As I’ve mentioned, this has been a busy year. In the span of 3 months, 3 small grants were funded; enough to keep me busy for the next year. Though my training prior to arriving here was almost exclusively in bench microbiology (mostly molecular microbiology/molecular epidemiology), I knew when I took my current job that I wanted to expand that and go beyond just examining whatever samples someone else had on hand, and set up my own studies. Being Iowa, a big focus of our work is rural health and agriculture, so this has taken me out to cattle and pig farms–previously with a technician who worked for me, and a large animal veterinarian who we work with. This summer so far it’s been just me, my grad student, and our summer interns (including some who’d never been on a farm before)–pictures included after the jump.

For our first farm, the farmer/owner was too busy to help us (understandably so; it was just him and a helper to take care of the entire farm, which included pigs, cattle, and crops). So he left us 10 sows that he’d put in crates for us to swab, and 24 young pigs (~12 weeks old and roughly 40-50 pounds) in a mostly fenced-in area. (I say “mostly” because there was one corner where the pigs were small enough to squeeze under, so we had to “guard” that corner to make sure none escaped). I wish I’d had a video camera (or more time to take photos, period)–myself and 3 grad students chasing around two dozen very fast piglets with cotton swabs for the better part of an hour.

Earlier this week in another part of the state we did get the assistance of the farm owner, who was a great sport. He rounded up the sows for us, and even hand-delivered the piglets, so things went much quicker than playing catch-the-pig. His whole family even consented to swabbing–including his dog.

Most importantly, though, I think the students learned quite a bit about the realities of field work (including the potential to get covered in shit during sampling). We ran the study out of my trunk, and so they got to not only take samples (including nasal swabs from the pigs, and nasal and pharyngeal swabs from the farmers) but also get trained in informed consent and the basic logistics of conducting a field study…and we had some fun along the way.

Tracy’s first encounter with swine:

The running of the piglets:

Phil tries his hand:

…and Eric…

…and Abby (who earned the title “pig whisperer” after our first farm adventures)

Lisa models the latest farm fashion:

Phil and I swab the sows:

Only about a dozen more farms to go…


  1. #1 RBH
    July 25, 2008

    Um, what happened to that little black dress you wore to the Creationist Museum? Pigs not good enough for it? 😀

  2. #2 wright
    July 27, 2008

    Very interesting. Nice to see that the latest crop of grad students and interns are being put to good use 🙂

  3. #3 Joe
    July 27, 2008

    I have a nit to pick. (I used to raise lice- (P. corporis)- so I am very good at it.) A young pig is not a “piglet.” “Piglet” was a character in A. A. Milne’s masterpieces. A young pig is a “shoat.”

    Otherwise, it is an interesting post.

  4. #4 Tara C. Smith
    July 27, 2008

    Heh. Well, the swine vets and farmers I work with call them piglets as well, but official terminology duly noted.

    RBH, I don’t wear anything out onto the farms that I wouldn’t be OK throwing in the garbage if it gets too nasty. Although I’m sure a black dress would look great with Lisa’s boots…

  5. #5 Joe
    July 29, 2008

    My grandfather got a college degree before his father proclaimed “You’ve had your fun, now I need you on the farm” (ca. 1910). Grandpa loved English language, and he taught me the meaning of “shoat.”

    I have been caught-up in outdated terminology before, when I consulted outdated dictionaries. For that reason, I recently bought a current dictionary- I just consulted it. It says “piglet” is a legitimate term for a young swine.

    So, I was wr… wro… wroooon…

    What is that word guys find difficult to pronounce?

    Anyway, I apol… apolo… apologi… Don’t expect me to pronounce that one, either.

  6. #6 Paul Lundgren
    July 30, 2008

    I think Lisa should be wearing a Cyclones t-shirt. Iowa colors are SO last year… 😉

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