Monday, September 30, 2013

Piglets Can Cure Anything (WARNING: ADORABLE OVERLOAD)

Are you having a bad day? Do you need a pick-me-up?

Well I have just what you need!

Yep, you guessed it.


If you gave me a herd of cattle or horses (or both), I would be happy. But pigs (and dogs, of course) are my soul mates. So without them I think life would be incomplete. Pigs are the most human-like of all domestic livestock. They like to talk a lot (grunting, barking and squealing being the primary speech patterns), they will eat or even just chew on whatever you put in reach of their mouth, and they like to fight. Sounds like a lot of people you know when they drink, right? They really are just my favorites.

I spent most of Sunday waiting for 1 of my gilts (1st time mama) to farrow (have babies). I know what you are thinking...why on Earth were you sitting around waiting for her to have babies? Well, I'm a bit of a worry wart...which may be because I live 24 miles from where my sows and gilts are currently staying and I knew once I left she was going to be on her own. And for the most part pigs are really good at having babies on their own, but it doesn't stop me from worrying.

This is the girl who was having piglets. Ignore the slobber, she's really quite beautiful. She weighs in at about 550 pounds (light compared to the 700+ pound girls I got in today). 

After deciding she wasn't going to have piglets til at least the middle of the night, I left and got up early this morning to check on her. When I came in this morning I found 7 newborns! 

Don't worry, they were old enough to be dry and completely adorable. And I will spare you a picture of the placenta because don't get me wrong, placenta is amazing but WHEW it never fails to make me gag a little. I don't know if it's the smell or thought but OK, I will stop talking about it now. 

If you can't handle an overload of cuteness then stop scrolling NOW!

Aren't they just ridiculously adorable?! 

The following piglets are about 5 days old. You can see that they still have that silky soft smooth skin of young piglets but aren't as weak kneed as the newborns! 

If you are wondering why I keep taking pictures of sleeping piglets, it's because even newborns are extremely mobile and wobble quickly (much quicker than my cell phone camera can capture)! 

This is the same group from yesterday's piggy you can tell these 4 like to pile up next to mama.

I will end this picture montage with my week old piglets. It's amazing how fast piglets grow! 

So if you had a case of the Monday blues, I hope this cured it :)

Now do like the piglets do and pile up! Sleep tight!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Quilting to Get Me By

Quilting started as fluke for me, and I'm not really sure I can even classify myself as a quilter yet. Especially since I haven't done anything but make quilt blocks. One day last summer I just decided I needed to quilt.

To make this more complicated, I don't own a sewing machine. And may never own a sewing machine.

Honestly sewing machines terrify me. And they are expensive. But mostly I'm afraid of them. I have never been able to figure out how to use them without constantly having to fix something. Not to mention they are loud. And expensive. And did I mention they are scary?

So I sew everything by hand. Yep, everything. That doesn't mean I am an expert though. But I figure that will come with age.

And to make matters worse, I'm a Pinterestholic...remember? It's truly an addiction. If Pinterest had its way, I would have enough quilts to keep the world warm.

My brain is fried so I figured I would show you some of the blocks I have put together. If you are a quilter looking at these, please don't get upset. Remember I am a beginner...and I'm doing it all by hand!

Bearpaw (with dog bones and breast cancer fabrics)



One of my early can tell because they are a little uneven (and the left one isn't sewn together)!

OK so the next couple aren't really part of a quilt but hey they wanted to be shown off as well.
Pillows I had to make for Cody...plain but comfy!

One side of a tablet case for Cody
Other side of a tablet case for Cody

 And now back to the grind...and by grind I mean playing with piglets and waiting for some piglets to be born! I have a gilt (first time mama) I'm waiting on pigs from. I wish I had brought some sewing with me!!

Guess I will have to study and wait for nature to take its course!

OK, everybody needs some piglets to get them by :)


Friday, September 27, 2013

Women In Agriculture Are Nonexistent

I was all set to put a fluffy carefree post up today but then a good friend of mine sent me an article that had both of us fuming.

I'm famous among friends for a very quick temper (which I've gotten a lot better at controlling over the years) and a tendency to rant and rave when something gets me going. Well this got me going, so bear with me while I dissect this article.

Basically the article is about "factory farming" and how the world would be so much better if there were more women in agriculture.

It's true that Ag is a largely male dominated sector. And I sometimes ask myself if I can compete with the guys that may be vying for the same jobs I am, but mostly because I don't have some of the skills and aptitudes that are absolutely necessary to farm and ranch. I can care for animals, drive a tractor, drive a stick shift, use my brain and find solutions that don't involve physical strength but there are some things I just can't do. I can physically not exert enough force onto a wrench sometimes or even remotely think of handling a tractor tire by myself. I'm 5'1"! Cody (my 6'5" homegrown Wisconsin farm boy works as a mechanic at a John Deere dealership and he tells me it is a struggle sometimes to do the things he has to do!!)

