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.

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