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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.

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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…

What I know about “pumping antibiotics into your future steak or hamburger”


“104.7!”

image courtesy of http://www.agandfoodlaw.com

“Bio 11!”

Someone moves to fill the syringe with 50 mL’s of dark, syrupy liquid and attaches a 3/4″ needle. Five small injection sites later, a steer leaves the chute with a clang.

*(normal temp is 101.5, so 104.7 as referenced above is considered very sick)

Every day, I inject numbers of sick, fevered* cattle with antibiotics. Cattle that will soon be entering the supermarket as your favorite burger or steak or brisket. By now, every American is well versed in the dangers of overusing antibiotics both in animals and people. Giving your toddler antibiotics for every round of sniffles will make a medicine-resistant germs that will infect your loved one later, and leave them prone to more allergies. Antibiotic residues entering your body through food has been linked to having the same effect (although these studies are still largely inconclusive).

So let’s consider this: Are we creating super bugs that can run rampant through our population, making us miserable and sending medical experts reeling for new drugs to stop the ever-stronger pathogens??

First, we need to understand that there are very similar principles involved with human and animal antibiotic use. Just because we’ve learned antibiotics are NOT the answer to everything, especially viruses which can’t be cured with them anyway, doesn’t mean there is not a place for them. There are times when antibiotics are incredibly useful. Ever had strep throat? Antibiotics are a life-saver! Without taking antibiotics, strep throat poses the risk of becoming bad enough to hospitalize you for kidney damage or heart valve inflammation. Before antibiotics, people died from simple sickness. The same is true in cattle. It is not the answer for everything, but it can ultimately prevent a death by treating an illness before it overtakes the animal’s body or spreads to the entire herd to create an epidemic. And a dose of antibiotics can save significant levels of animal suffering, which I think most human beings would agree is our invaluable responsibility for the animals in our care.

Second, not only do veterinarians monitor the use of antibiotics in food animals, but the FDA is incredibly involved. They do continuous studies to ensure that there are no residual drugs, hormones, or pesticides of any kind entering your body through a steak, hamburger (or veggie!). They work directly with the drug companies to test the meat treated with antibiotics. Over the years, injections have been moved onto the neck (instead of the rear) to help both with bruising the animal and the damage to the meat. These FDA restrictions have also lead to withdrawl times, which are well-known and strictly enforced by every working member on the feedyard. A withdrawl time is set by the FDA and printed on the drug label for easy access. Many steps are taken to ensure no antibiotics are in the cows system at all by the time they are slaughtered:

Cattle are restrained in a chute for cattle/person safety, cattle comfort, and injection accuracy. Photo courtesy of http://www.morandindustries.com

  •  Animals are only injected in the neck instead of the rear of the animal. This means that in fact, the more popular cuts of beef (round, steaks, etc) are not ever directly injected with antibiotics. Antibiotics are also injected subcutaneously, or just under the skin, instead of directly into the muscles that you eat.
  • Several injection sites are used in order to prevent a high concentration of antibiotics in one region. If the medication is not properly spread out, it can sort of ball up under the skin and does not circulate properly (therefore not being as effective in treating the sickness)

These are the acceptable injection sites as set out by Beef Quality Assurance

  • The withdrawal time (in the case of Bio, ~30 days), means that any animal given Bio absolutely under NO circumstances can leave the yard for that time period, until it is positively known that the animal does not have any trace of antibiotic travelling through their bodies.
  •  Every animal that is run through the hospital receives a hospital tag. This tag is individual to this animal, and is also entered into a computer database.
  • Any animal that receives an antibiotic gets a notch cut out of the ear tag in a specific area to signify which drug has been given, so you can look at the animal and see that they have been treated during their stay on the feedlot
  • The computer system tracks the date and dosage of every trip through the chute, whether or not it gets antibiotics
  • If an animal has received 3 doses of antibiotics and comes back sick again, it is deemed “Chronic” and will be put down if it becomes too ill/fails to recover. Even feedlots recognize that there is a point to which antibiotics are not doing their job, and continuously treating an animal not only increases risk of it retaining an illness, but also stresses an animal. Unfortunately, if an animal doesn’t get better after our best efforts, the best option is to put the animal out of his misery and continue to protect the people consuming beef daily.
  • When a pen of cattle is shipped (to slaughter), all animals of that pen are checked to be sure they are “clear” –they have met every withdrawl time and therefore are not containing any drug residues.
  • Any animal that is not clear must be moved to an entirely different pen prior to the ship to ensure that no one accidentally adds them to the truck.
  • As the pen ships, it is entered as such in the computer. The computer also checks again for any “Hot” (not met withdrawal times) animals. If after all the human checks, the computer finds that a hot animal is on the truck, the entire truck must be stopped on the highway and turned back to the feedyard, where every animal is unloaded and reloaded only after they have ensured that hot animals have been moved off the loading area into the designated “hot” pen. It is very rare that it ever gets to this point (it hasn’t happened in my 5 months here, and I have only ever heard of 1 instance…and many employees have been around for 10+ years)
Antibiotic rules are constantly modified and checked on. Every person administering antibiotics must know the withdrawal times and responsibly give the proper dosage in the proper areas– not only for animal comfort and well-being, but for ours as well. It’s a very detailed system, with many back-ups and checkpoints. Straying from any label guidelines is strictly prohibited and illegal. And trust me, no feedlot can afford to risk being shut down by simply not following directions on a label. Veterinarians are also constantly checking on our practices. They are tailoring the medication programs to better help the animals and to reduce overall antibiotic levels. They are updating staff on new study results. Our vet visits once a month with graphs and notes on all of our treatment histories and data. He reviews every doctor practice that we carry out, and gives us new goals or criteria to go on for the next month. The FDA checks their studies not just when a new drug first reaches the market, but afterwards as well to ensure that no results change as time progresses. To read more about FDA regulations on drug use in food animals, you can visit their website here.

Healthy Cows are Happy Cows! Photo courtesy of http://www.ericcressey.com