I definitely agree that men and women look at things differently and that women may be more emotional. But I wouldn't say that male farmers are not compassionate when it comes to their animals. They are just absolutely 100 times better at hiding the pain and agony that comes with raising animals than women are. It can also be difficult for women to accept that not every animal is a pet and cannot be treated as one.

"The women I met in agriculture showed a clear preference for working on organic and small farms..."

Here are some fun statistics for you from the USDA ERS (Department of Ag Economic Research Service):

As of 2011, there were 2,172,843 farms in the US. Of those, 2,114,668 were FAMILY farms (which comes to 97.3% of farms being family owned). 76% of those earned less than $50,000 a year. And only 2% earned $1 million or more. You can see the whole graph here.

Another report by the ERS shows that 88% of farms earn under $250,000 per year and are considered small family farms!!!. They also own 64% of the land assets. The simple fact is that larger farms are more economically viable. And most family farms continue to grow in order to support multiple generations. Let's face it, in an industry where the average farmer and rancher makes $40,000 a order to support multiple generations on one farm, you have to expand and diversify! And in a lot of cases work jobs off the farm in order to survive and continue to farm.

So my point is that farming is still family held and small. No, all of our farms are not "organic". But really the definition of organic is carbon containing (um that means all animals, people, life forms, etc and a lot of other compounds). So isn't everything we raise organic? I'm not so sure about the meat substitutes and food being produced in laboratories...but I feel better being able to see and touch where so many of our products come from!

The article's entire point was that agriculture would be better if there were more women. I thought I was surrounded by women in agriculture!! All those farm families are only comprised of men?? We can reproduce without females now!! Granted, some farm moms don't work on the farm, but a lot do, and they work with their men to make many choices. There are strong farm women raising the next generation of there really aren't women in agriculture?

I will agree that men still dominate agriculture. And the article scoffed at the argument that it's because agriculture is back-breaking manual labor. But really, do you expect millions of women in developed countries to give up their fancy manicures, expensive shoes and outfits, and all the glamour that goes with it to be completely covered in manure, placenta, feed and lots of other lovely substances day in and day out? We may have technology that helps make a lot of labor easier...but some things are still back breaking no matter what you do about it.

Animal Science programs in the country are almost 70-80% females and 20-30% male. But you know what the majority of the degrees are in? Pre-Vet. Horse Management. I've been in labs with pre-vet students who were so dressed up they physically could not participate (and these were labs we were going to work with pigs in!!). Do we expect people to give up well paying day jobs to make minimum wage mucking stalls and feeding pigs in an environmentally friendly, economically viable way?

Let me just point out that in 2011 there were 306, 200 female operated farms. If we count women as secondary operators that number increases to 1 million! WOMEN ARE PARTNERS TO THEIR MEN ON FARMS!

I'm not sure I even want to get started on the cage free issue the article mentions. Sure, I like cage free hens, they seem to be happier. But saying that by getting more women in agriculture (and ultimately having only smaller, more "organic" farms) that outbreaks of Salmonella and E.coli (and all the other pathogens) would automatically decrease is not a very informed outlook. There have been more deadly outbreaks found in organic produce lately than in conventionally raised foods.

Big does not always mean bad. And small does not always mean good.

I truly believe that we are blessed here in the US. As a sector, Ag is constantly trying to improve environmental impact, economic viability, and efficiency. We are trying to produce more using less resources (the WWF wants to help us continue this...), and allow people a choice in what they buy. Some people cannot afford to buy moral food. It is a FANTASTIC thing that we have so many choices.

Farm size, operator type, what does it really matter if our products are healthy and safe? And anybody in agriculture knows that happy animals are healthier and more productive. And we want healthier and more productive.

I'm sure I have upset somebody with this post but as a WOMAN IN AGRICULTURE, I am proud of the diversity there is. I am thrilled that we are seeing more and more women in management positions in Ag and more female operated farms. But the truth is that women are a vital part of agriculture (and always have been). They take care of their families. They help their farmers. They farm as well!

Every farm is different. Every situation is different. There are so many women in agriculture, but not all of them like to be out in the spotlight.

And farming is not for everyone. It's just a fact. Farming isn't a job, it's a lifestyle.

