Living and working on this ranch give me the opportunity to share this lifestyle with others. Sometimes that is as simple as inviting friends to come over for a hike, but sometimes it involves giving my friends animal body parts. My friend amazing Alyssa asked me for some body parts for her kids, now I know this might sound weird or strange at first, but stay with us here. When I figured what she was planning to do, I squealed with delight because this is something I’ve heard a lot about but never seen done. Know what? I’m going to let her tell you what she did….
A Piggy Tale
by Alyssa Manes
When I was young, I loved to read. I picked books based on author (I read all the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley), based on cover (King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry), and based on title (The Secret Garden by F. H. Burnett). There were books I didn’t read for the same reason, and Little House on the Prairie series was one of them. One cover had a girl holding a doll, and that definitely wasn’t a book for me. I’m so glad that having children has given me a chance for a second childhood! We borrowed Little House books on audio CD from our local library to listen to, because our homeschool co-op group was doing a unit on the Little House time period.
Now one of the many advantages of home school is the ability to do some really neat hands-on projects with your kids that might be impractical in a larger group. So when we listened to Little House in the Big Woods, and heard the mention of playing with a pig bladder like a ball….well…..why not try it out? All we needed was a pig bladder and a bit of willingness to try something new.
My friend Megan has a ranch and has started breeding heritage pigs, and was very gracious about hooking us up with several fresh bladders. So here’s how it went down:
I have three children – my son, the oldest, is cautious (which is great because he’ll be driving first), the second has special needs (I think she was napping during our bladder experiment) and the youngest girl is full of joy and mischief. My plan was for my oldest and youngest to follow instructions and blow up the bladders while I took pictures and helped. No go. The youngest was excited to help, but at the age of two, she was a little limited in her ability. She did hold the pig bladder and watched me closely. The oldest became the photographer and watched me blow them up. Now I supposed I could have blown directly into the bladder….after all it didn’t really smell or look all that awful. But I took the easy route and used a drinking straw. It actually fit perfectly in the urethra (I’m pinching that part in picture below). I had a really hard time finding the “tube” that carried urine to the bladder. I’m not sure if it was a smaller part attached to the urethra or if it was either so small or had some valve to keep the air from flowing out that we never had a leaky bladder once we blew one up.
Considering the bladder started about the size of my hand, it actually expanded quite a bit (see below). When the bladder was full of air, I pinched the urethra as I pulled out the straw, and had my son help me tie a piece of thread around it. I tried once or twice to use the urethra to tie it off like a balloon, but things were too slippery and/or the tube was just too short.
So there you have it!
Once the bladders dried, I suppose you could have played with them. They have a bit of a crinkly sound now, but they have lasted a year and a half looking like this:
The fat on them is a little greasy, but the main bladder part is translucent and oddly beautiful.
If I had to rate this “activity” as a family experience, here is what I would say:
- not very stinky/smelly (although my dog thinks differently and is hoping that a dried bladder will come within her reach)
- fascinating to see the bladder inflate and to think of its usefulness in historical terms as a child’s “toy”
- didn’t take very long
- medium gross-factor
- tying the string while holding the bladder was a little challenging, since my oldest didn’t want to get too close to the bladder
wrangling a toddler with gross hands (but this part is still totally worth it in my book….as long as she doesn’t try touching my face…)
Overall, a really cool and memorable experience. Thanks, Megan, for the opportunity to do something so unique!
Thanks for sharing this project with us Alyssa! As an avid reader of the Little House books myself, this was so fun to read about!
Farmers and ranchers are notoriously private and skeptical people, especially when it involves the government. Seems like every farming family has a horror story about that one time Great-Great Grandpa’s neighbor worked with “the government” and lost the back 40. Even my own family has tales about eminent domain and “the government.” In an industry that constantly says “this is how we’ve always done it,” it can be hard to change perceptions, including a generations-long perception of the government.
When the government, more specifically the Department of Agriculture (USDA), asks agriculturists for detailed information about their farms every five years, it’s not met with an enthusiastic, motivated cheer. In fact, I’ve seen many of my Aggie peers proclaim the USDA’s Census of Agriculture is dangerous or something they should not be truthful about. This attitude only serves to hurt our industry; in fact, it harms the very people it’s supposed to help.
Since I broke off on my own (kinda) and lease ground from my parents, the USDA considers me a beginning farmer. My heritage pork operation enables me to finally get to be a ‘real’ rancher and have the privilege of completing the Agriculture Census! I worked very hard to get to this point in my career and did use an USDA program. I felt like it would be disingenuous of me to not talk about what I have learned and how I have benefited. Hopefully this will help clear some misconceptions and explain the many benefits the Census for you, my readers.
Over the past few years, our ranch has faced some spectacular natural disasters. From severe drought, to floods, and finally fires, Northern California has “seen some things, man.” These disasters did severe damage to many farms and ranches. Even though insurance has been purchased, it often does not always make things right completely. Sometimes the USDA can offer programs and services that help farmers and ranchers recover or prevent disasters. Without the data gathered by USDA, these programs may not exist at all.
Agriculture often feels under-represented in both government and culture. We often trot out the statistic that less than 2% of our population is directly involved with production agriculture. Having numbers like these, derived by the Ag Census, helps the public understand what a small segment we are and helps build trust, something we want our customers to feel.
Having statistics that we can depend on helps our industry preserve itself and plan for the future. Our elected officials and commodity groups can advocate for agriculture by using these numbers to craft better policy or build facilities that we need to thrive and grow. These numbers can help fund programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program which can help with conservation practices. Programs like this are why I am able to have my own operation now.
For ag marketers, having visible numbers for production, consumption and inventories help markets function competitively, helping farmers and ranchers hedge risk or expand markets. Having research driven data we can depend on is essential for agriculture and customers. Being informed about our worlds is the best way to understand it.
Growing up in agriculture I know firsthand the rumors spread about the Census. Farmers at the corner cafe and the Facebook groups are famous for their tall tales and skepticism. However, if you want to have your voice heard, if you want agriculture to matter, I implore you, please complete your Census truthfully and completely. We need to have information about land use and ownership, operator diversity, practices, and finances. This is information is not only imperative to change perceptions in a beneficial way about agriculture, it is necessary to keep us in business.
*Special thanks to Tricia Braid for the inspiration, information and help writing this blog. She’s good people, please go follow her.
And Natalie Stoppani Csf for the meme, she has a gift.
Don’t worry, I’ll be posting the whole story here in a while.