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April 2014

4-H Extension Corner: Connecting to Nature

Students at Prattville Primary are helping to plant their outdoor classroom’s butterfly garden.

The Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program and 4-H help youth learn about the wonders of our natural world.

by Doyle Keasal

Many of us old folks remember spending time learning about the wonders of the natural world as we wandered through the woods, played in local streams, helped in the family garden or went hunting and fishing with a family member. We also remember our many collections of found objects and a table filled with canning jars that doubled as habitats for a variety of organisms. The great thing is that this type of behavior was encouraged and supported by our adult family members (or at least tolerated) most of the time.

Today, the vast majority of our youth (and even adults) spend little, if any, time enjoying and getting connected with nature. In fact, our youth are more likely to spend their time using technology to stay connected with friends and play games or in traveling from one scheduled activity to another, while seeing nature as a blur through the window of an automobile or as a show on television. Even though our lives have been made easier thanks to technology, at the same time, we have also become more disconnected from the natural world than at any other time, forgetting we still have a vital role in nature. Due to this change, our children and Alabama’s future risk being disconnected from nature and becoming ignorant regarding the importance of Alabama’s natural resources as well as our roles as environmental stewards. (A good book about this problem is titled "Last Child in the Woods:Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv.)

4-H and Extension are aware of this problem and have been working to develop natural resource programming and partnerships with other organizations and agencies to help reconnect our youth to nature. One such partnership program is the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program. The Alabama Wildlife Federation started developing the concept for a comprehensive outdoor classroom program in 1998 for K-12 public and private schools partly in response to a need voiced by many Alabama educators. After they piloted the program with 12 schools, they decided it was time to officially launch the AOC program in 2003 and bring aboard key partners (Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Discovering Alabama and the Alabama Forestry Commission).

Since then, Alabama 4-H/Extension has become an important partner on both the state and local levels in the AOC program. 4-H/Extension has supported local schools enrolled in the AOC program by helping to provide technical assistance and planning for their outdoor classrooms as well as educational resources, professional development training for educators and 4-H programming that complements the outdoor classroom concept. Some of what we have provided includes training and programming support in the 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program, and in natural resources through the Skins n’ Skulls Activity Module, the Classroom in the Forest Program, and 4-H Water Quality through the Alabama Water Watch. In addition, we are in the process of developing a new program titled the Alabama Junior Naturalist Program that will also provide a variety of natural resource, topic specific modules for use by trained 4-H agents and volunteers.

At the start of 2014, there were 300 K-12 public and private schools across Alabama enrolled in the Alabama Outdoor Classroom program (schools in 57 of Alabama’s 67 counties). These schools include both urban and rural settings. (See the AOC map at for information on some of the enrolled schools.) In addition, 47 of these schools have met the requirements to become Certified AOC Schools. To provide schools and educators with a variety of resources related to the AOC program, the AWF along with the assistance of 4-H/Extension have created and compiled a variety of outdoor classroom planning materials as well as activities and other resources on the AWF website at are available to anyone.

If a school is interested in participating in the AOC program, they must complete a registration form and include a one-time fee of $50 (enrollment information is found on the AWF website).Once the school is registered, it will be contacted by an AOC representative and also introduced to a local 4-H representative. The school’s staff will then be assisted in organizing an outdoor classroom committee and developing an outdoor classroom. Enrolled schools are also able to attend a variety of workshops, apply for grants and schedule school-based professional development workshops as well as get access to other resources. Once an enrolled school has established an outdoor classroom and completes all of the requirements to be a certified site, it is assisted in holding a dedication ceremony at which the school receives an Alabama Outdoor Classroom sign and is listed as a certified school site.

Through the development of an effective and sustainable outdoor classroom and the many educational resources provided through the AOC program, educators are able to provide their students with a variety of nature-based, hands-on, inquiry-based learning opportunities. In addition, as their outdoor classroom is planned and developed, schools can incorporate a variety of learning stations to help make this possible. Learning stations can include aquatic study areas (ponds and streams), woodland areas, nature trails, butterfly gardens, vegetable and flower gardens, amphitheaters, boardwalks, pavilions, pitcher plant bogs, decomposing log areas and many other nature-based ideas. Through these learning stations and their associated activities, youth are once again encouraged to wander the woods and fields, dig in the soil, roll over a log, wade in a stream and just reconnect with the natural world through interactive experiences. The overall goal is to bring youth and nature together in a natural environment conducive to learning about Alabama’s forest, wildlife and natural resources.

If you would like to learn more about the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program, visit or contact me at 334-844-6398 or by email at

Doyle Keasal is an Environmental/Conservation Education Specialist with 4-H & Youth Development/Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University and with the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

A Footlong Prolapse

by Baxter Black, DVM

It was a Colorado winter afternoon when the boys spotted a big crossbred cow wobblin’ along with her calf trailing behind and a prolapse as big as an army-issue duffle bag!

When they got closer, they could see the calf had sucked, but the prolapse looked a little worse for wear. Merle and Earl were a’horseback two miles from the corrals. The cow was domesticated, but certainly not tame! She was a range cow. They’re like K-Mart employees - you can’t actually walk up to one!

Using the time-tested Temple Grandin technique, they pushed her down the trail until she wore out and sort of collapsed. Our duo dismounted and eased up on the tired cow. Merle also carried a small medicine bag, primarily to treat calf scours. Earl walked up to drop a loop over the cow’s head.

"You won’t need that," said Merle, "There’s some of that obstacle tape, that and a shot of ‘anorexic’ medicine will put her to sleep."

Earl found a bottle with 5 cc of lidocaine left in it. He drew it into a syringe and handed it to Merle, who injected it directly into the prolapse. The boys knelt down and began trying to stuff the bulbous, slippery, inverted uterus back through the pelvic opening.

NOTE: This process has been compared to stuffing a smoked ham down a sink drain.

Four hands were thrusting, spelunking, grasping, groaning, winching, clinching … push one galoop in and another would pop out the other side! Through 20 minutes of heaving, breathing, scooting, slewing and trying to find something with your foot to push against, the monstrous appendage kept growling and snarling, fighting back with all its might! Merle had the best grip.

"Earl, pull off your boot and see if you can shove it in with your foot!" Merle said.

"What!?" Earl said.

"I read about it somewhere, it gives you more leverage!" Merle explained.

With a suspicious eye, Earl unbooted, lay back against a hummock, placed his sticky sock into the rubbery protuberance and pushed. "Slurp …" It disappeared before their eyes!

Merle took command. He rifled in the medicine box and found a bottle of umbilical tape and a needle.

"Keep pushin’ till I git’er stitched up!" Merle instructed.

Even though she was still straining some, the cow began to relax. So did Earl, twisted in up to the knee. Merle threaded the S-curved needle and plunged into the sensitive area.