To see some of the fantastic WOMEN IN AG, check out some of the blogs I have listed. Or any number of the organizations geared towards women in agriculture (like American Agri-WomenNational Women In Agriculture Association, and countless others).

This is something I could rant about for days and use reams of paper, but I will halt the rant here. And leave you with a picture of a pig that was raised inside, in what I'm sure people would consider a "factory farm". He looks miserable doesn't he?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Am I Doing?

It's a gloomy day here in Kentucky. And I don't mean it's an awful day. Simply one of those days where the sun didn't show its face this morning. So even though I woke up in a good mood, its turned into one of those days where you end up in a depressing mood for no apparent reason.

On days like this I often find myself wondering
       What am I doing with my life?
       Do I really have any skills that are useful to anybody?

       Can I compete with all the guys out there looking at the same jobs I am?

       What the heck do I want to do with my life? I mean I know I wanna work with animals but I want 
        variety and action, volunteer, be involved in my community, and spread the good word about Ag...but
        what will I do that let's me do that (besides own my own farm)?

       Will Cody and I survive without killing each other?

        Am I really cut out to be a farmer's wife??

The last one stems from the fact that I can be a bit of a control freak. And it's already been decided that I was going to be the sugar mama in this relationship which means I get a say in every choice (works well for me...not sure Cody agrees though haha).

Let's face it, you give me some animals and I am perfectly content to take care of them and all is well in the world. I really have no strong feelings about crops...I know I need them to feed my animals but how I get them really doesn't matter. Cody, on the other hand, loves crops. So yea we have both sides of the issue covered.

Caring for animals calms me down just as riding in the tractor calms Cody down.

And don't get me wrong, I like riding around in tractors too...but it usually puts me to sleep. Not really a good thing when you are trying to get something done (haying, harvest, you name it...I'm probably close to passing out while it's going on).

So after an (almost) argument about going to look at a corn planter this morning...I figured I needed some time to work through my issues. So I did what every normal person does...and went and prepped for my sows and piglets that are coming in this week. And then visited the Holstein steers that are currently on a study up here on campus.

I'm hoping sows and piglets will pull me out of my slump...but for now I will just continue to visit my new Holstein friends.

Aren't I a handsome steer?

Hey crazy lady, you stay right where you are...I'm watching you!!

Are you gonna come say Hi to me too? Huh, huh??

Mmmm tasty wrist, maybe I can wrap my tongue around it and chomp down?!
This is my favorite. He snuffled and let me scratch his itchy spots. Now he just needs a name...

How can you be depressed after looking at a face like that! Time to let my worries go for another day. How is everyone else this fine Wednesday?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Operation Main Street: Some Questions I Was Asked Yesterday

Yesterday I gave an Operation Main Street presentation to the Lions Club of Berea, Ky. 

Operation Main Street is a National Pork Board program that allows people involved with (and passionate about) the Pork Industry to speak to community organizations and spread the word about the pork industry. 

It was the first time I had ever been to a Lions Club meeting...and it was definitely an awesome experience. The people were so friendly and sweet. As usual with the Lions Clubs it was an older crowd, but I really enjoyed it because they asked so many important questions without making it feel like I was being attacked.

Let's face it, my generation is pretty obnoxious. And stubborn. And opinionated. It's a problem. I think hope it will improve with age. 

I would like to let you see some of the questions they asked and my responses because you might have some of the same questions:

What about the smell and water contamination?  The Pork Industry has been working to decrease environmental damage. Most pig facilities have operating plans and safety measures in place to manage waste and ensure that waste runoff does not end up on roads or in waterways. Often there are multiple organizations checking these Operating Plans and in the case of a spill or environmental damage, the event is often traced back to a farm and fines may be imposed.

How does manure management work? Essentially pig barns have pits under the facilities in which all the feces and urine collects. There are many different strategies farmers use to manage manure but often additives are added to the pits in order to reduce solid waste. There are often multiple lagoons (or waste ponds) as well as other holding tanks to store manure. When farmers place manure on fields, it is required (in most states) to be injected into the ground in order to reduce runoff risk.

How did we deal with Trichinella (causes Trichinosis)? By moving pigs indoors, the Pork Industry has essentially eliminated infection by the Trichinella parasite. Pigs would contract this because they were being fed waste products as well as frequently coming into contact with wildlife that are infected by Trichinella. 

Are most pig farms large-scale? There are many large scale pig farms, but there are actually many smaller scale farms as well. Pig farms at one time were all farrow-to-finish (birth to market) but it is just as common now to see farmers who only handle sows or piglets or grow-finish pigs. So it's possible to see people who have maybe only 50 pigs in their herd to a couple hundred to a few thousand, or in a few select cases, hundreds of thousands. 

