Monday, May 28, 2012

Got milk?

The J.F.Witter Center is our school's large animal research facility and is home to about 40 holstein's and a dozen standardbred horses. The first time I heard that we had a farm was fall semester of my freshman year and I knew I had to go visit ASAP. I spent a good amount of time as a kid either in my grandparent's barn with their two horses or taking riding lessons, so I'd gladly go out of my way just to smell the horses and fresh hay.

 One afternoon I saddled up (on my bike) and ventured out to find the farm. It was about 6 minutes from campus and easily reached via bike trail. It was great to smell that smell again and in a way it felt like a home away from home. It was a sweet escape from the monotonous lecture halls and noisy dorms, at least. I didn't know much about the place but knew I wanted to be a part of it. This spur of the moment visit was a big factor in leading me to the decision of switching my major to AVS. From the whinnying horses to the dairy calf nursery there was just so much life! It wasn't until fall semester of my sophomore year that I would start my life at the barn.

Fall semester- 2011: As part of my AVS 145 class, all students had to sign up for a "milking". This required that my lab partner and I went to the farm and assisted students in the upper level Dairy Co-op with their milking chores. We had spent most of our time in lab learning all about the dairy cow production cycle, so we could apply our knowlege to this hands on experience.

 When I had first switched majors I had in mind that I would work more on the horse side of the farm. I had made some judgements about the cows and put the horses on a pedestal. I thought cows were stinky and slow- which is in part true, but doesn't diminish the value of working with them. So far I've spent about 98% of my time at the barn with the cows. They've sort of Moo-ved me.

On the day of our milking my partner and I showed up at the barn and put on some steel-toed boots. We were at the bottom of the totem poll today.. the "145-ers" as the upper-level students called us. A.K.A. the guinea pigs. As the more experienced students set up the milk machines, my partner and I put fresh bedding under 35 cows. The whole operation was like an assembly line of giant beasts, each waiting their turn to get juiced by a giant stainless steel suction-robot. I milked a cow once at a farm in Illinois, but it was one cow and by hand.. I'd never seen anything like this.

 The machine sent gallons of milk on a journey through tubes and pipes to the bulk tank where it'd be stored. Moo's filled the air and 35 tails swished as the hours passed. It was a very time consuming operation and eventually I got a turn.

I stepped right up next to a big holstein and checked each teat by hand to make sure they were milkable. Next I applied the pre-dip (iodine solution) then put the machine on. It was a little strange being so up-close and personal with a cow's mammary gland and I was careful not to get stepped on. After she had a good milking, the unit was removed and post-dip applied. I did it! :)

It was nearly 8 p.m. before we were finished, and then we had to clean up. We swept the floors and cleaned the milking units.. but there was still one duty (or doodie) left. One of the cows had recently calved but retained her placenta. We were blessed with having the placenta delivered in our presence, right in front of us onto a grate. These grates were also covered in poo and had to be scraped down before we could leave. I can see why this placenta didn't want to pass in the first place, because it really struggled passing through the grate. It was heavy, tough and slimy. I attempted to slice it in half but my shovel wasn't cutting it. At last I fed it through the grate like a giant noodle and said goodbye to the barn for the night.

Back on campus that night, my partner and I hurried to the last dining hall open and grabbed dinner. I enjoyed a nice tall glass of milk with my meal.

The Waffle Nazi

I'd like to take a break from my animal stories to share a unique experience I had at my school dining hall.

Now, this unique experience could have been completely avoided if it weren't for my unique taste in food and creativity in the kitchen (or in this case, dining hall).

If you've never been to a University dining hall then you probably don't know much about what there is to offer. I'll give you an idea: salad bar, sandwich bar, soup bar, toaster oven, burnt coffee, and the occasional stirfry bar. Some mornings, however, you get the luxury of using the waffle batter dispenser and waffle press. This story takes place on one of those mornings...

I come from a family of great cooks and even greater appetites. When I picture a salad I see grilled chicken, avocado, almonds, fresh fruit- more than just greens with some ranch. So when I see waffle batter... I also try throwing in some cottage cheese, granola and berries in the mix. This simple addition would enhance the nutritional value and overall consuming experience of the waffle.