The cow rose from the ground like a missile being fired from a Titan submarine! The movement put tremendous pressure on the anterior cruciate ligament in Earl’s knee joint. He didn’t even make the 8-second buzzer.

EPILOGUE: The prolapse stayed in, the calf was not fazed, it ended Earl’s potential soccer career and Merle lived to tell me the story!

Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website,

A Snapshot of Alabama Agriculture

USDA Releases a First Look at 2012 Census of Agriculture Results

from Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries

Feb. 20, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary results providing a first look at state and national data.

The 2012 Census reported little change in land in farms, a more diverse principal operator population and several historic changes in value of sales for U.S. agriculture producers from 2007-2012. The report included information on farm numbers, land in farms and farmer demographics. At the national level:

Between 2007-2012, the amount of land in farms in the United States declined by less than 1 percent, from 922-million acres to 915 million. While continuing a downward trend, this is the third smallest decline between censuses since 1950 and is within the margin of error.

According to the 2012 Census, principal farm operators are becoming older and more diverse. The average age of a principal farm operator was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase. And, more minority-operated farms were also accounted for in 2012 than in 2007.

The United States had 2.1 million farms, down 4.3 percent in 2012. In terms of farm size by acres, the decline continued a downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest- and largest-size farms held steady.

In 2012, the value of agriculture products sold totaled $394.6 billion, up 33 percent ($97.4 billion) from 2007. For only the second time in Census history, crop sales ($212.4 billion) exceeded livestock sales ($182.2 billion).

"One of the most important takeaways to remember about the Census of Agriculture is that the information is used for decision making by producers as well as all those who serve farmers, ranchers and rural communities – federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations and many others," said Cynthia Price, state statistician of the Alabama Field Office. "When we look at the data for our state, we can all use it as a snapshot in time to see how Alabama agriculture is changing over time and how it compared to the rest of the country."

As an example, the preliminary 2012 Census data show the following key trends for Alabama:

Value of Farm Sales – 2012 showed a dramatic increase in value of sales.

  • Alabama farms sold $5.6 billion in agricultural products in 2012. This was 26 percent more than agricultural sales in 2007.
  • In 2012, livestock sales of $4.3 billion exceeded crop sales of $1.3 billion.
  • Per farm average sales increased to $128,953 from $90,570 in 2007.

Farmer Demographics – Seeing an increase in minority principal operators (except those self-identifying as more than one race).

  • A principal operator is the person primarily responsible for the day-to-day operation of the farm.
  • In 2012, the average age of principal farm operators was 59.3 years, up 1.7 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase.
  • Over 3,600 farmers were on their current operation less than 5 years.
  • The census counted more minority-operated farms in 2012 than in 2007.
  • The number of Hispanic principal operators increased by 28 percent.

"The release of the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results is only a first look at the data and NASS is eager to publish the final report this May," said NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark. "The 2012 Census was not conducted in a typical crop year, and drought had a major impact on U.S. agriculture, affecting crop yields, production and prices. NASS is still reviewing all 2012 Census items to the county level and therefore data are preliminary until published in the final report."

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches, and the people who operate them. When available in May, the final report will provide even more detailed information for Alabama, providing data on all farm operators and data down to the county level. The publication will also provide new insights into the agriculture industry, reporting new or expanded data on Internet access, regional food systems, biomass production, agro-forestry and equine.

For more information about the Census including access to the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary report and the full report when it is released in May, visit

Always at Risk

Figure 1

Vegetables can be protected from insect pests using either conventional or organic control techniques.

by Ayanava Majumdar, Mike Reeves and James Miles

Vegetable production in Alabama is always at a high risk of insect damage. Insect pests range from caterpillars and true bugs that devastate our summer crop, to the insects of cool-season crops like aphids and yellowmargined leaf beetles. Warm winter temperatures and high humidity are favorable to the year-round pest activity. Conventional vegetable producers in the Deep South must get a copy of the 2014 SE Vegetable Crop Handbook for complete insecticide recommendations or contact their county Extension office. Organic producers and home gardeners should use the new Extension bulletins available at Identify insect pests correctly then think about managing them using integrated pest management tactics.

Figure 2

Conventional vegetable insecticides fall in 18 different categories. Caterpillars can devastate plant stands if not controlled (figure 1); there are many effective insecticides for caterpillars with new modes of action. We have evaluated spinetoram (Radiant) and flubendiamide (Belt, figure 2) in our test plots as stand-alone or rotation products. These insecticides are more selective than synthetic pyrethroids and also are softer on beneficial insects. Repeated synthetic pyrethroid treatments (like bifenthrin) can flare up spider mites in hot weather, so reduce your insecticide applications in unfavorable conditions or shift to selective products. Certain insecticides like chlorantraniliprole (Coragen) and imidacloprid (Admire) can be applied through drip irrigation for early season insect control with long residual. Through a series of demonstration plots at research stations and commercial fields, we have shown that a mixed trap cropping system with Peredovik sunflower and NK300 sorghum can deter leaffooted bug feeding during mid to late summers. Two applications of insecticides like zeta-cypermethrin (Mustang Max) and lambda-cyhalothrin (Warrior) on NK-300 sorghum head reduced 70-90 percent leaffooted bugs without the need for treating the main crop against that pest.

Spider mite outbreaks were common across Alabama and mowing grass close to the crop during hot weather results in greater spread of this pest. High tunnel producers may also experience spider mites due to the lack of rainfall inside the structure. Effective miticides include abamectin (Agri-Mek – also kills Colorado potato beetles), bifenazate (Acramite) and fenpyroximate (Portal – a new product). For squash bug control, bifenthin (Brigade) and dinotefuran (Venom) provided consistent results in field tests. Apply insecticides timely when insects are most vulnerable, use a surfactant as recommended, and follow the preharvest interval mentioned on the insecticide labels before using the products. Rotate insecticides and minimize applications to conserve the natural enemies and pollinators.

Organic vegetable insect control is difficult and labor-intensive in high pest pressure conditions – so PREVENTION is the best strategy. There is more research-based information available today that should be helpful to organic producers and gardeners. Alabama Extension Commercial Horticulture Team now provides intensive hands-on training to organic producers through the small farms educational initiative; please consult a regional Extension agent near you for more information. In organic farming systems, pest prevention through cultural and mechanical tactics is a very important aspect producers must understand since organic pesticides are expensive and should be used as a last resort. In the Deep South, organic farming can be pesticide-intensive and farmers must use approved insecticides in a timely manner (keep multiple products handy for use). Some of the fast-acting contact insecticides that are good for caterpillar control include spinosad (Entrust) and pyrethrum (Pyganic). Some slow acting but effective caterpillar control products include Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt (Dipel, Thuricide, Xentari), Beauveria bassiana (BotaniGard) and neem oil (Molt-X). Alabama IPM studies suggest BotaniGard and Molt-X can be tank-mixed and rotated with paraffinic oil (Suffoil-X) for excellent aphid control. Bt formulation "Xentari" is also very effective against mixed populations of caterpillars and provides consistent fruit quality when used prophylactically (figure 2). Always target the small caterpillars with insecticides when they are in low numbers. Target the immature stages of beetles on foliage (e.g., Colorado potato beetle, yellowmargined leaf beetle, Mexican bean beetle) with insecticides, but hand remove the adults or use some kind of a barrier (insect netting). Spinosad is an extremely toxic organic insecticide that is also effective against flea beetles, yellowmargined leaf beetles and other late-season pests.