Do we import pork (because we import beef)? Not really. We only import a small percentage from Canada (but do we really consider it importing when we get things from Canada?). Most of what we import for beef is seedstock (breeding stock), feeder cattle from Canada and Mexico, and Wagyu beef from Japan. We talked about exports during the presentation, but the Pork Industry saw about $6 billion in exports in 2012. 

Of course there was the question about GMO's and my take on them. This I will answer in another post (as we have discussed these in my Toxicology class so I feel like I now have a better grip on them) but essentially I said that I am not opposed to GM crops, and that we should not attack anything without first researching the topic. 

The question that really threw me was are there farmers that raise pigs for lard? **At this point, I was thinking ummmmmmmmmmm.......!** But what I responded with was I'm sure we are collecting lard from pigs being produced (although I can't imagine there is much considering how lean our pig herd is now) and that I'm sure the producers that are using Berkshires and heritage breeds (generally a more traditional, less lean product) are probably selling lard as well. But to be honest, I had never really thought about lard....I've just never had a reason to think about it. *I guess that tells you how different it is now than in the "old days"*

             Dave shared this nursery rhyme with me when I told him about the lard question:
                           Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
                           His wife could eat no lean,
                           And so between them both, you see, 
                           They licked the platter clean. 

I wonder who came up with nursery rhymes...cuz most of them sure are random!

If you have any questions let me know!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

So If Feeding The World Isn't Good Enough, What Do You Want Us To Say?

Our country is in a crisis. 

And I'm not talking about the government wanting to shut down (that's a rant for another day) and various other problems. 

The crisis I am talking about is we are not only seeing a disconnect between farmers and consumers, but a disconnect between people in general. It seems that people no longer care about their fellow man. Not only have we seen a massive cut to the SNAP program at a time when people need assistance more than ever, but a recent story on NPR really caught my attention.

According to a recent survey by the Center for Food Integrity, only 13% of Americans strongly agreed that the US has a responsibility to feed the world. 

I'm sure you have seen infographics similar to this. To those in Agriculture, this is the ultimate fact. It shows that we have improved our practices and technology to the extent that each farmer is now helping more people than ever before. 

Here's another fact for you...and the fact I'm not showing you is that as the world's population increases, more arable land is being worked up for farmland. That includes the destruction of the rainforest and other important ecological systems (which nobody wants to see disappear). So is it really such a bad thing that American farmers are so efficient?

According to American consumers it is. They don't want us to feed the world because they see it as industrial farming. And I will agree that corn is not a good source of nutrients for humans, but exported soybean meal being fed to pigs allows people to buy affordable sources of protein. 

Agriculture has heard that people want to see that the land is being cared for, the animals are being cared for, and for farmers to show that they are being responsible caretakers. There are many farmers out there trying to show this in every way possible, just check out the list of blogs I have (which is only a drop in the bucket) to see for yourself. 

Does the American public want farming to revert to the way things used to be done? In every other industry there is always why should Agriculture regress? 

If the public doesn't want to hear that American farmers are feeding the world, then what slogan would you like to hear?? "Caring for our land, animals, and communities since the beginning of time!" How bout that? Let me know what you would like to hear from Agriculture!!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Whoever Said Grad School Was Fun Lied

Grad School is sucking the life out of me. Melodramatic I know, but it's true.

So I find myself held to a strict schedule of TV shows in order to have something to look forward to. That and Pinterest. Pinterest is an addiction.

My name is Mandy, and I'm a Pinterestholic. 

This statement illustrates my frame of mind these days:  I have things to do but no enthusiasm to do them but I'm so antsy to do something that I end up doing nothing.  (confused yet??)

What this really shows is that I have ADD. I really think ADD comes from not doing manual labor. 
Cuz when you do manual labor you are asleep by 9pm. Every. Night. 

So I'm going to share some random pictures (since grad school has demolished all of my brain power today):

I decided I wanted the dogs pawprints so I could get a tattoo...FAIL!

Notice the blue paint everywhere...and the awful facial expression on Dutch's face...yea she wasn't happy :)

Boo wasn't much happier...

Good thing the DEA didn't show up...good thing this was only Cellulose!

This is what happens when you decide you want to quilt...

My favorite phrase

Hehehe...sleepy child :)

Thanks for squishing my face Cody haha

Kentucky Sunset

Until I rejoin society as a fully contributing member, I guess I will continue to find ways to entertain myself. And dream of the day when I will be busy again...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Where Our Food Comes From Is An Emotional Battle

I wasn't sure I even wanted to get involved in this debate as a wide variety of farmers and people involved in Agriculture have eloquently (and controversially) submitted their thoughts to the world.

