When sunlight inevitably results in a piggyback ride

Because pollen is clouding my brain (and nose, and eyes), today’s Monday101 will be a short one.

When handling the swine species, always account for the sunlight. Since most pigs are raised inside, they tend to have a fascination with sunlight and will run at it with wreckless abandon.

Should you happen to be using your own body to block a pig’s entrance to the outdoors, please keep your feet together. The light shining between your legs will otherwise ALWAYS result in a pig being loose in the neighbors property, and your butt on the ground 30-50 yards from where you started. And it’s not an enjoyable piggyback ride.

Click picture for photo credit 🙂


Monday 101 Day is a new theme I am launching in efforts of 1. educating the average reader about interesting tidbits in the various facets of the Agriculture world as I learn them. 2- improving my abilities to speak volumes with few words (I was not blessed with brevity). If you are an average, removed-from-ag reader who would like to learn something, or if you are a farmer/rancher who thinks something should be shared, please leave me a comment! I’m always looking for cool ideas :)

Happy Monday!! Hope everyone has a great week


Val’s Veggie Ventures…Phase 1

So I’ve decided to have my own vegetable patch. This was an idea that crossed my mind purely by chance one afternoon and I found it going straight out of my mouth to my brother. And now that I’ve said it aloud, I feel I may as well follow through.

I know absolutely NOTHING about growing vegetables. I’ve heard worms are good to have. I hope I get over my stomach-crawling reaction to seeing one. I also do not have a green thumb. I had 2 hanging ivy plants my mom gave me when I moved into my first apartment. She currently has both of them in an effort to save them from imminent death (they were looking a little brown when I turned them over to her). I bought 2 orchids, because I love them, and they are looking a little drowned (and I haven’t watered them in a month!). Let’s just say that I’m hoping that I just picked the high maintenance plants, and that veggies will go a little better.

Luckily for me, there was once a vegetable garden in our front yard. My mom used to grow vegetables. I’d guess its probably 10-15 wide and 20-25 ft long. She enclosed it with nice white lattice to keep the deer out and it has a gate and latch. It grew fertile ripe vegetables to top off a sandwich or add to a salad. Sounds wonderful. I’m sure it was wonderful. But as a kid, it was the pits!! Who wants to weed or grow tomatoes to put on sandwiches?? Eww…

All of that, however, was many many moons ago. Like, close to 2,920 moons. Which, as we all know, is about 8 years. So, unluckily for me, this garden has had about a decade to grow miniature trees, minuscule weeds, and lots and lots of leaves. Also, I had to unscrew the gate latch because the wood has warped and its too far apart to open the latch. The lattice is still mostly in tact, enough to keep away the deer anyways.

So this is what we’re workin’ with:

Oh, and we have an “apple tree” in the middle that never made any apples. Not so bad right? My own little spot of hard work & reward.

Eeek. I’m gonna need some guidance.

I bet you didn’t know this “entrancing” fact about chickens…

I have a bachelors of science in Animal and Poultry Science from Virginia Tech. For some reason, people usually lock into the “poultry” portion of this title and start asking me loads of chicken questions. Truth is, my focus was livestock animals (sheep, swine, and beef cattle). I didn’t take the poultry focus curriculum, but we did have some overview.

Honestly, poultry kind of freaks me out, with their jerky movements and reptilian feet and internal testicles (more on that another day…)

But this post isn’t about my squirmy feelings towards chickens. It’s about how I got a bachelors of science in one of the toughest majors all the while being tested on seemingly unconventional skills such as flipping sheep and hypnotizing chickens.

Yep, one of the coolest things about chickens, in my opinion, is the fact that you can hypnotize them. Most people don’t believe me when I say this, or tell me that VT must have had “special chickens”, but after a brief youtube search, it seems apparent that this is a relatively wide-known fact for such a well-kept secret.  And you can hypnotize a chicken in less than 10 seconds. And, for fear of alarming my vegan buddies, I should point out that this does not harm the animal and lasts at most 30 minutes, and usually closer to 30 seconds. AND you could do it. Yep, you, who doesn’t know the first thing about how to handle a chicken. I did it on my very first in-person encounter with poultry.

So, without further ado, I will give you a video that will do far more justice than any description I could offer. You can clearly see that the child is being gentle with the bird, and that the chicken walks away easily when all is said and done. AND HOW FREAKING COOL IS THIS?!

For those interested, VT taught me using method 2. Although a chicken with his legs straight up in the air is pretty classy 🙂

As far as I know, this works on all chickens, although some are more sensitive to your movement and therefore “snap out of it” more easily than others (who require loud clapping or gentle poking). I do not know if it works on turkeys (anyone??)