Remember to identify insects first and then think of an action plan based on economic thresholds. Do not use the wrong insecticide and face the frustration of crop failure. Rotate products to avoid insecticide resistance and stop spraying if the pest population is low or when natural enemies are abundant. For more information, subscribe to the Alabama IPM Communicator Newsletter to stay connected (visit or join the Alabama Vegetable IPM page on Facebook for receiving free pest alerts.

Ayanava Majumdar is an Extension entomologist, and Mike Reeves and James Miles are regional Extension agents with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.

April Lawn and Garden Checklist


  • Sow seeds for cool-season crops including peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets and turnips before the heat of early summer gets here.
  • Transplant Bonnie cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, etc. into the garden.
  • If you feel like there won’t be another frost, plant beans, corn, squash and vine crops in late April. Make a second planting within two to three weeks of the first planting to extend the season.
  • Start to set out Bonnie tomatoes late in the month as ground temperatures warm. Tomatoes need nights above 50 degrees. Cover when frost threatens.
  • Plant tall-growing crops such as pole beans and corn on the north side of other vegetables to avoid shading. Plant at least two rows of corn for better pollination.
  • Be sure to plant enough vegetables for canning and freezing.
  • If your space is limited, consider growing vegetables in containers. Containers also require less time, water and effort than a larger garden.
  • Plant tender herbs.
  • Plant new fruit trees.
  • Plant strawberries, blackberries and other small fruit.
  • Seeds of amaranthus, celosia, cosmos, marigold, portulaca, zinnia and other warm-season flowering annuals can be sown directly in the beds where they will grow.
  • Move summer-flowering bulbs like dahlia, lilies and gladiolus outside to their summer locations after all danger of frost has passed.
  • If you want to relocate daffodils, it is okay to dig them after they have bloomed. Do not remove leaves. Replant them as you would any other transplant and leave the leaves to die down on their own.
  • Repot houseplants as needed. Increase pot size by 1 inch.


  • Fertilize garlic planted last fall as greens get up and growing.
  • A good schedule to follow for fertilizing Bermuda grass, zoysia and St. Augustine is the "Major Holidays Rule." Divide your total nitrogen requirement for the year by four. Put down this rate of nitrogen on or near each of the four holidays: Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.
  • Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs after they bloom.
  • Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins.
  • Roses have high fertilizer requirements. For most soils, use a complete fertilizer for the first application just as new growth starts, then use ammonium sulfate or other high nitrogen source every four to six weeks, usually just as the new growth starts following a flowering cycle. For organic sources use cottonseed, rotted manures or alfalfa meal.
  • As soon as azaleas and camellias have finished flowering, apply an acid fertilizer at the rate recommended. Don’t over fertilize as azalea roots are near the surface and damage can occur. Water thoroughly after fertilizing.
  • Fertilize potted amaryllis and keep in bright light to encourage new leaves.
  • Begin summer fertilization of houseplants.


  • Spring pruning promotes healthy growth, eliminates dead wood and extends blooming for many plants. This revitalizes and stimulates new growth! A healthier plant is a lovelier plant with more blossoms, a good-looking shape and lots of natural beauty.
  • Proper tools are needed for pruning, depending on the size and type of plant. Scissors, hedge clippers, pruning shears and loppers are all handy to have for various pruning jobs. For big jobs such as cutting thick tree limbs a handsaw, Sawzall-type electric saw or even a chainsaw may be the tool for the job. Visit your local Co-op store for advice.
  • It’s now safe to cut back your Buddleia (butterfly bush). Because of our very cold temperatures this winter, severe damage has occurred on some Buddleia. These may need to be cut back harder (2-6 inches from the ground) and will regrow from the rootstock.
  • Cut back last year’s growth from perennials.
  • Prune blackberry plantings and fruit trees if not already done. Pruning promotes fruit production.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as forsythia, quince and ornamental almond after flowering. Keep the natural shape of the plant in mind as you prune, and avoid excessive cutting except where necessary to control size.
  • Prune shade trees as needed and to repair winter storm damage.
  • Remove seed heads from spring bulbs. Do not remove foliage from spring-flowering bulbs as growth is needed for next year’s flowers.
  • The butchering of beautiful crepe myrtles is going on everywhere. Banks, schools, along the highways, grocery stores … it’s like a disease! Don’t top your crepe myrtles … it makes them look stupid! Topping is not pruning! Never top a crepe myrtle or any other tree for that matter.
  • Remove flowers and flower buds on new plants to give plants a chance to be established.
  • Prune paniculata hydrangeas and hydrangea "Annabelle" (not moptop blue hydrangeas).
  • Remove winter-damaged ground covers with trimmers or shears.
  • Climbing hybrid tea roses may be pruned as soon as they complete flowering.
  • Prune, repot and clean houseplants as needed.


  • Do not water your lawn unless extremely dry. Early irrigation sets turf up as a high water user in summer.
  • Keep new trees and shrubs watered.
  • As you do your spring planting, be sure to plan how you will water this summer. Place those plants requiring the most water closer to the house.
  • Remember the pots you plant this spring will need to be watered daily this summer. Consider how much time you will have for watering each day before you plant. Hanging baskets may need to be watered as often as twice a day in the heat of summer.