I grabbed a cup and filled it halfway with batter, tossed in some cottage cheese, granola and berries, stirred and voila! Ready to be waffled! I poured my creation into a waffle press and just as I was about to shut the iron, heard a stern voice asking "excuse me, what's that?!" I looked up to see a lunch lady glaring right at me.. one thick eyebrow raised. "A waffle." I replied calmly, hoping she'd leave me alone. But she didn't.

 "You can't do that!! It's going to stick and you're going to ruin the machine! You're not allowed to put anything else in there!" She was quite the waffle Nazi. "Okay." I replied, knowing that it really wouldn't be the end of the world as she was making it out to be. I continued waiting for my forbidden waffle to cook and as I was doing so overheard the waffle Nazi yelling at the next waffle enthusiast. "It's gonna stick I tell ya! You need to spray the machine first! Read the instructions!" Her intensity was overwhelming.

My waffle was ready to be removed from the press and, and despite the scolding I couldn't wait to devour it. Just for the record, it didn't stick one bit and it was delicious! Take that waffle Nazi.

This image from the movie Matilda brings me back..

Here are some great waffle/pancake recipes! In case this story inspired your taste buds:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Don't be chicken

Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. AVS 145- the first basic Animal Science course. I'd learn everything there is to know about cows, pigs, horses, goats, sheep, chickens, rats, cats and dogs- then get tested on it. A portion of this class would be spent at the University Farm where we'd have labs near the animals, but not with them yet (at least not the alive ones).

One of the more hands on labs was spent dissecting a freshly euthanized white leghorn hen. (Reader discretion is advised). We were to explore everything from the esophagus to the reproductive system. I was paired off with two girls in my class then assigned scissors, a surgical knife, and a still warm carcass. As my professor instructed us to make the first incisions, I turned to my partners to offer up first dibs ( I figured we'd all secretly want it). But they weren't looking so eager and stood back fiddling with their aprons. Some students looked like they were losing the blood in their faces. Alright, I said.. I'll do it!

The dissection really didn't bother me at all, although as soon as I got to the gizzard a heinous aroma erupted, seeping through my face mask. By this time I had lost one partner to lightheadedness so I finished up the lab with my other partner who mostly opted to take a birds eye view (ba-dum-chh). After the lab I gained some surgical skills but lost my appetite for any meal involving chicken.

Fun-fact: The chicken is the closest living relative of the tyrannosaurus-rex.

The anatomy of a chicken

Checking out the chicken nuggets

My beautiful Momma and her hens! Their eggs are divine.

Elsie (left- A Japanese Silkie) gets the royal treatment in our home.

How the West... put me to the test

Spring semester breezed by and I came home with a head full of information, but still had some ridiculously clean, freakishly soft hands. I needed a few calluses to feel accomplished. I had the opportunity of a lifetime to shadow the Galena veterinarians while I was visiting my Grandparents in Illinois. BOY did I get my feet wet! Day one consisted of stepping in lots of cow patties and seeing a "simple squamous carcinoma" malignant tumor (that's scientific for the bad kind) on in a bull's penile shaft. Well, I thought, might as well go big or go home. They definitely go big out west.

Next stop, more cattle. This time Dr. S (the vet I was shadowing) took a calf with an injured eyeball, some surgical thread and needle, his arms, and stitched the eyelid shut right there in the comfort of it's own manure. It looked like something you would see in a Saw movie.. but with good intentions. I couldn't believe my eyes, or his! It was captivating and admirable as gorey as it sounds. The calf would be fine within a week. I hope someday I have the ability to make and carry out decisions with the poise (and balls) of Dr. S!

Our last visit was to a dairy farm who had a heifer with milk fever (Hypocalcemia: low serum calcium levels in the blood which leads to muscular spasms and eventually central nervous system failure). This was something that had to be treated before it was too late, so the pace picked up about 20 mph.

Dr. S had me hold "Betsy's" halter as he raced back to his truck to get his calcium gluconate solution. Not gonna lie, I'd never held a cow on a leash before (though it'd become routine later in life) and I was nervous! Hurry Dr.S... hurrry!!! Just then "Betsy" stirred- no, stirring is gentle, this wasn't. "Betsy" rolled over as a result of muscular spasms and I was going with her. Not wanting to let anyone down (including "Betsy") I held on tight to the rope, but it was no battle for 1,300 lbs.  The rope tore through my amoeba hands and I stumbled around but caught myself. To my embarrassment Dr.S saw the whole ordeal and asked if I was okay, seeming very concerned. To my further embarrassment, he examined my hands to see if they were fine. I'm sure by their babylike texture he could tell they weren't only fine but also brand-new.. and inexperienced.

