Alpacas vs Llamas: Telling the Two Apart

During the Nebraska State Fair, Garrett and I walked through the various barns. We found ourselves in the alpaca/llama/goat barn where we admired all the animals, and got a chuckle out of the costume contest going on.
There was one alpaca (see picture) that was quietly and constantly “talking.” It was a bit of a groan mixed with a hum.
Garrett, being Garrett, decided to talk back. I think they carried on the conversation for a good 5-7 minutes until a random man came walking by, looked at the alpaca, and said, “llama, llama, llama” very fast and very loudly, and then left. Garrett and the his new alpaca buddy, stared at each other shocked and appalled. You see, alpacas and llamas, while camelid cousins, are not the same.
If you want to avoid calling an alpaca a llama and vice versa, there are a few signs to look for. Know the differences and avoid offending these guys. You’ll also prevent yourself from looking a bit silly like that llama, llama, llama man did.

Ears: Perhaps the easiest distinguishing factor between llamas and alpacas is their ears. Llamas have banana shaped ears while alpacas have straight, pointed ears.

Size: Alpacas are much smaller than their cousins, weighing around 100-200 pounds. Llamas weigh 250-450 pounds.

Fiber: Alpacas are known for their soft, luxurious fiber. A llama’s fiber is much coarser.

Purpose: Llamas are used as pack or guard animals. Alpacas are used for their fleece. Llamas are actually used to protect alpaca herds.

Temperament: Llamas are rather brave and bold, hence their purpose. Meanwhile, alpacas are shy and more docile.

Now, test yourself–is the costume class pictured above for llamas or alpacas?

I wonder if Garrett would be up for an alpaca now that he’s bonded with one? Good thing we live in an apartment, so it isn’t really an option 😉


Is Turkey Trending?

Turkey. It is a hot topic right now. You could even say its trending. People are trying to decide how big of a one to cook, how they should cook it, or should they even cook one at all. The President will pardon one lucky bird from doing his duty of becoming a meal. As of right now, the word turkey is trending with 620 thousand tweets, but the thing is, turkey was trending long before Twitter was even thought of.


In the beginning, the turkey was regarded as a god by the Aztecs and had two celebrations for the mighty turkey. It has fallen a little bit in esteem in today’s time. The Spanish were the first non-natives to discover turkeys.  They described them as a sort of peacock with great hanging chins. It would take years for the name turkey to stick to the bird. Because of Columbus and his mistake in geography, the birds were called anything from the rooster of India, the Peru bird, Lebanese bird, and the Ethiopian bird. The word turkey probably came from the Turkish merchants who knew of them or from the Indians that called them tukka, tukka because of the way they sounded.

The Aztecs weren’t the only ones to hold the turkey in high esteem. Benjamin Franklin,  thought the bird was of good moral, calling it a Bird of Courage. You may have heard that Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national bird; however, there is some dispute about that fact. In a letter to his daughter, he says that the eagle on the seal looks like a turkey. He went on to say that this was better as the eagle was not of good moral compared to the courageous turkey. Even if the turkey did not rise to be an emblem of America, it has certainly become iconic on at least one day of the year–Thanksgiving.

The Modern Turkey

turkeyToday’s domesticated turkey is much different than the ones that the Indians and explorers saw. Wild turkeys are brown and can fly, but domesticated turkeys (the ones in your supermarket) are white and cannot fly. The domesticated turkey is about twice the size of a wild turkey, explaining its flightless state. Domesticated turkeys have been bred to have white plumage so it does not discolor the meat. Wild turkeys need their brown plumage to blend in to their surroundings; they are also a lot quieter than their domestic cousins. That is probably a good thing so they don’t get eaten by predators. There are other heritage breeds of turkeys that come in gray, black and white, and red too.


Turkey Production Facts

turkey graph

  • Turkey production has increased 110% since 1970
  • In 2014, there were 237.5 million turkeys grown by farmers
  • North Carolina is the 2nd largest producer of turkeys behind Minnesota
  • The average person ate 15.8 pounds of turkey in 2014
  • Consumers turkey consumption has doubled in the last 30 years
  • 20,000-25,000 people are employed in America to help grow turkeys.

Turkey Trends

Cage Free: If you see this on a label, know that all turkeys are raised cage free. Domesticated turkeys are grown in large barns with free choice of water, plenty of feed, and shelter from the elements.

Hormone Free: Under federal law, it is illegal for any poultry to receive hormones. If you see this label, read the fine print. It will tell you that it is against the law. Don’t pay extra for a label.

Avian Influenza: This has been a major issue across America this year, claiming more than 40 million turkeys and chickens. While devastating for farmers and birds, it poses little threat to humans. No cases have been reported in American humans. It may pose a slight threat to your wallet, though. Turkey prices are around 15-20 cents higher than last year.

Thanksgiving Turkey

  • 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving
  • 46 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving
  • The average turkey bought for Thanksgiving weighs 16 pounds
  • 70% of the turkey is white meat and 30% is dark

The turkey has certainly proven itself as a bird worthy of esteem. It was trending hundreds of years ago, and it is still trending today. So, gobble up that gobbler and Happy Thanksgiving!

trending turkey


National Turkey Federation

North Carolina Poultry Federation

Colonial Williamsburg

University of Illinois

The Smithsonian


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


The Poultry Site

Wanted: The Perfect Watermelon

It makes sense that one of the hottest months of the year would be recognized as National Watermelon Month. July has been designated as an entire month just to celebrate the wonders of watermelon since 2008, and I must say, it was a brilliant call.