  • Always read and follow label directions when applying any pesticides!
  • It’s time to begin a regular spray schedule for your fruit trees. Use an all-in-one fruit tree spray that combines an insecticide and a fungicide. Follow the schedule recommended on the label for your specific type of fruit trees. Do not spray insecticides while fruits flower in order to protect honeybees and other pollinators.
  • Keep your lawn healthy. A good lawn-care program of aerating, dethatching, fertilizing and proper watering will keep your lawn healthy and better able to tolerate some pest problems.
  • Are broadleaf weeds taking over your beautiful lawn? How bad was crabgrass last year? Get in there and fight back! There are several excellent products on the market today that will control a wide range of lawn weeds. Your local Co-op store has the products and the expertise to make your yard the envy of the neighborhood!
  • White grubs are one of the most common lawn pests in the United States and one of the most damaging. They are the larval form of beetles. The best time to control these pests is in the spring and fall when they are actively feeding close to the surface. If you want results the active ingredient in a product is the only thing that matters … and it better be imidacloprid or thiamethoxam. Write these words down now and put the piece of paper in your wallet or purse!
  • Now is the best time to control tent caterpillars while they are small. These young caterpillars can be controlled safely (without harming beneficial insects) by spraying Bonide BT Thuricide.
  • It will soon be time for bagworms to attack junipers and other narrow-leafed evergreens. Control measures should be applied while the insects and the bags are about one-half inch in length.
  • Cultivate to control seedling weed growth … you don’t want them to seed!
  • Do not work in your garden when the foliage is wet to avoid spreading diseases from one plant to another.
  • If you had black spot on your rose foliage last year, begin spraying with a fungicide now.
  • Botrytis is a fungal disease causing blackened spots on buds, leaves and stems of many perennials including peonies. If you noticed this disease on your peonies last year, use a fungicide for prevention now.
  • Rake away old foliage from iris and dispose of it. Eggs of the iris borer overwinter on this old foliage and you must get rid of the debris now before the eggs hatch.
  • Bait or hand pick snails on an overcast, damp morning. Don’t let them get a foothold on your garden.
  • Check new tender growth for aphids. A few can be tolerated, but large numbers should be controlled.


  • Review entries to your 2013 garden journal. If you don’t have one, start one now.
  • Make sure your garden beds are not too wet. Soil should crumble instead of forming a ball when squeezed. If it’s been raining and the soil is saturated, you’ll have to postpone your gardening for a bit longer.
  • Cultivate to control weeds and grass, to break crusty soil and to provide aeration.
  • The first hummingbirds begin to appear this month in parts of the state. Clean the feeders and hang them for the "early birds."
  • If you haven’t already, have your mower serviced and blade sharpened before it’s needed. Next time, do this earlier before the rush.
  • Remove mulch from strawberries, but consider having row cover fabric handy just in case you need to protect the blooms from a late frost.
  • Remove any protective winter covering you provided for roses such as mulch, compost or specialized rose cones. Keep the covering nearby in case of late freezes.
  • Harden off transplants started indoors earlier by gradually exposing young plants to outdoor conditions of wind, sunlight and lower moisture.
  • Remove grass from base of young trees and shrubs to prevent lawn mower and line trimmer damage. Mulch to conserve moisture, to keep cool in summer heat, to control weeds, maintain soil moisture and to give a neat appearance. Pine straw is ideal mulch.
  • Turn the compost pile as often as you can for a wonderful amendment to your garden soil!
  • Divide perennials.
  • Harvest asparagus until spear size decreases to the size of a pencil.
  • Herbs are a charming and helpful addition to the garden, both for their culinary uses and their fragrant, attractive presence. Check out Bonnie’s herbs at your local Co-op store!
  • Do not move houseplants outside until night temperatures remain over 60 degrees.
  • Remove winter dust from leaves of houseplants by gently rinsing with room temperature water.
  • Leach excess fertilizers from houseplants’ soil with water.
  • Propagate houseplants by cuttings or divisions.
  • Spring can be a crucial point in time for songbirds. They have just flown from who-knows-where during migration and now they have to lay claim to breeding territory, mate, build a nest and then care for their babies. Natural sources of food may not yet be available or easily accessible. Keep the feeder full!

Aw, Shucks

Scott Rikard explains that fall is typically the most popular time of the year to eat oysters as that is when they are at their peak flavor and quality.

Alabama could be as well known for its farmed oysters as its catfish industry.

by Anna Leigh Peek

When it comes to aquaculture, Alabama may be known for its catfish production, but with the efforts of faculty and staff at the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory Alabama may soon be known for its farmed oysters.

Off-bottom oyster farming aimed at the premium half-shell markets in the United States, until recently, has primarily occurred along the Atlantic Northeast and in the Pacific Northwest. The Gulf Coast has been known for volume production of oysters from wild harvest or extensive bottom farming targeting less valuable shucked product or volume half-shell markets. But storms, drought and predator concerns in recent years have led to less consistent supplies of bottom-harvested oysters. This has presented an opportunity to establish a niche market for off-bottom farming aimed at the premium half-shell market.

According to Dr. Bill Walton, research professor and Extension specialist at AUSL, oysters farmed off-bottom are high-quality, single oysters.

"There has been somewhat of an oyster renaissance the last few years, many restaurants are starting to have special oyster menus like they have for wine selection," Walton said.

Oysters grown on the bottom in the wild often are stuck together in clumps and must be broken apart when harvested. These oysters are typically sent to shucking houses where they are sold in large containers that can be found in your grocery store or are sold to restaurants for cooking purposed in entrées like fried oyster dinners or po-boys.

Each long-line cage can hold about 75 oysters. The average lifespan of the cage is 5 years. These are best suited for smaller oysters. Oysters take between 9-12 months to reach harvestable size. Some producers harvest year-round and others harvest seasonally.

"Farmed oysters are a niche market; it is not about producing truckloads, it is more about producing a high-quality product for the half-shell raw market and trying to get top dollar for it," explained Scott Rikard, shellfish hatchery manager at AUSL.

Researchers at Auburn University like Walton and Rikard are promoting the practice of using the off-bottom production methods. By raising the oysters in bags and cages suspended off-bottom and up in the water column where they are able to flourish and produce a more desirable and consistent product for the high-end raw market.

Previous attempts in the early 1990s in Alabama to farm oysters were fraught with problems associated with fouling organisms such as barnacles, mussels and seaweed. The rich prolific waters of the Gulf promote the growth of the fouling organisms and, at the time, there was no easy way to control the fouling on the gear and the oysters. The bags had to be lifted onto a boat and power washed – a very labor-intensive, time-consuming and costly process.

But new advances in gear technology have greatly aided fouling control efforts. Two gear types promoted by the Auburn researchers - the adjustable long line system and floating cage system - allow the oysters to be brought above water once a week for a few hours. The oysters are able to withstand being out of the water for short periods of time, but recently set fouling organisms growing on the gear and oysters are killed by drying in the sun. It takes just a few hours to raise the gear and lower the gear each week, and has dramatically reduced the labor required for oyster farming according to Rikard.

Walton sees shellfish production as being very sustainable.

Left to right, long-line systems like the one shown here are typically 100 yards in length. The baskets are clipped to lines below the water so they stay submerged until they are brought above water to kill foul growing on the cages. Floating cage systems are best for larger oysters and each cage can hold around 150 oysters. They are anchored to the bottom and are flipped once a week to expose the foul to sunlight.

"We do not have to feed, medicate or fertilize the oysters. We essentially take advantage of Mother Nature; she provides the food and flavor to the oysters while the power of the sun controls fouling on the product. Phytoplankton in the sea serves as their food. As land continues to be taken up and we look to ocean farming, shellfish will be a great commodity that can be sustainably produced in our coastal waters," Walton explained.