 I shook it off and stayed focused on the task ahead and most important thing at the moment. "Betsy" was receiving her IV of Calcium and surely enough she began to regain strength and come alive! It truly was an instant miracle. I felt so proud just to be a small part of it. As she stood milk started squirting from her udders like geysers. Within seconds, she was up and moo-ing as if nothing had been wrong. The farmer thanked Dr. S.

As we drove off into the rolling hills of Galena, we talked about the life of a veterinarian. He was so wise I made sure not to say anything stupid and mostly just acted like a sponge and absorbed it all. He recommended James Herriot's books to me (which I now own and love). It was a day to remember.

The next two days of my shadow visits were filled with new animals, doctors, and procedures. I went with Dr. T to visit  the elderly Irma (no relation to my grandparents who share the same last name as her, I was let known!). She had a dog that had gotten itself into a tussle with the neighbor dogs. The dog was cleaned and bandaged up in no time and 30 year old Dr.T was hit on by 90 year old Irma who confessed to have been caught in the middle of reading her "sexy books". Dr.T apparently got her thinking about the books again.. that being said we took off as soon as possible and had some serious chuckles back in the truck.

And I quote Dr. T: "WHAT the heck?!?!?!"

We finished the day with some ultrasounds on pregnant mares which was really amazing to see. Dr.T mentioned to me afterwards that this was one of the most enjoyable tasks of a veterinarian.. helping new flames start vs. having to put out old ones.

My last day with the Galena vet's was at the practice with Dr.C. She did some dental work on an old Jack Russell Terrier who previously lost both eyes to ocular cancer. She also spayed a young golden retreiver as I watched closely at her flawless work. She also told me to read James Herriot's books and that they really remind you of what being a veterinarian is all about, because it can get really hard at times. That was the end of my three days of "Boot camp". I didn't pass out, hurt anyone, or lose interest. Success! I thanked all of the Vet's and headed back to my grandparent's cabin, my mind bursting from all of the new experience.

Close enough?

Starting my story

(A hardy Maine) Hello!
As you may have deduced from the title of this blog, what I'm about to share with you (should you choose to continue) are some real life accounts from, well... my life!

My life- let me give you some basic building blocks. I am currently an incoming third year student studying Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Maine (Orono). However, I reside in the city of Auburn with my family for the summer. The Nyholm residence consists of my Mom, Dad, two brothers (it's a sandwich- I'm in the middle), my pug Lily, Kitty the cat, and 5 hens. Had I started this a week earlier, our dachshund Ethel would also be included in this list, but sadly (for us) she is now in doggie heaven.

I've always been a girl with many interests.. I love art, traveling, eating, friends, fun facts, science, nature, running, scary stories, success stories, thunderstorms..
Oh, and of course I love animals, or else this blog would not exist!

My dream in life since I was about..Spicegirls-obsessed age was to be a marine biologist and study whales and dolphins. This dream stuck (and still holds special place in my heart) and led me to the decision of "Wildlife Ecology" as my major at the University. I even got a scholarship!-which was nice.

However, as I was scrolling down a list of summer internships one day, I was quick to learn that most jobs within this field involved snails, soil, or trees... none of which gave me butterflies (or a good income). In order to live out my dream of working with my pals Flipper and Willy, I'd most likely  have to move quite far away from my family. Family- something whose value had greatly increased once I went off to college and realized they are not so bad after all. In fact, I really like the people.
Panic set in and I knew I had to direct my life elsewhere. But where? With most of my family in Maine and the Midwest it had to be a career everywhere, anywhere, much more broad, and with all creatures (great and small- great book!)... Pre-Vet it was!

My parents were thrilled with my decision, and of course the biggest animal lover I know- my Gramma Lovely, was so excited! I talked to my new advisor Dr. W (DVM, Ph.D, BM.. some other honorable abbreviations) and got my spring schedule ruled out as an AVS pre-vet student. My new change in career goal was exhilirating and I couldn't wait to get my hands dirty and feet wet (turns out I literally would).  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I've always been fine with spontaneity.

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Just some bread in a basket... oops that's Lily!