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!