Seeing as oyster farming does not require a lot of inputs, it might sound cheap and easy to go into the oyster business; however, equipment, labor and permitting cost can be barriers to entry into the business, so not just anyone can do it. Also, because oysters live in water, you must have access to the water and you must have an interest in working on the water.

Those working at the AUSL in Mobile County are looking at off-bottom oyster farming as a way to add new opportunities for coastal residents, bring in revenue and create jobs. Walton has started a program to train those interested in starting oyster farms. Through a National Sea Grant, the Oyster Farming Fundamentals Training Program was established offering 15 hours of coursework and hands-on training.

Those program participants have the opportunity to experience oyster farming from the hatchery to harvesting, spawning to assembling gear. Each participant is loaned a 100-yard run of gear and is responsible for raising approximately 25,000 small oysters. This allows participants to really see if they want to invest in oyster farming.

"Out of the nine participants we had in the first program last year, two realized it was not for them while the remaining seven are looking to establish their own farms in the near future," Walton said.

AUSL is working with the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama to foster the program. Participants in the program are required to be Mobile County residents; this ensures, when hurricanes and severe storms are coming, the caretakers are nearby to secure the equipment. Also, priority is given to those have been involved in the seafood business in 3 of the last 5 years.

Finally, they are looking for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit. The wild harvest of oysters has been a tough industry for fishermen over the last few years and not reliable enough for a full-time venture. However, participants who complete the program have the opportunity to start their oyster farms on 2 acres of Auburn’s enterprise area located in the Mississippi Sound. This reduces some of the hurdles of waterfront acquisition and permitting costs associated with starting a farm.

Taking part in the program allows for gaining valuable experience, versus going it alone.

According to Rikard, "The training program allows you to see the proper way to establish a farm, handle the gear and oysters, and potential problems you may face up front before deciding to get into the business."

Alabama currently has four operational farms that are permitted and are harvesting this season. There are 6 acres currently in production with all the producers planning to expand. Two of this year’s program participants are in the process of obtaining permits to go into the oyster farming business. According to Walton, production this year was around 500,000 oysters in the last season. With the new growers starting and the first class of the training program finished, he believes Alabama may potentially raise 1 million oysters next year.

"This method is not intended to compete with the wild harvest of oysters from public reefs. Off-bottom oyster farming adds another option for the seafood industry that can create jobs and support local businesses. Alabama is currently number one in the Gulf region for off-bottom oyster production and there is still room for growth," Walton said.

If you need another reason to head to the Gulf Coast and order a dozen on the half shell, now you have one. You can enjoy your oysters knowing it is extremely possible that your oysters were raised right here in Alabama’s coastal waters and are supporting local economies along the Gulf Coast. Oyster farming is a new, but bright, spot in Alabama’s $70.4 billion dollar agricultural economy.

Anna Leigh Peek is a freelance writer from Auburn.

Being Prepared in a Different Way

by Suzy Lowry Geno

Leroy the rooster died this past week.

At the ancient age of 11 we knew his time was limited.

For the past few months, I had been catching him every night and placing him atop an empty cage in the bunny barn because he had gotten too old to get to his roost of safety outside.

During the last week of his life, I carried him in each night and placed him in a clean bunny cage filled with hay for warmth.

Leroy was a special rooster (those who know me personally and all my sweet readers of this column are probably shaking their heads because they know ALL my animals are SPECIAL to me!).

But Leroy had an unusual beginning.

In the early 2000s, a man regularly bought fertile eggs from me to hatch in an incubator at his farm.

One week, I was lamenting to him that my broody Easter-egg hen had failed to hatch the five eggs she had been setting on for more than a month in a box on a shelf in my carport.

He returned late that afternoon with 5 day-old baby chicks. We carefully removed the eggs from underneath the hen once it became dark and substituted the day-old chicks.

Talk about a happy chicken! Those were HER babies and she protected them, taught them and evidently loved them as they traveled all over this farm eating bugs, worms and grass. Leroy was one of those chicks! A fertile egg from here and hatched elsewhere, but then brought back here to lead a happy rooster life.

Most of my hens go inside their sturdy coops every night. But Leroy was raised in the yard so he never learned to go inside.

My late husband Roy, always an extremely early riser, would go outside every morning about 4 a.m. and sit on the carport until daybreak. Leroy learned that routine very quickly!

Roy would carry a piece of loaf bread outside every morning and sit there and thump little pieces to Leroy until Leroy had eaten it all. If Roy failed to go outside, Leroy would travel from the carport to the back door and back to the carport repeatedly crowing until somebody came outside and gave him his treat!

Roy was the one who named the rooster Leroy and the name stuck.

Leroy outlived Roy by about 18 months. And while I admit I cried when I found Leroy in his cage that morning, it was hard to mourn him when I can see his offspring running all over the farm. One of his sons is colored exactly like Leroy and is so old himself he has a few gray feathers!

Living on a homestead or a farm has made me not more comfortable about death but perhaps more assured and at peace of how death is just an extension of our lives.

Most folks who know me know I am somewhat of a "prepper." And I’ve even written articles for this column about the importance of having extra food, essentials such as medication and more saved in your home (and your vehicle) to be prepared to take care of yourself and your family members if something happens.

The snowstorms in January and February of this year were good examples of why you should have a "go" kit in your vehicle (just ask some of those folks who were trapped in their vehicles on the interstate for hours because of the ice and snow) or in your homes. Even a few energy bars, some bottled water and a warm blanket can make a huge difference.

And I’ve told here before of how having food stockpiled in our pantry saved the day when Roy had his two heart attacks and I couldn’t leave him to go to the store and had little money when I went!

But there are a few other ways we should all be prepared for that many folks don’t think about until it’s too late.

I am not a financial planner and certainly not an attorney, but maybe me telling a little of my personal story will help somebody get ready and not be in the same predicament.

Most folks don’t like to think about their own deaths. We kind of want to think we’re going to live forever, don’t we?

But unless it’s the day for the Lord to come sailing through the clouds at the end of time, each and every one of us ARE going to die.

If you love your family enough to stockpile food, medicine and other essentials to have in case of an emergency, these next steps are equally important.

When my mama neared the end of her days, she thought she was pretty prepared and what she had done made a big difference.

She had signed a "Living Will" or an "Advanced Healthcare Directive."

I cared for her here on the farm until about six weeks before her death. Then she was placed in a nursing home less than a three minute drive away. I fed her lunch and supper every day.

When I walked in there to feed her lunch about two days before her death, nurses were bustling around her because she’d had a massive stroke. They wanted to take her to the local hospital. I asked why and they began telling me all the procedures they would be doing to her.

