Friday, October 14, 2011

HSUS finances even less...

... of animal shelters than ever before. HumaneWatch is both my best friend this week and minorly ticking me off. I posted a comment on their blog about the most recent IRS report they discussed, and instead of putting my full, non-offensive comment on their page, they edited it down. Of course, editing it for just space purposes would make sense, but they left plenty of long, useless comments on there. Instead, they edited mine and changed the words to say something different. Shame on you, HumaneWatch, and yet I'm not sure I expected anything different. They obviously have a very strong, agenda driven organization so they want to keep a strong grip on what's going on their site to make sure it doesn't hurt their progress towards an end goal. Fight one evil with a lesser of the two, I guess.

General trends to highlight: 1) HSUS increased executive compensation including their head honcho who'll take home plenty of potential spay/neuter donations gathered from emotional extortion with sad puppy pictures on TV. 2) HSUS decreased contribution to shelters. You would think that if they were being called out for not contributing to shelters, they might increase it to dismay the naysayers, but not so. They must have something up their sleeve because they don't seem concerned about the IRS at all. 3) Fundraising increased - props (if you want to call them that) to HSUS for squeezing ever increasing numbers of dollars from ever poorer by sympathetic and misguided people.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Humane Misconceptions

My third blog this week will merely consist of my commentary on a blog I saw late last week. I've been meaning to write about and address this blog, but there is so much in the body of it that I know I will never have time. Instead, here are some notes I made in my comment. Honestly, I appreciated the author's comments about misnomers and false claims within the recently budding humane market. But he still missed on so many points.


"I have to say that you made a good compilation of all the propaganda out there on factory farming, mixed with some accurate facts. Especially accurate in my own opinion is your criticism of organic as a falsely humane production method. Also very accurate is the plight of "cage-free" hens which is a poorer condition for them than the original "battery cages". If "cage-free" was better, then HSUS wouldn't have just signed a deal with UEP for enhanced cages in family groups rather than "cage-free" systems. However, the list of misconceptions in your post is surprising given how much research it appears you conducted into these matters.

"I'll highlight just a few glaring misconceptions.

"1) Chipotle is a skilled advertiser and marketer and they are killing profits in a tough economic environment. They do that by advertising humanely raised product and then by only sourcing a percentage of their food from these sites. Look into it.

"2) Don't you find it ironic that will cite every single article that mentions health benefits of components of animal products, but in the same webpage fails to cite any articles that flaunt these increased CLAs in pasture or increased omega-3s in pasture? If they could link proof, wouldn't they have?

"3) The dairy cow is one of the most pampered creatures in farming today. They do not reside in feedlots, and instead each have a mattress for resting in well-ventilated and twice daily cleaned barns. They have a personal "doctor" (veterinarian) who inspects them regularly and the slightest discomfort to them during the day or undetected illness results in huge drops in production. By no means are they housed similarly to beef cattle, which are bred to be hardier - the only similarity between the two is the care and observation given to both throughout the day.

"4) Pigs and chickens are naturally cannibalistic. True, this behavior can be accentuated through close quarters, but this behavior is equally observed in pastured pigs and chickens as well. However, under less close observation by caretakers, the infections and death from this cannibalism can be worse in pasture-type systems.

"5) Pigs are housed in highly climate-controlled barns because they are not naturally inclined to reside in the cold and drafty outdoor environment. They are thus healthier inside in these scientifically proven and specialized barns than are their outdoor, lean-to-sheltered counterparts.

"I'm not saying that a market driven compromise isn't possible or a good thing to aim for. Welfare of animals is definitely new in the 10,000 year scheme of animal domestication, but it's important to not advocate for systems or products which are deceiving. Some systems you supported are equally detrimental or worse for animals in different ways than the systems you so harshly criticized.

"Food for thought."

Meatless Mondays

Before I get started, I had a link from Feedstuffs Foodlink about the addition in a lot of groceries of tags to help better explain important nutrition info. How long ago was it that we last had simplistic nutrition facts listed as "all you needed to know?". Then we decided over the years that we needed more and more details to fully develop exactly what diet was perfect? But here we are again talking about highlighting the important facts to better assist consumers. If we hadn't confused people in the first place with a flood of information, then we wouldn't need to simplify it now. I'm not saying all the details on a label aren't important - they are - but I think that those details became an inaccurate marketing ploy by food processing companies to sell health foods.

I could just link you to this article and end it the meatless Monday conversation at that, but I won't. Read the article; if you aren't satisfied then that this is a stupid idea, then you can read on through my post. Otherwise, don't waste your time because mine is just a rant on an old topic.

When I was at MSU, Gov. Granholm introduced the Meatless Monday for Michigan, encouraged by animal rights activists into believing that this would help the environment and the animals and would balance her appearance to the general public. But supporting the crazies who have no regard for property rights and little tolerance for education and truth about what happens on livestock farms turned out to raise a lot more stink than she expected, especially since she also spent so much time building up the local food produced in Michigan (meat included) and then encouraged people not to eat it for one day a week.

There's nothing actually wrong with eating meat every day of the week. From a health perspective, meat products provide highly digestible and utilizable nutrients that are otherwise hard to access. Meat is also a cheap product, not because of government subsidies, but because of American ingenuity in production of food over the decades. We are spoiled by this highly available, relatively inexpensive protein and vitamin/mineral product, but instead there are people who would rather spend more money on less beneficial foods which even imitate the real thing. Why on earth would you buy a vegan burger unless you actually wanted to consume meat? It's like vegan bacon - really? You want bacon (specifically a meat product) but you don't want to feel guilty about it. So instead you deprive it of its intended nutritive value, shove it full of super-processed vegetables (which most vegans also claim to hate) and then eat it like it's the real thing. Folks, all going meatless does is deprive you of good, wholesome nutrition and a great eating experience. Are there people who need less meat consumption due to severe health concerns, yes, but they often didn't get in that situation because of what they ate but rather how much they ate. Reduced intake would solve nearly everyone's problems if people just finally got honest about how much they're eating.

Of course, the meatless movement starts on just one day a week, but their end goal is meatless 365/24/7 (plus the occasional leap year). What drives this? None other but the same guilt and poor education which drives everything else. If you read it on the internet, then most people are willing to believe it's true. Rational thought no longer takes the time to evaluate facts critically, which is how CNN makes so much money reporting nothing but speculation all day long. You shouldn't let speculation on an animal's care drive your actions.

For example, this woman posted a blog about visiting an animal sanctuary. She loved it and plans to volunteer there, because she especially loved the pigs who have been saved from an unhealthy lifestyle and now laze around at a healthy size of over 1000 lbs.???? If you saw your uncle sitting on the couch, drinking a beer and watching the Packers, with a gut over the belt line and a plate full of food, would he at that point be rescued or need rescued from a healthy lifestyle? And doesn't a healthy animal lifestyle also require the breeding aspect as well? But these animals can't experience mating because the shelter realizes the truth - that without an animal food industry, there is no purpose to the pigs existence at all. And being domesticated, they can be none other than a nuisance until they die. Instead, they are locked up in a useless lifestyle, getting fat and watching birds pass until they finally die out. So much for a free, healthier lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Giant Eagle...

...irked me last week with their new running ad. They claim that they are putting together new labels on the shelves to help customers purchase more healthy food. This will include fat, calories, etc. I'm all about this and think it is just one more way that Giant Eagle is trying to get the edge on other groceries in the area. It follows closely on the heels of their provision of free RDs available for nutrition consulting to people to help them better select food and purchases for their own good. That's all great, but they crossed the line when they said the label would contain facts about what food was healthier... including if it was 'organic'. Now, it's not just because of my research that I'm on an organic interest kick. Organic is a very interesting and misunderstood concept for grocers which I wish more people took the time to take seriously and to better explain.

First off, if your food isn't organic, you're probably poisoning yourself. Organic by definition is carbon based and has grown itself. Simply put, pretty much all food is organic. There's a few synthesized things out there which might be on the edge, but if you as an organic life form can eat it and gain nutrition from it, it's probably organic. So organic foods are totally healthy for you, but if it was this simple, why doesn't Giant Eagle just label everything in the store "organic"?

Instead, they're trying to capitalize on the next big niche market. Organic has been riding the tails of farmers markets right into the fresh produce and protein products at the grocery stores. People have these nostalgic images of organically raised chickens singing with Cinderella in the morning and the organically raised cows being milked out by an 80-year-old farmer in the five stall barn out back. This couldn't be farther from the truth! Organic animals haven't been found to have any better level of living nor are organic farms smaller than conventional farms for any reason other than reduced market demand or start-up capital.

