Fact Filled Friday: Scrapie Tags *Bonus-Funny Story Included*


scrapieYesterday we took 4 animals (2 sheep and 2 goats) to the stockyard to be sold. While the story of getting them on the trailer has nothing to do with the purpose of this post, it is too funny not share, so I’m going to to go off track a bit.

Funny, irrelevant tangent:Our old large buck can be hard to handle. Not in the fact that he is aggressive, but in that he isn’t the friendliest fellow. He likes to be left alone, and is therefore, hard to catch. Well, it just so happened that he was snoozing in one of the shelters, so I rushed to block the entryway to trap him inside. Alec brought me a fence panel to lock him in. The shelter he was in is a grain bin cut in half, and we humans have to do a duck walk to get in there. So here we are– Alec, a 200 pound buck, and me blocking them both inside to duke it out. Alec grabbed the buck’s horns, and when he did, the buck bolted. He began to run in circles with Alec spinning on his butt like a spinning top, holding onto the buck’s horns. It was a funny sight to be sure. I tried videoing it, but was not nearly as coordinated as I needed to be (sorry, no video). The next step was to let the two wrestlers out of the shelter. The buck was pushing with all his might, and Alec still did not have his footing. I grabbed one horn and the buck’s beard, but at this point the buck and Alec were all sorts of tangled, Alec had to let go, and the buck and I went running. Alec yelled for me to let go; however, I’m a bit stubborn, so I held on until Alec got there. We both escorted him to the trailer. Phew!

OK, back on track… before leaving for the stockyard, we had to make sure that all the animals we were selling had scrapie tags. It is required that goats and sheep have scrapie tags so that if they were to come down with scrapie disease, they could be tracked down to their place of origin. The tag not only has a number that represents that individual animal, but it also has a longer number that represents the farm from which they came. Ours looks something like this:


Not all tags are scrapie tags and an animal can have more than one tag, but a scrapie tag is a must have. Why is this scrapie tag system so important? Well, scrapie disease is a very serious matter. It is the goat/sheep version of mad cow disease. It is degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system that is fatal. There are only two countries that do not have scrapie–Australia and New Zealand. In 1947, scrapie entered the United States through a Michigan flock of sheep. In 2001, the USDA started an aggressive program to help eradicate scrapie. Since that time, scrapie has been reduced by 85% in the US! This has been accomplished through the identification program as well as other measures. According to the National Scrapie Education Initiative, the program includes:

  • Identification of pre-clinical infected sheep through live-animal testing and active slaughter surveillance.
  • Effective tracing of infected animals to their flock/herd of origin made possible as a result of the new identification requirements.
  • Providing effective cleanup strategies that will allow producers to stay in business, preserve breeding stock, and remain economically viable. USDA/APHIS will do this by providing the following to exposed and infected flocks/herds that participate in cleanup plans:
    1. Indemnity for high risk, suspect, and scrapie positive sheep and goats, which owners agree to destroy,
    2. Scrapie live-animal testing,
    3. Genetic testing, and
    4. Testing of exposed animals that have been sold out of infected and source flocks/herds.

As you can see, this is serious business. At the stockyard that we brought the animals to, there is a sign that says all sheep and goats unloaded must have a scrapie tag by USDA regulations. stock

As a farm, we tag anything that goes off of our property. Interestingly, not all states have the same regulations. North Carolina does not require tags for animals that are wethers (castrated male) and animals less than 12 months of age going directly to slaughter; however, other states make no exceptions to tags. Regardless, it is important to not only be aware of your state regulations, but to follow them. In this way, we can help eradicate scrapie in the United States. There have been huge strides made in the last 14 years, and it is up to us farmers to continue those strides.

And that is your fact for this Friday.

Sweating Like a Pig…but Pigs Don’t Sweat??

“I’m sweating like a pig” usually means that you are pretty gross and covered in perspiration. The problem, though, is if you were indeed sweating like a pig, you’d be super dry, with not one bead of sweat on your head. You see, pigs don’t sweat. All of a sudden the popular saying becomes problematic.

candidGood news, though. There is some logic behind the phrase. Bad news: there isn’t a definite source. There are a couple of myths about just where it came from.