Recently Chipotle came out with a dark video designed to market their product and wake up the American public. What makes my toes curl is the vehemence with which consumers have defended how revolutionary the ad is. I won't argue the points in the video as the following (diverse group of) people have done a great job: Farming America, Ray Bowman, and Diana Prichard.

The fantastic thing about our country is the CHOICES we have. We can pay a premium for foods based on moral and emotional premises or we can buy a cheaper product that is no less healthy. Before anybody argues with me about the health benefits of one type of production over another, there has been no scientific data to prove that production method has any effect on healthiness of meat (one example is Grass-Fed vs Corn-Fed by Meat MythCrushers).

Every farm is different. Every farmer makes choices about their farm using different criteria. I don't personally support organic, but I don't begrudge anybody who does choose organic. If we are going to educate people about Agriculture, it needs to be in a positive, factually true way. One comment I just read on a blog post concerned me as the person stated the only way to raise food was pasture fed, no antibiotics, and no pesticides. I respect that you do not want animals given antibiotics (which are given when animals are sick) and pasture-fed but you are kidding yourself if you believe pesticides are not used on every farm. Even organic farmers use pesticides...they are just derived from natural sources, which can be just as dangerous as synthetic compounds (see Berkeley on Organics).

My Toxicology class is actually talking about Pesticides right now. I will put up a post later this week laying out some of the particulars, but I encourage you to read a Special Issue recently released by Science in the meantime.

Agriculture is a diverse mix of small farms, large farms, grain operations, grain and livestock operations, grass fed beef, feedlot, all-natural, conventional, organic, the list is endless. If you are a consumer that is concerned about food production then I strongly encourage you to reach out to any number of Farmers who are blogging (see this page). I also encourage you to set up tours at different farms so you can see first-hand how food is produced. Follow the Illinois Farm Families website, and especially pay attention to their Field Moms as they are mothers from Chicago who travel to farms to see how food is produced. And if you get a chance, check out Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana and tour their dairy and pig farms! I'm hoping to get a chance to head up there soon and check out their pig setup!

At the end of the day, we should all have a chance to make the choices we believe are best, whether you are a farmer or consumer. But please research the facts before you make blanket statements or start bad mouthing people. One of my favorite quotes of all time was in an issue of Cattle Business Weekly in 2012. The former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, Walt Bones, said:

“A problem (and opportunity) for us in Agriculture is that a vast majority of our population is at least three generations removed from the farm and they don’t know how their food is being produced. That lack of knowledge makes attacking our abundant and diversified food supply here in the US an easy target….We are also blessed that our farmers, ranchers, processors, and distributers, and retailers can deliver all this food to us for the smallest percentage of our disposable income when compared to anywhere else in the world-leaving each of us with more money to spend on discretionary items. The next time you hear someone attacking our food supply, please keep in mind that the world loses thousands of people each day to starvation. An available, affordable and safe food supply is a must. We can debate production systems (organic vs. conventional, grass fed vs. corn fed) but at the table of opportunity, there is room for everyone.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

No Matter What...I Can Never Support the Packers

We all suffer from this problem: wherever we grow up and whoever our parents support, it invariably ends up the same things we support when we get older.

My Dad was your typical sports supporter. After a morning spent at church you could find him snoozing on the couch with Football (or sometimes NASCAR) blaring on the screen. Oh man, those Sunday afternoons were lazy periods of overeating and long naps...and waking up only to find out what the score was. I miss those days.

But anyway, I'm from Northern take a guess who we supported? Yep, you guessed it, the Redskins. Through thick and thin, to this very day, I defend the Skins even when they are beyond defense. I know you all do the same thing for your respective teams!

What's funny is that after we lost my Dad to a heart attack, football ceased to be played (except for the Super Bowl of course) in our house. With a house full of females that's understandable though. We quickly fell back into soccer games all over God's Green Earth and then Puppy Adoption Events on Sundays.

Not watching football continued into college. Oh when I hung out with Cody and that crew I slept through their Sunday afternoon NASCAR and football games, but I never followed it myself. And for the next 3 years I would be too busy spending time at the cabin in the mountains or snowmobiling or any number of other things to waste time watching football.

I still don't watch football routinely. But you just try and beat on the Skins and I will still fight you til I'm blue in the face...even when I don't have any good reason to defend them so heartily. My defensiveness is further compounded by the fact that I am dating a die-hard Packers fan. I mean you can't blame the poor kid, he never had a chance growing up in Wisconsin ya know?