Then there's the notion promoted by Giant Eagle that organic is a healthier form of food. As opposed to what? Recycled steel? Battery acid? Carpet fuzz? When it comes down to it, organic food is really no different than conventional food. I'm sure someone will find a way to stretch the truth and tell you that there's boosted omega-3s or reduced saturated fat, but they're just playing with the numbers to argue their point. If you want a way to change your diet, don't buy organic, buy fresh food and reduce your intake by half. It'll make so much bigger of a difference. A good way to visualize it is when we were out bike shopping. A bike shop tried to sell my friend a bike which was "faster" because it weighed 2 lbs, 10 oz. less than the $800 cheaper version. My friend's response, "I could lose 2 whole bikes off of myself by just losing some weight, why on earth would I pay for the 2 lbs to come off the bike instead?" It's an example of how big of a difference a well-balanced diet can make compared with any minuscule, unproven and imagined gain that might come from organic food.

I've got a list of links up - more to come later including a link to a fantastic article about the myth of meatless Mondays being better for the environment.

Monday, October 3, 2011

New page

Just a short FYI before I run off to our nutrient metabolism class, but I posted a new page on this blog. The page is an old paper I wrote on distillers grains usage in dairy cattle. The powerpoint was a lot more fun, but the paper should be a fun read if you have any interest. Check it out, and while you're at it, here's a couple of other nice reads.

First, the wording for the bill being worked on in Massachusetts for livestock welfare.

Second, the man who poisoned the trees at Auburn confessed. If I was his lawyer, I'd sue...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beginning of classes (duplicate post)

Well, just like that the Delaware County Fair is in the books again. We'll have the carcass show tonight for the few animals which were purchased and slaughtered and that will be the official end for one more year. There's a lot of pictures from the fair showing up on the website, so check them out. Not only are there great photographers entering in the show (including my wife, who won 3rd place!), but it seems there were a lot of good pictures shot by fairgoers and submitted to the site throughout the week.

As we sort through all of Amanda's pictures, mine have been posted to the Picasa album. Suprisingly, Picasa has not been cooperating well with her Google-brother Blogger, so I'll include the link to the album so you can go there straightaway. In the end, only 25 pictures made my cut onto the site, but as I fill up that site I'm trying to weed out some of my less good shots, including a cut yesterday on some pictures which lacked clarity or subject focus and were just on there for sentimental reasons.

I also began a new photo website which I like less, but they tricked me into joining with a contest for the best geocached photos. I'm a sucker for contests like this so hopefully I'll win something, and if not I've at least put in a little ad online for the Delaware County Fair. Yahoo's Flickr is just a little bit too glitchy and gimmicky for me to use it much yet.

Class is started here on campus and so now i have to adjust to a new schedule once again. I have yet to remember that I TA a class in the morning, so luckily it's for my forgiving mother-in-law because I haven't showed up to it on time yet. Coffee gets me through the long days of adjustment and by November my pigs should start coming off trial. Looking through the fog of chaos to the future of lab work and predictable schedules. Well, here's to hoping anyways...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pictures! (duplicate post)

Brace yourself, it's high volume picture season. This summer I've added about 8 GB of pics to my computer, but during this week alone, another 8-10 GB are added to my computer for the Delaware County Fair. With the addition of Amanda on the photography staff at the county fair, I'm thinking it's about time she got a Picasa album of her own to showcase her good shots. She has some really good pictures, especially from the sheep show last night and we both also have winnings this year again in the open photography show!

I'm toying around with some watermark ideas as well. Some pictures are getting put this year on the county fair website, so I don't want something obnoxious, but I do want something which draws more people to my Picasa album and hopefully eventually some photography gigs someday. I'm still in the growing stages and so looking for practice rather than contracts with expectations - this freelancing for Del. Co. Fair has been perfect. I'd appreciate commentary on two things: 1) watermark locations - I don't want to be obnoxious, 2) keeping the ScotchPine Photos name is a go?

Speaking of pictures, I'll share the MSU photos through this link for the jazzy uniforms to be used in the Michigan game this year (which we'll be at!). There's a lot of debate going on about the MSU uniforms and I agree with most people's intelligent commentary. I realize the traditions of school colors, and also the history lesson in the bronze inclusion - but to paraphrase a LinkedIn comment, "Why bronze, isn't that third?".

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall again (duplicate post)

Well, it's definitely beginning to look a lot like fall again. The summer plants are dying out and the leaves are becoming more brittle. Tomorrow's high is once again predicted to be down in the low 60s and I love this stuff! I love the cool breeze in the morning, and I love being able to throw on some long sleeves and just wear them all day long without worrying about spiked heats. Fall colors are on the way and that means we needed to clear out our garden to make room for some mums.

I've included a picture today of the pumpkin plant we started at the beginning of the year. It's a perfect example of the shortage of bees and other pollinators, because this plant flowered all summer and went without any fruit. Not because it was sterile, but because I literally never saw anything crawl or fly by until it was already into late August. Luckily, our plants out at the parental unit were more successful. Jacob had a vastly successful planting of sweet corn after the first set was flooded out and our pumpkins are turning a good, solid Halloween orange.

County fair is coming up this coming weekend and I can't wait. Lambs and steers look good and it's a great time to have a fair. Look for me as press staff once again, pit passes and inside track for the horse races!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pelotonia Recap (duplicate post)

It's been a few weeks now since the Pelotonia and life still hasn't slowed down enough for me to take a break and recap this great ride, so I'm stealing a few minutes at work. It is fresh in my mind because I just wrote the thank you letter we will be sending to our donors and I want to blog just a bit while it's in my head.

The ride was much more fun for me than last year. I know where I'm going now and had trained more properly for the long ride. Hills weren't something I trained for, but at least I'd racked up a few 50 mile rides prior to the big day. Knowing where you're going is not overrated in the slightest. I knew every big hill, dangerous intersection and even when to save water between fill-ups. I guess that's what you'd call a veteran, and at 2 out of the 3 years the ride has existed, I did feel a bit like a pro at it.

Amanda and I were separated the day of the ride. Luckily, she and Mom could ride together, but the 43 milers were released in a different time than the 102 and we couldn't afford to wait the extra hour to go. The early morning hours are so critical when you're riding as far as we were. By the time we got into mile 70, the heat was terrible and an air quality alert was out. If weren't out of the hills by then, the girl riding with us might not have made it. She was already strapped for lung and energy capacity as it was.

I think this year's ride had a lot more gravity to it than last year. Becky, a family friend of Amanda's, died the week of the Pelotonia despite the best treatment available and heartfelt prayers for a miracle until the very end. She left behind a young husband and younger children, one of which is too young to even ever have a memory of her mother. It is for the future of people like this that we rode and I know Becky weighed heavily on both Amanda's and my minds as we rode towards the finish line, only to leave from there to a wake.

The people on this day are so amazing. I know I said this last year too, but as you ride through towns, up hills, past farms, and even at the random hilltop stop in the Hocking Hills, there were people out ringing cowbells, cheering, honking and waving at us. They were so supportive of our efforts and I felt very appreciated. For those of you who supported us during the ride or before it in some way or another, I just want to pass along these peoples' appreciation to you. To quote the great Red Green, "Remember, we're all in this together, and I'm pulling for you."

Pelotonia has already raised $9.5 million and it's still about 40 days from the fundraising ending. We're sending out thank yous now, and in about 2 months this all starts again. It feels like this Pelotonia adventure never ends, especially now that Amanda and I are captaining a group which is ever-expanding (hopefully 10+ riders in 2012). With such a large group, we're going to need bigger corporate sponsors (Thanks this year to Champion Feed & Pet Supply, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and Amanda Hills Spring Water) totaling close to $10,000. If you know of anyone or want to join our cause, keep an eye out for a link to a Facebook group for 2012. It's the next step after our thank yous.

Our day ended with a country concert by a group called Bomshel. I was pretty content to just sit there and eat big, drink a beer and listen to them. But even though the day was over, our work is far from done. Patients still need treatments, children need to know about preventions, and families need hope for a cure.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Squealing... (duplicate post)

... like a stuck pig. This quote has immensely more meaning to me now than it did a month ago. With the start of my project came the blood draws which had been written up in my protocol and approved by the animal care and use committee. Those blood draws seemed fine on paper - take blood every 2 weeks, but in reality, the restraining and bleeding of over 100 pigs is just a bit out of hand. And it doesn't go nearly as fast or efficiently as I would've hoped. My first day at the blood draws I didn't even wear ear plugs, and the ringing in my ears for the remainder of the day was a hard-hitting lesson I haven't forgotten. It might go without saying that we have revised the protocol to require less blood draws from the pigs and I think we can still get enough data to draw some conclusions.