Watermelon is my very favorite fruit. I’m not really a huge fruit person (I know not very healthy) unless it is in dessert or smoothie form. However, I must say that watermelon is something I get terribly excited for. I don’t recommend freezing one, though. We accidentally did that and had a sort of watermelon sorbet. It was super weird. I suggest making sure your mini fridge isn’t cranked to Antarctica standards.

Anyways, here are facts and interesting information about watermelons, and of course, pictures. 🙂


Watermelons came from the Kalahari Desert of Africa, and has been seen on Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was thought to have come over to America by African slaves.


There are over 200-300 varieties of watermelon grown in the USA and Mexico, with 50 of those being the most popular. Seedless watermelons are sterile. They were developed roughly 50 years ago by crossing male pollen that has 22 chromosomes per cell with a female watermelon flower that has 44 chromosomes per cell. Voila! You have the mule of the watermelon world.

Factual Stuff

  • USA ranks 6th in watermelon production. China is number one.
  • The scientific name for a watermelon is citrullus lanatus and are cousins to squash.
  • Leading watermelon states are Florida, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, and California.
  • Explorers used watermelon as canteens.
  • Watermelon is the most consumed melon in the USA
  • Watermelon is 92% water, making it a great source of hydration for many.

The Perfect Melon

Worse than a whole frozen watermelon is probably a bad watermelon. Picking the perfect watermelon is crucial, and can sometimes seem illusive. Follow these tips for the perfect melon:


Now that you know what the perfect melon looks like, go forth and find it. We sure found a good one! Happy hunting!






g and p




What About Watermelon?

National Watermelon Association


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

10 facts you may not know about St. Patrick’s Day

As many well know, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. If it has slipped your mind, then I suggest quickly changing your wardrobe plans to include wearing green. I would hate for you to get pinched. Now that we have gotten the obvious out of the way, how about a few facts about St. Patrick’s Day that you may have not known.

  1. St. Patrick was actually a British guy not Irish. He was kidnapped as a teenager by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland. He ended up staying in the country, even after escaping his captors, to be a missionary.
  2. Green is not the original St. Patrick color. Originally, the saint’s color was blue. Green came about due to the connection with Ireland and shamrocks.
  3. Speaking of shamrocks, St. Patrick used these to tell the story of the Trinity. Later, Irish used the clovers to stick in their lapels as a form of national symbolism. So, there aren’t any four-leaf clovers on St. Patrick’s Day.
  4. Corned beef and cabbage are really an Irish-American deal. To celebrate the special day, Irish-Americans would splurge on a special meal. Brisket was the cheapest meat and cabbage was a cheap vegetable, giving us the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal.
  5. Mythology says that St. Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland, but in reality, Ireland never had snakes in the first place.
  6. The first celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was in 1762 in America.
  7. For the first several years, all bars were closed during St. Patrick’s Day because it fell during Lent; this was lifted in 1961
  8. The Chicago River will get 45 pounds of green vegetable dye dumped in it this year during St. Patrick’s Day
  9. St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in space twice. The most recent was by Chris Hadfield in 2013.
  10. Traditionally, leprechauns are only male. There are no girls.

So, there you have some facts that I bet you didn’t know. My family will be celebrating the day with green dyed food. There is such a thing as green eggs and ham at my house, at least for one day.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

st patrick's day


St. Patrick’s Day: the history, myths and fun facts

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:



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

A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Avocados–“Are They a Vegetable or What?”

I have recently learned to truly appreciate the yummy avocado vegetable/fruit/green thing. What is it anyway? Avocados are actually a fruit, and more specifically a berry. Blew my mind too. According to Huffington Post article, a fruit is defined as having a tough outer layer, soft middle layer that encompasses the seed. Sounds like a avocado to me. There is a lot more to avocados then you would think.

Photo Cred: Huffington Post
Photo Cred: Huffington Post


Avocados came from Mexico and surrounding areas and were used by the Aztec people. Over the centuries, the avocado has been called many different names including Alligator Pear. Horticulturists did not like this name as it was misleading and negative. So the name avocado was settled upon. Avocados have obviously spread from Mexico to a wide range of places.

Where are all the avocados?


In the USA, California is the largest grower of avocados followed by Florida and Hawaii. In 2011 the value of the avocado industry was  $492.1 million, and the industry is growing.


Did you know?

  • There are over 1,000 varieties of avocados
  • Avocados can be different colors

    Photo Cred: University of California
    Photo Cred: University of California
  • Avocados grow on trees.
  • There is twice as much potassium in avocados than a banana.
  • Avocados will ripen more quickly in a paper bag with an apple or banana thanks to the gases circulating.
  • You can use avocados as a substitute for butter in baking recipes, and no it won’t make them green.
  • Avocados are packed with protein!
  • They aren’t just for eating. They make great beauty products.

How I used them

I used avocados for the first time at home this week, and it was delicious. I made guacamole to accompany chicken enchiladas I made (enchilada recipe to follow soon). I had to learn how to tell if they were ripe or not. I learned that you look under the button at the end of the fruit. Pop that button off, and if it is brown, it is too ripe. If it is a nice green, it is good. Also be sure that the fruit is not super firm. A little give is important.

So… here is the recipe I used. Not only was it healthy and yummy, but it was pretty too. I hope you enjoy!


  • 3-4 ripe avocados
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 large Plum  or Roma tomato, deseeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
You can also add onions to this or other type of peppers.

avocado green
I accidentally matched the avocado…
  1. Cut your avocados in half, and use a spoon to scoop out the seed. After this, spoon out the flesh and put in a medium bowl.avoo
  2. Add the lime juice to the avocado and use a fork to smash the avocado until creamy. Chunks are nice too.
  3. Finally, add the rest of your ingredients and stir. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.guac

PS How do you like to use avocados? Does the green bother you? I think they would make a great St. Patrick’s Day meal 🙂



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