1. More Irony

Some say that the phrase originates with pig iron. When heating up the metal to extreme temperatures, the ore would get hot enough to become liquid. Smelters would watch the metal for signs that it was cool enough to move and not drip everywhere. It was ready when droplets would form on the metal due to the air around it reaching dew point.

2. Roasting

Maybe the saying has its origins with pigs, but pigs on a rotisserie. When cooking a hog over an open fire on a rotisserie, the fat from the pig would drip down into the fire. This gave the appearance of the pig sweating.

3. Stinky Sweat

It could be that the phrase came from the simple concept that sweat is stinky and gross. Pigs are also stinky and can be gross.


It is not for sure where exactly the phrase “sweating like a pig” came from, but the truth of the matter is pigs don’t sweat. Because they don’t perspire, they wallow in mud to keep cool. Lots of times pigs look super gross, and even like they are being kept in horrible conditions, but the truth is, they like the mud. Even if it is cooler, our pigs like to root in the mud and get messy.

muddy pigOne of the great things about hog farms, is pigs can be kept inside with sprinkler systems. They absolutely love this. It is like their own personal sweating system. There are also fans for them too. They are really quite spoiled.

Pigs may be stinky animals and enjoy getting into muddy messes, but you can’t blame them for being sweaty AND stinky, just the stinky part.

tonggueHappy Fact Filled Friday!



Sweating Like a Pig


The Story of the Egg

There was a time when an egg was nothing spectacular to me. It was just a thing that you couldn’t toss around like a football. It wasn’t supposed to sit on a wall lest it have a great fall. It came from a chicken, magically it seemed. Just a squawk and suddenly we have an egg whilst the chicken beamed. This brings me to the age old conundrum of what came first the egg or the chicken? Regardless, both are here now, and an egg can grow up to be anything it wants, especially chow. It won’t ever hatch into a chicken unless there is a rooster in the pen. Otherwise it can be scrambled,poached , boiled, or fried. It can be devillish and at Easter, dyed. This doesn’t even touch the amount of cakes and goodies they make happen. Eggs are King Bacon’s queen in the Kingdom of Breakfast. Eggs, my friends, are pretty amazing, if you ask me, but how do they come to be?

An egg is all a part of a chicken’s reproductive cycle. A female chicken is born with as many follicles or ova as she will ever have in her life. The ova will turn into the yolks of an egg as the hen matures. As you can see in the picture below, there are larger and smaller ova. The larger ones, are the ova that are the most ready to turn into an egg.


Picture 1


So the egg starts its journey in the ovaries of a chicken, but it still has a ways to go. Here you can see the rest of the reproductive track of the chicken:

Picture 2

In each of these sections, different parts of the egg develop. It isn’t just the shell, whites, and yolk.

Picture 3


It typically takes 25 hours for an egg to develop  and be laid. Light and feed do affect the amount of eggs laid by a hen. The genetics and breed of a hen determine the color of the egg shell. It has something to do with the amount of proteins put in the shell. Chickens naturally lay shades of white, brown, and green/blue eggs.

I wish somebody made 3X3 egg cartons!
Picture 4


Most times the ears of a chicken can tell you what color eggs they will lay. Red ears are indicators of brown eggs and white ears mean white eggs. Pretty handy, huh?

This chicken has a red ear, so she lays brown eggs.
This chicken has a red ear, so she lays brown eggs.

Their genetics and breed also affect the size of the eggs. It is also interesting to note that when a hen first starts laying eggs, weird things can happen. Sometimes, they are extra tiny eggs or the shell may not develop fully. After a few weeks they get into the swing of things, though.

Is there a chick in there?

Any egg you buy from the store will not be fertilized. Those hens are not exposed to roosters at all. Local farms may have a rooster with their hens, but a chick will not develop unless they have been left out in certain temperature. If you have ever seen something in the yolk that you thought was an embryo, you are probably seeing a meat spot or blood spot.