The blood work actually has some very important repercussions for the pigs themselves. I'm looking at blood tests which tell me how much the diet and living conditions are changing stress levels in the pigs, and how their health is holding up over the trial. Many of the assays are similar to what is done on humans to determine their health as well. But most humans don't scream when they give blood for a test.

Pigs are pretty funny creatures. I can say this now because I'm also watching hours and hours of behavioural recordings to determine the effect of the dietary and housing treatments we've imposed. They have a very strong desire to be free to do whatever they want, but not knowing what they actually want they are quite prone to roam aimlessly - stirring up trouble along the way. Pigs play rough and often are to blame for the death of one another, even with maximum human intervention. I can't even imagine how badly they hate on each other in a feral situation. The notion of pigs as intelligent or peaceful creatures is "hogwash", pun intended, because they are merely insistent and curious. They will keep hitting something over and over again until it finally works out, only to find out it wasn't what they wanted anyways because they didn't know what they wanted to start with.

Something else I've noticed which is interesting is the pigs we've placed into organic housing. This housing allows pigs more space and an exercise area. They also have contact with birds. Initially, I expected that pigs would've been super curious and nervous around birds since they do not naturally encounter them during their lifespan. However, they sleep and just let the birds hop all over them, like animals at the zoo, as if they had always been around birds. I learn something new ever day.

Credit to Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog for the picture which I'm sure was borrowed from elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Loving Lab Help (duplicate post)

I married a saint. Don’t get me wrong, nobody’s perfect, but this woman brings light into the hell that was last week. She stuck with me through the worst I could drag her down into and she helped to get me back up out of it. For that I am grateful. Who knew that pipetting could stir such emotions in my cold, automated heart?

My grad research project officially started the beginning of August. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this forever, but now that It’s here I just can’t wait until it’s over. The way the past three weeks have flown by, I imagine this project will be a blur in my life so I’m going to need to find things like Pelotonia to brighten and accent this high speed pursuit of a couple of letters after my last name. Since I’m doing most of the work by myself without any employees to help me, I would be remiss to not mention those who have volunteered to help me out of a few pickles so far: Lucien, Dare, Dan, Frank and Mike.

Lab work has never been my specialty and I seem to have forgotten that when I wrote the protocol for this experiment. I’ve suddenly been submersed into the dark world of basement labs, working in four different labs and gaining access to BSL2 over at the vet school for culturing of pathogens. The amount I’ve learned in the past week has rivaled all of last year’s classwork, making me question why I ever took classes in the first place because I’m such a hands-on learner. But last week was an extreme baptism into the hellfires of bloodwork.

When Amanda called, I told her to go to her exercise class because I wouldn’t be home for a long time that night. Everything I’d tried to do that day kept dragging out. I’d been at work since 7 am and it was already 6 pm. I still had to do all the hematocrit, plasma and serum spinning and storage, and didn’t even know how long it would take me since I hadn’t done 200 blood samples at once before in my life. I’d memorized protocol and gathered supplies, just starting when the phone rang. Amanda immediately asked if I wanted her help. Her company was more what I wanted, but her help was great too. But I didn’t want to ruin her evening, insisting that she didn’t come down.

She came down anyways, bringing pizza and a hug for the hapless, absent-minded genius who had forgotten to lock down some hematocrit tubes before spinning and was cleaning up broken glass glitter. It’d been over an hour and I’d gone nowhere. We ate and she learned how I wanted samples labeled and pipette and she got straight to work. And we worked, and we worked. This was a bloodwork marathon I don’t intend to duplicate any time soon. Thursday is looming up on me already. Last week we didn’t leave the lab until midnight but it was long before that when I realized I married a saint. Such self-sacrifice doesn’t come easy or often and I really appreciated it. I love you, Amanda.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

HSUS and UEP egg deal

Frankly I don’t even have time to weigh in on this little chicken legislature bill endorsed by both HSUS and UEP. I know these notes are a couple weeks old, but I’ve been tied up in a lot of other stuff, including my project starting yesterday. I have a few thoughts to share, but they’re disjointed so plow through them, read the articles for yourself and make up your own mind.

Andy Vance wrote one of the more hostile articles of his that I’ve read in a while. I feel that hostility when I see deals like this go down after all the hard work that went into Issue 2 here in Ohio. We put a lot of effort, sweat and good faith into that bill and were in the perfect position to start a new trend. Instead, the new thing is deals. Everyone’s working out deals instead of standing up for what they really believed or claimed to believe was the best way to raise animals. If we felt so strongly about our methods, we shouldn’t be willing to compromise them regardless of what threatens. We should cling to them, fight for them and not give them up.

Here's some other links to read on the issue as well: 1, 2, and 3.

I’m not saying that this change to enriched pens is really that bad. Enriched housing is one of the best options there is right now, in my minimally educated opinion, for chicken housing and I hope that we will see it improved bird welfare over the next few decades. More importantly, I want us to stick to something that is truly right, to find the agricultural practices that are worth defending and that producers and their “representatives” will not back out on at the last minute. If I believed that this would be the last compromise or that these compromises were leading to a better working relationship between these lobbying interest groups, then I would be just fine with this decision because it promises to be a good alternative to barren housing.

And why should we even have to legislate this in the first place? It’s absurd to legislate for animals because this then assumes that these animals deserve rights. Are they able to vote or are they even think about what is truly best for them? Or is this legislation part of a business that requires the government to step in and control? If so, then by lobbying and legislating this protection of animals, the HSUS themselves is admitting that these animals are just a material possession instead of a life which deserves respect.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Terrorists targeting students

I know it’s not the first time this has happened, but I am always appalled at the aggressive attitude that some organizations take towards students. College is a time when young adults are highly impressionable and searching for belonging, struggling through education and doing their best to approach everything with an open mind and an earnest desire for learning. Of course, not everyone is there for the same reason, but this description would be true of those true students who are now being explicitly targeted by yet another terroristic animal rights organization.

Stalking students and threatening them, physically, reputationally and emotionally abusing them and their friends, relationships and families is a horrid thing to do to people. This trip comes to Columbus, it’s going down.

I thought this blog was right on the mark when OSU shared it this past weekend. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bi-weekly Update (duplicate post)

The past couple of weeks have once again been an absolute whirlwind. Starting my thesis has turned out to be the single greatest writing endeavour of my life and I think I started it none too soon. Besides trying to write about 1,000 words per day, I’ve also been trying to get amendments in for my protocol and other items around. Combine this with the state fair coming into play and there has been a lot of busy rushing going on.

The vegetables are growing well, with the best cantaloupe plants I’ve ever had. We trained the pumpkins to climb this year and the strength in their trailers is amazing! I’ve included a picture of the trainer a few weeks ago which has not totally filled out with leaves and blooms. I’m not sure how well the vines will hold the pumpkins on, but it’s a fun thing to try anyways. Those little wispies that come out from the vine have been reaching out and pulling the vine along every day, strengthening its position on the cage and providing a lot of entertainment for me.

4-H camp was this past week and over all, I think we’re pretty lucky. With all the heat and enough rain to canoe without damming up the creek, it’s really amazing that we were able to run all of our sessions without being cancelled out by rain except by night. Each day was blazingly hot with stifling humidity (heat indexes well over 100), but we made it through and only lost 1 dehydration patient over the week who had to go home to recover from losing too much fluid. On a funny note, we created a video to instruct campers about the 2 biggest problems we had at camp this year and I will plan on getting that posted as soon as I can get ahold of a copy of it.

I’ve got a bunch of different articles open on my browser, so hang tight and I’ll get them all out this week, but with the state fair and my position as a judge, a volunteer, an employee, a researcher, a sibling and a husband – it’s going to be a fast-paced next couple of weeks. Hang in there with me and stay cool and shady from all the hot weather.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Antibiotics Paper Online

Finally, I have figured out a way to put my paper on antibiotic use in pigs online. You should see it now on the right of the blog above the archive. My paper on antibiotics is a small work in the great mix of science in this world, but people say I do a good job of explaining concepts in anyone's terms. I hope you find the paper a good read and I encourage you to ask questions or pose corrections to the argument.

Nobody should be above learning unless they are below society.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pelotonia 2011 Update (duplicate post)

Well it wasn’t easy, it never is. But Amanda and I have reached our minimum fundraising goal. The final money will be coming in this week, just before the student deadline of next Monday. This includes a bake sale at Champion Feed and Pet Supply in Delaware, and sponsorships from Amanda Hills (water for the bake sale) and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. It’s really tough getting my mind in gear for a race which is still over a month away and after the start date of my research project, but Amanda and I have started riding and getting in the habit of riding more often. To be honest, this fundraising and the jersey printing has gotten me even more excited for the race.

