Tag Archives: science

Guest Post: A Piggy Tale

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:


The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

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.


Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

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!

Blowing the bladder up

Blowing the bladder up

Getting bigger!

Getting bigger!

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:

Dried bladders.

Dried bladders.

The fat on them is a little greasy, but the main bladder part is translucent and oddly beautiful.

Bladder balloon!

Bladder balloon!

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!

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, arts & crafts, Field Trip, Guest Post, History, photos, Pigs, Ranch life, Uncategorized

Guestpost: Help Save the Wild Salmon

In June, I was able to attend part of UC Davis’ 1st Annual IFAL (Institute for Food and Agriculture Literacy) Symposium.  For me, it was the equivalent of walking into the Academy Awards or other famous award show. People that are celebrities in my world were everywhere!!! I was star stuck the whole time, I mean check out a sample of the speakers: Dr. Pamela Ronald, Dr. Kevin Folta, Yvette d’Entremont, Dr. Cami Ryan, Dr. Anastasia Bodnar, Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam.

aquavantage #3

Watching these experts in their fields talk about our food and the technology that they are developing to better our food and fiber was a game changer for me. I mean, I’ve always been interested in the science and technology that surrounds agriculture, but to see and learn from professionals that are doing it was inspiring. When Dr. Folta got emotional talking about meeting starving people, and when Dr. Van Eenennaam reminded us we can’t save wild fish by eating them, I was inspired to use my media platforms in a way that will help the general public understand how important this work is. 

When I heard there is going to be an orchestrated attack on this technology that will benefit our lives, I wanted to help! Since I’m not a scientist, Dr.Anastasia Bodnar* was kind enough to write a guest post for The Beef Jar. Dr. Bodnar has been one of my biggest mentors for years. I finally met her “in real life” at UC Davis, it was glorious. Please friends, take some time to learn about this issue and the benefits this fish will offer us. I know we all want safe, sustainable food and this is one tool to help us get that. Please support it. Thank you.

On Thursday July 9, an anti-biotechnology group is orchestrating calls to Costco asking that they never carry fast-growing genetically engineered salmon. They’re trying to bully Costco into making a decision on selling GE salmon before it’s even on the market. See below for Costco’s contact information and a sample script.

GE fast-growing salmon can be an environmentally friendly way to meet increasing demand for seafood. These salmon are a healthy, safe source of protein and omega 3s, and will potentially be available at lower cost than non-GE salmon. There simply aren’t enough wild fish stocks to meet demand so we must farm fish. The way these GE salmon will be raised has a lot of advantages over farming fish in ocean pens – namely they won’t spread disease to native fish populations. They’ll also take less feed to get to the same size. If you want to learn more, check out my article Risk assessment and mitigation of AquAdvantage salmon (the article is a few years old but as far as I know, little if anything has changed) or visit the AquaBounty website.


If you have a moment, you could contact Costco (especially if you’re a member) to let them know you support genetically engineered foods and specifically that you would choose this salmon if Costco had it available. While you’re on the phone, you could also express concern that so many Costco-brand foods are only available in organic, increasing costs with little or no benefit to the consumer.

Costco’s Customer Service phone number is 1-800-774-2678 (press “0” to speak with a representative).

Here is a sample script:

I have been a Costco member for __ years and I support biotechnology. I would like Costco to base their decision on fast-growing GMO salmon on the best science, not activist demands. Land-raised, fast-growing GMO salmon is an environmentally friendly way to make healthy, safe fish available for more people. Please consider selling GMO salmon when it becomes available.”


*Dr. Anastasia Bodnar is Director of Policy for Biology Fortified, Inc., an independent non-profit devoted to providing science-based information about biotechnology and other topics in agriculture. Learn more about Anastasia at https://about.me/geneticmaize. Disclaimer: Anastasia’s words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer(s).


Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, Field Trip, food, fun facts, Guest Post, Know a California Farmer, Media, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized

Field Trip: Welcome to Monsanto

Yesterday I was able to tour the Monsanto Woodland/Davis vegetable research station. This was exciting to me for a couple of reasons. Number one, I’m an ag nerd, I love to learn about all different kinds of ag, especially about plants! The second reason is I wanted some truth. So much of what I see on the internet about Monsanto is perpetuated by people who learned what they “know” from a movie they saw or book, blog or wiki article they read. Second hand knowledge can have a tendency to be less than factual. I wanted facts.

Right after I signed in and got my name tag (they also gave me a Monsanto pen) I was very excited!

Many friends asked me how I ended up getting to be able to tour Monsanto, some acted like I had to sell my soul or my unborn children. Well, it wasn’t that hard, in fact they couldn’t have been any nicer about arranging this tour. What actually was hard was finding people that wanted to come with me! I asked several non agricultural friends if they wanted to come. Not one accepted. Finally Daniel Taylor stepped up, thanks Daniel!

This tour came about through several friends, one being Janice Person – she is director of Monsanto’s Public Affairs. Janice was kind enough to fly all the way out here to California, so we could meet (we’ve been friends on social media for at least 4 years now). Needless to say I felt pretty special. George Gough and Mark Oppenhuizen were also our tour guides, talk about a smart group of people, I was almost intimidated (I was, but don’t tell)!

So much safety!

