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April 2016

4-H Extension Corner: Anna’s Famous!

Anna Montgomery wearing her chicken hat is used on the label of her Anna’s Famous Sauce.

Alabama 4-H’er’s dream of marketing her own BBQ sauce becomes reality.

by Donna Reynolds

For Anna Montgomery, her Alabama 4-H career opened the door to her own food business. A successful Marshall County 4-H Club member for 10 years, she competed in Chicken-Que nine out of 10 years and won first place at every level except for one year when she took home second place at district roundup. She won third place in Turkey-Que in 2008 at the national Poultry and Egg competition and, at the 2010 national competition, she placed fourth in Chicken-Que.

Montgomery’s Famous Barbecue Sauce

Montgomery first created the sauce for her chicken in 2003.

"It was something my family came up with so I would stand out in competition," she said. "Plus, I wanted something that I really liked. Marketing my own barbecue sauce has always been a dream. My family has been involved from day one and they have been super helpful and encouraging. Anna’s Famous Sauce is just as much theirs as it is mine. Last year just happened to be the year we could really work on the process."

Anna’s Famous Barbecue Sauce made its retail debut in February 2016. It is available in local stores in Marshall County and for sale online.

"I cannot begin to say how proud I am to see Anna’s Famous Barbecue Sauce on the market," said Amy Burgess, a former 4-H regional agent and current Extension coordinator in Etowah County.

"As a Marshall County 4-H’er, Anna truly mastered the 4-H Chicken-Que project. She even created her own sauce recipe with a secret ingredient. Today, that sauce is being bottled by Anna and her family for local distribution. She dreamed BIG to ‘Make the Best Better.’"

Why Chicken-Que?

"The day before our County Roundup, I was informed about my options for competing. Chicken-Que stuck out to me because my dad was a certified barbecue judge with the Kansas City Barbecue Society. I had gone to a few competitions with him, so I thought participating in Chicken-Que was best for me," Montgomery recalled.

She practiced smoking chicken for the first time the night before the competition. Then, the next morning, she competed in the Marshall County competition and won first place. She was 10 years old.

Left to right, these ribbons and trophies are some of the ones Montgomery has won in Chicken-Que contests; and Montgomery cooking some chicken for a competition.

4-H’s Positive Influence

"4-H was an amazing part of my life," Montgomery said.

Beyond Chicken-Que, she competed in photography, quilting, baked foods and public speaking.

"4-H greatly influenced my character, too," she said. "I spent most of my years in 4-H doing some form of leadership in my school club, county club, and on regional and state councils.

"On top of bringing out the leader in me, 4-H also encouraged me to volunteer in and around my community. It was because of my immense community service that I was awarded full tuition to Snead State Community College"

Team Top Chick a Family Affair

In 2004, the Montgomery family – Ron, Allison, Anna, Nancy and Trent – formed Team Top Chick, largely because of Anna’s success in the 4-H Chicken-Que contests. They began competing in various Kansas City Barbecue Society-sponsored events in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. At one time they were ranked in the top 1 percent of competition barbecue teams in the nation and have won two grand championships – one in Gallatin, Tennessee, and the other in Gadsden.

Today, Anna is a graduate of the University of North Alabama, with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with a minor in Family Studies. She is in the process of applying to multiple universities to pursue a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Currently she is employed as a crew trainer for Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Donna Reynolds is the communication editor of news and public affairs with ACES in Auburn.



A Focus On Efficiency

Bob Utterback, commodity broker and agricultural economist, was the featured speaker at AFC’s Annual Meeting.

Agricultural economist Bob Utterback urges caution for farmers.

by Jill Clair Gentry

The morning after Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s 79th Annual Meeting on Feb. 24 in Montgomery, attendees gathered to hear commodity broker and agricultural economist Bob Utterback’s outlook on the 2016 market.

Utterback presented a realistic picture of struggling U.S. and world economies and encouraged farmers to be cautious.

"I don’t think he said anything that surprised any of us," said Mike Tate, newly elected chairman of AFC’s board of directors. "We all realize what we’re facing. But I think it was very beneficial. As a grower, it was a good reminder; and I think it was good for our managers to hear that presentation. It helps everybody get prepared."

Utterback’s cautious outlook stems from several factors: unstable world economies, crashing energy values, low interest rates, an increasing dollar value (decreases exports), the upcoming presidential election and stagnant demand. He advised farmers to keep their crop healthy and sell when possible – 2016 is not the year to hold out for a weather event, he said.

"It’s better to sell first and early rather than sell last and be wrong," he advised.

In times like these, Utterback instructed farmers to focus on becoming more efficient rather than adding acreage.

"Bigger is not always better," Utterback stated. "We need to make existing units more efficient rather than just getting bigger to reduce cost per unit."

Utterback encouraged attendees to invest discretionary funds into their operation.

"Buy the best planter possible, invest in irrigation or tillage where needed, and develop storage to hold your entire inventory," he said. "Learn to think like an elevator owner, not a producer."

Sam Givhan, member of AFC’s board of directors and a longtime farmer in Dallas County, said he and many other farmers in the room have been through similar economic cycles – he especially remembers tough years in the 1970s.

"If interest rates go up, it’s going to be a triple shock, especially if you’re carrying a lot of debt," Givhan said. "He had a slide that showed how crude oil and corn relate to each other. I never really paid attention to that, but it’s always been an old adage that cheap corn made cheap cattle. It was really interesting how he tied crude oil prices into corn prices."

Givhan said he agreed with Utterback’s advice to be cautious during this time, but is optimistic farmers will weather the storm.

"If people have an opportunity to lock in and cover their costs, they need to be doing it," he said. "It’s time to really be cautious and careful, in my opinion. On the other hand, we’ve had several good years price wise; so I think most people should be in pretty good shape."

About Bob Utterback

Utterback grew up on a small farm in central Indiana. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business Management with a minor in Agronomy from Purdue University and a master’s degree in Agricultural and Resource Economics with a minor in business management from Oregon State University.

After graduation, Utterback worked for Purdue University Cooperative Extension; and, in 1981, he became the hog analyst for AgriVisor Inc. a division of the Illinois Farm Bureau. In 1990, Utterback became a broker and established his own brokerage firm, Utterback Marketing Services Inc. He has also been chief market analyst for several farming publications in addition to serving as outlook economist for Farm Journal, the leading agriculture magazine in the United States, since 1993.

Jill Clair Gentry is a freelance writer from Montgomery.



A Special Time Capsule

Frankie Rogers is flanked by employees Brandye Plummer, left, and Tracie Snodgrass at Rogers Country Store in rural Dallas County.

Rogers Country Store brings a touch of yesteryear to its rural Black Belt community.

by Alvin Benn

Landmarks abound in Alabama’s Black Belt region, but a unique building far removed from antebellum houses, grist mills or Civil War battle sites has established itself as something extra special.

It’s Rogers Country Store, a relatively "new" structure just off U.S. 80 about 10 miles west of Selma. Thanks to energetic owner Frankie Rogers, it’s been keeping a familial tradition alive and well.

Historians will never compare it to Sturdivant Hall, the historic 19th century mansion-museum in Selma, but it’s a landmark just the same because of its vital location and service for those living in the area.

Some customers call it a "survival store" because it seems to have everything from soup to nuts, from needles and thread to headache powder and then some. Prices range from 5 cents for a small red and white piece of candy to $55 for a carton of cigarettes. Need an Auburn or Alabama baseball cap? They’re hanging on hooks near the register.

The store’s fame is due to the hard work of the Rogers and Washburn families. As the result of that effort, it’s as important today as it was decades ago on both sides of the busy highway that intersects with Dallas County 45 and leads to Marion on one end or Highway 22 that heads toward Highway 5 and eventually on to Mobile.

Rogers holds a photo of an old, family country store that served residents in rural Dallas County years ago.

The store does a lot more than dispense gasoline, souse, hoop cheese, bait, cigarettes, razor blades, chewing tobacco, kerosene, pickled sausages and, of course, Moon Pies and RC Colas.

It also provides a touch of yesteryear with customers dropping by in the morning to get a sausage and biscuit, a cup of Community coffee and the latest gossip. The gossip is free.

Lunch often means cheese and bologna sandwiches made by Rogers or his two employees – Tracie Snodgrass and Brandye Plummer. The sandwich usually is washed down by a cold soft drink.

The store is a time capsule, a throwback to the days of easy living out in the country – thus the name. It may not have a pot-bellied stove as stores once did before central heat and air but the friendly atmosphere makes up for that "omission."

"What Frankie does is provide vital services to this part of Alabama," said Jimmy Holliman, one of the state’s leading cattlemen. "It’s a part of our daily routine in this area."

Holliman, former president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, usually visits the store in the mornings to catch up with what’s happening. He and the owner have been friends for years and their mutual admiration is easy to see.

Rogers and his long gone relatives exemplified the importance of country store business. He and his ancestors were always respected members of their communities.

A new country store was built just after the end of World War II and did well for several years. Time eventually caught up with it and it was torn down. Rogers built the current store in 1982.

One of the services referred to by Holliman involves, free of charge, directions for harried motorists unsure of just where they are and how far they might be from their intended destinations.

One out-of-state driver thought Tuscaloosa was "just down the road" and was stunned to discover he was still about 70 miles away. Others trying to find farms get quick, courteous directions and usually buy something as a way to say thanks.

Rogers Country Store is a hustling, bustling business from sunup to just before sundown when it closes. Hundreds of customers come and go throughout the day. Some stop to examine old photographs of previous stores that adorn part of walls or table tops.

The store is also used as a "way station" where divorced couples drop their children off for the other family member to pick up. Rogers said people also leave letters, checks and cash to give to friends and relatives.

Rogers recalled the time a North Carolina businessman and his counterpart from Texas met at Rogers Country Store. It seemed like a good place to break bread … or a sausage biscuit.

Rogers has lived in Marion Junction most of his life other than time for military training and a year or so as a roustabout on an oil rig 100 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.

"You could say I’ve spent most of my life in country stores," said Rogers, who turned 65 a couple of months ago. "It’s all I’ve ever really done with my life and I’ve loved everything associated with them."

There was a time a few years ago when he decided to try something else and sold the store to someone he felt was capable of running it. That didn’t happen and Rogers got his store back after foreclosure proceedings.

An avid sports fan, he can rattle off the names of coaches and players who’ve passed through his store. Pat Dye is an occasional visitor. So are former players with fond memories of stopping by for a cold drink on a hot August day.

His store will never rival "modern" convenience store operations with bright lights and neatly lined off parking spaces. Rogers Country Store has a big parking lot with vendors and customers each vying for places to pull in as close as they can get to the front door.

Rogers has seen country stores come and go through the years and his business acumen help him weather a variety of economic storms that threaten the future of his operation.

"Frankie is a survivor who has adapted to changing times," said Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma. "He’s done it in a market that doesn’t always favor small enterprise."

Persistence paid off for some of Rogers’s country store competitors, but not all were able to hang in when economic times were too harsh to make it.

That’s what happened in nearby Marion during the 1930s. His grandfather lost his store as a result of a lingering Depression that lasted through the decade. He wasn’t the only one who succumbed to business pressures.

Rogers indicated that dozens of country stores have been forced to close or just tossed in the towel in rural regions of Alabama. It’s happened to a lot of them between Selma and Demopolis, but not to his store. He won’t let it happen.