I also want to take the time to thank everyone who donated to both mine and to Amanda’s ride. Fundraising last year was a function of some really big sponsorships and that was great, but it was so much more moving to receive small donations from so many people. It is a great and true example of how many people are touched by the suffering of cancer. Every person who donated has their own story, their own motivation for why they donated. I don’t know all of the stories, but I know many of them. And I can tell you that they are my inspiration for riding. My ride serves as my only way to give an embrace of encouragement and gratitude towards the people who have shared, who have struggled and who are praying for a cure.

Cancer is a serious story, and I focus this race often on the serious side – encouraging your support for my ride based on your compassion for those in your community who need your support and the hope that comes through research. But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t provide a little light entertainment for you as well. And trust me, it’s a real pleasure to embrace fitness through this challenge on behalf of cancer patients and families. So here are a couple of light thoughts to share with you about my Pelotonia experience so you can gain insight into what an average person thinks during preparation for this great event.

Last year’s ride made me want to curl up in a ball and sleep for days. This picture doesn't do justice to the pain and exhaustion I felt at the end of 180 miles. Physically exhausting is how I would describe the first day, the longest ride of my life. Before that day I had never ridden more than 45 miles and I relied on pure youth to pull me through. But if Saturday was physically exhausting, Sunday was a battle of the mind. Singing stupid little songs over and over pounded through my head and I hated groups like the Black-Eyed Peas for their repetitive music that was impossible to clear from my head as a captive listener to my own head as I rode on. It was like an 8 hour trip to the dentist.

This year I decided to try and ride more before the Pelotonia to be in better shape. Great thing about central Ohio is that there are lots of open places to ride. The problem with great rides is that you always want to keep riding. But eventually you have to come home. The return trip is never as fun as the way out, and such was the case last week. I swear the wind always switches directions when you turn around. I had been looking forward to an Irish blessing style, downhill, wind-to-the-back ride on the way home. Instead, the sun started blazing and the wind picked up – in my face. All I could think about on the way home was how I was going to eat all-you-can-eat pizza at Cici’s. An hour after Cici’s, all I could think about was what a terrible idea that was. I probably ate 2 pizzas single-handedly.

The most important part of the ride is the bike. Believe it or not (probably not if you ever see my bikes) but I know a lot about bikes. I know the good brands, the right questions, the things you can afford to fix and the things you can’t. I know how to fix nearly everything, but I would rather pay someone else who was formally trained to do it. I know what a good price is, what is a ripoff and what is a steal. But I also know the value in having a bike that gets you there and leaves some cash in your pocket. That’s where my silver speckled, 1990s Peformance Focus comes into play. It has all the right parts and just gives up a little on the aesthetics side of things. I love the bike more and more every day. In fact, if I have a weakness, it’s that I fall in love with bikes and am unwilling to let them go. I used Craigslist to sell last year’s bike and when I pulled it out I barely was able to let it go. It rode so beautiful, with a 70s style pristine paint coat and basically no rust. But last year it betrayed me and the whole pedal mechanism jumped ship on the ride. I had to keep reminding myself of that as I sold it to a new kid who was less picky than me on what bike he rode to Athens. We’d been through a lot together but it was time to let it go and pick up a new bike, a new story for the next ride.

Compression shorts are awkward. Even more awkward is the fact that they have a changing room for trying them on at the bike store. I remember growing up thinking that I would never look like one of those guys, but I have relinquished in favor of common sense. Athletes wear clothing designed for athletes. It’s lighter, breathes better and wicks away sweat; every pound that I don’t have to haul with me to Athens is a pound faster that I can go. I’m still getting used to the idea of wearing them and I feel pretty exposed biking in them in public. But I’ll get used to it over time; it’s just like any other athletic outfit – designed for specific purposes and let me tell you that it makes the ride SO much better.

Sunglasses are vital to a decent ride (unless you ride in the rain, then your bike is probably rusting away). I don’t have a great history of keeping sunglasses uncrushed, so I try not to spend a lot of money on them. The result is that they break and I just feel less guilty about it. But when they all break and I need some to ride in, out comes the super glue. Amanda’s suggestion turned out to work great. While waiting on hold with an office calll I held the superglued glasses together in a firm grip. I reapplied superglue in thin coats every few minutes and at the end of the call let go. It held together great and now we’re ready for another ride. When it comes down to it, I’d spend money on a water bottle or speedometer any day over a pair of sunglasses.

If you’d like to hear more about the ride, please find us at Champion Feed and Pet Supply this coming weekend for the Pelotonia bake sale fundraiser there. I’d love to talk and tell you more about anything you want to know AND you can shop around a little, too! Champion has been a great partner to work with and we are very excited to be hosted there this weekend for the sale. They also have a nice store with everything for pets, horses and livestock.

As I said, I will have soon reached my sponsorship goal and will likely exceed it, as has Amanda. We are very grateful and still will continue receiving your donations. Every dollar goes toward cancer research and the more we can raise for this great goal, the better. I also encourage you to consider donating to 3 other great people who I know that are riding this year and still working towards their goal. Beth Wenner, Christopher Fullam and Mary Connolly. They are good friends who are riding with great reasons this year. Please check out their profiles on, and if you feel so moved, consider giving a tax deductible donation to any or all of them, or to myself or Amanda. The biggest key is to give; it all goes towards the greater good: Ending Cancer.

Here’s OSU’s movie for some final thoughts about the Pelotonia. We got an email to be on this movie, since Amanda and I are both a part of Team Buckeye, but it just didn’t fit into the schedule with everything else.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time Flies...

...when you're having fun. It looks like my blog has mostly died in the past 2 weeks, but in reality, that's because of all the good things that have been happening around here. I've been super busy and while my busyness encompasses a broad range of stuff, I'll try to lay them out in a series of blogs. Since most of my life has been defined recently by grad school, this first blog will focus there.

I was originally supposed to start my pigs on project the beginning of July, but the project start has been a little delayed by the age of the pigs and their growth. It all is based on when they reach a certain age and so as the pigs were born a bit late, my research was once again inevitably delayed. We're planning now to start the beginning of August, but that is good because it gives me a lot of time to catch up on the other progressions with the project around here.

One of these includes the final formulation of the diets to be used in the project. After balancing out the potential diets, we determined that there was a need for another treatment for comparison and the deletion of a previous diet. Since my focus is still on the impact of organic production, we will be using a commercially available, organic supplement which is intended to benefit the pigs in a similar way to which antibiotics could be used without the actual use of antibiotics. This is a fun little bit of science, but please stay posted and I will either blog my class paper on the issue or I will create a page to upload it. It's too long for this blog already.

We also got a shipment in of pig feeders for use in the indoor housing with outdoor access treatment. Because these pigs were traditionally fed on clean ground we needed to buy and build new feeders. I need to be able to weigh back all of the feed to determine weekly feed intakes and weight change. This will help us get a numerical value for what we call feed conversion which is simply the amount of feed it takes for a pig to gain a pound in body weight. Because we're going to look at economic factors to consider in organic production, the amount of pig feed it takes to grow the pigs will be an integral value in this.

Assembling pig feeders turned into a 2 day process where I ratcheted, un-ratcheted and re-ratcheted all day. The feeder material was sheet metal folded and drilled and it didn't quite all line up. To further complicate the matter, the instructions were not written in the correct order for everything to line up. It took 3 times to finally get an order of assembly which worked. At the end of the second day, covered in dirt and grease, I was finally confident that the pig feeders would work and hold up to the abuse that pigs put on everything in their pens. Hopefully the straw bedding will distract them from demolishing the feeders.

I also got to do my first pig weaning last week. I know it seems odd but I never took a swine class in undergrad and so my trip out to the farm last week turned into another great educational experience. The pig industry is very numbers oriented with records on everything. So as we weaned piglets from their mothers, we weighed them. They were doing pretty well, since some were weaning out at upper 20s. After recording weights, we sorted them into groups of similar weights so that they could grow with other pigs of similar size. This helps to prevent bigger pigs bossing the little ones around and "hogging" all of the feed.

As I mentioned before, we're also using straw in the outdoor access pigs. So while we were out there we helped put straw up in the mow. Stacking straw in the mow (pronounced like "ow" with an 'm' on the front) is hot, dusty, sticky work. We used to do a bit of it when were younger, but I haven't stacked much since high school when I stopped volunteering for sub-minimum wage work. It capped off a super long week last week and gave me sore hands which will once again harden into callouses that I lost in college. Hard work is good for the body.