But to me, the Packers have always been and will always be lumped into that Enemy category that also houses the Eagles and the Cowboys. I know, I know, it doesn't make sense that I dislike the Packers so much. Maybe it's their awful uniform colors? Or their awful choice in players? Either way, I will never like the Packers...and man is it an epic battle when the Packers and Redskins get together. Even though the Skins have not shown up to the game today, I will continue to argue with Cody until I'm blue in the face about how awful the Packers are.

I mean how can you argue with me? Every time I hear the word Packers, this is what I envision...

It's crazy how much your parents and your environment influence your choices in the future. So even though the Skins have sometimes been a depressing enterprise to support, it could always be worse...I could be a Packers fan. And at this point, I would never be a Packers fan simply on principle. One Cheesehead is enough!

What battle lines get drawn in your families? Vehicles, sports teams, toilet seat up/down?? Let me know!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Feeding The World-Is it ONLY Agriculture's Problem?

At the beginning of this month I was fortunate enough to attend the Midwest Swine Nutrition Conference. This is typically a way for the 5 major universities (Ohio State, Purdue, University of Kentucky, University of Illinois, and Michigan State) who plan the event to share their research with nutrition companies and other swine industry partners. This year there was less research presented and we were lucky enough to have some fascinating outside speakers. Today's topic covers a presentation given about animal food sources.

Dr. William Weldon, a VP with Elanco Animal Health, presented a study they had performed in coordination with the American Dietetics Association titled "Enriching People's Lives: A 2013 Report on the Importance of Animal Source Foods". Much of what he presented was not new information to the crowd. The world population is currently about 7 billion people which is expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050. The most interesting prediction is that there will be 3 billion more people in the middle class, 2.5 billion of which will be in the Asia-Pacific region. The fact that the middle class in China is increasing is not news, but the fact that there are so many people poised to move into the middle class is news. Exporting products is an important part of American Agriculture, especially since the US exports more ag products than it imports, making it one of the only sectors that is consistently showing a positive trade balance. According to the USDA, the US has already seen $78 billion in exports in this calendar year ($119 billion in the fiscal year). Imports so far have been $62 billion ($87 billion in the fiscal year). To make this simpler, the US exports 15% of corn, about 50% of wheat produced, and 1 in 4 pigs in the US are exported. With regards to pigs, Asia has long been considered the next export market. Ironic considering China produces about 400 million pigs per year while the US produces only around 60-70 million pigs per year. But as evidenced by the recent acquisition of Smithfield by a Chinese company, they want the safe technology and practices the US uses to produce meat and grains. Many countries like China have food systems that are plagued by disease, feed inconsistencies, and unclean production methods. It never hurts to be reminded that the US is blessed to have such cheap and safe food (the US spends the least money on food in the world).

But getting back to the presentation, Dr. Weldon spoke on Food Security in the world. According to the World Health Organization, Food Security is defined as availability, access, and use of food. He presented data showing that individuals in the developing world are living on less than $2 a day and the incoming "middle class" living on only $3-10 a day. We can argue this next fact all day but I will stand by this statement: meat, milk, and eggs provide a more concentrated protein source than plants (here is one supporting article). And not only do they offer a more concentrated protein source but meat, milk and eggs provide more readily available nutrients than plants. Its an accepted fact that most animals only digest about 50% of what they take in and let's face it: humans have to work really hard to have a strictly plant-based balanced diet. The nutrients more readily available include iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins A, D, and B12 all of which are essential in brain function but also in brain, muscle, and skeletal development.

It's estimated that 2-3% of a countries national income is lost to malnutrition each year! Most developing countries survive on grain based diets, yet as soon as they earn a little extra money to spend on food (say $3 instead of $2) they immediately buy eggs, then progress to milk and meat products as they gain buying power. Dr. Weldon presented data from Kenyan schools that showed increasing leadership skills, energy, and test scores as animal products were introduced into daily meals. This is powerful information for individuals in developing countries because more education means better jobs and brighter futures. 

What I wondered after this presentation was but how are we going to increase food production for an increasing population? Truthfully, we already produce enough food to feed the world but the food does not always end up where it is supposed to (failure of local governments, storage loss, wastage, etc). So is it really up to only the Agriculture sector to increase production to feed an increasing population? Shouldn't we be providing more support to improve local governments (and not necessarily by bombing a country and imposing our own ideals on them), infrastructures and aid programs? You can argue with me and say that all the grain we are feeding to animals should instead be given to people, but I just pointed out that meat is a more nutritionally packed food source than plants are (not to mention we produced more meat with less grain than ever before). Animal sources may be a good way to improve health but they are also important to maintain healthy weights (or reduce obesity--oh first world problems). If we only improve and increase production in the world, it will require at least 120 million more hectares to be put into production, which would cause increased destruction of important ecosystems like the rainforest (FAO) and further exacerbate production issues. 