It is just a malfunction on the hen’s part. Most likely a blood vessel burst, and the egg was involved. It is completely fine to eat, it just might not be as pretty when you crack the egg open.

Egg Bloopers:

A hen is not perfect and neither are her eggs. You may be used to eggs looking the exact same if you buy them from the store, but they look the same, because they have been candled (a light shone through them to detect imperfections like meat spots). They go through a rigorous grading procedure. These imperfections do not make the egg bad to eat, it just makes them not uniform. Store eggs are uniform, because that is what the standard is. An egg may be rejected to go to a store, because it is too big, has bumps on it, has a meat spot, or is not the right shape. If an egg is too long or too big, it won’t fit in the cartons correctly and will be more likely to break. So, shape matters, and odd shapes will not go to the store. Sometimes eggs get little bumps on them. These are calcium deposits. Again, it doesn’t affect the quality of the egg, just the uniformity. Double yolk eggs are also rare in a store, because eggs are candled, and these are considered abnormal. Double yolks happen when two ova drop down and get enveloped by the shell simultaneously. A final blooper that can occur in egg development is a ridge. Eggs can break inside the hen. When this happens, the chicken repairs the egg before it is laid. This causes a ridge in the shell. Bloopers happen. You just probably won’t see them in a store.

And that my friends, is the story of the egg. They are as unique as you and I, and are quite the spectacle. I hope you will share the story of the egg with all as you color Easter eggs this weekend!

And you and eggs lived happily ever after.

The End


Picture Credits:

1,2,3, 4, 5

Why do we dock lamb’s tails?

If you have not met Grover, here is our little Southdown/Leicester cross lamb.


Isn’t he just the cutest? I thought so too 🙂

Today Grover, like any lamb on our farm, got his tail docked. Docking a sheep’s tail is not simply for aesthetic reasons, it has health reasons too. It isn’t cruel, but rather, it is beneficial to the animal.

Why do we dock?

It isn’t because the tail looks a little funny, although, I must say, it does look funny.tail

If the tail was not docked, the wool that grows on the tail would become caked with feces and urine. This isn’t just gross when it comes to shearing time, but it also is unsanitary for the sheep and can cause irritation. In addition, docking also reduces the chances of fly strike, a painful condition caused by blowflies laying eggs in the fleece and the maggots burrow into the sheep’s flesh. The sheep often dies within a few days of fly strike occurring. Some studies have also shown that docking tails increases growth rates. For these reasons, we dock the lambs’ tails within the first week of life. Some sheep do not necessarily need to have their tails docked. Hair sheep, do not have the thick wool, and it does not pose as much of a problem.

How do we dock?

There are different ways  to dock a lamb’s tail. We use an elastrator (we also use this to castrate).


The elastrator tool puts a thick rubber ring or band on the tail, cutting off blood circulation. Around 10 days later the tail falls off. It is inhumane to use the elastrator on older lambs, which is why it should be done after 24 hours old but not after 1 week. Another tool to dock is an electric docker.Electric docker

This tool cuts and cauterizes the tail simultaneously. It can be done in older lambs, but it is still best to do it on young lambs.

Are there negatives of docking?

Yes, if done incorrectly. It is important when docking lambs to not make the tail too short. If the tail is too short, it increases the chances of a rectal prolapse.

I'm making sure to leave a certain amount of tail.
I’m making sure to leave a certain amount of tail.

Does it hurt?

A little. The younger the lamb, the less stress it causes, though. When we put the band on Grover’s tail, he did a little butt wiggle, and went straight back to mom. He acted like nothing was wrong. We have had some lambs be a little more sensitive, and act like there is something on their butt, which there is. They are always fine within the hour, though.

A quick drink from mom is all Grover needs
A quick drink from mom is all Grover needs

Is docking tails inhumane?