He’s never taken the credit for his store’s success, preferring instead to praise loyal employees who handle the cash registers, answer questions or just provide big smiles when customers enter the store.

Snodgrass and Plummer are two of his most recent employees and they can’t say enough nice things about him.

"He’s the best person I’ve ever worked for," said Plummer. "We have a wonderful working environment and relationship at our store and Frankie is the reason for it."

When public health inspectors come around to check on things at his store, a high score of 95 to 100 is usually the result. There is one area that probably will never register at 100 percent, said Rogers.

"We won’t get a perfect score because we have a wood floor, but I’m not gonna rip it up," he said. "Other than that, we always do well when the inspectors come around."

Alabama may be the National Football Champion again, but Auburn rules the roost at Rogers Country Store where orange and blue are the preferred colors. Holliman estimates that applies to about 90 percent of Rogers’s customers.

Rural Alabama is a choice location for hunters and fishermen. Add lots of athletic talent and college coaches hunting for football recruits often drop by the store to get directions to where they live.

Former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown, once one of the best in the country, dropped by Rogers’s store and asked for directions to a potential recruit’s house. He got it within seconds.

"You could say this is the center of knowledge when it comes to helping coaches find what or who they’re looking for," Rogers said. "One coach came by with a sick dog and I helped him find a vet."

Something like that is what separates Rogers Country Store from other businesses out in the boondocks. It endears customers to owners.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.



A Success Story for Alternative Cholesterol Maintenance


by Nadine Johnson

Joan has a story to tell and she has given me the pleasure of telling it. It is definitely a success story.

In May 2015, it was discovered that she had carotid artery disease with dangerously high cholesterol levels.

From May 2015 to November 2015, she tried taking four prescribed cholesterol medications. There were adverse side effects from all four of these medications.

Following this experience, her doctor wanted to submit her case for a new drug that would have been very expensive. It would have consisted of two injections each month. Joan decided to seek an alternative method that would be of benefit in this situation. Her doctor was skeptical. (Doctors haven’t been trained this way.) However, she chose to go with alternatives.

Actually Joan’s doctor was convinced that her high cholesterol levels were hereditary. He felt she would follow in her Mother’s footsteps that would consist of carotid surgery.

As Joan reached out for alternative help, she was told, "It won’t be fast and it won’t be cheap." She was to take three products and strictly follow written instructions. These three products were Mega-chel, lecithin and a liver cleanse.

Mega-chel cleans and nourishes the circulatory system. It provides a powerhouse of nutritional support, including 100 percent or more of the daily value of 10 essential vitamins and minerals. It contains ginkgo leaves and hawthorn berries.

Lecithin is a vital cell substance for fat transport and nerve protection. It is very important for our over-all good health. The product Joan took was from soybeans.

It has been said that "when you cleanse the liver you cleanse the whole body." The liver cleanse that Joan took contained red beet, dandelion, parsley, horsetail, yellowdock, black cohosh, birch leaves, blessed thistle, angelica root, chamomile flowers, gentian root and goldenrod.

On November 7, 2015, Joan began this program. On Jan. 28, 2016, her lipid panel showed a marked improvement. Her doctor’s nurse called with this happy announcement and the doctor’s recommendation of "continue what you are doing."

Joan takes other alternatives for her general health, also. She walks 20 minutes daily and eats a healthy diet.

Anyone who wishes to do this cholesterol cleanse should follow the strict directions and have their doctor’s approval. Contact me for the directions Joan followed.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 251-644-5473, or by email at njherbal@gmail.com.



Alabama Farmers Cooperative Holds 79th Annual Meeting


CEO Rivers Myres announced another record-setting year during AFC’s 79th Annual Meeting at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center in Montgomery Feb. 24.

CEO Rivers Myres announces another record-setting year and more good news for Cooperative members.

by Jill Clair Gentry

Excellent leadership and hard work resulted in continued financial growth and success for Alabama Farmers Cooperative in 2015, the fourth-most profitable year in the Cooperative’s history.

After another record-setting year, almost 300 Cooperative members gathered at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center in Montgomery Feb. 24 for AFC’s 79th Annual Meeting. At the meeting, President and CEO Rivers Myres announced AFC’s Board of Directors had approved management’s recommendation to retire $40 million in equity from Bonnie Plants, AFC’s wholly owned subsidiary, to its cooperative members.

"In 1975, AFC purchased Bonnie Plants for $250,000," Myres said. "Over the past 40 years, you have invested millions of dollars into Bonnie to help it grow. The time has come to receive a return on your investment."

Myres explained the impact of Bonnie’s transaction with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company has allowed the company to retire 19 years of equity at one time (1976-1995).

The good news for the Cooperative members didn’t stop there.

"Chief Financial Officer Tricia Arnold and her team have worked diligently to make Bonnie Plants’ income eligible for patronage dividends to AFC’s member-owners," Myres said. "In 2016, Bonnie Plants will begin contributing a small amount of patronage with the intent to increase the percentage each year."

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Al Cheatham presented the terms of agreement for the strategic partnership between Bonnie Plants and ScottsMiracle-Gro, a deal AFC negotiated for nearly a year.

"At the end of the day, when you do these deals, it’s a cultural fit," Cheatham said. "You have to make sure your partner has the same values you have."

Myres elaborated by explaining the parallels between the two companies. The heritage of both companies runs deep: Bonnie Plants is led by Stan Cope, the grandson of company founders Livingston and Bonnie Paulk; ScottsMiracle-Gro is led by Jim Hagedorn, the son of Miracle-Gro’s founding partner Horace Hagedorn.

"Both are the best at what they do," Myres said. "Bonnie is the largest and best in the United States when it comes to growing and distributing vegetables and herbs, while Scotts is the leading marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products."

Myres said Bonnie Plants will benefit from ScottsMiracle-Gro’s strengths – the company boasts $3 billion in annual sales and invests $190 million annually in marketing, research and development.

"ScottsMiracle-Gro’s extensive knowledge of consumers will allow Bonnie to improve the success of our gardening customers as well as help us innovate new products to continue to drive sales," Myres said. "By combining the strengths of Bonnie and Scotts, we will continue to be the dominant player in garden centers for many years."

After the presentation, AFC members unanimously approved the proposed transaction.

In addition to the good news about the partnership between Bonnie Plants and ScottsMiracle-Gro, members received a positive update on the financial state of AFC and its subsidiaries.

"The state of our Cooperative is strong," said AFC Board Chairman Jimmy Newby, whose two-year term ended at this year’s meeting. "Our member cooperatives are in the best financial health in memory."

Arnold reported Fiscal Year 2015 sales of $542 million, down from $583 million in 2014. Despite the slight decline in sales, 2015 sales were the third highest in AFC’s history. The Cooperative also saw the fourth-most profitable year in its history with pretax net income of $19.5 million.

"The last two years for farmers, our member Cooperatives and AFC have been challenging, but good," Newby said. "Farmers have been challenged by lower commodity prices than have been seen in the earlier years of this decade. We were fortunate that last year saw higher-than-average yields on most crops, offsetting low commodity prices."

On average, commodity prices fell by 15-20 percent compared to FY 2014. Despite these low prices, all of AFC’s divisions were profitable in FY 2015. Bonnie Plants led the way with increased sales of 8.5 percent and pretax earnings of $31.6 million compared to $23.6 million in FY 2014.

Newby said farmers face similar and possibly more difficult challenges in 2016.

"Last year was one of our most profitable years," said Mike Tate of Madison County, who was elected as the new chairman of the board of directors. "We are headed into a tough period for farmers, but our member stores are in a strong financial position, so we look forward to working with our customers and supporting them during this time."

As Newby ended his term as chairman, he expressed appreciation for fellow members and board directors in addition to extending a special thank you to AFC’s staff, describing them as the "backbone of the Cooperative and the reason for AFC’s success."

Jill Clair Gentry is a freelance writer from Montgomery.



Antibiotic Stewardship

Antibiotics can be used at all livestock operations including dairy, beef, swine, sheep and goats.

Creating a plan for reduced and refined use

by Michelle Bufkin

Antibiotic resistance is a concern for many consumers in today’s world. The aspect that most concerns, for most consumers, is the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. We know how careful we are with antibiotics and that there is a withdrawal period for all antibiotics to keep people safe. But consumers don’t know this, so we need to inform them that we are using antibiotics safely. We also know how incredibly important antibiotics can be when treating sick animals. We need to explain antibiotic stewardship, but to do that we need to fully understand what that is.

What does antibiotic stewardship mean? For human medicine it is the right drug, at the right dose, at the right time. But as we know, human medicine is vastly different from animal agriculture medicine.

Dr. Brian Lubbers, DVM, explained that there are two parts to stewardship: identifying the problem and correcting the problem. The best definition for practical antibiotic stewardship is a continuous commitment to reduced and refined use of antibiotics. Lubbers is the director of Clinical Microbiology at Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Reduced use is pretty self-explanatory. It involves keeping animals from getting sick in the first place; this is pre-treatment. Prevention can come in multiple ways including immunity, vaccination, parasite control, nutrition, housing and even genetics. Next you need to identify the root cause for antibiotic need; this is the treatment and post-treatment stage. Then evaluate the effectiveness of management changes; this is the continuous part. If what you are doing is not working, then why continue?

The refined portion is to make sure to use antibiotics proven to either treat or control the disease. Then, once again, evaluate the effectiveness of the antibiotics to be used.

A specific antibiotic stewardship plan for your operation is vitally important, and not difficult to implement. The first step is disease prevention. Your plan should include disease-specific references, diseases that could actually occur on your operation. Then you should be specific about antibiotic selection: which antibiotic, which animals get treated, when, how long, what dosage and withdrawal time. A lot of this will be influenced by your veterinarian’s diagnosis and treatment protocol.

"Emphasize to consumers that disease prevention is part of your antibiotic stewardship plan," Lubbers said.

What is the ultimate goal of antibiotic stewardship? It is to minimize the negative consequences of antibiotic use. But why is that important? Because the negative consequences can be major. The negative consequences of antibiotic use are resistance, residues and regulations.

Let’s discuss antibiotics a little more to be able to better discuss antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are chemicals that kill bacteria. Lubbers explained that if used incorrectly those bacteria can survive to adapt in the presence of antibiotics; this is resistance. The more adaptive pressure (antibiotic use) raises the likelihood of resistance. When bacteria become resistant, infections are harder to treat. This is one reason why refined and reduced antibiotic uses are important, because if we use less antibiotics there is less adaptive pressure – meaning we can decrease antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic residues are any amount of an antibiotic above the allowed limit, residues of any drugs remaining in a carcass is illegal. In 2012, the USDA changed their testing method. They have a simultaneous screen for 53 veterinary drugs such as hormones, antibiotics, beta-agonists and anti-inflammatories. This new test can detect parts-per-billion of drugs. Lubbers further explained that as the ability to detect a compound the size of half a paperclip in an entire cow carcass.

If residues are found in animals from a specific operation more than once, then it is placed on a list on the FDA website. On this list, it has the number of offenses, which drugs and at what levels. If it continues for a certain number of times, the FDA will come to the operation and investigate what is occurring.

"We don’t have safe food because we’re missing residues. We have safe food because we have a good surveillance program, a good drug-approval process and good on-farm practices," Lubbers added.