Dr. Weldon left us with a question: How are we going to spread the word about the importance of animal source foods? Well there are plenty of options: the Chew On This Tour, obtaining a Master's in Beef Advocacy, giving presentations to organizations for the National Pork Board's Operation Main Street, to name only a few ways to promote education. 

My question is how are we going to address the hunger we are seeing in the US, not to mention the world? There is always room for improvement in production agriculture-we can improve crop varieties, water usage, animal production techniques, there are many possibilities to increase production to feed the world. But production is only part of the problem as I mentioned before...governmental failures, infrastructure problems, and lack of money are bigger concerns when it comes to feeding the world. Think what you will of the SNAP/WIC programs but not everybody who is on government assistance is abusing the system. September is Hunger Action Month and now is the time to combat hunger here at home. Here are only a few ideas of how to combat hunger in your community: Support Feeding AmericaHunger Free Minnesota, and Invest An Acre (farmers donate at least an acre of crop proceeds to their local food bank), as well as donate/help out at local food banks. I think the most impressive thing Feeding America has done is show that the Faces of Hunger are not always who we expect to see...often they are hard-working people who have hit tough times. We need to stop judging our fellow man and start helping out. So after this post, my question to you is not just how are you going to spread the good news about animal products, but how are you going to change the lives of people in your community that may be suffering from hunger? Because feeding the world is not just the problem of all those involved in should be a battle that the entire world comes together to fight. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You Don't Say Love With a Pork Chop...Oh really??

This wasn't the post I had planned for today but seeing as OneNote ate the post I had planned and I spent the day playing Plumber (I think I should give up my Master's and apprentice with a plumber instead!), I decided it was just better to be flexible and leave that post for another day. 

I'm not sure how many people actually saw this ad, but when I did I was stunned for a few minutes. Now I'm sure the people who put this together didn't mean for it to upset anybody, but I was definitely riled. 

I'm sure you're thinking well everybody loves to eat steak! And don't get me wrong, I LOVE BEEF...but I also LOVE PORK. And as someone who deals with the pork industry, but also supports the cattle industry, I was very disappointed in this ad. Why are we pitting against each other? Why is it always beef vs pork or pork vs chicken? Shouldn't we just tout that our product is healthy and nutritious and not resort to bashing our fellow aggies? 

It's fantastic that we live in a country with so many CHOICES. The choice of what to eat, what to wear, where to live, what to do with our lives, the list never ends. So in this great list of choices, should we truly choose to bash our fellow meat producers?

I mean I have recipes up the wazoo that use Beef, Pork, Chicken, eggs, milk, cream cheese, whipping cream, etc etc. I was even watching The Pioneer Woman this weekend and for a ranch lunch she made Pan Fried Pork Chops. Let me repeat that…Pan Fried Pork Chops(!!) for a bunch of cattlemen!! If that doesn't show that enjoying quality food overreaches labels, then I don't know what else I can say to illustrate this point.

This may seem like a silly thing to be worried about, but I think Agriculture should spend more time working together (stop the emotional fighting over organic, conventional, etc etc) and less time drawing battle lines. OK, so maybe this ad wasn't meant as a battle line drawn in the sand. But hey it's playing on your emotions isn't it??

On a quick tangent, another ad that has always frustrated me is the Happy Cows Come from California. OK, so maybe this frustrates me because I've heard the outrage from my significant other who is from Wisconsin. But it also frustrates me because unfortunately many of the dairies in California are actually MOVING OUT of Cali because of regulations and expenses due to being overrun by more and more houses. So should the slogan actually say Happy California Cows Actually Live in Idaho? I just found out that a lot of the Happy Cow commercials were actually filmed in New Zealand!! Yep, those are happy New Zealander California Cows. We've been lied to in quadruple.

Anyway, coming back from that tangent, it probably (over)frustrates me the most when I read articles and see some sort of jab at a fellow industry. There are countless farmers who raise crops, cattle, pigs, chickens, goats, you name it..the combination probably occurs on various farms throughout the country. So why on Earth do we need to advertise that Beef should be the choice for Labor Day BBQs by saying that Pork Chops are a lesser meat?

