Monday, September 10, 2012


First things first - yes, I'm creating a verb for the title of this post and no, I don't care if you hate it when people do that. 

Now that we have that out of the way, I'm going to have to give you a little background about modern pig farming since I know most of you are pretty clueless.  Pig are identified using a universal ear notch system.  You use the set location of notches to add up to the number you need. Identification is important when putting pigs on a health certificate for transport to other states for sales or shows.  Technically this is not a completely unique identification because many pigs can have the same number, but when you add in age, breed, gender, and owner... you get the picture. 

There are two primary pig diseases that cause state veterinarians get their panties in a wad: brucellosis and pseudorabies.  The handy thing about these diseases is that they essentially do not exist in domestic swine in the United States.  They are so.... gone, that most states have attained the status of "Brucellosis and Pseudorabies Free," which means just what it sounds like.  These diseases do not exist in the state in question.  Now logically that should mean we should be able to transport pigs with minimal effort.  But that is not the case.

My biggest swine producers, (that's right, I get to manage more than one swine operation... how jealous are you guys??) have taken the steps to get their herds certified free of these diseases that don't even exist in the state.  So, we have uniquely identified pigs, in a herd certified by blood testing according to federal standards.  When it's time for these pigs to be moved I should just be able to examine for signs of disease, sign the paper, dot my i's, and cross my t's.  That's how I get them to literally every other state in the continental U.S.... but not Pennsylvania.  Maryland is a Brucellosis and Pseudorabies free state.  Pennsylvania is also a Brucellosis and Pseudorabies free state.  That's right, a state that shares a border with Maryland will not let pigs come in for any reason without jumping through an extra hoop.  The metal tag

How does one get one of these lovely little ear tags into a 200-300 pound pig you ask?  Well, believe it or not they don't just stand there and let you stab a hole through their ear with a large, jagged piece of metal.  So we snare them.  Now before you animal rights people jump on your high horses and tell me how cruel this is and how I'm a horrible person, let me say that while the pigs do squeal in protest at being caught, there is no lasting mark or pain from the snare.  I know this because after being released they go right back to eating. They just brace their feet and whatever we have to do takes less than 30 seconds.  Usually.  And this where today's story begins.

I was tagging pigs to go to Pennsylvania and a 265 pound duroc barrow took me out.  He was snared and I was bending down to clamp in the tag.  But this pig, oh this pig he was different.  He did not read the manual on how pigs are supposed to behave on the snare.  Rather than bracing his feet... he lunged.  Only he didn't just lunge, he jumped.  Turns out, pigs can jump. This pig jumped so high, he full on body-slammed me.  He hit me with everything he had right in the xiphisternum (solar plexus for those of you who didn't have Dr. Kent Scarrett as a professor).  This sent me flying backwards and since he was at an upward trajectory, his nose clipped me right under the chin in perfect uppercut fashion.  To add insult to injury, the force threw me backwards so far that I landed right on my ass in his mud-wallow.

I now know what people mean when they say they "got their bell run."  I pulled myself up and to be perfectly honest I wasn't quite sure what had happened.  I knew that my head hurt and felt fuzzy, my teeth hurt, my ribs hurt, I wanted to puke, and my ass was soaking wet and throbbing.  The owner filled in the blanks.  In his words: "Holy crap!  I've been raising pigs for over 40 years and have never seen a pig do that! I didn't know a pig could do that!  Man, you looked just like a quarterback being sacked by Polamalu!  His legs went around you like arms and everything! He took you OUT!" <pause>  "Are you okay? You don't look so hot."

I stumbled out of the pen, took off the muddy coveralls and ate 4 Advil.  Then we tagged the other 30 pigs, and let me tell you, I was pretty damn wary about it.  The owner just couldn't get over it.  Kept comparing the situation to a quarterback sack.  He had the nerve to tell me that now I  know how those poor guys feel when Polamalu hits them like that.

Troy only weighs 207 pounds, which means the pig has basically 60 pounds on him.  Without doing too much research, I'm estimating that the average NFL quarterback is 9-12 inches taller than I am and a solid 100 pounds heavier.  Also, they wear pads.  Considering those things, I don't care that they take a hit from a guy who is running at them full speed.  With those kind of stats (the pig and mine) if that pig had been running at full speed and hit me like that, I would be dead. 

So that was my Monday; I challenge any of you to beat that.  In the meantime, I'll be lying on a heating pad, clutching a bag of ice to my chest, and fantasizing about two things.  1) Prescription-strength pain pills and muscle relaxers, which I cannot have because I wouldn't able to drive myself home after taking them and 2) being a trophy wife. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Useful Items

During vet school, everyone discovers that there are certain things that they should have available in order to make it through the day.  An extra pen, notepad, chapstick, your glasses for the 20+ hour days when your contacts have begun to feel like sandpaper. In large animal land you also realize that things like sunscreen and bandaids should be in your bag. 

Once you are out in your own truck, you realize bandaids are not that important, after all you have access supplies for your patients and what's good enough for them should be good enough for you.  But there are some things that you will definitely want to have that you don't think about until you don't have them.

1.  Fingernail clippers.  There will be lots of  days when you get home that you will be too tired to do anything.  Even trim your fingernails.  The day after those days, you are pretty much guaranteed a colic, a dystocia, and/or mud wrestling pigs.  All things where fingernails are contraindicated.

2.  A spoon.  There will be a day  where absolutely nothing is going right.  Appointments/emergencies start an hour or more earlier than you expected.  The schedule will change your direction so many times that your GPS system will give you an error message basically telling you to go screw yourself.  And on one of those days, you will have diligently taken food with you, maybe some yogurt for breakfast or a salad for lunch...something sustain you.  But you forgot the utensil.  On that day, your on-the-go meal will mock you until you want to cry.  Keep a spoon in the truck.

3.  A roll of quarters.  Thing of it as your emergency money and keep it in your glove box.  Why coins? Well, paper money gets lost in the paper shuffle  And trust me, with the amount of paperwork that we have to process daily to keep the government, your clients, and your employer happy, you will lose a $10 bill.  And every value meal at every fast food joint in America costs less than $10.  Don't be caught at the drive-through window with no cash and your debit card still in the back pocket of your jeans from the day before.

4.  Extra clothes.  I'm talking more than the basic extra coveralls and/or scrub tops, those are a given and you already learned that in vet school.  No, I'm telling you that you need at least 1 full change of clothes - from the skin out.  Probably not such a big deal for the dudes but trust me ladies, there are few feelings in this world worse than spending the day wearing bra soaked with another creature's body fluid(s). 

5. Extra sunglasses.  Become a devotee of the cheapo sunglasses sale rack.  The ones that cost $5 or less.  Animals break them and trucks eat them (that's my only explanation for about half of the losses).

These are just the ones that work for me.  How about you?  What are some of your "make through the day" must-haves?  The more unusual the better!