The number one first thing that struck me as I walked into the station was safety. There were safety signs, what to do in an emergency sign, number to call if you needed help, I felt very safe and protected. The second thing that I noticed right off was how happy and pleasant all the employees were. These people enjoyed their jobs, they were passionate about them, I had a really hard time keeping myself calm, their joy was contagious! Mark shared with us that scientist come to work for Monsanto because they know Monsanto is on the cutting edge with science and Monsanto works hard to provide them with a creative and supportive working environment. I could see that.

During the course of our tour yesterday, we asked our hosts about their tour policy. I was shocked to find out they will give tours to those who ask. They mentioned giving tours to master gardener clubs, farmers and other organizations. To be honest with you, I was shocked how open everyone was with us. We looked at field trials, greenhouses, laboratories, seed banks and we even got to taste test melon. We asked any question we wanted to, AND I took pictures!!! It was nothing like I imagined.

I have a lot to say and share with you about the tour. But I don’t want to overwhelm you with one huge post, so I’ve decided to write several posts about my tour. Each post will cover something I thought was important, neat or relevant and if you guys have any questions or comments, please ask them and I will try and cover those too.

I learned so much yesterday. It was such a positive and educational experience. I want to thank Janice, George, Mark and all of the other speakers that blew my mind yesterday. I walked away from the tour with a level of excitement toward agriculture that I haven’t felt in a very long time. Science is amazing.


Filed under Ag, Field Trip, food, Media, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized

Emotion more than science but both needed | Blog | Blog | Feedstuffs FoodLink

As you all know, over the past month I have been on a quest. This quest involves our local weekly entertainment paper. All I am asking this paper to do is their job, report the facts about all types of agriculture. Surprisingly, this quest is not easy. But I have learned a great deal, I’ve gained lots of new followers on this blog and even better, I have column ideas!!!

Typically, I’m a huge believer in science. But I wasn’t always like this. Before I earned my bachelor’s (of science!) degree, I was that girl that would do almost anything to get out of taking a science class (unless it was an animal science, those were ok). Once I was in college and realized that all science related to each other, whether it is animal science or inorganic chemistry, I sucked it up and learned! Science is freaking cool, and super beneficial when used for good.

But I do understand the “science is scary” mentality. It’s like riding a new horse on a new ranch, the potential for disaster is everywhere. However as you become a better and more confident rider, and your horse settles into its surroundings, you can appreciate the beauty of your ride. Science is the same way, the more you learn about it and the more you understand it, the more you can appreciate and use it.

Our real life, next door neighbor wrote in to the editor of the paper I have been questing with. Now oddly enough, I believe this neighbor and I are very similar. We both want access to a safe, sustainable and healthy food supply. We both are pasture based. We are both multi-generational producers. However I think I am more pro-science, and they are more pro-emotion. Here I’ll post their letter and let you decide for yourself.

Letters for April 19, 2012 Chico News & Review

I’m not going to comment about the content of their letter (Although I do find it worth noting that FLTB is not a way for the meat industry to cover shoddy practices. It’s a way to safely use the whole carcass, therefore increasing our sustainability). If you are curious about the claims she makes and want information to refute or affirm her claims, let me know, I would be more than happy to provide peer reviewed, science based information. Ms. Albrecht’s letter was an excellent reminder to me that emotion will probably always triumph over science, therefore providing me with inspiration for this month’s column. Is it possible for agriculture to find a balance between science and emotion?

(Click on this picture and it will take you to my column) http://www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=124ECF05FDF84451B3E79A337664CA3C&nm=Blog&type=Blog&mod=View+Topic&mid=67D6564029914AD3B204AD35D8F5F780&tier=7&id=C7EBCDD3664247DB80AB070528FD8E1A


Filed under Ag, Beef, Feedstuffs Foodlink, food, Media, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized


McDonalds. The restaurant foodies love to hate. I can’t go a day without one of my friends posting something negative about them in my social media feeds. Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to sing the praises of fast food. Honestly, I don’t eat it. OK, that isn’t completely true. I do enjoy a good In-N-Out burger once in a while and when I’ve been drinking.


The only reason I don’t eat fast food is I don’t like the taste of it. As you know by now, I grew up on a Ranch, with no fast food restaurants any where near me. My Mom cooked every single meal from scratch, my whole life. She even made our dogs’ food for a long time. I never developed a taste for fast food because I never ate it. I remember going to McDonald’s once in a while as a kid, but it was generally because I wanted the Happy Meal toy or to play in the Playplace.


Today was a particularly hate on McDonald’s day in my social media life. I had one group of friends posting stuff like this  and this another group posting stuff like this  and this and my favorite, this.


No wonder people are confused and angry. I want to be confused and angry too! Instead, I’m educating myself. I’m learning more about McDonalds. I’m doing an 6th grade science experiment!


I give you McExperiment – Does McDonald’s Food Decompose?


Over the next 30 days I will evaluate this Happy Meal (burger, apple slices and fries). Let’s see if it does mold, decompose or if bugs will eat it.


I bought this fresh tonight, placed it on one of my plates, took some photos and put it in my wood room (my house is way too small to leave this in my kitchen). I’m going to take pictures and notes for the next 30 days. Let’s see what happens shall we?


Filed under Ag, food, photos