You’re welcome for educating you on the endlessly cool things about livestock, even though you didn’t think smelly animals could be interesting. Yep, I’m talking to my brother on this one.


Monday 101 Day is a new theme I am launching in efforts of 1. educating the average reader about interesting tidbits in the various facets of the Agriculture world as I learn them. 2- improving my abilities to speak volumes with few words (I was not blessed with brevity). If you are an average, removed-from-ag reader who would like to learn something, or if you are a farmer/rancher who thinks something should be shared, please leave me a comment! I’m always looking for cool ideas :)

Happy Monday!! Hope everyone has a great week

Monday101: How and Why to Flip a Sheep

It’s a good possibility that when you hear “flip a sheep” you conjure up an image similar to cow-tipping. In fact, flipping sheep is a relatively peaceful animal husbandry practice that allows sheep to remain calm while being sheared, getting his teeth checked out, or getting his hooves trimmed. I say “relatively” because in my experience, sheep are rather frantic animals. It probably doesn’t help that I’m not a sheep whisperer.

This is not cow tipping, folks. (www.zazzle.com)

In any case, once you successfully flip the sheep, it really is entirely peaceful. There is something about a sheep sitting on his behind that makes him go almost into a trance. They stop resisting your presence and really just chill out (remarkable!). This allows for quick, safe practices such as the ones listed above to be carried out without much hassle to either party.

Shearing sheep not only allows the wool to be used for socks and mittens, but it also helps keep a sheep cool & clean. Sheep can also go wool blind, which means the wool grows so long around their eyes that they have trouble seeing, and this affects their ability to properly find and graze grasses.

Just like cutting your own finger and toe nails, hoof trimming is important for overall foot health. While you are trimming, you also dig out the mud and dirt in their hooves to make sure they are dry and do not get infected. Just like humans, the longer the hoof, the more dirt you can hide up there! If a sheep’s hooves get too long, they will cause sore feet and sheep will not walk on them properly, leading to bigger problems.

As you can see, this sheep has some worn and broken teeth. It is estimated she is about 10 years old. Picture taken from http://sheep101.info/

Don’t be alarmed! Sheep do not have top front teeth. More on that at another time…

Checking teeth is important in any livestock or domesticated animal. Since they don’t brush twice a day, its a lot easier for things to go wrong. Checking teeth can tell you the age of the sheep (like seeing baby teeth, or how many adult teeth have come in so far, or how worn down they are can signify elderly sheep). Some sheep are also born with strong overbites (parrot-mouth) or underbites (Monkey-Mouthed). This affects their ability to chew properly and can mean it is harder for them to get the proper nutrition they need. If a sheep has particularly bad mouth structure, you will not breed them to avoid passing it on to the offspring. Similarly, if a sheep has gotten to the point that they have bad mouth health, it may be time to send them to market before their sore mouths become a great discomfort, or worse, the sheep begins to go hungry instead of chewing on sore teeth.

So, now that we know 3 main reasons for flipping sheep, how is it done?! First, you have to catch the sheep you want to flip. Sheep are EXTREMELY gregarious and do not like to be separated from their flock, so this is often one of the more challenging aspects. It is helpful to catch the sheep firmly around the stomach and around the chest (to keep it from running forward). There are a few different techniques, but for little people like me, this is one of the easiest:

Step 1: Catch your sheep.If right-handed, Stand on it’s left side with its head to your left

Step 2: Wrap your left hand gently but firmly around the muzzle and push its head to it’s right hip (don’t worry, their necks are very flexible and they can naturally touch their nose to their hindquarters)

Step 3: Reach your right hand around the sheeps back and reach for its front left leg (you will really have to wrap yourself around him to do this).

Step 4: Pull it’s left leg towards its right one to get it off balance, and guide it into the “sitting” position. Slightly recline him so that his back rests against your legs and waist.

Step 5: Remember to do all of this in one fluid motion or the sheep will run away laughing at your clumsy antics.

Hurray! Now that he is contently daydreaming, you can reach around to his hooves/teeth/whole body to get your chores done! If you are effecient, you can shear, trim, and check teeth in under 3-4 minutes! To return the sheep to his flock, simply push him forward a bit, you’ll be amazed how he jumps to life and leaves you in the dust for his buddies.