No, it is not. I have read where some people think that farmers have bred sheep to be unnatural in their wool production, and that is the only reason that we have to dock tails. While there are different breeds that have various kinds of wool, sheep naturally have wool. Farmers did not breed sheep to have an excess of wool. Those in the wild, do not have the same type of fiber as a domestic sheep, and do not even need to be sheared. For thousands of years, sheep have needed to been shorn for their fleece. It isn’t a new phenomenon caused by selective breeding. Farmers breed for quality of wool and quantity, but regardless of the quantity, any amount of wool on the tail will cause unsanitary conditions. While docking may cause some discomfort, it is often no more uncomfortable than getting a vaccination shot.

Docking is beneficial to the lamb. It is not just for the farmer’s sake, but also the animals. Grover did not seem to mind one bit about his procedure. He didn’t cry or really squirm. I think he was more concerned that his mom was calling for him and we were touching his butt. He was just dandy.

Further Reading:



Click to access lamb_tail_docking_bgnd.pdf


National Cherry Pie Day: Graduate School Style

Every time I think of cherry pie, I think of the song Cherry Pie by Eden’s Edge, probably because I listened to it quite a lot when I first discovered it. That is beside the point, though. Today is National Cherry Pie Day! Such a classic deserves a nationally recognized day, am I right?

cherry pie day

Since it is National Cherry Pie Day, I fully recommend that you eat a slice of cherry pie. It only seems right. Unless you are someone who just happens to have cherry pies lying around your counter, you might want to make one, but if you are like me, time often kills best of intentions or dreams. As a graduate student, I feel like everything is down to the wire in terms of getting stuff done. That means, doing things that are simple, is often best–including pie baking. Now, going out and buying a frozen cherry pie, is probably the simplest version, but I wanted to be a little more personal in my pie baking. Partly because it was for a belated Valentine’s gift for the boyfriend, and partly, because I feel like National Cherry Pie Day deserved a little handmade attention. So, my dear reader, here is how to make a cherry pie the graduate school way (and with a little Valentine’s/love influence):


  • 1 can (21 oz) of cherry pie filling
  • 1 can (15oz) of pitted cherries in heavy syrup (you can also use fresh or frozen pitted cherries)
  • 1 deep dish frozen pie crust
  • Pre-made pie crusts
  • Sugar for sprinkling on top

cherry filling


pie crust


Drain the can of pitted cherries in heavy syrup (I just used a slotted spoon to fish them out).


Mix them with the can of cherry pie filling and dump it all into the deep dish pie crust.


Roll out your pre-made pie crust on a floured counter. Take a heart shaped cookie cutter (honestly, you could use any shape you want) and cut a bunch of hearts from the crust.



Place them on top of the filling, fanning them out, until it is all covered.


Take a pastry brush, and brush milk on top of the crust gently. Be sure to cover your edges with tin foil and pop in the oven at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Mid-way through baking, I removed the tin foil and sprinkled sugar on top of the pie. Once the pie is done, cool on a rack, and enjoy with ice cream.



I Heart Pigs: Did You Know Pigs are Organ Donors?

heart pigs

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, there has been an explosion of pink, red, and hearts. While, I think my favorite hearts are those in chocolate form, there are other hearts that I think are pretty swell. Pig hearts for example are pretty awesome. Now before you assume I’m a fan of eating pig hearts, let me clarify that this is not what I am referring to. I’m talking about how scientists are raising pigs to be organ donors for humans, including heart transplants.

This phenomenon is called xenotransplantation. While other species have been considered for the job, pigs complete the majority of the criteria. Apes are more closely related to humans; however, they are not in abundance and have the potential to carry diseases such as HIV. Pigs, when raised in a clean area, can pose less disease threat and are in abundance. The only problem with pigs as organ donors is the high response of a human’s immune system to the pig organ. Scientists are tackling this problem through genetic modification. There have been great strides made over the last decade that provide promising results for organs that are accepted by a human body. There is still much testing to be done though, but you can imagine the potential!

We aren’t just talking about hearts, but kidneys and livers too. In addition to this, pig heart valves have been used in human hearts for over 30 years. These are called biological valves. They do not last as long as mechanical valves, but they do not require long-term use of a anticoagulant.