These were not procedures she wanted and she’d signed a legal paper saying so.

A quick phone call to her doctor and she was allowed to die with dignity as she had wanted, without being moved or further prodded and poked.

She died with me stroking her arm and simply stopped breathing.

There was other legal paperwork she hadn’t done that would have made the next few months a lot easier.

So Roy and I not only signed Advanced Healthcare Directives, we prepared new wills and prepared Powers of Attorney so each of us could act for the other in case of emergencies.

Less than two months after getting my mother’s "estate" settled, Roy had two heart attacks and so began our journey of 4 years of facing death as he battled a bad heart that could not be helped by an operation and then esophageal/stomach cancer.

Each hospital and doctor honored the Directives and Powers of Attorney, even though we had prepared them ourselves, since we had them witnessed or notarized as required by Alabama law.

Roy was also allowed to die with dignity here at our home on the farm. He had told them two months before he died that he did not want a feeding tube.

We had two more months of watching old Westerns on TV before he slipped away.

I know it is better to have an attorney to prepare all the legal paperwork and that is wonderful if you can afford it. But also the Will we had prepared ourselves was honored in Blount County Probate Court.

Hospices, hospitals, senior groups and the Internet all have copies of Health Directives and Powers of Attorney you can use as your guides.

When I attended Annie’s Project this past fall through the Blount County Extension Service, a wonderful farm financial planner spoke to us and answered a multitude of questions. If you have a large farm or even a small homestead and can afford the small fee to talk with someone like that, you can rest assured your wishes will be carried out legally and for the good of your family after you pass away.

I love living the simple life.

When it is my time to leave this world (which is still I hope when I am at least 103 and die in the pen with my beloved goats!), I want my affairs to be in order so my children and grandchildren don’t have to worry about last minute details.

So this week when you buy that extra can of meat (or better yet can up some of your own home-grown beef or pork), buy those extra rolls of toilet paper for your pantry and that extra box of ammunition for your gun safe, think about these final legal papers you need to prepare.

You can have an extra bit of peace of mind. And peace and contentment are what the simple life is all about.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at


Consuming Raw Milk Deserves Informed Decision Making

by Angela Treadaway

As a regional Extension agent in Food Safety, I get several calls a month on the safety of drinking raw cow or goat milk so I felt it really necessary to do an article on this. My sources were from Dr. Jean Weese, our food safety specialist at Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and the Center for Disease Control. There are many video-taped personal stories available on the CDC website ( to watch about people who have gotten sick or whose children have been very sickened from drinking raw cow or goat milk. The danger is very real and much research needs to be done before making the decision to drink or give to your young child, whose immune system cannot fight off the type of bacteria that might be lurking in raw milk. Please, as a parent, make the most informed decision possible before giving your young child raw milk.

"It is important to know that milk can be a very efficient home for bacteria and other germs," Weese stated.

When milk is pasteurized, some bacteria remain in it, but the disease-causing ones are killed. With milk being pasteurized so quickly and then cooled down even quicker, there is very little change in the nutrition value. The bad bacteria far outweigh the good bacteria in raw milk.

"Back to nature" - that’s what many Americans are trying to do with the foods they buy and eat. They are shopping at farmers’ markets, picking organic foods at their grocery stores, participating in food cooperatives (or co-ops), and some are even growing their own food. Many people are trying to eat foods produced with minimal processing.

However, milk and milk products (including certain cheeses, ice creams and yogurts) are foods that, when consumed raw, can pose severe health risks. Milk and milk products need minimal processing, called pasteurization, which can be done by heating the milk briefly (for example heating it to 161 degrees for about 20 seconds), to kill disease-causing germs (e.g., Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Campylobacter) that can be found in raw milk.

Before the invention and acceptance of pasteurization, raw milk was a common source of the bacteria causing tuberculosis, diphtheria, severe streptococcal infections, typhoid fever and other foodborne illnesses. These illnesses killed many people each year, especially young children. In the 1900s, many mothers recognized this risk and would boil milk (bringing it to a temperature of 212 degrees) before giving it to their infants and young children.

Many studies have shown that pasteurization does not significantly change the nutritional value of milk – pasteurized milk is rich in proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients. Heat slightly affects a few of the vitamins found in milk - thiamine, vitamin B12 and vitamin C, but milk is only a minor source of these vitamins.

Please go to the CDC website and read all about how to make the best decision about drinking raw milk and how the danger outweighs the benefits that a lot of people are thinking they gain from not pasteurizing milk. It is against the law in Alabama to sell raw milk of any kind for human consumption. Here is the website:

For information on upcoming programs and food safety issues you may have, please visit our website at or contact your local county Extension office and ask to talk with one of our food safety/preservation/preparation regional agents.

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.

Bucking the Trend

Alabama Sheep and Goat Numbers Reverse National Trend

by Robert Spencer

Our friends at National Agricultural Statistics Service, Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture released new estimates earlier this year on national and state sheep and goat inventories. The overall downward trend continues, as it has been for several years, whereby many state inventories are at 2007-2008 levels. Alabama reversed the trend, but inventories reflect years gone by. Good news for sellers is market prices increased significantly during February into early spring.

Sheep and lamb inventories in the United States on Jan. 1, 2014, totaled 5.21 million head, down 2 percent from 2013. Breeding sheep inventory decreased to 3.88 million head, down 2 percent from 3.98 million head. Ewes, 1-year-old and older, at 3.07 million head were 2 percent below last year. Market sheep and lambs totaled 1.33 million head, down 2 percent. Market lambs comprised 94 percent of the total market inventory. Twenty-five percent were lambs under 65 pounds, 11 percent were 65-84 pounds, 24 percent were 85-105 pounds and 34 percent were over 105 pounds. Market sheep comprised the remaining 6 percent of total market inventory.

Goat inventories in the United States on Jan. 1, 2014, totaled 2.76 million head, down 2 percent from 2013. Breeding goat inventory totaled 2.26 million head, down 3 percent. Does, 1-year-old and older, at 1.69 million head were 3 percent below last year’s number. Market goats and kids totaled 500,000 head, up 2 percent.

Kid crop for 2013 totaled 1.74 million head for all goats, down 3 percent from 2012.

Meat and all other goats totaled 2.28 million head on January 1, 2014, down 2 percent from 2013. Milk goat inventory was 355,000 head, down 1 percent.