There are multiple reasons that residues can occur. The main ones Lubbers stated were lack of animal identification, lack of proper treatment records, lack of written protocols, failure to train employees or failure to follow label directions. All of these issues can be easily resolved by creating and implementing an antibiotic stewardship plan.

The previous two consequences combine to control the last. The FDA uses residue and resistance data to make new regulations involving antibiotics. You may think that is not applicable to our state or to your operation, but, the truth is, it’s already happening. Recently, there have been numerous regulations passed down from the FDA that directly affect farmers and ranchers. These are Cephalosporin Extralabel Use Restriction, FDA Guidance 209, FDA Guidance 213 and Veterinary Feed Directive.

Lubbers explained that both Guidance 209 and 213 applied to the use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals. They essentially limited the use of medicated feed and water, and also led to the creation of the Veterinary Feed Directive.

VFD is a written, nonverbal, statement issued by a licensed veterinarian authorizing the use of a VFD drug or combination VFD in or on animal feed. This can only be in accordance with the VFD drug’s approved labeling. There also has to be a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship in place. This means that the veterinarian is familiar with the animals on the operation and the vet must be available for follow-up. Extralabel use of feed-grade drugs is prohibited. This directive is still being perfected, but it is proof that regulations are being used to prevent antibiotic abuse.

So how and why should antibiotic overuse, misuse or abuse be prevented? Because it means overall healthier animals and a safer food supply. Antibiotics are used to help treat sick animals, so they are extremely necessary. But they also have the potential to be abused. We as agriculturalists have to prevent this from occurring.

"We have to use the tools we have, to the best of our abilities, trusting that the tools will continue to improve," Lubbers concluded.

Michelle Bufkin is is a freelance writer from Auburn.




April Lawn and Garden Checklist

PLANT

  • After mid-month, once danger of frost is past, nighttime temperatures are above 50 and soil temperatures are above 60, it’s time to:
  • Transplant tomatoes and annual flowers.
  • Direct seeding of beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, pumpkin, squash and watermelon.
  • Plant Bonnie herbs.
  • Plant seeds of lima and snap beans, peppers, cucumbers, jicama, summer squash and summer melons.
  • Move summer-flowering bulbs like dahlias, lilies and gladiolus outside to their summer locations.
  • Plant basil beside or among your tomatoes. Basil is known to repel thrips, flies, hornworms and aphids. Basil also acts as a natural fungicide.
  • Sow seeds for cool-season crops, including peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets and turnips, before the heat of early summer arrives.
  • Plant Bonnie cool-season crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and onions.
  • If your space is limited, consider growing vegetables in containers. Containers require less time, water and effort than a larger garden.
  • 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.
  • Plant strawberries, blackberries and other small fruit.
  • If you want to relocate daffodils, it is OK to dig them after they have bloomed. Do not remove leaves. Replant them as you would any other transplant and allow the leaves to die down on their own.

FERTILIZE

  • It is time to feed your fruit and nut trees, vines and bushes, such as blackberries, grapes, and blueberries. (Be careful! Blueberries are very shallow rooted.) Figs, maybe the easiest fruit crop, do not need fertilizing or special care.
  • Fertilize lawns so spring rains can water it into the ground.
  • A good schedule to follow for fertilizing Bermudagrass, zoysia grass and St. Augustine grass 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, Independence Day and Labor Day.
  • 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 another 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.
  • Apply a trowel-full of wood ashes (not charcoal ashes) and one of manure or compost a few inches from the base of your peonies. If your peony refuses to bloom, it is either planted too deeply or set in a too-shady location.
  • Fertilize houseplants as new growth appears. Follow label directions.

PRUNE

  • Remove flowers and flower buds on new plants to give plants a chance to be established.
  • Complete pruning to remove dead and injured branches from trees and shrubs.
  • Prune paniculata hydrangeas and Hydrangea "Annabelle" (not moptop blue hydrangeas).
  • Cut Buddleia (butterfly bushes) to eight to 12 inches from the ground. It doesn’t take them long to fill out with fresh new growth and cutting them back will give you bigger and more abundant flowers through the season.
  • Remove winter-damaged ground covers with trimmers or shears.
  • Allow foliage of spring-flowering bulbs to ripen and yellow or brown before cutting back. Leaves make the food reserves stored in the bulbs that bring next year’s flowers.
  • Prune grape vines to remove dead or weakened limbs. Repair trellises as needed.
  • Climbing hybrid tea roses may be pruned as soon as they complete flowering.
  • Take cuttings for new plants from azaleas, carnations, chrysanthemums, fuchsias, geraniums and succulents.
  • In the spring, trees and shrubs in containers need to be repotted or root pruned every three to five years.
  • Prune, repot and clean houseplants as needed.

WATER

  • As you do your spring planting, be sure to plan how you will water this summer and how much time you will have for watering each day. Place those plants requiring the most water closer to the house.
  • Hanging baskets may need to be watered as often as twice a day in the heat of summer.
  • Consider a soil additive like Soil Moist Granules to help retain moisture in your containerized plants.

PEST CONTROL

  • Read and follow label instructions on approved pesticides.
  • Do not plant your tomatoes in the same place year after year (also don’t plant them after their relatives like peppers, potatoes and eggplants). Diseases can easily build in the soil, so make sure to rotate your crops – even on a small scale.
  • The new generation of slug baits is effective, tasty to slugs and not toxic to children, pets and wildlife. Old-style baits are based on a chemical called metaldehyde. Dogs are especially attracted to these pellets and will seek them out even if scattered around the garden. Baits developed in the last few years such as Sluggo are based on iron phosphate, a compound not really toxic to anything except slugs and snails. Iron phosphate baits will stay intact for a week or two before they break down. If you protect the bait from rain and irrigation, it will last even longer. Irrigate before applying bait to bring slugs and snails out of hiding. Timing is key to achieving the most effective control. Apply baits in the spring and early summer when slugs and snails are most active. Then apply again when egg laying starts with autumn rains.
  • Continue to spray rose varieties susceptible to black spot, using a spray recommended for fungus control every seven to 10 days. Many of the old garden roses and some of the newer ones have considerable resistance to black spot.
  • Rake away old foliage from iris and dispose of it. Eggs of the iris borer overwinter on old foliage and you must get rid of the debris now before the eggs hatch.
  • Botrytis is a fungal disease that causes blackened spots on buds, leaves and stems of many perennials including peonies. If you noticed this disease on your peonies last year, spray with a fungicide like Bonide Mancozeb, Bonide Liquid Copper or Daconil.
  • Soil purchased for use in beds, low areas and containers should be examined closely. Often, nut grass and other weeds, nematodes and soilborne disease are brought into the yard through contaminated soil sources.
  • Weed. Weed. Weed. Pull them out before they flower. It’s easy to pull weeds now while the soil is damp and gruesome later when the roots are glued into dry earth.

ODD JOBS

  • Review plans in your garden journal. If you don’t have one, start one. Sketching garden plans, taping photos, marking the date and weather conditions in a notebook will help you decide when to tackle some of your gardening chores next year.
  • Put a note-taking station in your garden shed or garage for shopping and "To Do" lists.
  • As mowing becomes necessary, be certain the blade is sharp to prevent tearing the grass tips.
  • Before you work in your garden, make sure the soil is dry enough to crumble in your hand. If it’s too wet, wait for it to dry out.
  • Edge beds and paths as needed.
  • Refresh paths as needed with bark, gravel, etc.
  • If you have tall perennials, it’s time to think of giving them a helping hand with a stake or support. Small tomato cages work for peonies and dahlias.
  • Keep the row covers handy in case frost is in the forecast!
  • Mulch garden beds 2-3 inches deep. Keep mulch away from the base of plants.
  • Turn new clay pots upside down and use them as pedestals for already mossy pots. The moss will spread more quickly and turn the new pot into an attractively aged one.
  • If you can, divide perennials before new growth appears. Once the new growth appears, you can still divide, but it just won’t be as tidy. Remember the general rule about transplanting perennials: dig those that flower in the summer in the spring and those that flower in the spring in the fall.
  • Hummingbirds begin to appear this month in the southern part of Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. Clean the feeders and hang them for the "early birds."
  • If you haven’t already, remove mulch from strawberries. You still might want to have 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.
  • Mulch ornamental shrubs 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!
  • Spring can be a crucial 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!


CHEF’S CORNER: Introducing Chef’s Corner with Chef Brian Taylor

by Brian Taylor

I am an Alabama native and have worked throughout Alabama. I have a passion for local foods and flavors. This is what has led me to being the corporate executive chef for SouthFresh Farms. Look for quarterly recipes, tips and hints from me in the coming months.

Blackened Catfish Tacos

BLACKENED CATFISH TACOS

Servings: 4 (8 tacos)

16 ounces SouthFresh Farms Catfish Fillets, thawed or fresh

2 ounces blackening spice (I like Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic)

1 ounce canola oil

Eight 6" flour or corn tortillas

Fresh cilantro and lime, for garnish

16 ounces pineapple slaw (recipe included)

Preheat cast iron or stainless skillet. Cut fillets into 8 equal portions. Coat liberally with blackening spice. Add oil to a preheated pan. Heat to almost smoking. Carefully add seasoned catfish. Cook, turning once, roughly 3-4 minutes per side. When fish is fully cooked and flakey, remove from pan and put on a paper towel to remove excess oil. While the fish rests, top tortillas with approximately 2 ounces of pineapple slaw, or to taste. Top with catfish and garnish with a few sprigs of fresh cilantro and a lime wedge.

PINEAPPLE SLAW

2 ounces mayonnaise

½ ounce sugar

Juice of 2 limes

Salt and pepper, to taste

10-ounce bag shredded cabbage or slaw mix

1 red bell pepper, diced or sliced

¼ red onion, diced or sliced

1 jalapeno, diced or sliced (for added heat, leave in the white ribs and seeds; for less, remove them)

3 ounces pineapple, diced small

Combine mayonnaise, sugar and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. In a medium-sized bowl (large enough to hold the slaw), whisk until combined. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Allow to marinate, refrigerated for at least 1 hour.

Fried Catfish Po Boy

FRIED CATFISH PO BOY

Servings: 2 sandwiches

Oil, for frying

1 loaf crusty French bread

2 ounces mayonnaise or tartar sauce

6 ounces shredded iceberg lettuce

1 tomato, cut into 6 slices

Pickles (optional)

12 ounces SouthFresh Farms Breaded Catfish Strips, roughly 6 pieces, frozen

Hot sauce (optional)

While heating oil to 350°, prepare your bread by cutting off both ends and cutting in half to create two loaves. Cut each loaf almost in half, lengthwise and toast, if desired. Spread each loaf with 1 ounces of mayo or tartar (more if desired). Layer each with half of the lettuce, tomato slices and pickles. When oil reaches 350°, fry catfish strips (still frozen) until golden brown and starting to float. Remove strips from oil and drain on paper towels. Top sandwich with catfish, drizzle with hot sauce and enjoy!

Note: Of course, you can add any other toppings you like.

Seared Catfish Fillet with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Braised Greens

SEARED SOUTHFRESH FARMS CATFISH FILLET WITH MASHED SWEET POTATOES AND BRAISED GREENS

Servings: 4

Olive oil, for cooking

4 SouthFresh Farms Catfish Fillets, thawed

Cajun seasoning

Mashed Sweet Potatoes (recipe included)

Braised Greens (recipe included)

Preheat stainless or non-stick skillet with oil until oil shimmers. Season fillets with Cajun seasoning to taste. Place into pan. Cook approximately 4-5 min per side, turning once, until fish is flakey and cooked through. Remove from pan and place atop sweet potatoes and greens.