We've also been doing a lot of training and sponsor recruiting for the Pelotonia. Luckily this is going to start wrapping itself up so we can just focus on the training. People have been very generous; Amanda and I are grateful for all of their support and proud to be riding on behalf of agriculture this year.

Credit to D. Sturtevant for the photo.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Protection from Animal Rights Activists

There seems to a lot of recent backlash against legislators which seek to protect farmers from animal rights radicals. A lot of assumptions run hand in hand with this, but the short and simple of it is that there used to be a time when people pulled up your driveway at your farm and you were happy. Not happy because it meant an interruption to work, but at least happy in a curious sort of way, interested to see what this stranger would do to take your day out of the ordinary. And while a cordial visit with a stranger used to be ok, teaching them about what you do and where things are, now we're just skeptical. If a stranger shows up at our place, now my first thought is to get them out.

Even our little "farm" has had its fair share of unknown guests over the past few years, situated alone in a rapidly urbanizing community. These unwanted guests may or may not have been responsible for weird happenings at night over the years. Or it might just have easily been some pranking kids, but it leaves us suspicious and uninterested in sharing our life with other people anymore. What used to be a great outreach tool has just turned into a territorial defense against assumed perpetrators. And this is as much as anything because we don't have a lot of legal protection from randoms that might come wandering up. If you haven't guessed yet, I'm pretty strongly in favor of punishing undercover videographers.

This leads into another Farm Sanctuary blog post. I'm not going to spend a lot of time arguing that the West Coast laws are really doing anything for animals. But if you look at the history of widespread animal "welfare" legislation, none of it has. So at least this legislation doesn't make matters worse. But the real stinger is the commentary about prosecuting activists. My comments as always won't get published. They are below...


"You neglect to mention that in the past one and a half years, at least 3 videos have included undercover activists personally abusing animals, paying workers to abuse animals and telling workers to abuse animals. This is also all caught on tape and this is exactly why farmers don't want activists on farms anymore.

"These activists you uphold and condone are responsible for causing the abuse which they then document and edit to pervert into an accusation of the farmer. This is exactly why it should be illegal and why they should be, and in some cases now are, going to jail."

Fundraising Boost (duplicate post)

Tomorrow marks the first level cutoff for fundraising for my benefit bike ride. As we approach the deadline, I'm still $100 short on my fundraising goal for this cutoff. If you know anyone who has suffered through cancer, any friend who has dealt with the pain of watching a relative suffer, or you personally have experienced this, please consider donating to my ride. 100% of the donations go directly to cancer research to find cures and preventions for the disease which plagues the entire world. (and it's tax deductible!)

Click on this link to donate to my ride. It is not a virtual ride, I am actually biking, sweating and aching 100 miles down to Athens. Even so, this is just a fraction of the effort that cancer patients and their families go through every day just to keep fighting. I hope to be an inspiration to them, and you can be too.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Proper Animal Care

It’s funny that for as long as I’ve been involved in animal agriculture, people have always thought they knew better than me how to take care of my animals. Sometimes they were right, when I was first starting and learning how to care for animals. I took their advice in the form of suggestions from those more experienced than me; this was the entire point of 4-H: learning to be responsible for something and learning the skills to do so successfully. Interaction with adults, public speaking, leadership opportunities, they all came second to the basic concept of learning new things and sharing my learning with those around me.

More often in my later years, they’ve been wrong. As early as middle school on the local junior fair board, I’ve had to deal with accusations of animal neglect when people failed to load their rabbits up on feed all day. Of course, we all know what happens to people who load up on food all day, so it ought to be common sense that it’s not good for a rabbit to stuff itself either, right? And if you think that they self-regulate, you’re absolutely wrong. In most cases, the animal will eat as much as it can because naturally this makes sense for it. But because its energy is not being taxed in survival all day, it needs far less energy as well and overeating can quickly be the end of it. Is it abuse of children when parents tell them to eat broccoli or restrict the amount of chocolate they can eat?

Of course, as time has rolled on, I’ve interacted with stronger personalities and less educated personalities, both categories of which have either embraced an open mind, allowing me to share my knowledge of proper animal care with them, or they have continued to allow ignorance to dominate their intellect and illogically argued that farmers have no idea what’s best for animals and only keep animals to exploit them. I’ve heard recently from people that being defensive of farming makes it look like we’re trying to hide or justify something when most people would’ve never thought to believe the ridiculous stories that circulate anyhow. This may be true, but I think there’s a spark of pride in the role we all play in feeding the planet that makes farmers naturally defensive of the accusations which are backstabbingly snaked about in the underground of the animal rights movement. And I have never shied away from an argument about whether or not we properly care for our animals.

I’ve often wondered what it is that makes animal rights activists so antagonist towards farmers AND their animals. Are they really so ignorant as to believe their own lies about farmers’ exploitative nature? Animals have survived and prospered for centuries in this “exploitative condition”, it’s a shame we can’t just ask them for their official vote of approval. After all, their domesticability is what led us to settle down and take care of them in the first place. It wasn’t us that hunted them down and forced tameness upon them over the years. (Sidebar: have you ever tried to forcefully tame anything? It doesn’t work.) Or maybe the root of this is that the animal rights activists are actually jealous of the good relationship we have with animals based on hard work and mutual respect. If so, all they had to do was ask. We’re more than willing to share our experiences with those who respect our profession, those who don’t spend every waking moment trying to falsify video and abuse animals themselves to get farmers in trouble.

Feedstuffs recently shared an interview with one of the stars of Food, INC., an animal rights leaning “documentary” on the nation’s food system. I’ll try to upload it to my blog for a while if I can, but there were some very striking quotes that came out of it which I wanted to emphasize. When investigated for their dairy cows waiting at the gate to come in for milking, in good weather and right on their internal schedule as always, the investigator told Salatin that he “didn’t have an animal problem; you have a people problem.” The animals were doing just fine, functioning as they’re well adapted to do, but the neighbor down the road thought she knew what was going on and called in abuse when there was nothing further from the truth.

“This notion that we can have life without death is ridiculous.” and “This notion that you can divorce life from death is … a silly, childish, ignorant notion.” More and more people are making money and garnering attention because of such profoundly obvious statements. I touch on this topic often and my favorite organization to bring this up is still the Zac Brown Band in their commentary on the death that comes about from harvesting vegetables. Salatin goes further to say that if you think death is just a one-way street, he suggests laying naked in your garden for three days to see how nature treats you. That’ll be a harsh reminder of the fact that life requires the death of the living. This simple balance is even in Disney’s Lion King, but people still fail to acknowledge it. Death as a part of life doesn't mean that we should cast off efforts to improve that quality of life, but it does mean we should stop looking for ways to bypass what is fact.

But farmers know this, among all the other things they know. And they take it into consideration every day when they are out planting the fields, killing the weeds, treating the animals and feeding them. Life costs life to feed life, but it is our responsibility to help feed the world. And farmers are willing to risk damage to themselves for the sake of the animals, those same animals which will eventually meet their end in the food chain. This is because farmers truly care for their animals, as well as take care of them. They do this even though they know that one day the animal’s life will come to an end to feed them. Animals benefit from this care and protection from disease and predators, and in turn eventually sacrifice their life in exchange. This is the balance that is life.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Over the years it's become especially obvious that I'm just not good at asking people for money; it's been something I've struggled with all my life. We never negotiated for allowances with our parents. Our 4-H projects always sold to the people who bid the highest, but not because we had ever sent them letters asking them to buy our animals. If we sent a letter, it was asking them to support the fair and the youth in general, but never just us. Even when I worked at Farm Bureau and my job was specifically to recruit sponsors, I still struggled with asking people for money. Any amount was fine with me just so long as they were giving of their own good will.

But now here I am again, asking for money. My Pelotonia profile says it all: I'm riding to raise money and awareness for cancer research in Ohio. Our Ohio hospitals are making huge progress in treating and preventing cancer and this research will provide hope to many people this year, next year and next decade. Has cancer affected my family in the past? Heck yes, it has. That's the main reason we live in Ohio now, because we moved here to support my grandpa as he fought and ultimately won his battle with cancer. This year two of my friends have also been fighting cancer, both with great outlooks. And a friend at Amanda's church is in a huge struggle this year as we pray for a miracle.

So that's why I'm riding. I don't do cancer research, nor am I a nurse or a doctor, nor am I superb at comforting those who suffer. But I am athletically built enough that I can ride the miles. And so I ride, because that's my part in this. I ride so that you and others know that we are trying to fight cancer and help those who suffer. But riding isn't enough, I have to also actually raise the money for the ride.