Alabama & Tennessee sheep and goat inventories: For the first time in several years, Alabama and Tennessee sheep and goat inventories have reversed the national trend and actually increased. Sheep inventories actually increased in Tennessee; Alabama does not inventory sheep, so we have no idea regarding their trend in sheep. Alabama meat and other goat inventories actually increased by 42,000 in 2013 to 49,000 in 2014; a 17 percent increase. Milk goat inventories in Alabama remained the same at 35,000. Tennessee meat and other goat inventories increased from 114,000 in 2013 to 120,000 in 2014. Other neighboring states (Mississippi, Georgia and Florida) followed the national trend and showed decreases in meat and other goat inventories.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Released January 31, 2014, by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Information can be found at:

Cherry Picking

by Corky Pugh

Oddly enough, the fish and wildlife realm, based in the scientific approach, is occasionally fraught with "cherry picking." Cherry picking is the act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. According to Wikipedia, "It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, and may be committed intentionally or unintentionally."

Even though sound science - and good sense - demand that one objectively consider all the available facts, sometimes the facts are ignored, selectively used or twisted in order to advance this agenda or that agenda.

According to Nate Dickenson, author of "Common Sense Wildlife Management" and highly-respected wildlife biologist, "Wildlife management can, and of course should, be conducted in an objective, common sensical manner and be recognized as a noble, professional and scientific field. If not, the spoilers who generally have little respect for objectivity and the scientific method, who may feel the best use of data is to manipulate it, who tend to become strictly political animals, who are unwilling to stand up for what they know is right and who at times beat on those who are professionally successful, will prevail."

Through the years, even some people in the field of wildlife science have cherry picked from none other than the father of modern wildlife management Aldo Leopold. Leopold taught that disturbances in the forest, be they timber harvest, fire or major weather events benefit wildlife habitats and populations. Yet, some have chosen to ignore this basic premise, especially as it applies to timber harvest.

Leopold also stressed the importance of managing wildlife resources through the people, and acknowledged the difficulty of doing so.

He wrote, "The deer are the easy part. The hunters are the difficult part."

In the forestry profession, Gifford Pinchot, the acclaimed father of professional forestry, taught his fledgling students at the Cradle of Forestry near Asheville, N.C., that, in order to manage the forest, they must engage the people. To this day, there are some who refuse to acknowledge this basic precept, ignoring the fact that most of the forestland and wildlife habitat in our part of the world is owned by small, non-industrial forest landowners.

The whole business of turkey seasons is a recent, close-to-home example of cherry picking. The accepted body of science on the topic says that gobbler-only fall seasons have no appreciable impact on turkey populations or on spring hunting opportunity. Yet, proponents of closing Alabama’s fall season claimed there was not sufficient data to support continuing the fall season.

To quote preeminent turkey biologist Dr. James Earl Kennamer, Chief Conservation Officer of the National Wild Turkey Federation, "There is no scientific basis for this action since hunters can choose to kill their gobblers in the fall or spring. It is their choice. Given that this will change a half century or more of tradition, I feel the public should have had an opportunity to provide input. Eliminating a season like this takes away from the opportunity to hunt. If our hunters don’t protect our traditions, who will?"

The unnecessary elimination or reduction of fall turkey hunting opportunity not only erodes this tradition but has a negative economic impact in the affected areas. Thankfully, legions of fall turkey hunters, as well as county commissioners and other public officials, weighed in on the issue to prevent total loss of fall seasons.

The worst form of cherry picking ignores established, proven science, attempting instead to reinvent the wheel to suit a given agenda. Claims that the State of Alabama lacked sufficient data one way or the other to support continuation of fall seasons in the remaining six counties fall squarely in this category. For an entertaining and incisive account of this, read Tom Kelly’s chapter "Et Up with the Dumbs" in his latest book, "A Matter of Context."

More often than not, cherry picking like this results in dividing groups of hunters into competing factions, pitting one against the other. This is exactly the opposite direction from where we should be going. During this era of relative abundance, we should all be doing all we can to promote unity and harmony among the community of hunters.

The setting of seasons and methods regulations based on what the majority of hunters do is particularly dangerous. The potential implications for minorities like archery deer hunters, small game hunters of all kinds, those who choose to hunt with shotguns instead of rifles and others are catastrophic. This narrower and narrower tunnel bodes poorly for the future of hunting.

As an avid spring turkey hunter, it is easy to fall into the logic of, "If a turkey is killed in the fall, the one absolute certainty is he ain’t going to be there to gobble in the spring."

However, this is the kind of gross over-simplification that ignores the far more complex set of variables affecting turkey populations and hunting opportunity.

According to Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ publication "The Wild Turkey in Alabama," "Fall hunting for gobblers is scheduled in a few counties with a historical fall hunting tradition. Interestingly, the first established legal turkey seasons in the nation were in the fall season only. Alabama was the first state to experiment with a spring season in the 1950s, which, since implemented, has surpassed the fall season in hunting popularity in the state."

Steve Barnett, one of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ 45 or so excellent wildlife biologists, is co-author of "The Wild Turkey in Alabama." As the State’s top turkey biologist, Barnett combines impressive educational credentials with many years of on-the-ground experience in hands-on wildlife management. His book is available for free download at For landholders, turkey managers and hunters, it is a highly-valuable reference.

For more about Tom Kelly’s book "A Matter of Context," go to

Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.

The Hunting Heritage Foundation is an Alabama non-profit organization established in 2011. To see what HHF stands for, go to the website at You can write to us at P. O. Box 242064, Montgomery, AL 36124, or email

Co-op Manager’s Aid Acknowledged by ALFA

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell, left, recognized Farmers Cooperative General Manager Todd Lawrence of Live Oak, Fla., at Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s annual meeting in Montgomery Feb. 26, 2014. Parnell thanked Lawrence for his assistance to Alabama poultry farmers during the recent propane crisis. Lawrence requested and received permission from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan to be able to bring propane across the state line. Lawrence and his employees hauled about 70,000 gallons of propane to help poultry farmers.


by Jimmy Hughes

I continue to see several cases of coccidiosis this spring. These signs include dark bloody diarrhea, rapid weight loss and in severe cases death. In less severe cases, the weight loss and reduced rate of gain causes losses of $100 million annually in the cattle industry.

To control coccidiosis, you have to either implement a preventive program or a treatment program. The drugs recommended for prevention will not treat cattle for coccidiosis and vice versa. While ionophores such as lasalocid (Bovatec) and monension (Rumensin) are effective preventive programs, amprolium is the first and best selling coccidiosis treatment in cattle caused by Eimeria bovis and E zurnii.

Left to right, Top to bottom, 10 oz. pellet and 10 lb. powder Corid.

Corid (amprolium) is available at your local Quality Co-op in a variety of products. You can buy the product in the liquid form and use it as a drench or in water; a powder that can be mixed in water or used as a drench; or in a product that can be mixed with feed. The recommended treatment program is for five days and to follow all mixing directions on the label of the product.