MASHED SWEET POTATOES

Servings: 4

Salted water

4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

½ cup milk

1/3 cup butter

½ cup maple syrup

In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add potatoes. Cook until tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. With an electric mixer on low, blend potatoes, slowly adding milk – about ½ cup at a time. Use more or less to achieve desired texture. Add butter and maple syrup to taste. Blend until smooth. Serve warm.

BRAISED GREENS

Servings: 4

1 pound fresh ham hocks

¼ pound salt pork

½ cup onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 Tablespoon white sugar

6 cups chicken stock

1 pound collard greens, rinsed, stemmed and thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

In a large pot, place ham hocks, salt pork, onion, bay leaf, red pepper flakes and sugar with chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Stir collard greens into the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until greens are tender. Season with salt, pepper and red wine vinegar.

Brian Taylor CEC, CCE is the corporate executive chef for SouthFresh Farms.



Corn Time



CowPokes






Crenshaw Steer & Heifer Show Results

The Belt Buckle Classic Steer and Heifer Show, hosted by the Crenshaw County Junior Cattlemen’s Association, was held in Luverne January 23, 2016. David Daniel, an Alabama native currently residing in Georgia, served as judge. Seventy-three youth from Alabama, Georgia and north Florida registered 115 animals for the show.

Top showmanship:
Champion Senior – Grace Gullatt(Lee Co.)
Reserve Senior – Cassidy Catrett(Crenshaw Co.)
Champion Intermediate – Nathan Gullatt (Lee Co.)
Reserve Intermediate – Jewel Thompson (Lee Co.)
Champion Junior – Kayla Damlier(Washington Co., Florida)
Reserve Junior – Mary Hannah Gullatt (Lee Co.)

Heifer Show:
All Other Breeds Champion – Kayla Damlier (Washington Co., Florida), Charolais
Reserve All Other Breeds – Nathan Gullatt (Lee Co.), Angus
Brangus Champion and Reserve – Trevor Haney (Montgomery Co.)
Chi Champion – Jewel Thompson (Lee Co.)
Reserve Chi – Abbi Bedgood (Mobile Co.)
Hereford Champion – Grace Gullatt (Lee Co.)
Reserve Hereford – Mary Hannah Gullatt (Lee Co.)
Champion Maine – Lakin Whatley (Montgomery Co.)\
Reserve Maine – Adam Heflin (Chilton Co.)
Shorthorn Plus Champion – Lakin Whatley (Montgomery Co.)
Reserve Shorthorn Plus – Cameron Catrett (Crenshaw Co.)
Shorthorn Champion – Sarah Parker (Chambers Co.)
Reserve Shorthorn – Jewel Thompson (Lee Co.)
Champion Simmental – Sarah Parker (Chambers Co.)
Reserve Simmental – Aniston Bolding (Chilton Co.)
Commercial Champion – Harmon Butler (Dale Co.)
Reserve Commercial – Adam Heflin (Chilton Co.)

Top Heifers:
Overall Supreme Heifer – Grace Gullatt, Hereford
Reserve – Sarah Parker, Shorthorn
Third Overall – Lakin Whatley, Shorthorn Plus
Fourth Overall – Harmon Butler, Commercial
Fifth Overall – Kayla Damlier, Charolais

Steer class:
Winners included Madison Caylor (Mobile Co.), Aniston Bolding (Chilton Co.), Caden Dean (Coffee Co.), Gabby Stagner (Mobile Co.) and Harmon Butler (Dale Co.).
Grand Champion Steer – Harmon Butler
Reserve – Gabby Stagner
Third Overall – Wilton Pittman (Jackson Co., Florida)
Fourth Overall – Dellon Barber (Jackson Co., Florida)
Fifth Overall – Aniston Bolding

Alabama Farmers Cooperative was a major sponsor for the Belt Buckle Classic in addition to these loyal supporters of county youth: Luverne Cooperative Services Inc., First Citizens Bank, First South Farm Credit, Crenshaw County Farmers Federation, Brantley Bank and Trust, Compton Farms, First National Bank of Dozier, J. Bryce Smith Oil Co., Donald Hillburn and the Crenshaw County Cattlemen’s Association.

Daniel concluded the day by evaluating Crenshaw County animals and named Cameron Catrett’s Lim-Flex as the County Champion Heifer. Cassidy Catrett’s steer was selected as the County Champion Steer. Additionally, the girls shared Bred and Owned as well as County Bred honors with their remaining animals.

Perry Catrett, manager of Luverne Cooperative Service, Inc., serves as advisor for the Crenshaw County Junior Cattlemen’s Association. Any Crenshaw County youth interested in being involved can call 334-527-3533 for more information.




Dr. Paul Patterson to Lead Auburn’s College of Agriculture

Press Release from Auburn University

Dr. Paul Patterson has been named dean of Auburn’s College of Agriculture and Director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.

Auburn University alumnus Paul Patterson, who has served as associate dean for instruction in Auburn’s College of Agriculture for almost seven years, has been named dean of the college and director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, effective February 2016.

Auburn Provost Timothy Boosinger announced Patterson’s selection Feb. 19 following a national search.

"Dr. Patterson has an excellent connection with students, both in the classroom and in the field," Boosinger said. "His background in agricultural economics, especially in international research and marketing, will help Auburn continue its role as a leader in food production for the world. We look forward to his leadership."

In his role as dean, Patterson will report to Boosinger; as director of the AAES, he will report to Auburn President Jay Gogue. He succeeds Arthur Appel, who had served as interim dean and director since June 2015. Appel, a professor of entomology, will return to his research and teaching role in the department of entomology and plant pathology.

Patterson, an Auburn native who graduated from the College of Agriculture in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business and Economics, returned to his alma mater in June 2009 to serve as associate dean of the college. In that position, he was responsible for all instructional programs in the college’s eight academic units, nine undergraduate programs and 19 graduate programs.

In that position, Patterson oversaw the development of five new undergraduate and graduate degree programs, increased alumni engagement with the college, improved academic advising services, expanded professional development opportunities for students, worked to enhance the college’s relationship with community colleges, and led efforts to develop departmental promotion and tenure guidelines for faculty.

"All these accomplishments were realized through working with great faculty and staff," he said.

Patterson is grateful for the opportunity to move Auburn agriculture forward.

"I am honored and humbled to be selected as dean and director," he said. "The College of Agriculture and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station have very important legacies at Auburn University and across the state and nation. We are at a pivotal point in history, where we must build for the future.

"I look forward to working with the faculty and staff, our university partners and our stakeholders to strengthen the college and experiment station," he said. "It is my goal to make sure Auburn is among the premier colleges of agriculture."

After graduating from Auburn in 1985, Patterson enrolled at Purdue University and was awarded a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 1987. He spent the next two years working as a cotton analyst for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service and then returned to Purdue as a USDA National Needs Fellow in International Marketing and began pursuing his doctorate in Agricultural Economics. He completed his Ph.D. in 1994.

That same year, he joined the faculty at Arizona State University’s Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness, teaching courses in agricultural marketing, management science, and food and agricultural policy. He also conducted research on issues ranging from food marketing and industrial organization to international trade and food and agricultural policy. He was named interim dean of the school in 2006 and dean in 2007, serving in that role until returning to Auburn.

Patterson and wife, Louisa, have four grown daughters, Roxanna, Virginia, Amanda and Christine; one son, Clayton, a student at Auburn Junior High School; and one granddaughter, Ellen Olivia.

Patterson’s father, the late R.M. Patterson, was a long-time College of Agriculture faculty member who served as head of Research Data Analysis until his retirement in 1985. His mother, the late Jean Patterson, worked for many years as Auburn High School librarian.



Earl




Equine Herpes Virus Type 1

And Other Things That Go Bump in the Night

by Dr. Tony Frazier

I think about animal diseases a lot. That’s probably a pretty obvious statement since I am a veterinarian. But, not being in private practice for a long time, I have trimmed the list of diseases that cross my mind frequently. Take a disease such as canine parvovirus. Other than vaccinating my own dogs against the disease, I never really think about it. I think about diseases that we have some kind of regulatory authority over nearly every day. I think about certain foreign animal diseases that, if they enter our country, could devastate our state. Then there are those diseases we do not directly regulate, but have the potential to have an extremely detrimental effect on our economy. Those diseases come on and off my radar screen. One of those diseases is the neurological form of equine herpes virus type 1. Actually the disease is often referred to as Equine Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy. The virus affects areas of the brain and spinal cord.

If you tend to follow EHV1 outbreaks, you will be aware that there are occasional outbreaks of the disease in various locations and states around the United States. In Alabama, we have been, so far, fortunate to have escaped having a problem with the neurological form of the equine herpes virus.

EHV1 manifests itself in four ways. They are neurological signs, abortions, respiratory infection and neonatal deaths. In the past, the importance of the virus centered on the abortions associated with horses infected by the disease. According to an USDA information sheet, EVH1 meets one of the criteria for an emerging disease. It states that an emerging disease "changes in severity, type of animal that can be infected or other changes in pathogen behavior." It seems the nature and the severity of the EVH1 infection have changed. It’s possible, however, that the number of cases reported involving neurological signs has increased instead of the actual number of cases occurring. The debate on that issue will be settled somewhere down the road when more data becomes available.

Also, if you follow the cases of the neurological form of EHV1, you will know there have been cases this year in Texas, New Mexico and New York. And you will probably know the University of Georgia Teaching Hospital was temporarily closed due to having a horse with neurological signs testing positive for EHV1. While there are worse things that can happen, having to close a veterinary hospital temporarily certainly puts a kink into "business as usual." There have been several very large equine events in other states canceled because of the presence of the disease.

I know what many of you are thinking right now, so let me fill everybody else in. You are thinking, "We vaccinate every year against rhino, so why should we be concerned. It is the same virus." Well, I’m glad you asked because I asked that same question myself a few years ago when we began hearing about these outbreaks of EHM. The problem is that the vaccine seems to work well to protect against the respiratory form and abortions, but, possibly because of slight mutations in the virus, vaccinated horses are often those stricken with the disease.

The nature of herpes viruses makes them especially aggravating to deal with. Let’s leave the equine species for a minute here and think about how herpes viruses affect humans. If you have ever had shingles or know someone who has had shingles, you know the disease is caused by the virus that has been hanging around in your body since you had the chicken pox back in second grade. It’s the same deal with fever blisters. If you had fever blisters when you were a kid and still have one occasionally after some period of stress, those blisters are not caused by a new virus each time. It is the same virus that makes the big sore on your lip – usually right about the time you have to get your driver’s license renewed, so you get to be reminded about it for the next four years. Herpes viruses tend to come in and cause the initial infection of whatever their host is, and then just stick around for the rest of the hosts’ lives so they can surface again years, maybe even decades, later and wreak havoc. But as a friend of mine once asked, "What is time to a virus anyway?"

EVH1 is considered to be mostly spread by horse-to-horse contact. It can also be spread by fomites and possibly by aerosol. The distance that the virus may be spread by aerosol is not known. The virus is often spread via aborted fetuses and fetal membranes. Horses may appear perfectly healthy, yet still shed the virus.