And that's where asking comes in. The hardest thing that I have to do for this Pelotonia, harder than the training or the bike search (which is now complete!) is the asking for money. I've posted to Facebook, contacted old friends and even sent out letters now to corporations and politicians, organizations and well-connected friends. And now I'm back to here. If you read this blog and can even spare $5 or less, please consider donating. This link will take you to my profile where you can choose to donate or not after reading mine and other peoples' stories on the Pelotonia website. Please consider giving to support this huge effort which encompasses nearly 4,000 riders.

For any readers interested, my wife and I are also doing sponsor jerseys with logos. This could be a great advertising opportunity which would be an outreach message into the community about local support.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The experiment that I’m working on is pretty commonly referred to as a feeding trial. Basically what this means is that our experiment will consist of different diet adjustments. These diet adjustments try to only change one specific thing between diets in order to be able to attribute differences observed during the experiment to these diet changes, thus increasing our understanding of what impact the things we feed has on product quality, product safety, animal health and the environment. It is a very rewarding area of animal science to be researching for me because I feel like the knowledge we can gain in this field is limitless in its potential real-world applications. In our case we will be formulating one diet from which different additives will be put in. We hope to determine which added ingredient is best for encouraging healthy growth and behavior of pigs while improving the safety of our human food supply. Keep in mind that all of the ingredients we are testing have already been proven to be safe and beneficial for consumption by animals, and also safe for ultimate human consumption. We just want to know which is most beneficial.

A struggle with feeding trials over the years is that occasionally something other than just the treatment gets inadvertently changed. In my field of study, I’ve seen growth performance of pigs attributed to a diet ingredient and then people later discovered that they gave extra protein or energy to one of the groups. This can have a big impact on what happens during the experiment! These confounded results can have very little value to science if the variables cannot be sorted out and I don’t want this to happen to me. To avoid this, we spent last week balancing diets based on current ingredient listings that we have available to us. We made the diets as simple as possible and used a programmed spreadsheet to ensure that every requirement of the pig is met in the diet. Then we edited ingredients between treatments to make sure that they were balanced as well. By balancing for energy, we created “isocaloric” diets which we also balanced for protein.

But it’s much more complicated than that. Feed ingredients also have different digestibility values once fed and can have interactions between ingredients. This is where it becomes important to understand feed ingredients and to have properly analyzed the feed for the values we used in the calculations. Scientific research over the years has established a lot of ratios that we need to follow to ensure that the animals we are feeding have the nutrition they need to be healthy for the trial and also balanced between treatments in the experiment.

All sounds kind of complicated, right? Well this is a simplified version of what really goes on, and this same nutrient balancing is what is done for all of the animals that live on farms today. Some people think that we should return to the “natural” way of producing animals, that we have overcomplicated the issue and that this isn’t good for the animals. While I understand peoples’ concerns about complicated diets, simple things aren’t always good. Pasture and free range doesn’t provide everything that an animal needs to live, just like vegetarianism cannot provide all of the nutrients that humans need to be healthy. We need to supplement this intake with protein, vitamins and minerals (naturally found in animal products) in order to be as healthy as we can be. And the same kind of supplementation is important for animals.

Now, we could just throw out a mineral block and call it good, but with all of the science and knowledge that we have today, that would be underutilizing technology. By using the technology we’ve developed, we can provide so much better care to the animals we raise. And this is why farmers go to great lengths to balance out nutrients with proper analysis to make sure that they are providing everything that an animal needs to be healthy and survive. They go to complicated lengths to make the right decisions for the animals which ultimately put food on your table.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Today was one of those where I am reminded about how great it is to be in school. There are so many knowledgeable and experienced professionals in this university and it is a privilege to work with them. Some days. And by the way, I Googled "ultrasound piglet" to find the images. Let's just say that I did a lot of sorting before finding a good one from Purdue. And I've seen tons of things I never wanted to or expected to see.

Back to topic, today was one of those days for learning great new things. We took a trip out to the farm where I will be conducting my research and brought the ultrasound machine along to preg-check the gilts there at the farm. Preg-check is just short-hand for checking them to see if they're pregnant. Since pregnancy and new life is a critical part of the economic chain on farms, it's important to know whether animals are pregnant and how far along they are so that you're not just sitting around waiting every day or randomly surprised when it starts raining babies.

I've never actually ultrasounded before, so I spent a good part of the first pens just trying to understand what I was looking at. Since you probably haven't done this before either, I'll try and make sense of it for you. If the image is in the right place, determining pregnancy takes less than 2 seconds. We are looking for round dark shapes in the image at this age. Each one of those round dark images is a piglet in the uterus. Where things get tricky is the correct placement of the image itself. If the probe is in the wrong spot, you can get cool (but useless) images of the GI tract which can be misinterpreted for a non-pregnant pig. I also a few times today got images which were blurred in some places by poor contact between skin and probe and these blurrs weren't helpful either.

We went through about a half gallon of vegetable oil today, lubricating up the probe. No, that's not because it was going where the sun doesn't shine. Lubricating the probe helps eliminate image blocking by skin and hair on the underside of the pig. We can better press up against the side of the pig and apply even pressure which leads to a better image. Surprisingly, while there were very few pictures of ultrasound images, there were tons of pictures of people ultrasounding, so I will include one here for you as well. The basic gist of the procedure is to oil up the probe, place it under the pig near the flank and to angle it at about a 45 degree angle through the pig. This should give a good view of the uterus.

This is by no means an easy thing to do, but it is very non-invasive and so it's important to become good at doing this so that we can limit the stress of the mothers and promote a higher pregnancy success rate for them on the farm. My advisor is unbelievably quick at this and was a patient teacher today as I stumbled through my first few before really grasping what I was doing. What a great day for learning!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Approval! (duplicate post)

Great news came in today! My project has been approved by the IACUC review committee. I was getting pretty skeptical since we hadn’t heard anything recently and I was starting to get worried about how long we would have to wait to hear back. Then this morning we got a query about correcting a typo and I was even more worried. Were we going to have to go through correcting every typo before the protocol was finally approved? But thankfully it finally came in this afternoon. And none too early.

Logistical issues have already caused us to need to readjust the plan a few times. Nothing ever can work out quite as planned and there is a plethora of research projects out there. Each one says something just a little bit different with slight changes in methods and results. In an effort to streamline the project and eliminate animal stress (including the humans working on this project), and to make sure that this project has real benefit and applicability to society and animals, we keep reevaluating the project details. And while the animal care protocol is approved, this is only the beginning.

The animal care protocol is only for assuring the least harm to the animal and appropriate care and contingency planning for the whole project. Although it is very important to make sure that research projects responsibly minimize impact on the lives of animals, it is also very important to make sure the project has important meaning to the furthering of science. So what still remains are all of the little details. Details that include the exact percentages of feed ingredients, the exact measurements to the inches of the pens, the exact times and camera positions for observations. And again, all of this is based on the literature and findings of all the people before me. As things go on, I will try to keep you updated on the different parts that go into a simple research project.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Plate (duplicate post)

The new food pyramid came out. Well, it doesn’t really look like a food pyramid anymore. They’ve successfully weaned us completely off the building block design I grew up with, eliminating sweets, fats and sugars from what I’m supposed to eat at all. But who are we kidding? It’s some of the cheapest energy available and has kept Americans kicking butt since we used them for soldiers in the World Wars. Even today they try to ship chocolate to the soldiers in the Middle East, but temperature has been a bit of a limiting factor and I’ve heard the chocolate that can survive that is not really worth eating.

The link I gave you above to the food pyramid comes from a friend’s blog. She gave some interesting input on it and I found it more helpful than the still currently limited information on the USDA blog. I have this sinking feeling that I blogged just last year on a new food pyramid and they probably just finished creating that website, so we’re in for a bit of a wait as they tell us over again how to eat and how to not get as fat as we are. But as time goes on, I’m seeing more that it’s not just how much we eat, it’s how much we do. And I found it ironic that they decided to suggest drinking fat free milk even though the fat provided in milk is much better for people than other fat they could intake. Milk is so great for you, there’s no reason why 1% or 2% milk isn’t just fine. Just remember to limit your fat intake somewhere else.
I didn’t gain weight when I ate a lot, I gained weight when I ate more than I was burning in daily exercise and work. I lose weight when I do physical labor and play sports, regardless of how much I eat or drink during that time. Sure, how much I eat or drink might limit how much weight I lose, but I lose weight. Amanda and I are in the process of tracking our weight change versus how much we walk and I can tell you that already the graphs are pretty interesting for me. I’ve learned a lot about my exercise levels and how much I really do or don’t walk on a given day and I’ll give you 2 fun facts I picked up the past couple weeks. First, stairs at work instead of the elevator isn’t gonna do it unless you work at the Sears Tower. Second, I need to ditch the desk work. Unfortunately neither of these are helpful in my situation so I’ll keep walking as much as I can and limiting unnecessary food intake.

