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.