If you feel your cattle are showing signs of coccidiosis, I would recommend considering these products as your most effective way to treat coccidiosis.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at 256-947-7886 or

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

Corid is a product of Merial

Corn Time


Don’t Forget the Minerals

by Jimmy Hughes

As cattle producers enter the spring, they do so with great anticipation of a successful year. With the wet and record cold temperatures we had this past winter, I am seeing more cows than average in below-ideal body condition going into spring and summer. While good quality forages and warm weather will help improve body condition, I am still concerned about these thinner cows cycling and rebreeding in a timely fashion. With record cattle prices expected to continue, it is very important that, as a producer, you get as high a conception rate as possible in your cattle. An area I feel is often overlooked and ignored going into a summer with good grass is a proper mineral and vitamin supplementation program. The lack of a good quality, highly available mineral and vitamin supplement can have a detrimental long-term effect on your cattle herd in the areas of reproduction and immunity.

Mineral and vitamin supplementation is essential for acceptable performance in cattle. When considering a complete supplement, we must understand what makes up a complete supplementation program. Minerals are broken into two categories: macro and micro.

Macro minerals make up the largest percent of needed minerals because they also make up the largest percent of the mineral composition in the animal’s body. The macros are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium and sulfur.

The micro minerals make up the smallest portion of a mineral supplement because they make up the smallest amount in the mineral composition of the animal. Micros are copper, cobalt, zinc, iron, selenium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum and fluorine.

When selecting the best minerals for your operation, you need to consider two important factors. The first is the type cattle you are producing. The requirements for cows will differ from those of stocker calves, and you need to plan your mineral program accordingly. Another major factor is knowing what they are getting from the forage.

The use of poultry litter is playing a major role in creating a new set of nutritional disorders when it comes to mineral utilization and absorption. If you are or have used poultry litter as a fertilizer source, I would encourage you to take forage samples of your grass and hay. We are finding producers who utilize poultry litter have an increase in milk fever in their cow herd. This is coming from a problem with the calcium and phosphorus levels in the litter. A soil sample will not completely provide us with the information needed to develop a good mineral program. Just because the soil samples say one thing, this does not assure you that the forage is taking that up from the soil. This is why the forage sample is important as well.

Now, let’s look at the role each of the macro minerals play in the overall health and well-being of the animal.

1. Calcium is very important in bone and teeth formation, nerve function and milk production. It is one of the less expensive ingredients in a complete mineral mix. What this means is the higher the calcium level in the mineral the expected cost of the mineral would be less. Calcium and phosphorus also work hand in hand in absorption and utilization. There must be more calcium than phosphorus in the overall diet of the animal or phosphorus will bind calcium making it highly unavailable in the cow’s diet. A good mineral supplement will run between 15-18 percent calcium.

2. Phosphorus is very important in the formation of bone. It also plays an important role in reproduction and proper cell balance. Phosphorus is an expensive ingredient in most mineral supplements and will be at sub-standard levels in minerals that are lower priced to the producer. Phosphorus levels should run from 4-8 percent in good-quality supplements.

3. Sodium is very important as a major cation of extracellular fluid where it is involved in osmotic pressure and acid-base equilibrium, preservation of normal muscle cell irritability and cell permeability. Salt provides both the sodium and chlorine going into a mineral supplement. Salt is also relatively inexpensive and should go into the supplement at the rate of 20-25 percent.

4. Chlorine is a major anion involved in osmotic pressure and acid base balance along with aiding in the digestion process. Like sodium, chlorine is added to most supplements in the form of salt.

5. Magnesium is very important as an enzyme activator primarily in the area of energy production. It also plays a key role in the prevention of grass tetney during the spring. It is an expensive ingredient in the formulation of a mineral supplement. Magnesium is very bitter and when fed at high levels during non-grass tetney times can lead to a decrease in consumption, leaving your cattle deficient in other minerals. Most minerals will be at least 2 percent magnesium and up to 14 percent magnesium in high magnesium mineral supplements. Pay extra attention to the magnesium and phosphorus levels in minerals this year. Some mineral companies might sacrifice one of these two minerals in a cost-cutting effort.

6. Potassium is a major cation of intracellular fluid where it is involved in osmotic pressure and muscle activity.

7. Sulfur is very essential in the synthesis of methionine and cysteine, sulfur-containing amino acids, the building blocks for protein. Sulfur also plays a key role in tissue respiration and serves as a component of biotin and thiamine.

Here is a quick overview of the micro minerals and their functions:

1. Iron is very important in blood formation and cellular respiration.

2. Copper is very important in hemoglobin synthesis, enzyme systems, maintenance of nerves and hair pigmentation. Alabama is a copper-deficient area and research is available promoting the increased levels of copper in mineral supplements. I would look at a mineral supplement that is at least 1,500 parts per million copper.

3. Zinc is very important in immunity along with hoof integrity. Zinc is also important in the development of bone and hair.

4. Manganese is utilized as an enzyme activator for growth, reproduction and cholesterol metabolism.

5. Cobalt is a component of B vitamins and is needed by rumen bacteria for growth and reproductive performance.

6. Selenium is regulated by the FDA and can only be provided at the rate of 3 mg per head per day. Any mineral supplement higher than 26 ppm selenium will have a lower consumption rate than those supplying 26 ppm in the total supplement.

7. Iodine is important in the formation of thyroxin and is also very important in immunity.

8. Molybdenum is important in microbial activity.

9. Fluorine is important in protecting teeth against decay.

As you can see all of these minerals work together to assure the producer that his cattle are performing and reproducing at an adequate level. Cattle deficient in any of these minerals may show signs of depressed immunity, slow reproductive performance, poor milk production and reduced feed efficiency. All of these areas will have a direct impact on the bottom line of your cattle herd. Remember, university research has shown the importance of ALL of these minerals to be included in the diets of cattle at a level that will meet the daily requirements of the animal. A supplement that does not include adequate levels of these minerals will have a direct impact on your cattle herd. It is also important to note that most mineral problems will show up later than sooner, meaning that when you least expect a problem you may find less calves in your pasture due to a reproduction problem. So while it might seem this would be an area to potentially save some money this year, it would cost you more in the long run than what small saving you will see.

There are some things you can do to help save cost on your minerals. Only purchase minerals meeting the exact needs of your cows. For example: there is no need to purchase a mineral high in magnesium during non-grass tetney times. I would also suggest you make sure you keep minerals out all days, assuring consistent intake and a consistent cost of less than 10 cents per head per day.

A good mineral supplement will also contain highly available sources of these minerals. A mixture of sulfates and oxides along with chelated trace minerals will be more available to your animal assuring utilization by the body. While lower available minerals might be at a lower cost, if the animal can’t utilize it then it does not matter what the cost of the mineral is. Also, remember trace mineral salt will not meet the daily mineral requirements for your cattle other than for sodium and chlorine.

I hope this information provides you some assistance in the decision-making process. Your local Quality Co-op will be glad to assist you in any manner possible to help you select the best products for your operation. If I can be of any help, please feel free to contact me at or 256-947-7886.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

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