And that’s what really important out of all this. We don’t all have a ton of time to go exercise and be super athletes. I hate lifting, my wife hates running, and our dog can’t go swimming with us. But all of us can find ways to be active, and we can avoid intaking large quantities of food. If you want a health food diet just eat healthy quantities for starters. People who pack themselves full of fiber material such as lettuce just to limit their intake or who starve themselves to limit calories are most likely not enjoying their weight loss strategies for various reasons. And our bodies are designed to be efficient. If your intake balance shifts, your body will find a way to capture as much as possible from what you provide it – that’s just a fact of life and something those of us who work with food animals are acutely aware of. Just like humans, animals adjust to different energy sources or quantities and their bodies naturally do what is efficient. Our problem is that we’re smart enough to provide ourselves more food than we need and then our body is too efficient. We eat too much and then our body stores too much and we get fatter. And we don’t exercise.

The food pyramid provides a great guideline for balancing your meals, but we need to limit how much balanced food we eat. And then we need to get outside and be active.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Garden dries out

The funny thing about planting gardens on time is that the weather just might end up hating you for it. I couldn’t have predicted when we beat the light rain shower that day that the next 2 weeks would be a continuation of the rainy misery we’ve suffered through here in the Midwest. And now that it’s sunny and my plants are all flooded out, the coast has cleared enough to go in and inspect the damage.

From 3 rows of sweet corn, 5 plants made it through the deluge. The cantaloupe came up in a fury, but I’m worried that it will wilt fast under the weather now because it hasn’t been able to leaf enough to shelter itself. Our herbs are starting to pop bravely back through the soil in the basket but they are behind schedule severely. Pumpkins are up and growing, but I didn’t even mean to plant those; they’re just volunteers from last year. Our strawberry plant drowned and subsequently fried, suffering a death rivaled only by the Spanish Inquisition, while even our indoor tomatoes have slowed their growth because there wasn’t any sunlight for them to absorb. The only two plants which came up nicely were the beans (eaten by our overpopulation of groundhogs and deer) and the peas. Hopefully the peas will survive the sunlight and give us a few flowers before they die from the sudden season change.

It’s a sad time out in the gardens, but since there’s extra seeds we’ll give it one more chance I guess. Hopefully it’ll get better and hopefully my guesses are wrong, but this isn’t looking to be a very wet summer. If I was a farmer, I’d really struggle convincing myself to put in all the effort on the slim chance that my harvest comes out right this year. Good luck to all that are out planting right now or making hay.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

No more videos!

This past week marked a great milestone in my time as a graduate student. Since I arrived last summer, I’ve been assigned to video evaluation of pigs we recorded on farm visits. The main gist of the project was to evaluate a training program’s success in helping farmers learn to limit their pigs’ stress and thus to ultimately benefit the pig by lowering their stress level and improving the interactions with humans. There’s a lot of evidence that points to increased production value of animals which have more positive interactions with humans as opposed to negative interactions with humans and sometimes people just don’t quite understand what can make up a positive or negative interaction. Some things as simple as shouting across the pens to someone else can stress out an animal whereas moving through pens at a moderate volume level and occasionally gently patting animals that are in your way, etc., can help improve their interactions with the livestock caretaker.

So a part of this project consisted of us coming on farm, walking through the pens with a video recorder, and then me going back through later and counting the number of pigs visible in the frame every five seconds. Let’s review: We visit LOTS of farms and record pigs; then I watch the video, stopping every five seconds to count pigs. Yeah, I started last summer and have never caught up. Until now.

This week I finished video number ~130, each one of which took excess of an hour if it went right the first time. The whole time the camera view is being knocked back and forth by pigs on screen that ran into the videographer (not a fun job) so it’s a short matter of time before I got motion sick. There were weeks in the fall where I spent the whole week in a state of motion sickness and headache from so much video analysis. All of this was fit in between classes and other work, and on a time crunch because we’re trying to analyze the project data now. As much fun as that was, I’m very glad to have it done and the time freed up to help on something new. Projects need to be changed up every so often and that one’s been on my plate for over a year now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

IACUC and Animal Research

This week marks the submission of my IACUC proposal which has been a much larger endeavor than I had originally supposed. For those of you who don't know, IACUC is an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and every research institution has one of these committees. The main purpose of the committee is to oversee research that deals with animals and ensure the animals' well-being by reviewing the protocols and making sure that the animals will be well cared far, that the research has a practical use in today's society, that animals will not be wasted needlessly in this research and that there isn't some crazy professor doing horrendous things to animals in the name of science.

What the IACUC committee is looking for is to see for starters that the researcher is and will be providing adequate daily care and alleviation of pain and illness for the duration of the project. Even if animals will die at the end of a project there is no justification for failing to provide adequate care to them before then. The IACUC committee is also checking to see if this research is applicable to mankind. How will the research benefit us as humans and what benefits does it have for animals? They also want to know if similar research has been done before. If similar research has been done before, how will this project be different? Science has a checkered past with unnecessary duplication of projects or projects that are duplicated in larger numbers just to find statistical significance so the committee wants to make sure that duplicate projects are limited and the first projects in new areas have statistical value.

All of these criteria have a specific goal of reducing research impact on animals and which focus on the 3 R's of research today: Replacement, Refinement and Reduction. Over time as we as a society have become more concerned about the experiences and plight of animals in research, the 3 R's evolved to have a central significance to responsible animal research. Each one has a specific focus and all 3 provide a cohesive body of work with which to judge the value of a research project and its impact on animal well-being. Ultimately we use the 3 R's to justify a project and its use of animals in combination with the project's assumed ultimate benefit to both animals and humans globally. Here's my understanding of the 3 R's in my own life and my obligation during research.

Replacement references the substitution of "lesser" animals, animal models or other laboratory analysis for life animals wherever possible. Refinement refers to procedures and using the best and least invasive procedures for data collection. Reduction is more of a statistical comment. It can refer to not repeating experiments needlessly as well as designing experiments in a way to use as few animals as possible so as to eliminate needless inclusion of animals in an experiment. This also helps the researchers themselves in many cases as it helps to reduce the budget for a project. Every animal fed and cared for through a project adds a cost to the project.

Animal research has provided many great benefits to humans over time, but it has also had great benefit for the animals studied as we gain a better understanding of them and can improve the care we provide to them. Ending animal research in today's society would be unreasonable and uncaring towards human patients who suffer worldwide today and even though this is something advocated by animal rights groups, we owe it to our fellow human beings to continue animal research to search for the cures to diseases from which they suffer. While I advocate caution among research projects towards the care of animals, the truth of the matter is that animal research benefits people everywhere in concerns such as increasing human food production, curing diseases, better understanding of biology and a greater appreciation to the diversity around us and I support this with all I am. As an animal scientist I am committed to providing appropriate care to the animals in my project and I am hopeful that my project can have a positive impact on our understanding of animal behavior and how we can provide good care to food producing animals while not sacrificing our ability to feed so many people with such few resources.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Waste of Food

As I sort through the leftovers from last weeks low turnout, this article from Feedstuffs was par for the course. I just thought I'd share it along with my own brief thoughts on the issue. The article speaks well for me, but I want to emphasize what a shame I think it is that food goes to waste in this country or in any other country while people, while kids suffer through the pains of hunger. How greedy and uncaring are we that we'd rather claim a loss on wasted food than give it away and deal with adjusting our accounting? What will it take for people to realize that farmers don't need to produce more food to account for and support world population growth. The problem and the fault lies with the bureaucrats and power-hungry dictators who care more about their own ego than solving world starvation.

When the concept of infrastructure was first pitched to me as the reason for world hunger, I was offended. I was frustrated that this problem couldn't be solved by my chosen profession. There is no GMO, no better managed dairy, no higher producing, better cared for sow that can solve world hunger. It was a blow to me, but should really serve as an inspiration to people. This world is a twisted place, but one thing has always been true the world around. When you waste food there is always a starving person in another country that your parents used as an example to make you clean your plate. Here in America, cleaning your plate isn't the problem - it's filling our plate too full in the first place and this is equally as condemning a waste of food.