Prevention of EHM, the neurological form of EVH1, can be prevented by using strict biosecurity. This is especially important for horses that travel to events, sales or are otherwise comingled with other horses. It is important that horses not share equipment. It is also important to make sure workers wash hands between handling equipment or horses if there is a possibility of exposure. Horse owners, especially those who attend events, should keep up-to-date on where outbreaks have occurred.

The signs of the disease are typical of most neurological diseases. Some of these signs include fever preceding neurological signs, lack of coordination, dribbling urine, loss of tail tone, posterior paresis, lethargy and becoming unable to rise. It is important for all neurological diseases in horses and other animals to be reported to the State Veterinarian so zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted between animals and man) such as eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus and rabies can be determined. EHV1 can be diagnosed by a test know as PCR from nasal swabs or through serology.

If you have questions about EHM or EVH1, contact your local veterinarian or my office. My phone number is 334-240-7253.

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.



Experience is the Best Education

by Stephen Donaldson

I just can’t help it. This time of year my thoughts always return to the time I spent as a young man working with my youth livestock project. I guess, since most of my experience revolved around show cattle, the numerous county, district and state shows always bring back fond memories of the times spent with friends. And you know, most of those friendships still exist, even 35 years later. There is nothing like being around people who share the same passion and drive. All stockmen share this bond: the bond of being truly interested in livestock production.

Much practical knowledge about raising and caring for livestock came from my participating in livestock shows. My drive to win compelled me to learn everything I could about the animal and find a way to make it be the best it could be. Fortunately, there were many teachers to guide me down the path. There were the stockmen who, through trial and error, and through success and failure, could share the wisdom they had acquired over a lifetime. The FFA advisors and county Extension agents, through experience and education, were valuable resources who helped me gain the knowledge I needed to excel.

These resources were more valuable than anything money can buy. From them, I gained knowledge as well as the ability to apply that knowledge in the field. The most important ingredient for success, however, was work … hard, relentless and consistent work. Caring for livestock successfully requires regular work. Work when all of the weather elements are against you. Work at times when you don’t feel well. It is the same for any livestock system. All of them require great amounts of work. This work requires the caretaker to give up time spent in unproductive entertainment. Most stockmen simply find joy and entertainment in their time spent tending their livestock.

An additional attribute that must be present is observation and awareness. Stockmen must be intuitive to the needs of their animals. Because animals can’t verbally communicate, we must be able to read their body language. We must be able to read whether or not an animal is sick and, if that animal is sick, be able to at least determine the bodily system affected. We need to be observant enough to determine if the problem we are dealing with, for example, is a digestive problem or a respiratory problem. Another example would be if the animal is moving at a normal gait and if it is not, to be able to determine the malady so it can be properly treated.

Though we must be able to adequately diagnose these ailments, we must also be able to determine the proper general health of an animal. For instance, it is imperative to be able to determine body condition score of cows both before calving and at breeding. We must also be able to decide how to feed these animals to get and keep them at the proper body condition for optimal performance.

Being a stockman also requires us to be cognizant of the environment in which our stock will thrive. We must be able to read forage quality and quantity with just a glance. We must pay attention to the weather to properly plan for our stocks’ survival and performance. Changing weather can take its toll on our livestock if we don’t stay ahead of it.

So, like a boy scout, stockmen must always be prepared. However, it is impossible to prepare for everything. Because it is impossible to be prepared for everything, we learn most of our lessons from the greatest teacher of all – failure. I find that most lessons I never forget are a result of a failure. Many times we fail to see the obvious and those are the hardest lessons of all. Those failures amount to the sum of experience and experience can be the greatest teacher if you are openminded enough to learn from your mistakes. A failure to check those heifers calving tonight might result in a terrible loss. A failure to go back one more time to check that sick foal may result in an irreplaceable loss.

If, in the end, we add our experience, hard work and knowledge then together we do at least have some amount of wisdom as it pertains to our livestock operations. Understand, not all operations run the same, so wisdom about your specific operation helps you to succeed.

Though being a stockman seems dire, hard and miserable, success makes it all worthwhile. You set your goals and determine your own success. Believe me, there is no greater joy than when through wisdom you accomplish your goal. You can see it on the face of that livestock exhibitor when the judge awards him/her a prize. If you don’t believe it, just go to one of these shows and look at the faces of the families who have reached their goal.

Good luck and work hard.

Stephen Donaldson is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If I can help any of you, please get in touch with me and let’s succeed together. You can reach me at 256-476-5272 or Stephd@alafarm.com.



FFA Chapters Now Available to Private Schools !

by Cindy Boyd

The Alabama Future Farmers of America has some exciting news to share! Private schools can now charter an FFA chapter. Historically, FFA has been strictly a public school organization.

Andy Chamness, education specialist in Agriscience Education with the Alabama Department of Education, said, "FFA is a wonderful way to teach agriculture and provide leadership training to our members."

FFA being offered in private schools of Alabama is a new area.

The FFA’s mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The FFA vision is for students whose lives are impacted by FFA and agricultural education to achieve academic and personal growth, strengthen American agriculture, and provide leadership to build healthy local communities, a strong nation and a sustainable world. FFA is an inter-curricular student organization for those interested in agriculture and leadership.

FFA was founded in 1928 with 33 students from 18 states. In 1929, the organization named their official colors as national blue and corn gold. Now, all 50 states and two U.S. territories have chartered members. Presently, there are approximately 629,367 student members belonging to one of the 7,575 local chapters.

Now that private schools can have an FFA chapter, the agricultural education can be offered to more students and pave the way for future biologists, chemists, veterinarians, engineers and entrepreneurs.

To find out more information on this exciting program, visit www.FFA.org. You may visit www.alabamaffa.org for more information on chartering an FFA chapter in Alabama.

If anyone has questions, they may contact Jacob Davis at ddavis@alsde.edu, or James Chamness at 334-242-9114 or jchamness@alsde.edu.

Private School Requirements for Starting and Maintaining
an FFA Chapter Charter

Private School Agriscience Education Teachers

Effective: January 1, 2016 (subject to change)

  1. The agriscience program teacher holds a valid teaching certificate in agriscience education through the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).
  2. The school offers an agriscience education program with a minimum of two courses in agriscience education from the approved Alabama Course of Study during each semester to maintain the FFA chapter as an integral part of the instructional program.
  3. The agriscience teacher maintains the FFA chapter and serves as the advisor.
  4. The agriscience program must undergo a program review (Business/Industry Certification) every five years.
  5. The FFA chapter annually submits the following by March 1:
  6. Enters chapter FFA members online: www.ffa.orgThe FFA chapter charter may be suspended according to Article III: Section A of the Alabama FFA Constitution.
    • Remits payment for those members to the Alabama FFA Association
    • Remits payment for the $100 chapter fee to the Alabama FFA Association
    • Submits an annual chapter report to the Alabama FFA Association
  7. All FFA chapters must adhere to the Alabama FFA Constitution. The Alabama FFA Constitution can be found on the "Forms/Applications" page of www.alabamaffa.org.

Items 1, 2, 3 and 4 above are to establish recognized systematic instruction of agriscience education as referenced in Article II: Section B of the Alabama FFA Constitution.

Items 5a, 5b and 5d above are references to Article III in the Alabama FFA Constitution.

Item 5c above references Article XIII: Section A in the Alabama FFA Constitution.

*The ALSDE cannot award funds directly to private schools, but local education agencies (LEAs) that receive funds from the ALSDE may contract with private schools providing services.



Finding Peace in the Outdoors

by John Howle

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33 (KJESV)

The dogwoods are blooming, cattle are lowing to their newborn calves, crappie are biting, and toms are gobbling. April is a great time to be outside in rural Alabama. If you have to spend a lot of time behind a desk or staring at a computer screen, it can sometimes be difficult to find peace. When you take a few minutes to admire God’s natural handiwork, suddenly peace of mind begins to take the place of frustrations and tribulation, and the words in John 16:33 seem to line up perfectly in your mind.

Take a Chain Saw to Chinese Imports

Privet hedge was a gift imported from China. According to Mississippi State University publications, there are various species of privet, but the one most widespread in southern U.S. is Chinese privet, introduced in 1952. It is considered one of the top 10 weeds in Alabama and Georgia, and it’s considered a Category One invasive plant in Florida. This gift has turned into a curse on fence lines and hedgerows around our Southern pastures. The privet hedge produces berries that are tasty to birds and, wherever there’s a fence line or power line birds can rest, chances are good privet hedge will germinate from the seeds in the bird’s droppings.

Left to right, if you are cutting large privet with a chainsaw, use protective headgear. A motorcycle helmet makes ideal head protection and dampens the noise of the chainsaw. Keep a one gallon sprayer full of a mixture of Remedy to spray privet stumps as soon as they are cut.

One way I work out frustration with the overwhelming amount of Chinese imports to this country is with an American-made chainsaw. I typically take 10-20 feet of fence line at a time and make the decision to clear that much privet each outing. Keep a pump sprayer tank handy and full of a mixture of Remedy. As you cut the privet hedge, spray the cut, exposed trunks to help prevent sprouts and suckering. By cutting the privet down to fence level, the privet can be managed by spraying more easily with a spray wand from the seat of your tractor.

This is a great time of year to attack the privet with Remedy while the shrubs are actively blooming and growing. It may require an additional treatment later in the season to spray the spots you might have missed. Spring and early summer when the privet is actively growing allows woody brush killer to travel to the plants’ root system. If the privet has grown into trees, it may be difficult to spray and you might want to cut them back with a chainsaw or use a dozer to clear the entire fence line and simply rebuild the fence.

One point of safety is to use head protection while cutting larger privet hedge with a chainsaw. The heavy weight of the limbs and pressure of the intertwined branches make some type of helmet necessary. If you don’t have a chainsaw hardhat, a motorcycle helmet works great and it helps to dampen the noise of the chainsaw. Spray the cut stumps with Remedy immediately after cutting. Later in the summer, if you see any re-growth or areas that survived the first spraying, you can more easily manage spraying the fence lines if the privet is at fence level instead of tree level.

Master the Mineral Question

This time of year, grass tetany is a potential threat to any herd of cattle. Your local Quality Co-op is the best source of minerals for your herd to guarantee the cattle are getting plenty of magnesium and calcium during the quick growth period of grasses. Quick growth combined with cloudy days means the grasses may be growing too fast to absorb an adequate amount of minerals in the leaf material to make sure the livestock are getting the necessary nutrients. Your qualified personnel at the Co-op will provide you with a mineral mixture to keep your herd healthy.

A come-along winch is an ideal farm tool for light towing, pulling heavy objects into place, or tightening cables or fence lines.

Come-Along for Extra Pulling Power

A hand ratchet come-along is a handy device to keep in the toolbox of your pickup. The come-along has a hook on each end and is operated by a hand ratchet lever. We have cables that go across the creeks to act as supports for attaching wire or panels to keep cows from getting out of the pasture through the creeks. If these cables need re-attaching or tightening, a come-along works well to tighten bulky items such as cable. Simply attach one end of the come-along to the cable and the other end to a stable object such as the tow hook on the front of your truck or rear bumper.