The purpose of the heart valve is to regulate blood flow. Source: http://www.cts.usc.edu/hpg-heartvalvesurgery.html
Source: http://www.cts.usc.edu/hpg-heartvalvesurgery.html
Source: http://www.cts.usc.edu/hpg-heartvalvesurgery.html



I am so in awe of not only what science can do, but also the potential and hope it brings to people. If you didn’t heart agriculture before, then you definitely should now. I also have another reason to love pigs, as if they weren’t great enough already. I hope everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day tomorrow, filled with love and many hearts. Just watch out for the crafty Cupig 🙂




Pig Valve Transplants For Patients Needing Heart Valve Replacement Surgery


Teeth Tell the Tale

BEa teethWhat does this picture say? Would you believe those teeth tell a tale? Well, they do.

Goats have eight incisors on their bottom jaw. With those eight teeth, we can generally determine how old the goat is. Just like humans lose teeth as they get older, so do goats, except they don’t have a goat tooth fairy. The picture above is of a goat that is over four years old. She has lost all her teeth and grown large ones. If a goat gets past eight years old, the teeth will look worn. The photo below is of Lulu, who is getting close to nine years old. You can see the start of wear on her teeth compared to the four year old goat in the first picture. There is more gaps and her teeth are narrower.

lulu tetth

They will lose their first pair of teeth after turning one year old, and a pair each year after that. The first two teeth to go are the middle pair. This next goat lost her first set of teeth in October. She is already working on her second pair. They aren’t quite all the way in.

lady teeth

And this little guy hasn’t lost any yet:

bulelt teeth

His teeth are smaller and all the same size.

Why is this important?

Although we keep records of when our goats were born and know how old they are, sometimes we buy goats from sales that do not give us records. We can look at their teeth to see how old they are and whether or not they are too old to breed. We also have to know how old a goat is for showing purposes. We are not allowed to show goats over a year old except at the state fair. At many shows, officials will check the teeth of the goat to see if they are eligible or, when at the state fair, if they are in the right class. We have had to change classes at the state fair a few times when the goat was late losing their teeth or lost them early. Silly goats.

Your turn!!

We’ve covered what different ages looks like. Now it is your turn to give it a try. How old do you think this goat is? Comment below with your answers.


Happy Farm Fact Filled Fridays!

Chewing Cud and Ruminating

Have you ever wondered what’s up with cows chewing their cud? What is that stuff and why do they do it? Maybe you don’t even know what I’m talking about. That is perfectly ok because we are about to cover cud and more.

Cud Chewing
Cud Chewing

Let’s start with the fact that cows are ruminant animals, along with  goats, sheep, and deer. A ruminant animal means they have 4 compartments to their stomach. They don’t have 4 stomachs, but rather it is 4 rooms that make up one stomach. Each “room” has its own special job and name. Before getting to that, let’s first go to the beginning–the mouth.

Photo Cred: UKAg, Agripedia
Photo Cred: UKAg, Agripedia

Ruminants do not have upper incisors, only lower. These are for plucking food. They do have pretty sharp upper and lower molars, though that grinds their food. These teeth are most useful the second time around. I realize that sounds really strange, but ruminants mostly swallow their food whole. They will regurgitate it to chew it again. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

So, the cow has swallowed the hay. The food travels through the esophagus and hits the first compartment of the stomach–the rumen.


This is the largest part of the stomach (holding 4-6 gallons)  and is responsible for a lot of fermentation. Over 50-65% of starch and soluble sugars are absorbed here. Bacteria break down the food and cause carbon monoxide, methane, and hydrogen sulfide to form.

Photo Cred: Colorodo State
Photo Cred: Colorodo State

These gases build up which results in, well, a belch. More than a belch, though, it is the process of regurgitating the food to re-chew it. Yumm, seconds! Animals chew their cud many hours a day, usually when the animal is resting. Ever heard of the phrase “I’m just ruminating (thinking)?” After breaking down the food even more by chewing the cud, the animal swallows and the food goes into the reticulum.


Separated from the rumen by a flap of tissue, this part of the stomach looks like a honeycomb and works like a water filter to catch foreign objects that cannot be digested. filterBecause it catches things like metal or nails, it is often called the hardware stomach. These objects can puncture the reticulum and make its way to the heart causing hardware disease. Hopefully the animal just doesn’t eat “junk” food.


