Des Moines, here we come!

Our adventure is quickly coming to an end. We’re currently on hour number four of our seven hour layover in the Detroit airport. Not a whole lot to do in an airport to keep a bunch of college kids entertained, so we’re sprawled out all over the floor by gate C30.

Reflecting on our trip, I don’t think I can truly put into words what this experience has been like, but this blog will be my best attempt. Ya know, everyone tells you to study abroad, but I never actually thought I would. I applied for the Russia and Ukraine trip, as well as the trip to Italy. When I got accepted to both I chose the Russia and Ukraine trip, even though it freaked me out. To be honest, I had no interest in going to either country, but I was excited to go on a trip that was focused on pigs. When it switched to Denmark, Sweden and Finland for safety reasons, I knew I made the right decision and that I would enjoy my trip.

Frankly, I was terrified down to the minute we arrived in Copenhagen. I’m the queen of procrastination, so in true fashion, I waited to pack until 5:30 the morning we were supposed to leave, before I took off for a pig show in route to the airport. The first few days, I was freaking out that I had left something behind that I would desperately need. My bag was obviously full of the essentials, clothes, shoes and toiletries; but it was also full of snacks. When you’re a picky person, you learn to never leave the house unprepared. Growing up, I ALWAYS had the biggest purse and at any given time could be found with at least a can of Dr. Pepper, a rice crispy bar, a hand full of Starbursts and the occasional banana. My luggage was no different. I had three bags of Starbursts, two snack size bags of Cheetos, a family pack of Oreos, and 12 little packets of Teddy Grahams. Turns out, I ended up enjoying the food over there quite a bit and am happy to announce that a good chunk of my snacks returned to the US in their packages. This is a big step for me, people.

On that note, I’m also pleased to share that contrary to popular belief, I tried a few new foods on this trip. These included veal, fish & chips, salmon, sushi, a bite of carrot and sweet potato soup and developed a crazy addiction to a good cup of Joe. I ended up really liking the veal and fried fish!

Though we’re all exhausted, missing our families and just can’t wait to finally wash our clothes and stop living out of a suitcase, I think I can safely say this group is full of heavy hearts as we prepare to say goodbye for the summer in a few hours. At the beginning of the semester, many of us had never met. Actually, we didn’t really know everyone’s names until the first plane ride from Des Moines to Detroit. But after spending just 14 short days with these people, I feel like I’ve known them my entire life. I can’t wait to meet up with some of them this summer and to see them all again next fall and catch up. This trip is full of memories, inside jokes, life story exchanges in the bus, late night heart to hearts, casual sauna sweat sessions and just genuine friendships beginning to form.

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Not only did I learn about agriculture in Denmark, Sweden and Finland, but I learned about myself, and about all of these great people on my trip. I learned to step out of my comfort zone, go on a trip that terrifies me, and to be optimistic in trying a new food. I learned that even though those other countries were beautiful and I absolutely loved my time there, there is no where I would have rather grown up than in the USA. It was also reinforced to me how lucky I am to be a part of agriculture in general, but more importantly, to be a part of the swine industry with these other students who share my same passion.

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And of course, we were blessed to have Dr. Baas, his wife, Cindy and Dr. Harmon as our chaperones. Three wonderful people who not only planned this amazing trip quickly after our original trip was cancelled, but also looked out for us, laughed with us, put up with our craziness and helped us learn on this trip. Below is a picture of Dr. Baas’ and I’s selfie, Dr. Harmon’s first selfie and a picture of me with Cindy and Dr. Baas.

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I can’t imagine going on a better trip with a better group of people. I’m excited for the future of this group. Not only for the future of our friendships and all of the memories I’m sure will be in our future, but for the contributions to the pork industry that this group of individuals will be able to make.

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Thanks for reading about our adventures. I hope you enjoyed it!!

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The final countdown

Approximately 23 hours before we touch down in Des Moines. It’s pretty sad to be thinking that this will be the last blog that I write from a hotel in Finland.

We’ve spent our time the last two days touring different farms in Finland. We started at the Snellman testing station, where they have about 1500 pigs, 85% of them being intact boars. We had to shower in and shower out of the testing station for biosecurity, so that took quite some time.

Next, we headed to a sow farm. It was pretty interesting to see how a sow unit operates in Finland. Today, we headed to another sow unit and were able to compare the two farms.