This professor demonstrates how to flip a sheep in slow motion. Notice that she stresses doing it faster and not dallying…you could get kicked if they try to outwit you. Also notice how he just sits there like a bump on a log once he’s successfully flipped. If only they could be so nonchalant all the time…

Saving the world one costly checkout choice at a time

During a visit to South Africa to see my Dad, Stepmom, and stepbrother, I was intrigued, as I usually am, by each country’s unique take on the “Green Movement”. During my time in London, I noticed a large push for recyclable packaging. In America, we can of course use the large green bins for our glass, plastic, newspaper, and so forth. All countries seem to have adapted the cloth, resusable grocery bags. I have about 6… all of which have been accumulated from various freebie events. Maybe since I didn’t purchase them, that explains my 50/50 shot of remembering them as I walk into the grocery store.

South Africa also has these bags available, but a new innovation struck me on my last trip to the grocer…paying for your plastic bags. Each and every one of them. 5¢ a piece. Now, that doesn’t sound terrible I guess. But considering on my average $200/month (for one person) grocery bill, I would pull an educated guess of requiring about 40 plastic bags a month. On a yearly average, that may cost me $24 in South Africa. And when you think about it, when does it seem rational to pay any amount to pollute the planet?

National Geographic wrote an article, “Are plastic bags sacking the environment?” As an agriculturalist, I am also an environmentalist. In order for future families to be able to raise animals or plants for human consumption, we need to ensure there is enough clean dirt to grow the things we need. And this tiny fee could make a huge difference in a country this big, don’t you think?

I personally do my best to “re-use”…I line my bathroom trashcans with old Kroger bags, pick up dog poop (which in itself seems silly to waste plastic to pick up something far more biodegradable to begin with), or even finally gather them up by the hundreds and drive around with them in my trunk until I remember to drop them off at the store’s enterance for their own form of recycling. But I sort of like this take on it. It surely made me think twice on whether my gallon milk with a built-in handle really also needed a plastic bag in order for me to carry it the short distance from the car to the fridge. I rather think not. Kudos, South Africa!

Happy Ag Week!!

This is Agriculture week, with National Ag Day on Thursday, March 8th. In honor of such a week, I thought I’d post about some of the reasons I appreciate agriculture. Feel free to comment below with your own reasons–there are more than you think! If you need more inspiration, you can read this amazing blog about what your life would look like sans agriculturalists.

Monday: I am thankful for cotton farmers. Without which, I would not have cozy sheets to sleep in (and dread having to get out of on Monday mornings)

Plain, but these sheets are SOOO difficult to leave on a cold Monday morning.

Tuesday: I appreciate Agriculturalists for their soft-spoken, polite demeanor. Even though I only seem to encounter them when they are making a deposit at my bank, they always seem to say “ma’am” and “please”, and it’s nice to see a section of America that hasn’t forgotten to bring their manners with them when they leave the house.

Wednesday: Today I am thankful for farmers and ranchers who work long, hard hours even when the weather is gruelling, horrific, and even dangerous. Today is 70 and sunny, but many put in 10-12 hour days even in rain, floods, snow, tornado watches, hurricane-force winds, and hail. And that’s not something to be overlooked about their daily responsibilities



Update 3.9.2012


Thursday: I am thankful for dairy farmers, who wake up somewhere between 3-4am for the first round of milking every day. That’s early even for farmers! But today, it allowed the wonderful whipped cream to be put on top of my free birthday Starbucks giant Java Chip Frappachino, and that was a decadent treat I would never have enjoyed without someone losing sleep on my account.

Friday: I am thankful for all people involved in agriculture, including the ones at slaughter plants. Their job may not be uplifting or glorious, but they work hard to make sure my food is killed in a peaceful manner and ends up as a safe product for me and my family to eat.

Cow 101

I recently came across a vegan blog about feedlots, and saw a comment on a roadside-feedlot-video that asked, “Are those cows dead, or do cows sleep lying down?” So I realized: Most people don’t know what normal cows look like! Actually, we even had some feedtruck drivers on the feedlot accidentally call sleeping cows in over the radio as dead ones. So here are some basics for those who are interested for the sake of dissecting videos or just for the fun of the know-cow!

  • Calves are born after a little over 9 months of pregnancy. They weigh roughly 70-90 lbs at birth!
  • Cows don’t have 4 stomachs, but rather a four-chambered stomach. Each chamber looks VERY different and helps provide a different function for digestion.
  • Both male and female cattle can have horns.
  • Female cattle have udders.
  • Cows do sleep laying down. In fact, they can adopt just about any sleeping position a dog can do, (on one side with legs out, curled up, or how dogs lay when you tell them “lay down”–back legs tucked under). The only sleeping position I have not seen in a cow that is shared with dogs is this one (Although I guess it’s possible):
  • My foster dog's fav sleeping position. How is this comfy?