Tame the Smoke with a Tee-Pee Fire

About the only disadvantage to a campfire is the smoke that sometimes gets in your eyes if you are sitting around the fire. If you arrange your logs in a tee-pee style as they are burning, the draft of the flames carries the smoke upwards with the flames and away from the eyes of those sitting around the fire.

This April, make sure you take time away from work to experience true peace. Turn off the computers, smart phones and televisions, and enjoy God’s handiwork in the outdoors.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.



How's Your Garden?

Flowers can be used as decorations on your cake. Just make sure you don’t use anything that could be harmful if eaten.

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Made With Cake Flower

How’s this for a nice way to decorate a cake from the garden? There isn’t much work involved other than clipping a few fresh flowers and carefully placing them on the cake wherever you like. Just be sure to use flowers that aren’t harmful and that haven’t been treated with pesticides. This is not to suggest that you eat the flowers. They are primarily for decoration, but you would want to choose some that aren’t harmful. Some edible flowers include lavender, pansy, nasturtium, daylily, dill, chives, chrysanthemum, bachelor’s button, dandelion, citrus blossom, bee balm and marigold. Simply clip them from the garden and place them at the last minute so the cake is cut before the blossoms wilt.

Pots are Easy When Set Up Correctly

Plants growing in containers are easy to manage and keep handy near your door. But remember, they depend on you for soil, food and water. Give them the best so they will grow well. Always use a premium potting mix for whatever you plant in a pot because potting mixes are especially blended to provide the proper balance of air and water critical for good root growth. A container doesn’t hold water as long as the ground and will need water more often. One way to simplify watering is to set a pot up on a drip system that is on a timer so it takes care of itself. Because nutrients are often washed out of a pot through frequent watering, it’s a good idea to use a liquid fertilizer in addition to any timed-release products included in the soil when potting. If you grow palms, citrus or other tropicals, use special palm or citrus fertilizers containing iron and other nutrients needed in larger quantities by these plants.

Stretch Out Tomato Season

Enjoy tomatoes for the longest time possible by planting early and late-maturing varieties including determinate and indeterminate types. You’ll know you’re doing well if you stretch your harvest to the point where you’ll feel guilty leaving plants for vacation. Mix it up with earlier types such as Early Girl, Celebrity or Better Bush for the first harvests, and Better Boy, Big Boy, Bonnie Original, Super Fantastic, Black Krim, or Roma-types for high summer. Then there are the later big tomatoes such as Cherokee Purple, Brandywine and German Queen that will take two or three weeks longer to produce the first ripe tomato. If you keep plants sprayed with Neem this summer to help keep most insects and diseases down, and if you water steadily with drip irrigation to keep up the moisture and prevent cracking, you’ll be in tomato heaven from June until nearly Thanksgiving. You may also have a big harvest of green tomatoes to bring in before that final killing frost.

Horseradish is a pretty perennial plant and gives you a renewable source of horseradish root.

Horseradish

One of my pet peeves is how the grated horseradish I buy in little jars at the grocery store turns brown before I can use it all. Well, know I have eliminated that problem with my own renewable source of horseradish root. It’s a pretty perennial plant in my herb bed with large, coarse-textured leaves. Whenever I need a little horseradish, it is easy to dig up a piece of root and crush or chop it. I started mine from a plant I mail-ordered, but plants can also be started from pieces of purchased fresh root or "pass-along" style from another gardener. Horseradish is very cold hardy, so plant it in a place where you can leave it alone and it will live for a long time – as long as the soil drains well and it gets sun at least half of the day. A new plant needs time to grow good roots, so leave it alone until next spring for the first harvest. You can encourage bigger roots by removing some of the sprouts making new leaves, leaving just a few.

Citrus Trees Need Special Food

Whether you are growing citrus in the ground in South Alabama or in a container elsewhere, now is the time to fertilize your trees with citrus food if you have not already done so. Citrus needs a special fertilizer containing magnesium, manganese, zinc, and iron, as well as the more common nutrients found in most complete fertilizers – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Without these extra nutrients, the leaves will be yellow and the plant will not thrive, so go the extra mile and give these little trees what they need so they can produce a good crop. My potted kumquat tree has a nice growth habit and bears well. My satsuma yielded 20 very sweet, delicious fruit last year in an 18-inch pot. Although not a lot of fruit, it was so much more flavorful than store-bought because it stayed on the tree until I was ready to eat it. One great thing about citrus is that they hold their quality on the tree for weeks, getting sweeter and more flavorful. Meyer lemon will load up with blossoms and then drop many of them naturally, so don’t be spooked by that. Finding citrus in nurseries is getting easier these days, especially in the spring. Look for full, healthy trees with a good "leader" or main stem that will grow into a small trunk. With good care your tree will live for years and just get bigger and better. At some point you may even need a hand truck to move it into the garage or greenhouse for the winter. That is success!!

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.



Organic Gardening in the Deep South

Rotation and plant diversity are critical for organic gardeners.

Don’t overlook these essential hints.

by Tony Glover

About this time of year, people are in the middle of an annual malady called gardening fever and I often receive questions from novice gardeners who want to avoid chemicals and garden organically. Many of them want to know if it is possible to go chemical free in the Deep South and my answer is always the same. It is much harder, but it is possible.

The reason it is harder is primarily due to our climate, especially our heat and humidity. In general, the warmer and wetter climate favors insect and disease development. Insects that may have one or two generations farther north may have four or more generations in the South. Each new generation will be dramatically larger than the preceding generation and, therefore, more difficult to control. Likewise, many diseases are favored by high humidity and warm temperatures. Diseases are even more difficult to control than insect pests because we have very few effective organic disease control products at our disposal.

That’s the bad news, but there is some good news for any dedicated gardener willing to follow some good gardening basics. Healthy plants can withstand pests better than weak plants or even over-fertilized plants. Healthy plants start with healthy soil. Healthy soil begins with adding lots of organic matter and adjusting the pH (measurement of the acidity or alkalinity). The best pH level for most vegetables is about 6.5 which is slightly acidic. For information about soil testing, visit www.aces.edu/soiltest.

The addition of organic matter is not something you do once and forget it, because the same heat and humidity that causes pest problems, favors the organisms that decay organic matter. To keep soil healthy, you must continually add more organic matter either by growing "green manure" (cover crops) or by adding compost on a regular basis.

There are some simple things you can do to help preserve organic matter a little longer. Till the soil as little as possible because the decaying organisms work faster when the soil is disturbed. Use mulch to control weeds because mulch helps you avoid tillage for weed control and it keeps the soil moist and cool. It can also reduce soil splashing onto lower leaves and carrying disease organisms along for the ride. However, don’t apply mulch too early in the spring because it may keep the soil from warming enough for rapid growth of small roots. For the real early crops, you may want to consider black plastic mulch that warms the soil.

The best organic matter is what you have available that may be going to waste in your community. The leaves from the trees around your home and in your neighborhood are probably the least expensive material available. Start your own compost pile to convert yard waste to black gold. Check with your municipality’s waste management department and ask if they composted yard waste that is really old.

Growing your own "green manure" in unused garden space is not only a good way to increase organic matter it is a smart way to conserve the nutrients already in the soil by recycling them. "Green manure" is a term used to describe cover crops grown for their green organic matter and not as a food crop. Buckwheat, Sudangrass and sunflowers are great in the summer while ryegrass, Austrian winter pea and clover are good winter cover crops.

If you plan on growing a vegetable garden, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System has many great resources for both beginners and seasoned gardeners. Visit our website at www.aces.edu and search for information on any gardening topic.

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.



PALS: The Key is Volunteering!

Florala High School Key Club is ready to clean up in their community.

by Jamie Mitchell

The Key Club at Florala High School recently had me come speak to learn more about ways they can volunteer and make a difference in keeping Alabama a cleaner and more beautiful state. The Key Club is comprised of students who are constantly looking for ways to volunteer in their communities. They felt like the Clean Campus Program was a perfect way to make an impact in Florala!

I spoke with members of the Key Club and their sponsor Missy Zessin about starting a recycling program on their campus. Alabama PALS will send two bins for paper and plastic to help get them started. The local elementary school has a recycling program in place, so Zessin plans to partner with them to get Florala’s program up and running.

The students and I also discussed working with the local elementary school to teach the younger generation about reusing and reducing. They plan to schedule a day with the elementary students to make crafts from recycled and reused materials.

Finally, I suggested the Key Club schedule regular campus and/or community cleanups.

Congratulations to the Florala High School Key Club for making such a difference in their community!

Does your local school have a Key Club or Science Club looking for ways to volunteer and impact their community? We would love to have them become a part of the Clean Campus Program! Have them give me a call at 334-263-7737 or send me an email at Jamie@alpals.org. They can also look us up online at www.alpals.org to sign up for the Clean Campus Program online.

Jamie Mitchell is the PALS State Clean Campus Coordinator.



Putting Service First

Chris Casey, manager of Jay Peanut Farmers Co-op, proudly holds the 2015 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year award with his wife, Jennifer, and children, Anna Claire and Trenton.

Chris Casey named AFC Manager of the Year.

by Jill Clair Gentry

It takes a lot of effort and skill to make a business turn a profit in tough economic times, but Chris Casey seems to have the Midas touch no matter the circumstances.

Casey has always managed to make his Quality Co-op location profitable, and he’s even turned around several unprofitable locations throughout his 14-year career with Alabama Farmers Cooperative. His hard work and dedication to increase sales and profitability year after year led to his selection as AFC’s 2015 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year.

Truth in numbers

Being named manager of the year is about numbers – profit, growth, sales, inventory and net income are all factors – and Casey’s numbers definitely tell the story of a talented manager.

Casey began his career working to implement the Master Farm Program at all of the Co-op locations, but when a manager position opened at Fayette Farmers Cooperative, he jumped at the opportunity. In two years, he turned a Co-op that hadn’t been profitable in years into a thriving business that has done well ever since.

Casey then moved to Altha, Florida, for four years. Here he was general manager of three Co-ops. Again, he turned the stores around and they were profitable after his first year.

Since Casey arrived at Jay Peanut Farmers Cooperative in Florida six years ago, sales have tripled, and profit has increased every year. Patron equity has increased by 132 percent, and patrons have received $2.2 million in patronage during his tenure.

Chris Casey graciously accepts the award for the 2015 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year from AFC President Rivers Myres.

Great service, great business

Casey said the secret to his success is simple. It’s all about great service.

"You’ve got to service what you sell, treat your customers right, give them a good product at a good price and do what you say you’re going to do," Casey said. "Everybody’s got a price. You’ve got to differentiate yourself, and the way you do that is by treating people the way you’d want to be treated."

Pat Chesnut, who has served as credit manager and head of Cooperative Financial Services, said Casey is known throughout the company for his excellent customer service.

"He’s a great Co-op manager, and more than anything else he puts customers first," Chesnut said. "What he provides through his service and attention to the customer overrides price. He is so driven and has such a good work ethic. That’s why he’s been able to turn around stores that have not been successful in the past."

James Fudge, AFC’s vice president of management services, interviewed and hired Casey in 2002.

"Chris has been a great hire," Fudge said. "He’s one of those kinds of guy you’re grateful to work with. We’ve been able to watch him grow and season, and turn into a manager who deserves the award as much as any other who’s gotten it. He maintains an intense level of customer support, and it’s paid off for him."

