative image of Agriculture in general. A negative image of the big and the little guys.

There will always be the people who do not play by the rules: the individuals who do not feed their animals appropriately, who do not treat illnesses, who abuse their animals and give the majority of livestock producers a bad name.

My question is: How do we stop this marketing ploy? It hurts every single person in agriculture. It pits us against each other and even worse it allows for the continuation of misunderstandings about livestock and meat production.

Education is essential...but do we just need to educate the consumer? 

How do we make this stop? Even more so, should we start conversations with producers who persist in using phrases like Drug-Free? Or will they just not listen?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Day 16: A Vision Of The Future

It's nearing the end of another cozy Fall Saturday here in my little corner of the world.

I spent my afternoon and evening sewing, which allowed me a lot of time to think. And it never ceases to amaze me what thoughts come up when one allows their mind to wander.

As I sewed my quilt squares to the wonderful sights and sounds of Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas, I had a vision of the future. I saw myself in a cozy warm home decorated to the nines with Christmas lights, the smell of dinner and dessert still floating in the air, with the family gathered around watching Christmas movies while the fire glowed.

OK, I know everybody has envisioned that at some point in their life. The difference is (except for the fireplace), I've experienced this scene. I just never saw myself playing such a major role in it in the future.

A couple years ago, maybe even a couple months ago, if you had told me that Suzy Homemaker was going to be my new nickname, I would have laughed you out of the room. Yea I've always enjoyed being with my family and taking care of them but Suzy? Never.

Apparently living alone has opened doors I didn't know needed to be opened. Like the one that has me sewing quilts. How does a person go from making pillows to sewing quilts? For about a year of my life I think everybody in the family ended up with like 10 pillows. They were my gift of choice at the time. My grandma still has and uses some of them (which honestly surprises me that they have lasted as long as they have).  That was years ago though! Like at least 10.

The other door? Cooking. I mean I have always loved to eat. Who doesn't? But cooking was something other people did. Apparently it is now something I do. Maybe not something I always succeed at, but something I have discovered brings me great satisfaction. Not to mention collecting recipes on Pinterest, off websites, from cooking shows, etc etc is a great user of time. Makes for some wonderfully delightful procrastination periods :)

So while vacuuming and other cleaning duties remain my least favorite activities, there are other traditional homemaker desires that have reared their heads. Does that mean I will forego the stock chores and any other outside activities in favor of sitting inside doing household chores? Definitely not. But apparently the domestic bug has bitten me.

Let's just hope the wanting a baby stays far far away for at least 5 more years. At least.

In the meantime, I will cease to sew for the evening and curl up to watch my Hallmark movies. And thank the Good Lord for a boyfriend who doesn't mind figuring out quilt square measurements for me. And smile as I think how much I have grown over the years. Maybe not vertically...but mentally ;)

Enjoy the remainder of the weekend! *Hugs*

Friday, November 15, 2013

Day 15: I Am Not The Usual...

Every day is an adventure. I'm not just saying that. I truly mean it. Every day brings something new. Whether it is some pig crisis, family crisis, new and surprising event, or broadening my horizons in all ways.

I find myself bombarded everyday with people telling me that my pigs stink. My response is always Wah wah wah wah (especially since all the complaints come from fellow Animal Science individuals).

I clean too much. I don't clean enough. I move the pigs and make the smell increase. I leave the pigs and the smell is unbearable. The list goes on and on. Yea, pigs have a distinct odor but what animal doesn't? I never comment on the smell of cattle or sheep or the horse poop slurries that overtake the lab my office is in (well except for now) so why does everybody rag on the pigs? If somebody could explain this to me, I would greatly appreciate it. Seriously.

It's a good thing I have a good sense of humor, am extremely pig-headed (hah!), and I have strong faith that things will work out the way they are supposed to. But it doesn't stop the doubts...which is where the rest of this blog post comes into play.

I have read many great posts today about being a female Farmer. They were fantastic pieces combating the stereotypes that farmers are plagued with. Yes, there are many women in Agriculture and we are increasing everyday.