  • Cows bellow (moo) for all sorts of reasons: hunger, communication, distress, challenge. Each moo varies.
  • Cattle naturally move away from people. That’s why it’s relatively easy to move them without causing much stress. It’s basically a system of “poking” their space bubble just enough to make them move opposite of you. Just like humans, each individual cow has it’s own sized space bubble.
  • Cattle are also naturally curious. This is why if you pull over at a fence and stand there for a while (quietly), they will likely approach you, smell you, maybe even lick you (if they’re brave) to see what you are like and why you are there. This is one reason cattle can look cramped together in photographs, as they become very curious of a cameraman and thus seem to bask in the limelight 🙂
  • Cattle can and will pick their nose with their tongue.
  • “I just threw up a little in my mouth” is a phrase that takes on a whole new meaning in Cow-World. Healthy, happy cattle will naturally eructate to bring large bits of feed back into their mouth for more chewing. This is known as chewing the cud, and many cattle will find a nice, sunny (or shady if its especially hot) place to lie down after grazing to chew the cud.
  • The chick-fil-a cow (large white with black spots) is actually a Holstein breed, which is a dairy cow. While it will most likely eventually become beef, it is not raised for that primary purpose.
  • Cattle come in black, brown, red, grey, white,and various spotted patterns. My personal favorite is the brockle-faced ones (freckle faced). Some have LOTS of spots all over their face, or others just have small freckles on their noses, like this Simmental-breed heifer calf:

    My friend Marti & her halterbreak-project calf, Squirt. He has the cutest black spots on his otherwise pink nose. (Photo courtesy of Marti Helbert)


    Monday 101 Day is a new theme I am launching in efforts of 1. educating the average reader about interesting tidbits in the various facets of the Agriculture world as I learn them. 2- improving my abilities to speak volumes with few words (I was not blessed with brevity). If you are an average, removed-from-ag reader who would like to learn something, or if you are a farmer/rancher who thinks something should be shared, please leave me a comment! I’m always looking for cool ideas 🙂

    Happy Monday!! Hope everyone has a great week

Monday 101 day!

Often when I sit down to blog, I end up blogging nothing because I have so many ideas floating around in my head! So I’ve decided to launch a Farm the Start Monday 101-day! May it be a fun farm fact or mini 101-sesh, hopefully it’ll be a fun and quick way to learn something about Agriculture. I’ve also made it a category so you can find them more easily even as time goes on!

Let me know if you are interested in any particular topic, I’m taking requests! Meanwhile, look forward to the first one this Monday: Cows 101 –a basic in cow behaviors.

Have a great weekend!

The Great Job Search…A Lesson in Preserverence

When I graduated in July 2010, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones that had a job offer waiting for me. I knew I wanted to work with beef cattle. They fascinate me. They’re peaceful. They smell nicer than some livestock (and yes, this is important).

I also knew that I eventually wanted to work in Public Relations for the beef industry. It frustrated me that over the course of the last 3 years, my expanding knowledge of Agriculture was not shared by my peers or parents. I showed up home to find a pantry of organics, yet my family had a lot of misinformation that led them to reconstruct our food supply. Friends were turning vegetarian like dropping flies. People asked me why I thought abusing animals in the name of feeding America was ok?….WHAT? People think that? I didn’t know anyone in Agriculture who abused animals, or thought it was OK under any false pretense.

So I decided on feedlots. As I described in “I’m goin in!”, I picked feedlots because of all the parts of the beef industry, that’s the one that seemed to attract the most raised eyebrows. It had the most mystery, even to me. Because the east coast doesn’t have feedlots, our total coverage on the topic at VT was probably about 50 minutes worth of lecture, if you were to add it all together. That didn’t leave me prepared to defend them to anyone, including myself.

So I tried to Google them. Most results included something on “reasons not to eat meat” or “cow hell”. No addresses to be found. Well how was I going to apply to any of them? My stepmom had given me Temple Grandin’s book “Thinking In Pictures” and we had watched the the amazing HBO movie about her journey to feedlots. So my stepmom suggested I call her. Temple Grandin. World famous author, speaker, facilities designer, professor. And what do you know, she actually called me back!! At least twice! Do you have any idea how nerveracking it is to play phone-tag with a mini-celebrity?!