After being sloshed around in the rumen and reticulum, it moves to the omasum. Here, a lot of the water is absorbed. This is a pretty big job, considering that the food that enters, is 90-95% water. The omasum is also called the butchers bible because it looks like it has a lot of pages.

Photo Cred: ABP
Photo Cred: ABP

These pages create more surface are a to absorb the water before heading into the final chamber.


Welcome to the true stomach! The part of the stomach is most like humans, where hydrochloric acid breaks down the rest of the food. There are chief cells on the walls of the abomasum that secrete mucous to protect it from acid damage.

After the abomasum, food travels through the intestines and ends up in little balls of poop (sorry for the graphic mental image).


That, my friends, is why cows and other animals chew their cud. They are ruminant animals. Ruminants don’t start chewing their cud until a few weeks or months after they are born. Young ruminants have an esophageal groove that shoots milk straight to the omasum and abomasum. They can get their nutrients in a hurry that way. When they do start chewing cud, I don’t recommend getting cud on you or being near their faces when they burp. It is really gross and stinky.






Fact Filled Fridays: Not All Wool is Itchy

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you have had a great week and are looking forward to a somewhat relaxing weekend. 🙂

Today I wanted to start a series of “Fact Filled Fridays”, where I throw some random facts out there that you may or may not know. If you have a specific question that you would like me to cover on these Fridays, feel free to shoot me a note!

Earlier in the week, I mentioned that I would explain the different types of wool, because it is super diverse. You may have had that  awful, super itchy wool sweater in your closet that you refuse to wear ever again or buy anything wool again. I get that. I have had those garments too, but through out the years, I have learned that wool is not all itchy. Allow me to introduce you to the many faces of wool.


Before I delve into the types of wool, allow me to give you some terms so you can more easily follow along.

  • Crimp– this is the waves that you see in the wool fibers. The tighter the crimp, the finer the wool.wool crimp
  • Staple length–this is the length of the wool fiber.
  • Micron count–this is the measurement of the diameter of the wool fiber. It is a micrometer, meaning one millionth of a meter.The smaller the number, the finer the wool.

Types of Wool:

  1. Coarse– this wool is typical of your long-wool breeds like Lincoln, Border Leicester, and Cotswold. The crimp on these sheep are more like curls. longwoolEach fiber is of a longer staple length (6-15inches), making it coarser (micron:41-30) and inevitably itchier. Although it is coarser, it is also more durable. It is ideally used in outerwear garments that is not next to the skin. In addition to the long-wool breeds, there are also carpet-wool breeds that fall under the coarse category. These breeds include Scottish Blackface and Karakul. As the name implies, their wool is used for carpets.
  2. Medium — Ranging between the 22-30 micron count, this type of wool is great for various things from sweaters to outerwear garments. If you have sensitive skin, this may still feel itchy to you, but it will certainly make a great layering garment. It is produced by breeds such as the Corriedale, Columbia, and Southdown (the Southdown has more of a down type wool that makes it have more elasticity). It has a staple length of 3-6 inches.
  3. Fine– Alright, here is the moment you’ve been waiting for… the oh so soft wool category. This type of wool you could put on your baby. It is the perfect next to your skin wool.  It has a micron count of 17-22 and a staple length of 2.5-4 inches. The king of this category is the breed Merino. Coming in close to the king is the Rambouillet and Debouillet.

If all this isn’t enough, the fineness of the wool is contingent on the age of the sheep. The finest wool comes from the first fleece of a lamb. Same as humans. Kids’ hair is a lot softer than us big people.

The thing to remember is not all wool is itchy. It is all dependent on what sheep it came from. Typically, if it says Merino, you are dealing with a soft wool, and don’t forget #WearMoreWool.

alec wool

PS if you want to see all the breeds that I mentioned be sure to visit this site for those mentioned and more! (I’m  not responsible for time you may waste looking through all the many faces of sheep)


American Wool Council