Before our sow farm tour today, we visited Finnprotein. Finnprotein is a soybean processing plant that started in 2009, and processed their first beans in October of 2013. Currently, they are the largest specialized, multi-stage soy processing plant in Europe. They only have 65 employees and run 7 shifts a day with only 5 employees running the plant at a time. Originally, the plant came about to produce Soy Protein Concentrate, or SPC, to feed to the salmon raised in Norway. While it is used for this, Finnprotein also provides Finland with 2/3 of their soybean meal. We weren’t able to walk around the plant because it was running and it wasn’t safe for us to be in there, but we were able to drive our bus around the plant and learn about the facility.

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During our time in Finland, we had Marja who traveled with us as a tour guide. She is originally from Finland but came to ISU to get her PhD in breeding and genetics under Dr. Ken Stalder. We also had Joni as our bus driver in Finland. He drove Team USA around Europe a few years ago so he threw up a Team USA banner on our bus. Nothing like screaming you have a bus full of American tourists…

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I think it’s easy to say that our group is ready to go home and see our families and friends again, but we’re definitely gonna miss these beautiful countries, all of these adventures, and definitely each other.

So for now, I’m off to bed. We’re jumping on a plane tomorrow at 7 to make our way back to the USA.

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The Finnish Sauna Experience

Day 2 in Finland is in the books and it is starting to sink in that we only have three short days in Europe before we jump on a plane and head home. However, checking out our itinerary, one can see that these last few days are jam packed with tours.

Today we visited ETT, Finland’s voluntary organization focused on animal disease control. We learned about different diseases that have come through Finland and what they are using to control them. Currently, they do not have PRRS or PEDv. For a while, Salmonella was a big issue for them, however, they now have it under control.

Next, we visited a company called Snellman. Snellman is a meat packing plant, comparable to Tyson in the US. Snellman has 1200 employees located in three different towns. They harvest about 1200 pigs and 600 cattle a day. We were able to watch a portion of beef harvesting and cutting up of meat products from a window, as well as a video on their pork harvest. A company called FiGen is a part of the Snellman company and is the portion that deals with the pigs directly. They provide breeding stock and semen to all of their contracted farmers. They also have a nutrition group that helps provide insight to the farmers about what a good feeding program would be.

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The real fun came later in the evening when we headed to a resort to enjoy a Finnish tradition, the sauna. The resort we visited had two saunas, a traditional smoke sauna and an electric sauna. After we sat in the sauna for a while, we were advised that we should jump in the lake, which was a lovely 50 degrees Fahrenheit, stay for a bit and then get back in the smoke sauna. Though we were apprehensive at first, it really was relaxing after the first time.

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Traditionally in Finland, people have saunas in their houses. The woman we spoke with this morning has three in her home. Typically, people go into a sauna in the nude. The men on our trip kept with this tradition. The ladies, however, opted for swim suits. The guys started in the smoke sauna and moved to the electric, and we did the opposite.

Families in Finland typically sit in a sauna together. Talk about some quality bonding… Another Finnish tradition is to whip yourself in the sauna with a birch tree branch. Apparently it helps with blood circulation and also helps exfoliate your skin. We didn’t have any birch tree branches today, so our group missed out on that portion of the experience.

I think I can safely speak for the group in saying the the sauna experience will definitely be an experience to remember. And that if we could, we’d probably all invest in a smoke sauna to put by Lake Lavern back at ISU. Let me tell ya, my skin has never felt better.

We’ve got an early morning, so I’m off to bed.

Until next time.

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Sayonara, Sweden!

This blog is coming to you from the Northern part of the Baltic Sea as we ride a ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. Our internet has been spotty the last few days and I haven’t had a chance to blog, so I’m going to squeeze all of Sweden into one blog.

We went on an organic farm tour when we got to Sweden. They served us an all organic meal of veal, mashed potatoes, peas, lingonberries, a cauliflower soup shot, coffee and carbonated water. I tried it all, and surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad. Shocking, right?! Here’s what it looked like:

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After he debated with us for a while about organic farming versus conventional farming, he told us about his operation. They run 90 dairy cows, 120 sows and 200 ewes. Their dairy cows are an old breed, and the sows are a cross that includes wild boar, Hamps and Durocs. The tour was interesting and the farmer was opinionated, let’s just put it that way. Here are a few pictures from the tour.

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The weirdest or maybe most frustrating part of the tour was in their on farm slaughterhouse. I’m on the meat judging team at Iowa State and you could say I’m a bit of a “meat head,” for lack of a better term. Basically, I love meat science and slaughterhouses usually intrigue me. I was curious to see there process. They only slaughter two cows a week, a few days a part and ten hogs a week. Their process is interesting, yet frustrating. I’ll leave it at that, and if you’re curious, we can chat about it sometime.