Times have been tough for farmers for several years, and Casey and his team have gotten creative to help customers get the most bang for their buck. One of his strategies is to educate farmers on new products and technologies to help them stay efficient.

"When I was growing up we always went to grower meetings, and then everybody quit doing it," Casey said. "So when I got back to Jay, we started having them again, and I think that helped us sell more products. As times have changed and everything’s gotten so tight in the last six to eight years, we have to help them stay informed."

In addition to prioritizing customer service, Casey is passionate about being a good boss.

"I treat my employees like I want to be treated," he explained. "I’ve got great help. I wouldn’t be able to do this without Lisa, Mike, Ronnie, Eugene, Brent, Derrick, Justin or Bae."

Ricky Aldridge, manager of Walker Farmers Cooperative in Jasper, worked closely with Casey when he managed Fayette Farmers Cooperative and has witnessed his management style firsthand.

"He doesn’t micromanage. He gets in there with his employees, and that means a lot," Walker said. "He hires good people, and he doesn’t just give orders. He loads feed and fertilizer like everyone else."

Family first

Casey said his down-to-earth management style originates from growing up on his family’s cotton, corn and cattle farm in Excel. His parents, Shelton and Gloria Casey, raised their kids knowing how to work hard.

"My dad taught me how to work, and my mom kept me straight - she probably deserves more credit than anybody," Casey recalled. "I was given a lot of responsibility at an early age, and that has helped me in the long run."

After two years of playing college basketball at Alabama Southern Community College in Monroeville, Casey returned to the farm to work with his dad and older brother, Payton. Five years later, he returned to college – this time at Mississippi State University – and earned his bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics. Shortly after graduation, he interviewed with AFC.

"I love what I do," he said. "I always knew at an early age that I wanted to run a Co-op or be a salesman, and it took me awhile to get there, but I’m so glad I did."

Casey said he would not be where he is today without the support of AFC, Agri-AFC and his local board of directors, who have allowed him to update equipment and build a fertilizer warehouse and equipment shed without putting his store in debt.

"They’re a good, loyal group of people to work with," Casey said. "I’m very indebted to them."

Before presenting the award at AFC’s 79th Annual Meeting Feb. 24 in Montgomery, AFC CEO Rivers Myres commented on how much Casey has grown in the past 14 years.

"Chris is known for his intense passion relative to the performance of his Co-ops," Myres said to a crowd of almost 300 attendees. "I will say that marriage and children have had a mellowing effect on him."

Casey credited his wife, Jennifer, and two children, Anna Claire and Trenton, with helping him balance his work and home life.

"Before I met Jennifer, I didn’t have anything to keep my time occupied, and I was so consumed with work all the time," Casey said. "I demanded a lot of my employees and never stopped working. Having a family has given me better perspective – it’s not all about work. They’ve helped me become a better manager. Those two kids have given me more joy than anything."

Jill Clair Gentry is a freelance writer from Montgomery.



Rabbit Production in Guatemala

Some of the rabbit producers and their children with their rabbitries, all in Chocola’ and surrounding communities in Guatemala.

Improvements in practices are leading to better results.

by Robert Spencer

In April 2015, I, as a volunteer with Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer Program, spent over one week working with and training technicians and farmers associated with Seeds for the Future and Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama on best management practices for meat rabbit production in Chocola’. This community is an agriculture community in San Pablo Jocopilas municipality in the southern Suchitepéquez. Rabbit production had recently been introduced to Chocola’ and I was there to participate in numerous farm visits and several days of training. From the farm visit, I could see there were some much-needed improvements to be introduced and implemented.

The overall goal of the project was to support the community in their vegetable and animal protein diets using vegetable gardens, nutritional education and farm animals. This program was designed to benefit children under 1 year of age and pregnant women.

Rabbit producers in San Pablo Guatemala, with Farmer to Farmer volunteers Robert and Sydne Spencer.

As a small animal specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Alabama A&M University, I have had extensive experience with rabbit production in Haiti since 2006 with F2F giving me knowledge on challenges and opportunities with meat rabbit production in the tropics.

Based on my initial observations, I saw the majority of farms had much needed opportunities for improvement. For their animals, they needed to:

(1) Provide nutritional forages and fresh water at all times. Provision of fresh forages and water were not always present.

(2) Secure bundled vegetation from the roof or sides of cages. Otherwise, rabbits would contaminate the vegetation on the floor, have the potential to become sick and would not consume their source of protein.

(3) Provide sufficient shelter to protect the cages from rain and direct sunlight. In tropical climates, heat is an issue for rabbit production and rabbits do not like to get wet. When rabbits become stressed, they become vulnerable to sickness and mortality.

A nesting box is important because it allows the mother rabbit a separate place to give birth and maintains a warm environment for the young.

(4) Provide better quality cage construction and use of wire on sides and floor of cages. Using wood and cardboard holds moisture and restricts air flow.

(5) Maintain clean cage floors and under the cages. Too often people allow manure and urine to accumulate on cage floors and on the ground under cages. This leads to the occurrence of health and disease problems.

(6) Provide nesting boxes with walls to allow the mother to birth and maintain a warm environment for the young.

(7) People raising rabbits need to consume their product.

The attendees of the training and farm visits seemed to grasp the need for improved practices. However, several months later the area suffered an outbreak of several possible diseases. It could have been hemorrhagic fever, pasturella or enterobacteriosis, but was most likely pasturella. While we do not know for sure, we do know they brought in a veterinarian who administered pasturella vaccinations and the problem dissipated. However, this was enough to discourage a few of the smaller-scale producers and they abandoned rabbit production.

The good news was that I returned to Chocola’ in January 2016 for a follow-up visit to review the current situation and give some suggestions for continuing improvements. The other good news was there were quite a few new producers to replace those who had abandoned rabbit production. I found the following regarding improvements:

(1) 98 percent of the farms visited always provided vegetation and clean water.

(2) 90 percent had bundles of vegetation secured from the top or side of cages.

(3) 85 percent had some type of shelter above the cages to protect the rabbits from direct sunlight and rain.

(4) 90 percent had better-constructed cages with better-quality materials, and wire along the sides and floor of cages.

(5) 100 percent maintained a clean area under cages with regular schedules to remove manure and urine, and 95 percent of all cages had clean floors.

(6) 100 percent of the cages with baby rabbits had nesting boxes to give them shelter and maintain body warmth.

(7) 88 percent of the households had consumed rabbit meat and really liked it for an additional source of meat proteins.

Despite the setbacks, I considered the overall project was a success and many improvements had taken place. There tends to be a learning curve for novice rabbit producers and it is up to them to learn and make improvements. Based on community feedback, I felt the people better understand the need for sanitation, shade to minimize stress and other improved management practices.

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



Rudy

by Baxter Black, DVM

Dere felo caowdogs.

Its bin a wile sinc I ben abel to sneek in a collum. B. Black dvm (dip vat maneger, ha, ha) has ben wathing me pretty clos.

Got a letter from Bloo and Bare. Bare sed he liked hour vedio better than the buk. It was cruntcheyer! Bloo got spad.

Evre sinc the nayber sot me I bin staing clos to home, too.

Did get run oufer las somer, but onely brok my leg.

I tink my contsent viglens has cut dowen on Backstirs caowdog kritasizein. Besides, wot he nose abowt anemil behavyer wood fit in a pinewurms poketbuk!

He went to a horstraning klinick. That’s a laff! "Bekum won with yer hours." The pore fule izent evun won with his dandrif! Bowt the onely thing hez wone with is his ropping dummy!

I spent the somer waching his gippo cow opurashun. Thank goodness, because he strung 15 mils of hot whire all ofer 12 akers to maksomize his grazeing. The paschur lookt like Flanderz Feld! The cowz finly gave upp an lerned to cral under it!

I don’t know how many mor trips to the sale the Valdez will make. Itz his 1982 stoktraler with skower yelo primer an smooth tires. He maks me staye in it wile hez in the sale barn.

Ane way, nuthinz chang mutch. I stil ride in the bak of the pikup sumtimz. But he never swepes it hout. All that brush an sand an hay. I set bak in a blizerd of trash!

But I’m wurkin on him. It cood be worz. I cood be a towen dog.

PS Lefte sez shez doon better after the amputashun.

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, www.baxterblack.com.



Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "The officer who stopped me was really upset I drove through that school zone so fast. He might not have cuffed me if I hadn’t told him to not have a cow."

Why would someone think another person was going to "have a cow"?

Last summer, the Oxford English Dictionary pinned this saying’s origin to a Texas newspaper in 1959. How the phrase became synonymous with chilling out or calming down is obscure, but it’s often linked to the British idiom "don’t have kittens" – both events that would understandably cause a human to react with a bit of hysteria in real life. The phrase started making a vigorous pop culture showing in the 1980s. You may remember Jake Ryan saying it to his girlfriend at the dance in the movie "Sixteen Candles" (1984) or you may just remember it as Bart Simpson’s catchphrase.

modernfarmer.com




Spouses Experience Uptown Art at AFC’s 79th Annual Meeting


AFC’s 79th Annual Meeting hosts Uptown Art of Montgomery for the Guest Program. April Holdridge along with artist Opal walks a group of 45 guests step by step through the painting of "Happy Trees." Guests put their own personal touch on their paintings to take home and enjoy as a reminder of a great time.

Starting Seed and Dodging Bullets

When the bottom heat is right, germination is good – as you can see in this community flat of papaya tree seedlings.

by Herb T. Farmer

Two weeks into spring and I’m already pulling in tomatoes, squash and cucumbers! I sure hope this is indicative of the season afore me.

Actually, I just started the seeds earlier than usual and applied bottom heat to some. Most of the tomatoes and lettuces germinated in less than a week. It was the same with the basil, chia and even thyme. The cucumbers and squash seeds showed cotyledon leaves above the soil in four days.

Bottom heat makes a big difference when it comes to germination. Here’s how I do it.

Warning: Some of the methods I use are not recommended by the manufacturers of the products used. Always know the risks and recommendations of each product.

For years, I used a heating mat to start seeds. Then it stopped working, and since the whole thing was sealed in a rubber-like material, I couldn’t repair it.

I bought a heating cable and a thermostat control kit. It was pretty expensive. The cable was well-sealed in a rubber insulation conduit. I made several loops on a 36-by-48 sheet of marine-grade plywood. The problem with that was the heat wasn’t evenly distributed to all of the starting flats and the germination was inconsistent.

Left to right, here’s a close-up of baby basil seedlings. At this point in the life of the seedlings, fertilizer is added with each watering. Bottom heat and proper watering and sunlight are great, but to prevent fungal diseases in these borage seedlings ventilation is essential.

Enter ingenuity. I tacked to the edges of the plywood some 1-by-2 ½ pressure-treated pine boards I cut to size with a table saw. That gave me a nice, raised border. I then added builder’s sand to cover the cable loops in order to disperse the heat evenly throughout the bed.

Well, that worked until the thermostat died. The thermostat, when sold separately from the whole kit, costs almost as much as the kit; so I opted for a different kind of controller. I bought a thermostat designed to work with heating coils used in livestock watering troughs to keep them from freezing.

Apparently that type of application was not intended for the product combination. First thing the next morning … after I thought the system was fully operational and the seed flats were all placed on top of the germinating bed … the thermometer that was placed in the sand to tell me how warm to set the thermostat, because there wasn’t one on the … well, there were only five little lines and no numbers on the thermostat.

