Chinese New Year in Singapore

When I started vet school I made a lot of new friends. Out of all the international students in my class the majority are from Canada and then Singapore. So naturally a lot of my new friends are from Singapore. This year I managed to find cheap flights (while I was procrastinating studying during final exams) and decided to go visit some of my friends in their home country. It was a quick vacation but jam packed of activities and celebrating Chinese New Year!

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Some of the MANY Chinese New Year treats we tried 

Something I have wanted to do for years was visit the Singapore Aquarium. Its on a little island called Sentosa which is full of tourist attractions. Our first day in the country included touring the aquarium and navigating the crowds around the rest of Sentosa.

Our friends have been raving about the food in Singapore since I first met them so this trip was definitely intended to be a bit of a foodie adventure. That being said…. We ate way too much! But there was so little time! A few of my favourites included the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant, fruit stalls in Geylang (jackfruit, mangosteen, jambun, and rata, and experiencing hawker food centers. Sanitation and food safety in Singapore is very important so the government inhibits street food vendors like you might see in other Asian countries. Instead, all the food vendors have been moved inside into ‘hawker centers’ where there is tables and chairs, sinks, inspections, and regular cleaning of facilities.

…I told you there was a lot of food….

We toured through both Chinatown and Little India. I really loved the murals and statues in Little India. We also walked along/through several shopping streets and districts. There is multiple shops of very high end brands everywhere! Tourism/shopping is one of Singapore’s main industries! I did not buy anything….

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Year of the rooster! Happy New Year! 

One day involved a big walk from Marina Barrage (with views across the water to Indonesia) all the way to Gardens by the Bay. At GBTB we visited the Flower Dome to see the displays. It was extremely busy inside, but very beautiful. Once the sun went down we stayed for a very impressive light show in the Supertree Grove. The tree structures are completely self sufficient as they have solar panels on them that collect sunlight energy during the day to power the night-time lights!

Another cool thing we did was a quick stop in at the Central Perk café (from Friends). It was very expensive so we didn’t order much but we hung out on the couch and watched a few episodes and took a lot of cool pictures.

I wanted to go to the zoo but we just didn’t have time. We walked all along the Singapore river and saw spectacular views of the Singa skyline and impressive buildings.

One of my favorite things we did was actually just before we left was called lou hei. It is a tradition you usually do on the first day of Chinese New Year. Everyone tosses the food into the air with chopsticks and shouts sayings of good luck for the new year. Whoever tosses the food the highest will be the best off.

Anyways, thats a few of the highlights (it barely covers everything we saw/did/ate in our week)! Thank you so much to my friends who took me into their houses, introduced me to their families, and included me in their busy CNY celebrations. I appreciate it so much and loved the experience. Thank you 🙂

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My Placement at an Alpaca Farm

Over the course of my 3 month summer vacation I worked on an alpaca farm. I went to the alpaca farm on my days off from my job and other placements. There was just over 100 alpacas and crias—they are extremely friendly and curious creatures! Previously I had not completed a lot of work with this species so I found my time there quite informative.

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Some of the older boys patiently waiting for me to finish cleaning their pen.

We spent a lot of time trimming nails. This is done a couple of times a year. Alpacas are not necessarily prone to foot problems but depending on the type of ground they are living/walking on their nails can get quite long. After catching an alpaca (By hugging it around the neck) we would halter it and tie it to a fence. Once tied, one person would continue to hug the alpaca around the neck while the other person used shears to trim off the excess and uneven areas of the foot.

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Some of the older boys patiently waiting for me to finish cleaning their pen.

All of the alpacas received intramuscular vitamin D injections. There is not a lot of research backing up the use of this vitamin in alpacas. But due to the shortage of sunlight in Alberta throughout the winter the farmer was hoping that the injection would allow the alpacas to gain better condition and higher quality fleece.

Diatomaceous earth was used on this farm (and many other placement farms) as a means of parasite control.

We also gave many of the alpacas microchips. These were inserted into a pocketed area just below the ear. The microchips are required in any alpaca that the farmer wants to register. Register alpacas are also required to have a DNA test completed. We collected blood from the ear by sticking a needle into a vein until it spotted blood. The blood was then collected onto a card. Both breeding males and females are produced on this farm and they need to be registered for sale and competition/show.

We would trim hair out of their eyes so they could see better—it doesn’t matter how much fleece/hair you trim around their eyes as this is part of ‘seconds’ (lesser quality sections of fleece) during shearing.

I also learned a lot about grading of fleece. You grade alpaca fleece on a scale of carpet-1-2-3-4 based on fineness. Ideally you would like a ‘blanket’ (fleece from the neck and torso of the animal) to be dense and fine. Unfortunately these phenotypic traits are not directly correlated. Hence, breeding plans are extremely important in the alpaca world. Black is a recessive color in alpacas and is hard to obtain. Even if you breed 2 of the same colored alpaca together you might not get the same colored baby—quite the guessing game!

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This is one of the livestock dogs teaching me about grading fleece. Assessing and cleaning all of the fleece is done by hand. It looks like a ton of work! 

The farmer would either knit/spin her own fleece products and sell them at local markets or have the mill that does the processing create products for her. I now own my own pair of alpaca socks and mittens; they are very warm and soft!

I believe that this is the last placement I needed to complete for my pre-clinical requirements. I received previous credit for time I spent working at a zoo and a wildlife rehabilitation facility (possibly some throwback blog posts are in order?) before my acceptance to vet school.

One last thank you to all the amazing people I have met during this experience, and the people I was able to reconnect with. It really is a small world out there!

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I loved working outside on this farm and gained a ton of knowledge about alpaca husbandry and production. 