The rest of our time in Stockholm was spent sightseeing and shopping before we boarded our ferry. We also had to say goodbye to our beloved bus driver, Kim. He was a pretty great guy who put up with quite a bit from our Heads Up game that involved screaming to our random karaoke sessions on the bus, not to mention all of us taking a turn riding shot gun and talking his ear off.

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We’ll soon dock in Helsinki and plan to have a day full of sightseeing and driving.

Until whenever we have internet again!

Bre

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We’re halfway there!

We returned to Copenhagen and stayed in a hostel last night. I had prepared myself for the absolute worst in this hostel, so when we arrived and it was more like a dorm, I was definitely okay with it. When we got here, we had all afternoon to be typical tourists. The castles, old buildings, statues and churches we saw are indescribable. Yesterday was a national holiday here called The National Day of Prayer. Many people had the day off so it was crazy busy out and about. I’ve posted a few pictures here, but there are more in the gallery.

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I’m writing this blog from our purple tour bus as we head from Denmark to Sweden. We just went through an under water bridge and then over a HUGE bridge that really puts the mile long bridge in Knoxville to shame. When we arrive in Sweden, we’ll be touring an organic pig farm. In honor of our last day in Denmark, I’ve put together a few fun facts about what we’ve learned in Denmark.

Denmark is often referred to as the happiest country in the world, and we totally understand why.

Denmark is home to about 4.6 million people and is made up of 407 islands, but only about 70 of them have people on them.

The people here pay between 40 and 60 percent of their income in taxes. Because of this, their health services and education, including going to college, is free.

They wear their wedding rings on their right hand.

While some people work a five day work week, it is not uncommon for people to work from 6 am to 6 pm on Monday through Wednesday and then work a half day on Thursday so they can enjoy a four day weekend.

Generally, they consider themselves to be Lutheran or Catholic, however we were told many people don’t attend church because they feel it is too strict and rigid.

This country is all about sustainability and being eco friendly. They do not have air conditioning, they recycle everything and they’re very big on organic practices. They also have many regulations in place for their conventional farmers because they want them to be sustainable.

The Danes don’t really have a type of food. We’ve had burgers, steaks, Chinese, Italian and a little bit of everything in between. The most Danish food is a Danish pastry or their interesting breakfasts, which usually include a soft boiled egg, yogurt and a meat and cheese sandwich.

I hope you’ve learned a little something from this blog. My next post will come to you from Sweden and I couldn’t be more excited!

So long!

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Gettin’ me a mink coat

To start off, I apologize for not blogging yesterday. In my defense, we’ve had an eventful few days in Denmark, people. Yesterday, we visited the Argo Food Park. There, people told us about their Food Park center and the organic farmers in Denmark, which makes up about 6% of their farming community.

Next, we visited a pig farm. The farm sits on 1700 hectares. Not only did they have a pig farm, they also had a grain management operation and a manure application business, among other things. The farm has 1000 sows and produces 35,000 pigs a year. They farrow and raise the pigs through the nursery stage, which they call weaners, and then send them to Poland and Germany to be finished out. Below is a picture of Adam and I all suited up in our jump suits ready to head into the barn, or as they call it, the stable.

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Last night, we had free time to go out and explore on our own. We ate at a delicious Brazilian Steak House! Then we went out and did some exploring. Be sure to check out the pictures in my gallery to see the beautiful sights of Downtown Aarhus!!

This morning, we visited Aarhus University’s Research facility. They have tons of awesome projects going on there, including Alzheimer’s research using pigs. However, we got to see their biogas facility, their organic crop rotations, mink farm and their fistulated dairy cow farm.

The mink farm was super interesting. Funk fact: Minks breed once and then once again nine days later, so a litter of minks can have two fathers, thanks to delayed implantation. Another fun fact… It takes between 40 and 60 mink pelts to make an average sized mink coat.

We were there right in time because this is the time of year when they are giving birth so we got to see all kinds of baby minks. I’ve included a few pictures below.

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At the fistulated dairy cow farm, we discussed the fistulated cows and the research they are doing there. The rubber materials that are used for this procedure comes from a family owned rubber company in Iowa. How cool is that?! Some of our students were able to put their hands inside the cow and check out her stomach.