Temple Grandin's Thinking In Pictures

I expressed my worries of being a woman in a man’s world. I told her why I wanted to work on a feedyard, and bashfully admitted I had no idea what positions even existed at such a place. I needed to find out. And I also needed to find out where they hide out so I could send a resume and request a specific position. She told me the book Beefspotter would be helpful. It’s like a $50 feedlot phone book. I heard Colorado was pretty cool, so I flipped to that state and found zillions of listings–big, small, and everything in between.

I called a random feedlot in California to ask the manager some questions so I could have a somewhat educated cover letter. At first he was very suspicious of my curiosity. “Who are you with?” “Well, sir, I’m not really “with” anyone, but I graduated from Virginia Tech and I’d like to ask you about how a feedlot works because I think I’d like to work at one” Then he exploded into laughter.

After looking up some stats about them (it’s easier to google info about specific ones, they don’t hide as easily when you have more info), I mailed a resume and cover letter to any feedlot that had a-come personally recommended to me by someone I knew in VA raising commercial cattle or b-met the list of top 20 employers, etc.

I sent out 18 of these personalized letters and cover letters.  I patiently waited 2 weeks for them to arrive on people’s desk before calling to follow up. Most people never answered. One man called me back to say “Well little lady, I’m not hiring, but I thought you deserved a call back. Good luck to you” He was clearly amused, but nonetheless slightly encouraging.

No real call backs. I talked to a friend who had moved to Denver and expressed my frustrations. “I think if they met me, they’d see I was serious!” So, I saved money to go to Colorado. Which was quite a task, considering I was employed as a waitress only 1 day a week. But off to Colorado I went! I sent out another, slightly smaller pool of cover letters and resumes. I had narrowed down which Big Dog I wanted to work for. I wanted one of the biggest. And I wanted it bad. I told them I’d be in the area and available for interviews. And I went. And I waited. And I prayed. And nothing. I called to express some concern I had over the uploading of my cover letter when someone FINALLY actually read it, while I was on the phone, and offered to meet me for a tour. Halleluia! I had a great (4 hour long) interview/tour, and thought things were in the bag. Wrong. I played phone tag with this guy for weeks. He put in a referral. I waited. Nothing. Got a call from the specific yard and did a phone interview. Waited. I did a follow up call again. Waited. Got offered an internship. Very nonchalantly the guy on the other end says, “Oh, yeah. I did talk to my boss and uh, yeah I mean, if you want an internship, I guess you could come out here”.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I had ultimately told the recruiter I was interested in an internship with the possibility of promotion to MT (Management Trainee). Although I technically qualified for MT from the get-go, I thought it would be most beneficial for both parties to do internship first to get a feel for what really happened on a feedlot, and gain credibility before trying to manage people who knew (obviously) much more than I did. And in one very minor, off-hand sentence, this guy changed the direction of my life.

After 5.5 months of putting my all into this job search, I was insanely relieved the great hunt was over.

A day of Reckoning…And Rambling

Since joining twitter, I’ve been brought to an ENTIRELY different level of agriculture conversation. I think I may actually be so overloaded with information that I can’t form a clear thought. There is…a lot…to think about. And of course, just like anything, you could drown your whole life on just this one topic. But that’s not really my style. So for now…I will just think. And think and think. Much like Pooh Bear, I suspect. Maybe I’ll find some beekeepers to provide me some thinking hunny…

In the meantime, I’ll share this scene from 2 weekends back in my front yard at sunrise (because yes, I still wake up at sunrise without an alarm clock)

Something about the snow and the blanket of quiet really helps me think, so mentally I’m going to revisit this scene (even as its 70 and raining out now). The weather here in VA has been pretty remarkable. I find it funny to talk about the weather as a city slicker. I mean really, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference now that I’m back to working an inside job. Besides needing an umbrella, or complaining about the fact that I straightened my hair this morning and now it’s poofing past my shoulders, or how if I forget my contact lenses it’s a royal pain to see through glasses with raindrops on them, rain is really only an inconvenience to me for about 15 total minutes a day. It’s become sorta common to use the phrase ‘to talk about the weather’ as some sort of gap-filler…when there is no other common ground. I find this funny because while working in Ag, and specifically on the feedlot, I began to realize talking about the weather really isn’t unimportant. It dictates your WHOLE day. Everything from how exhausted you will be, how you will dress (I mean, more than sporting a little raincoat or packing along an umbrella), how many cattle will be sick, how easily (or not) they will move from their huddle. And among Agriculturalists, I think talking about the weather is really quite a bonding experience. And, I’d also like to somewhat randomly add that I believe farmers to be the most accurate weather forecasters of all. Perhaps the meteorology schools could intern on a farm?