Which led me to this:

I am not the usual. None of us are the usual. Every person in Agriculture has a different story, a different background, and slightly different interests, but one common goal: doing what we love every day...and feeding the world in the process.

I don't have a family farm to go back to. Cody and I will have to start from scratch somewhere. Someday. Waiting is hard. Limbo is NOT where I like to be.

I read the stories from all the amazing men and women in agriculture and I find myself so overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with respect, admiration, pride that they are living the life they love and sharing their stories, and every now and then I find myself jealous.

Jealous because I want to be where they are.

But I am doing the best I can by finishing grad school. It may be years before we finally settle down and start a farm. Everything will come when it should, I just need to learn some more patience I think. Oh yea and limbo SUCKS.

I am dating a wonderful guy who would do anything for me. Even though most of the time choking him sounds like a viable option. But he's a guy, so that's a common reaction right? *If you say No then I am definitely in trouble here ;) ....*

I am so thankful for the opportunities I have been given thus far but I just can't stop myself from wanting MORE. Wanting more has shown me new worlds so far...I just need to reaffirm that everything will be OK. So in the meantime...I am not the usual. But there is no usual. And I can only be who I am and feel what I feel. Even if the emotions are a little bit ugly...BUT if you want to read some amazing stories by fantastic Women In Agriculture, check out the following links. I promise it will be worth it!

Minnesota Farm Living 
The Pinke Post (she is doing a 30 day series on Women in Agriculture)
Hewitt Farms
The Farmer's Wife
The Truth About True Love

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Day 14: A Ghost Tour...In November

I do not like Ghost Tours.

I love history. To the point if I could have been a History major and done anything with my life from there on out I would have.

But Ghost Tours? No.

Maybe it's because I grew up in a very historic area-one where the Revolutionary War and the Civil War camped in my backyard. Literally. And who knows what happened before and after those major events.

There were too many instances growing up where things could not be explained. The toilets that flushed by themselves. The sound of men playing card games in our dining room in the middle of the night. (Remember this was before the TV was on all day and night). The sound of children running and laughing outside when there were no children within miles that were not my sisters and I. That eerie feeling of being watched, especially in the middle of the night.

You may call me crazy, but I believe in ghosts. As such, I have always refused to go on ghost tours. For years my sisters wanted to go on one in Charleston, SC (my grandparents live there) but I always absolutely refused. Many dark and sinister things have happened in that historic city. I've read many tales of possible hauntings...there was no way I would be going on a ghost tour there.

I won't even watch A Haunting or shows like that after dark. Because afterwards every creak and groan in my house causes my heart to jump. I will even wake from dead sleeps to strange noises. 

So it may be a little bizarre that I ended up going on a Ghost Tour Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY.

Here are some of the things I learned:

Buffalo Trace is the longest continuously running distillery in Kentucky.

There were tons of prescriptions written for medicinal whiskey during Prohibition.

The barrel storage building is truly creepy. Seriously.

There were a lot of cool stories that I probably should remember buuut I was distracted by the scenery. I mean it's a pretty big operation (300-350,000 barrels of bourbon aging at this moment). I think I may have to drag the boy back in the daytime for a different tour.

Oh did I mention that one of the girls I went with got a picture of an orb, really close to where we were sitting? Seriously.

Those 2 "tastes" of product we were given at the end of the tour? They were good...but they reminded why I don't drink hard liquor. Call me cheap but beer is my friend. Hard liquor is my enemy.

All in all it was a perfect end to a long day. A walk through a historic landmark on a crisp fall evening with friends. Does it get any better? Maybe sleeping in tomorrow ;)

My Birthday Barrel! Not too shabby a logo either ;)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day 13: Farm Of The Future

Nobody really knows what the future holds, but the guys at Farm Journal Media are sure compiling enough information to give us an idea of where farming might be by 2025. I try not to think too far ahead, especially since things change so rapidly in this modern world of ours, but some of the things they have come up with are mind-boggling.

Agricultural Drone
For the most part the future involves a lot of technology. No surprise there, especially since we have seen technology increase exponentially in the last couple of years.

Some of the things we are already seeing: tractors that can work the fields unmanned (well mostly unmanned), operating the farm business from your cell phone, using waste by-products as energy sources to run the farm (aka we will see more on-farm anaerobic digesters).