This afternoon, we visited Danish Crown in Horsens, which is the world’s most modern pig slaughterhouse. As a meat science nerd and a member of the ISU meat judging team, I’ve been on countless trips through a slaughterhouse, however this one was unlike any I’ve been on. Instead of frocking up and being on the actual harvest floor, this tour was done through the halls on the outside of the facility, where we were able to look through a window. It was a very clean and automated plant, so it made for a unique experience! Danish Crown Horsens harvests one pig every three seconds. Hard to imagine, right?!

Again this evening we had free time to explore on our own as it was our last night in Aarhus. Tomorrow morning we pack up to head to Odense where we will sight see, including the Hans Christian Anderson house.

Tomorrow is our last evening in Denmark before we head on to Sweden.

Until later, my friends!

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Nebraskan burgers

Today’s food options were a little more American. We started with a delicious breakfast of bread and ham with a little cheese and fruit.

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For lunch, we had a packed lunch with a sandwich and fruit. The sandwiches were pretty unique. There was a red sauce under cheese on the top of the croissant which tasted like bacon, surprisingly. We also had some legit Danishes which were absolutely delicious.

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For supper, we went pretty American with a bacon cheeseburger with a description that read, “US Nebraska burger…” and it was rather delicious. A few people ventured out and had veal and potatoes. The potatoes were rather tasty as well.

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Stay tuned and I promise I’ll try to make it a little more of a Danish meal tomorrow!

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Out of my Element

It’s day 3 on our study abroad adventure and after a good night of rest in real beds instead of air plane seats, we were rarin’ to go!

This morning we visited the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. There, they brought in seven speakers who worked for the Pig Research Center, a branch of the Council. First, we got an overview of pork production in Denmark. Next, we heard from a nutritionist about the different types of feed they use. Then, we heard about the strategies and technologies used to reduce ammonia and odor from their pig barns. We had another speaker talk about the housing set up in Denmark and a lady spoke about the legislation that required pigs to have rooting and enrichment material in their pens. This one shocked me. They said pigs are required to have straw, wood or ropes to play with in their pens.

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Next, we packed up to visit a dairy outside of Copenhagen. The dairy raises 600 head on about 600 hectares. They use a carousel milker that can milk about 130 cows per hour. They pointed out many things on their dairy but one of my favorites was the seven heifers walking in a pasture between their barns. These were their show heifers, and though showing livestock in Denmark isn’t anywhere close to being like showing in he United States, it was still something familiar that I could relate to.

Probably the coolest thing about the dairy was what they fed their cows. Constantly throughout the day, scraps from local factories are delivered. These include carrots, potatoes, potato peels, turnips, watermelon and other fruit and vegetable scraps. The cattle’s diet is made of these scraps, and supplemented with additional protein, most commonly Rapeseed. Below is a picture of a Rapeseed field. It was really cool to watch the cows stick their long tongues out to reach the whole potatoes, which Lars said was their favorite.

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I’m writing this blog from a ferry that we’re on as we travel from Copenhagen to Aarhus for the evening. We’re going about 40 mph. We were able to stand on the back of the boat, which you can see from the picture below. This is a big feat for a girl who can’t swim!!

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Later tonight, I’ll post a few pictures of the food we got to try today!

Chao for now!

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Welcome to Denmark!

In case you didn’t know, I’m studying abroad for the next two weeks in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Originally, this trip was scheduled to go to Russia and Ukraine but with everything going on over there, it got switched at the last minute. We’re studying agriculture here, but focusing more on swine production. And this blog will be all about our adventures over seas.

At 6 pm on May 11th, we boarded our flight for Detroit and so began our journey to Denmark. From Detroit we jumped on a 7 hour flight to Amsterdam. After a four hour layover, we boarded our last flight into Copenhagen.

As you may or may not know already, I’m a picky eater. And when I say this, I mean it. If I could live off of plain pasta, Starbursts and Dr. pepper, I would be one happy girl. What does this have to do with my adventures in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, you ask. Well, when I told people I was studying abroad, EVERYONE always asked me what in the world I would eat here. So, I’ve started this blog to let everyone back home know what’s going down on our trip, as well as what this picky Iowa girl has been able to stomach, literally.

We arrived in Copenhagen at about 8 pm local time. That’s 1 pm in Iowa time, if you were curious. We checked into our hotel and grabbed dinner at the hotel restaurant, La Rocca. Let me tell you, I was a little nervous what our first Denmark meal would be like, but I had no reason to be worried! We had Salami Pizza and fresh Lasagna and boy, were they delicious!

Below are a few pictures from Day 1. The bread, lasagna, and pizza from dinner, as well as a picture of our hotel room from the first night.

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Until tomorrow,

Bre

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