It feels like the Agriculture sector is always defending itself from outsiders, so we really don't need to demean each other. I watched  this video that reminded me that life is not supposed to be so selfish. That we, as individuals, are part of a broader whole and should act as such. This led me to think the following: human growth is forcing more urbanization but they want farming to go backwards. It would certainly be idyllic if everybody had a few animals and crops to get their families fed every year. But it is also very hard and not a secure situation to be in...ask all the subsistence farmers in most of the world. They have no reserves should something go wrong, and often their family ends up starving. The reason we have moved this way as a species is because people got tired of barely making it, so a small portion (<2% of the population) has taken over the hard work of feeding and clothing the population, allowing others to have the time and freedom to make grand discoveries. There is more time for living, for enjoying your fellow man, when you are not worried about where your next meal is going to come from.

Consumers want the glorious old days without having to sully themselves. But we are seeing a decrease in farmland which is  a huge cause for concern. If we want to make the world a more beautiful place should we all head back to the farm? Could we make it if we headed back to the farm? Probably not. Farming is not a glamorous lifestyle, yet it is truly fantastic and rewarding for those who love it. The video asked people to Bow Into Service to your fellow man...and Farmers have always been in service to others. Most farmers would choose to farm no matter the circumstances or outside opportunities they might receive, but they take the burden of providing food and products to the world seriously. And contrary to popular belief, farmers and ranchers don't do what they do in order to get rich, especially since the average farm family makes $40-50,000 in a good year, and cowhands often average measly sums ($700/month for example) to take care of cattle. I posted this article on my Facebook page earlier. It speaks about the current epidemic we are seeing of urbanites dropping their chickens off at shelters after realizing how much work raising chickens actually is. And if you look at anything outside of this post, please watch this video because it is without a doubt the most eloquent speech about the battle between producers and consumers I have ever heard.

So maybe as humans it isn't actually a good thing when we are given too many choices, especially when we don't have the knowledge necessary to make an informed choice. It's normal, and depressing, to see how much anti-agricultural activists use Emotion as a tactic to gain supporters. But I never expected to see a Beef ad telling me that You Don't Say Love With a Pork Chop. Because sometimes I do, in fact, show my love with a PORK CHOP. And Bacon, which doesn't come from a steer, but from a pig. And everybody loves bacon...and a lot of people love pork chops as well. So while I may have taken offense to something that wasn't meant to be offensive, it definitely serves as a good reminder that Beef and Pork should be friends. Cuz we have bigger fish to fry. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Weepy Woman

I have a problem. OK, I usually have several problems. But today I want to talk about my overly active tear ducts. Embarrassing right? Wait until you find out what exactly I tear up at...

Even though this movie is cheesy and OK, I admit it, getting to be an "old" movie to everyone born after the 90's, I still cry every time I watch the beginning.

You know the part I'm talking about right? In the beginning where the dog barely makes it into the shelter and then the dad stupidly tries to hold onto the storm cellar door and gets sucked up by the tornado, while Mom holds onto Jo and screams "Stay with me Jo!" Yep that part gets me every time. It's okay, you can make fun of me just like Cody (my long-suffering boyfriend) does.

But it's not just cheesy parts in movies I cry during. Nope, I cry during commercials, TV shows, while songs play on the radio, when other people get choked up and cry, and worst of all when animals are in pain. There has to be a disease associated with this problem.

Then there is this commercial. Yep. You guessed it. It makes me cry.

 Can you tell that I'm extremely emotionally attached to my dogs? Then again…do you blame me? OK, so the last 2 are my Mom's but hey I claim them too! 

How can you not like a dog that does this with her legs?

If you weren't embarrassed for me already then you might want to stop reading now. On Sunday I watched Serpent King on NatGeo Wild and I even teared up when the female King Cobra they were tracking was brutally murdered by a rogue male because she was pregnant with another male's offspring. I think I cry at least once during every episode of The Incredible Dr. Pol.

 Read this post, Compassion , you will cry too.

I think you get the point. I'm weepy. It's a problem. Course, sometimes when I weep it's for actual upsetting events, like the loss of pet, or having to move away from a place I love, but mostly I weep over very silly things.

Like in every Touched By An Angel episode when they show the person the error of their ways.

Or when that adorable little girl in the Cheerios commercial covers her dad in Cheerios.

Or when Wreck-It-Ralph says "I guess it turns out that I don't really need a medal to prove that I'm a good guy cuz if that little girl likes me, how bad can I be?" (I love Ralph because he reminds me of Cody)

Or when Merida succeeds in changing her mother back from a bear in Brave. She's my favorite Disney princess by far. 

Are you seeing a theme here? Animals, Disney movies, cute kids. All guaranteed to turn on the waterworks. It's a problem. But at least it's a good problem to have. And those can be hard to come by :) At least this one brings lots of laughs to those around me :) What makes your waterworks turn on?