As I poured over this passage, the thing that stands out is the difference between the God centered lives of those in Jacob's family and the ordinary lives of the others.
Jacob leaves with his father Issac's blessings and clear direction to marry from his original family line rather than from the idolotrous Caananite women that had tormented he and Rachael. Esau sees, but doesn't see. He notices that the Caananite women bother his parents, so he marries a woman from Ishmael's line, not realizing that it isn't all that different. Even though they are decended from Abraham, they are largely Egyptian, likely with Egyptian gods.
On the way, Jacob meets God face to face. Do you remember the first time when God became your God, not just your parent's God? It changes everything. Jacob is transformed and promises a relationship of continual trust and worship.
When he arrives and finally meets Laban, he tells him the story of his life. Laban has a telling response: "You really are my own flesh and blood!" This will prove to be all too true as the player gets played over the next 20 years, first in regard to his wife and then in regard to his wealth.
In the end, God is the one who plays Laban. Leah may not have been Jacob's first pick, but she shows tremendous spiritual growth as she has children and is mother to half of the tribes of Israel, including the influential tribes of Levi and Judah. In the end, it is Leah that is buried next to Jacob, not his beloved Rachael who dies in childbirth and is buried along the side of the road as they traveled. (Sorry about the spoiler.)
As for the animals, it seemed like Laban would trick Jacob out of anything again. Even though Jacob asks for the spotted animals right away, Laban goes through the flock and sends them off with his own sons so that all that Jacob can get is the speckled ones born in the future--out of a flock of solid colored sheep. What we know of genetics and inherited traits bodes poorly for Jacob but Jacob knows his God and his sheep. The stripped wood was seen by local farmers as an aphrodesiac for sheep and Jacob used it to favor the strong sheep in the flock--a practice that would make for a stronger flock overall. Then God plays a trick on Laban. You see, there's a certain amount of chance in Mendelian genetics. Far from being the enemy of God, chance is His domain. Proverbs 16:33 says, "We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall." (Yes, Einstein, God does play dice--it's just that He runs the table). God makes spotted sheep the predominant outcome to intentionally honor Jacob's faithfulness. The next chapter confirms that God has been intentionally playing with the gene pool.
There's a certain grace about the way that Jacob trusts God to make it right. Yes, Jacob does some creative animal husbandry, but he works hard and doesn't ask for any more than he is entitled. It looks on the surface like Laban has the upper hand, but over and over God gives Jacob what he needs, not what he wants.