My Placement on a Clydesdale Farm

I’ve been spending the majority of my summer vacation at home in Canada. It was nice to have my long break over the Christmas period. While at home I have been working full time and am just starting to complete some placements again. This past week I was working on a Clydesdale horse farm. I was very excited for this placement because I have never worked on a horse farm before. Riding is one of my favorite things though! For those who don’t know, Clydesdales are large draft horses used for work such as pulling sleds/sleighs. This farm was training and breaking horses to be sold as work horses or be taken to shows and compete.

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These horses tower above me! Most of the horses on the farm were over 17 hands high.

Each morning started by hooking up a 2 horse team to the sled. We tried to pair a more experienced driving horse with an unbroken horse. The more experienced horse would lead the other. While on the sled we taught the horses to follow commands such as stop, start, step forward one step, back up, stop at the gate, hold head up, etc. I even got to take the reigns into my own hands once or twice!

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Some years the snow is so deep that the sled is harder to pull. Pretty easy pulling for these horses this winter!

 

One very interesting thing we also did was something called ‘donkey-breaking.’ I had heard of this happening with cattle previously but had never had the opportunity to experience it. If an unbroken horse needs to be halter trained (trained to be lead around and walk calmly with a head halter on) they can be harnessed to a donkey. The donkey is very strong and stubborn and will lead the horse around a field and get it used to the sensation.

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This stubborn donkey will begin to teach this filly to be led around by her halter and a lead rope.

On another day I was working with an unbroken filly getting her used to the sensation of touch. I spent some time standing a few feet away from her and literally sweeping her with a broom. This action will get the horse used to touch without putting myself in too much danger from being too close to the horse. After working with this filly she was ready for her vet check in the afternoon; which included a blood draw for Coggins testing. Coggins looks for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) which is needed to be evaluated before horses are taken to shows or exported.

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The filly feeling unsure about the nearby broom.

I spent the rest of my time on the farm helping with other odd farm jobs, mucking out stalls, moving horses, etc. I even visited a nearby elk farm that belong to a family member. This elk farm was very interesting to see after my last placement at a different elk ranch in July.

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Mucking out large Clydesdale stalls is a lot more work than regular sized horses!

 

Thank you so much to my family and friends who have been working their connections and helping to set up these placements and opportunities to me.  Sending endless appreciation to the placements who treat me like family during my time with them.  🙂

My Placement at an Elk Ranch

As part of the vet program we are required to complete 12 weeks of placements at different animal facilities before the end of our 2nd year. The placements can be at intensive or extensive farms, boarding facilities, zoos, wildlife centers, etc. I was lucky enough to get a plane ticket back home to Canada for my winter break in July. I decided to do some outside farm work while I was home because Albertan summer is so beautiful!!

My absolute favorite Canadian view

My absolute favorite Canadian view

I spent about two weeks working on an elk ranch with about 210 adults (expecting 75 calves at the end of the season). Starting out, I thought I had a decent knowledge about elk from just generally growing up in Canada and spending tons of time in the mountains growing up. Ranching and farming elk is totally different and so interesting! I learned so much from this placement.

 

Elk is commonly used for meat and EVA (elk velvet antler). The ranch I was on was raising elk for EVA which has been used for thousands of years as a part of traditional Chinese medicine.

A lot of people don’t actually know what velveting is… put simply: Velveting is cutting off the antlers at the velvet stage (when they are fuzzy and before they calcify and become hard antlers) and then freezing them in order to retain the blood and useful components before processing. The antlers are then made into pills/capsules or slices which can then be taken or used in teas. EVA is used to treat arthritis pain, enhance immune system, etc. etc. Farms that raise elk for EVA often send the animals for meat as well. During my placement I learned that Canadian produced EVA is in high demand in the international market as well and we are trying to increase our product in both China and Korea.

There has been research conducted on EVA that shows both positive and negative results of the effects. Here is one article which shows that EVA has antioxidative effects and presumed health benefits:

Kim, E., Lee, W., Moon, S., Jeon, Y., Ahn, C., Kim, B., . . . Jeon, B. (2009). FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING ACTIVITY BY ESR SPECTROSCOPY AND NEUROPROTECTIVE EFFECT ON H2O2-INDUCED DAMAGE IN PC-12 CELLS OF ENZYMATIC EXTRACTS FROM KOREAN ELK VELVET ANTLER. Journal of Food Biochemistry., 33(6), 895-912. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/46467863?accountid=12372

And here is another article that shows that EVA had no beneficial effect on muscle growth and sports performance:

Syrotuik, D. G., MacFadyen, K. L., Harber, V. J., & Bell, G. J. (2005). Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism., 15(4), 366-385. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/docview/47718499?accountid=12372

I actually really enjoyed my time working on the elk farm and learning about another agriculture industry in Alberta; I hope to work with elk again one day and if I do I’ll be spending more time thumbing through research articles.

During placement I also helped with the moving of elk between fields, rounding up for velveting, and feeding (all on the quad). I was continually surprised how much calmer than cattle the elk appeared to be. I especially noticed this while we were running them through the chute and into the squeeze. An elk squeeze is designed different from a cattle squeeze because elk hold their heads up rather than down (like cows) and so the squeeze must be accommodating to both this and the large antlers they have.

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Towards the end of my time back in Canada I attended part of the 2015 Alberta Elk Expo. The most interesting part for me was helping to score the hard antlers. We measured the length of each tine, the circumference of the beam, assessed the symmetry, identified non-typical tines, and the overall quality of the hard antlers.

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So 2 weeks of placement down and it was great! I’m thinking dairy or pigs next 🙂

P.S.: To my dear Australian friends who I love very much…