With US ag exports through the roof, farmers are doing their part to feed the world. Time will tell if politicians will ever really care about feeding their people, but you can do your part to solve world hunger by not wasting food and being generous to others less fortunate when you have the opportunity.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Failure (duplicate post)

Not everything in my life can be a success, it's a fact of life. This was a reminder forced upon me at the Heifer International Fundraiser Lunch this past Friday. This was the 3rd year that our ASGSA has put this on to benefit Heifer International and unfortunately also the worst as far as turnout. I know not everything can be blamed on me - it was a group effort, it was on a really nice day, not all of the secretary's followed through on advertising, etc. - but I also helped in the decision not to pre-sell tickets this year and I think that led to a turn for the worse.

The end result of this is that we didn't raise enough money for Heifer as we had hoped and that a lot of people put in a lot of really hard work for a less than thrilling result. I felt at the end of the day as if I'd let people down a little. I hope that wasn't the case, but then again I more hope that it doesn't get brought up again in conversation in the first place. I don't like things not working out like they should.

But there was also a shining moment from my clouds of despair. The grad students showed up en masse to help with the lunch and for that I'm grateful. It was good if nothing else to get everyone together and to spend some time socializing and working over the food to feed the people who did show up. For that I am thankful and that was the uplifting part of the day. This group cares about service and they're willing to put the time into it. We had a chance to share food with some 40 people and outreach from animal science students is still outreach, regardless of how many people we reach. I just think it's a shame for all the help that we had to have only served 40 people.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A wow moment

Amanda just sent this post to me and I don't think you can read it without being moved. Andy is a great guy, one who even volunteered to help us out with our little Animal Science Pelotonia group and I only pray that God can help him through this loss.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Piggies! (duplicate post)

I went out for my second visit to the farm where my project will be taking place, and it's all starting to seem just a little bit more real. Work with literature, designing, planning and the like can become so abstract and the chance to get hands on and take pictures and conceptualize where things will really be was pretty exciting. I went through the simple stuff such as claiming a locker to keep some things in, meeting the farm employees and designing the main ideas of how this is going down. Right now I'm still held up by people who haven't completed their animal handling training requirements so hopefully we will get a move on pretty soon.

We also dropped in to see the little piglets. If I had seen my first pigs as piglets, I think I would have a much more happy impression of pigs. They are so cute and little, almost fragile looking like Wilbur in Charlotte's Web. But little pigs grow up to be mean biters, cannibalistic towards their neighbors and aggressive towards anyone. And don't think that they were any better in the wild. Old Yeller might be a Disney movie but the vicious wild pigs in it are totally straight to character. Thankfully we found a solution for this, and it's called bacon.

Speaking of bacon, I helped with the Ohio Lamb Chef's Day this week and got to experience new twists on many old products. I love lamb for it's unique taste, whimsical rearing grounds (the definition of beautiful pasture was coined when someone saw lambs grazing), and for its ability to eat anything and turn it into food for me (best thing about ruminants). But I loved lamb even more after getting to eat it prepared by a master chef. And this chef wasn't just a master at preparing food, but a great guy to work with and help. He explained everything so simply and yet got such amazing results from relatively unskilled volunteers. Very impressive and my personal favorite from the day was lamb bacon. I will try and remember to take a picture and give a description of it when I fry up the leftovers that I have in our refrigerator now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

HSUS targets Domino's

I’d pay extra money to the first company that slammed the door in HSUS’s face. It’s not that I don’t believe in taking good care of animals which eventually provide us food. It’s more that I don’t believe they even care in the first place about helping animals but more in just forcing their radical beliefs about vegetarianism on everyone else. However what bothers me the most is the method by which this change is pursued, the deceit, the lies, the propaganda to push their agenda over the edge.

They were at it again with their announcement of victory in the defeat of the ag bill in Florida to protect farmers from undercover investigators. And who wouldn’t want protection from the people who are willing to abuse animals in order to capture film. Mercy for Animals even publicly acknowledged that their investigator was one of the abusers on the video. Obviously this farm was doing some things wrong, and it’s great that these things will now be corrected with harsh fines, but there is no justification in this for the voluntary abuse of animals by a Mercy for Animals employee. And Mercy for Animals isn’t the only one lying about these things; they’re just the featured offender today. Defeat of this bill isn't a victory for anyone except those who plan to evade the law in an effort to make millions distorting the truth to the general public. Enjoy my link to this video, remembering that it is both tragic and a violation of animal welfare committed by an animal rights employee.

Dominos is one of HSUS’s targets these days, and it’d be a true shame for a company with such quality turnaround in their products (due in part to their new partnership with American dairy farmers) to change up the strategy and to focus on supporting highly controversial and scientifically unacceptable methods of animal housing. I like Domino's, and if they want me to keep supporting them, they should stand up for true animal care and discourage any semblance of a deal with HSUS.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Visiting the Dentist

I used to be really creeped out by our old dentist, a really nice guy that always asked too many questions, so I was pretty happy when we switched to a new dentist who was an old family friend. And that’s great, but my oral hygienist is just a little bit out there, if you know what I mean. Yesterday’s conversations started early down the animals for food conversation because she knows that I raise animals with my family and she’s mostly curious. But some of the things she holds as fact are like these gray hair “cures”, absolutely ridiculous.

Curiosity is a truly great thing, and yet a humbling revelation if you’re the asker of seemingly obvious questions. But what seems obvious to me is much more difficult to grasp in the minds of other people who never grew up on a farm or around animals, and this is the case with my hygienist. She has an organic consultant whose main goal in life is sell product, and more of it, and so he presents her with lots of ideas which she doesn’t know what to do with. She believes most of what he tells her, but says she’s skeptical, adding that he’s smart so she wants to believe he knows what he’s talking about.

Unfortunately, not every smart person is always honest, or always well educated. So I just wanted to spend a few minutes addressing some misconceptions that “health food” experts propagandize shamelessly. It’s a free world and you’re free to believe anything you want to believe, and to spend your money on whatever makes you feel better at the end of the day. My bartender the other night likes to buy meat and milk only from Giant Eagle because she believes that their product is fresher, of higher quality and she maintained that she could taste the difference, and feel it when she woke up in the morning. And who am I to disagree with that? I have firm confidence in the ability of science to prove or disprove these theories though, and that is what I’m here to tell people about since I’m an animal scientist.

Hormones are always a frontrunner in conversations such as this. And with kids reaching earlier maturity and prom season once more getting out of hand, who will debate that hormones in our youth are definitely a concern. But for all of the desire to get more “natural” in the world around us, I find it hard to believe that people just don’t see this as the natural way of things. What’s important here though is to remember that regardless of the cause of hormone increases in our children, animal products are not the cause. I’ve included an informative video to accentuate this point, created by the American Meat Science Association.

And then the topic of grass-fed animals came up. For starters, those of you who believe that by buying organic products, you are consuming grass-fed products, you are far from the truth. Organic more specifically refers to the use of antibiotics, GMOs and pesticides for food consumption and just like you can buy organic grains at the store, we can feed organic grains to animals. Organic has a small standard of welfare assurance in the certification, but there is also no proof to date that one method or the other is better for the animals (a focus of my own research).

So if you want grass-fed meat, then specifically buy grass fed meat. But don’t be fooled that it will change the impact of your diet on your health. This video by the American Meat Science Association does a good job highlighting the fact that, for example, while Omega-3 fatty acids are increased in beef fed on grass, it is not really any healthier to consume than grain-fed beef. To truly see a change in the Omega-3 fatty acid profile of your diet, you would need to switch entirely away from beef to something more like fish because the difference between grass and grain feeding is not significant enough to impact your health (unless you only eat beef 24/7, in which case you probably don’t care anyways).

The finale of this onslaught of misinformation which accompanied an unnecessary bloodbath that was my dental examination (even though I had such “beautiful teeth”) was her telling me that she buys a ginger pill which she consumes with her beef. She confidently stated to me that she was short on sex hormones (TMI?) and that the ginger converted her cholesterol to testosterone, leaving her healthier. A captive audience, I could do naught but sit and listen to this nonsense, promising I would look it up for myself when I got home. Of course, Dr. Google can find anything, even articles that discuss ginger reducing cholesterol. But the key words in any semi-reputable article would be “possibly blocks production of cholesterol in the liver”, “may reduce blood cholesterol” and “might thin blood”. Not anything I’d stake my reputation on, that’s for certain, and nothing online that was convincing in the slightest. This is one more moneymaking myth on a list which I get every time I go to the dentist.
If you want to comment on the morals of farmers, it’s interesting also to note that they could absolutely pull the wool over the eyes of the consumer, producing ridiculous products with unverified claims and pilfer the consumers’ pocketbooks one overpriced product at a time. But the farmer sticks to what they know is right: providing wholesome food to the consumer at prices they can afford. And for that, they should be commended.