Ones that are less surprising is the use of drones to check crops and fields and being more aware of and in control of the health and well-being of livestock.

The ones that really surprised me were things like:
o   Web cameras in grain elevators
o   Precision planters that plant seed using real time weather data. Precision planters that plant seed in straight rows using GPS and plant the seed in the right spot are already out there…but using real time weather data? Wow.
o   Robots that fight weeds and pests
o   “Smart Dust”-wireless sensors sprinkled in the fields to keep track of everything that is happening

And the King of surprises: 3D printers.

OK, so 3D printers are a revolutionary technology in medicine because being able to print organs can literally save lives. I just never thought about 3D printers being used in other ways, but apparently I’m way behind. It seems they have been used for years by companies like Ford and Michelin. Using 3D printing in an agricultural setting would be mind-blowing. Being able to print tractor parts or tools…seriously?!

There’s even talk that 3D printers are going to be a household item soon…can you imagine just printing something up? We are all going to have to learn to be CAD operators in order to make the products we want.

OK, Warm Bodies isn't Apocalypse enough but too bad! :)
I am seriously fascinated by the potential future. But at the same time I’m not sure I want to see things change all that much. I think using technology as a tool is important. Making it a deity? Not such a good idea.
Maybe I am a little old fashioned, but in case there is a zombie apocalypse and I survive, I want to be able to farm without technology. Cause heaven knows it probably won’t survive the zombie apocalypse. Not that I will either, but hey, just in case there need to be people in the world who remember the way things were done way back when.

As long as we don’t lose our history, and our knowledge of history, the techno-future may not be so bad. I know Cody will still be out in the tractor though. And I will probably have my team of horses to pull a sleigh in the snow.

Changing with the times is good as long as we don’t forget where we’ve been.

If you want to see more of Farm of The Future, check it out here

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Day 12: Getting Loopy

My dogs loooove heated blankets
Items I could not live without:
o   My family & babies (Do they count as an item? If they were doll-size I would be able to carry them with me all the night. That might come in handy. Or not.)
o   Frozen pizzas-delicious and nutritious!
o   Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas. Hallmark in general actually!
o   Chocolate-seriously, how do people live without chocolate?
o   Disney movies-enough said
o   Electric blankets-ever lived in houses that cost a fortune to heat so you keep the heat up just enough so the pipes don’t freeze? You truly understand the value of heated blankets after that!

Tegan says "forget working out, I'm freezing!"
Why did you need to know all of these facts? Well I spent my day doing very manual labor (not complaining, just stating a fact). And all I wanted to do was curl up on my couch under my heated blanket, eat chocolate and pizza and watch a montage of Hallmark & Disney movies. You wish you were that cool right? Which leads me to a thought I had the other day (yep another day full of manual labor, heated blankets, frozen pizzas, and the rest of the list haha).

I have a lot of big ideas. Some are probably out of orbit and others may be more possible. But if Disney has taught me anything it’s to dream big and that if you work hard enough the impossible can become possible.

One of my not-so-good ideas is to start a boot camp. I think it will be titled “Getting Fit on The Farm”…and will mostly consist of hauling feed buckets/bags and pigs. And eating Stouffer’s freezer French Bread Pizzas because you are too tired to cook for yourself when you come home. I know, I know, eating 1 almost every night is embarrassing. But they are delicious. And nutritious (pizza is a food group right?). And hey, the workout/food plan has worked well for me. I think I’ve regained most of the muscle I have lost from inactivity over the past year in the last month.

We could throw hay bales in sports bras. The guys would love that. Me? Not so much…hay is itchy! It could be a reality TV show. Then again, maybe not such a good idea.

Just be glad I don’t drink coffee…I shudder to think what awful ideas I would come up with then!

I looked it up and nobody who uses the word Farm in their Fit title (Get Fit on The Farm, Get Farm Fit, Go Fit Farm)…none of them actually do anything Farm-like! As long as nobody steals this terrible idea then I should be golden.

I fear for my future children. Seriously.

Au revoir Tuesday!