I tested the apparatus for three days and nights before I actually put it to practical use.

… The next morning, I could smell what seemed like burning plastic as I walked toward the little greenhouse. Everything looked fine. But the thermometer was pegged (maxed out) at 120 degrees and the heat rising from the bench felt like a sauna, it was so hot!

I unplugged the thing and checked the flats and they seemed OK. The sand in the bed was too hot to touch, so I got a little garden tool and scraped around. I found that the conduit around the heating coil had completely melted away from the copper wire at every staple point where the cable was attached to the plywood. If I had sat at the breakfast table for one more cup of coffee, I believe there would have been a major fire. I think I dodged a bullet and that really got me going.

The germination bed that worked so well for years was toast. My little thermometer wouldn’t even work anymore. At least the sand was somewhat sterilized. Oh, and all those flats of seeds, there was less than 50 percent germination.

Anymore, I use exterior miniature holiday lights for bottom heat on the germination bench.

A few years ago, I helped a friend of mine clean out one of his rental storage sheds that had been abandoned. One of the treasures among the junk from all the squalor was a huge box full of brand-new, never taken from the wrapper, exterior-grade, UL-listed, miniature incandescent Christmas lights. Each strand had 100 lights, some colored, some clear. But there were 50 packs of lights in that box! These are the kinds on a circular plastic sprue. That’s how I ended up with the lights.

When it’s time to start seed in flats, I put two wood pallets on the greenhouse bench and place four of the 100-light sprues inside each pallet. The wood helps disperse the heat and the open design of the pallet allows air circulation to keep the bulbs from overheating. The seeds germinate at about 60-65 degrees. So far, there hasn’t been a catastrophe.

Next month, we’ll talk about urbanite and hugelkultur. Also, there will be some healthy and tasty recipes for you to try.

Until next time, remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading!

For more information, email me at farmerherb@gmail.com. I’ll answer your questions and I enjoy the emails!

Be sure to find me on Facebook at Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.

As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.




STIMU-LYX High Mag Fescue Relief

by John Sims

As pastures start to green up in Alabama, cattle producers need to be aware of the risk of grass tetany to grazing animals. Grass tetany, or grass staggers, is a nutritional disease cattle get from grasses with high water content and potassium, and low in other nutrients such as magnesium and calcium. Older cows that have just calved and are in peak lactation are the most susceptible.

The risk increases in pastures that have been heavily fertilized with nitrogen; those producers who have spread fertilizers such as poultry litter or urea are more at risk.

The easiest way to treat this problem in cattle is to prevent it by feeding high magnesium supplements. The problem with a high magnesium supplement is the source is typically magnesium oxide, something cattle do not like to eat.

STIMU-LYX High Mag Fescue Relief tubs overcomes this problem by encapsulating the magnesium along with the other vitamins, minerals, protein and energy in molasses for palatability to ensure proper consumption.

STIMU-LYX High Mag Fescue Relief with Tasco is a product that increases fiber digestion and aids in reducing the low-grade temperature cattle incur while grazing endophyte-infected fescue. Tasco has potent prebiotic activity and helps improve gastrointestinal health and immunity.

Feeding STIMU-LYX will increase the utilization of forages in your pasture, ensure consistent vitamin and mineral intake, and help improve body condition score.

The peak season for grass tetany is April through early May. Whether you are on winter grazing or fescue pastures, now is the time to keep STIMU-LYX High Mag Fescue Relief or High Mag Fescue Relief with Tasco in front of your cattle at all times.

John Sims is a products specialist for AFC’s Feed, Farm, Home department. He can be contacted at 256-260-3433 or johns@alafarm.com.



Thanks for your Service!

AFC Employees are recognized with Certificate of Service Awards.

Each year at Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s Annual Meeting, Co-op members and AFC employees are recognized for their years of service with Certificate of Service awards. The awards were presented by Mike Tate, newly elected Chairman of AFC’s Board of Directors, left, and AFC President Rivers Myres, right.

Charles Storie, left, upon his retirement accepts his 40 year Service Award from Eddie Robert, Vice President of AFC FF&H. Charles drove a truck during his early years of employment and later became a warehouse worker in the chemical department. At the time of his retirement, he is the warehouse foreman. 35 Years: John Curtis – General Manager, Limestone Farmers Cooperative
35 Years: Tina Johnson – AFC Vice President Human Resources; Derrick Reyer – AFC director of Hardware (not pictured). 30 Years: Todd Lawrence – General Manager, Farmers Cooperative Inc.
20 Years: Rivers Myres – AFC CEO and president 20 Years: Todd Booker – Manager, Atmore Truckers Association.
20 Years: John Sims – AFC FFH sales rep; Phil James – AFC Grain (not pictured). 15 Years: Cole Gilliam – Tuscaloosa Farmers Cooperative.
10 Years: David Lassiter – Manager, Andalusia Farmers Cooperative. 10 Years: Jessica Steward – Manager, Winston Farmers Cooperative.
10 Years: Kenneth Waters – General Manager, Farmers Cooperative Market. 10 Years: Eddie Roberts – AFC Vice President FFH
10 Years: Chris Wisener – AFC FFH sales rep;
Jerry Ogg – AFC director of TBA (not pictured)
5 Years: Randy Anderson – AFC Grain; Lloyd Nelms – General Manager, Jackson Farmers Cooperative (not pictured).

The Right Stuff


Brigadier General Anthony Cotton was the featured speaker at Colonel Leslie Dixon’s retirement. In 2008, Cotton was Dixon’s boss at Malmstrom AFB and had presented her with the Legion of Merit Award when she relinquished command at Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

Colonel Leslie Dixon reflects on a distinguished military career, and a life of service with purpose.

by Carolyn Drinkard

Someone has said that there are a lot of things in life that matter, but nothing matters as much as who or what we decide to serve. Leslie Dixon decided early in her life to follow the teachings of her mother and make her life choices based on her faith. Her mother, Joyce Walker, had instilled the values of working hard, getting a good education and giving back to the world she lived in. Looking back, Dixon knows she made the right choices, but she could never have imagined the many roads she would travel.

Graduating with honors from Thomasville High School, Leslie Dixon stepped out into the world to begin her life by attending Talladega College, majoring in English and finding a teaching job. While there, she met and married the love of her life, Michael Dixon.

After completing her degree, however, she was offered a scholarship to the University of Iowa to study law. With her husband’s encouragement, she accepted that challenge.

Leslie Dixon said that her greatest accomplishments were her children. Dixon passed on her desire for lifelong learning to her children, Michelle and Michael.

Midway through law school, she had the opportunity to volunteer in a group home for mentally challenged adults and, here, she got her first taste of the medical field. She finished her law degree in May 1985, but felt a yearning to do something more than practicing law.

A friend had told her about Health Administration, so she explored the requirements and then prayed for guidance on seeking yet another degree. By this time, she and Mike were the parents of a young daughter, Michelle. Her husband was very supportive, encouraging her to "go for it." So in June 1985, she started a Master’s Degree in Health Administration.

When a health emergency called the family back to Alabama, Dixon transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. While at UAB, her son Mark was born. Finishing her class work, she did a nine-month residency with the Veterans’ Hospital in Tuskegee, helping to set up a VA Outreach Clinic, providing veterans with outpatient care closer to their homes. It was also here that she worked under an officer who encouraged her to consider a career in the Medical Service Corps. She again explored her options and, with Mike’s support and encouragement, she joined the Air Force in 1989. She entered as a first lieutenant, but rapidly moved up in rank.

Dixon’s first and longest tour was at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.

Brigadier General Anthony Cotton, left, presented Dixon’s mother, Joyce Walker (middle), with the United States flag in appreciation of her daughter’s service and recognition of Dixon’s many accomplishments.

"It was great," she explained. "My children were close enough to Michael’s parents in Montgomery and not too far away from my parents in Thomasville."

Her next move was to Andrews AFB, Maryland, where she served as the Managed Care Branch Chief, Office of the Command Surgeon, Air Mobility Command, as well as the Operations Officer and Squadron Section Commander for the 89th Medical Operations Squadron. She was preparing for a training mission in a hangar, near Air Force One, on September 11, 2001, when terrorists hit the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

"My husband was working at Bethesda and heard the planes hit the Pentagon and saw the smoke," she explained. "His first reaction was to get to our children and get them home safely. This wasn’t easy, as there was so much confusion and gridlock within Washington. He knew I would be cut off from my family because of the threat level. I knew I had to do what I had been trained to do. I spent the first 48 hours helping to send our medical people to the Pentagon and coordinating medical assets to be sent throughout the United States. You do what you need to do, and you do it for a long period of time. I finally got home about a day and a half later."

While at Malmstrom AFB in Montana, Leslie Dixon met Gen. Anthony Cotton and his wife, Marsha, who would become one of Dixon’s best friends. Pictured (from left) are Marsha, Leslie and Anthony.

In 2002, she was moved to Pope AFB, North Carolina, to serve as Administrator and Commander of Medical Support Squadrons. Here, she successfully co-authored the "MacDill 65" Health Plan, the framework for TRICARE Plus, the Department of Defense Healthcare Plan for patients aged 65 and older.

In 2003, Dixon faced the greatest challenge of her life. After a visit home, Dixon and her family were returning to North Carolina when they were involved in a tragic car accident that took the life of her husband Mike.

"It was the darkest time of my life," she reflected sadly. "My family was very supportive. My sister, Pam Taylor, flew up and stayed with me to help out. My extended Air Force family also provided so much support."

Now a single mother in the military, Dixon had to move forward. Shortly thereafter, she was transferred to Yokota Air Base, Japan, where she served as a Squadron Commander and Hospital Administrator. Her children adapted well to life in Japan, with Michelle attending college and Mark playing high school sports and traveling to many places around Japan with his teams.

In lieu of a party for Leslie Dixon’s sister, Starr Plump’s 40th birthday, the family raised funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Association. Her family members are (from left, front) Melba Fuller, Joyce Walker, Pam Taylor, (back) Starr, Phyllis Harris and Leslie.

In 2006, she was transferred to Scott AFB, Illinois, to serve as the hospital administrator. Shortly thereafter, she was moved to the Air Mobility Command, where she led all healthcare management activities for 11 medical treatment facilities and two Aeromedical Evacuation systems. The Aeromedical Evacuation Systems moved patients all over the world, including in and out of war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. During this time, she was promoted to Colonel. She also served as a member of the Air Force Senior Medical Service Corps Council, responsible for the professional development of 1,100 healthcare administrators.

In 2008, Dixon was transferred to Malmstrom AFB, Montana, where she served as Commander of the 341st Medical Group.

Her final assignment was at the Pentagon, where she served as a Senior Official Inquiries Officer within the Office of the Inspector General of the Air Force, conducting investigations of alleged misconduct against general officers, senior executive service members and presidential appointees.

Leslie Dixon volunteers at the Thomasville Boys and Girls Club, helping students with homework. Here she helps Tauchristion Lockett, left, and Jacoby Holt with a reading exercise.

Colonel Leslie Dixon retired in September 2014 as a seasoned healthcare executive with over 14 years of Air Force Senior Leadership experience and more than 25 years of healthcare experience in the Military Health Service. Dixon has been honored with many awards such as the Legion of Merit Award conferred for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements. She has also been awarded the Air Force Master Medical Service Badge. In addition, she was recognized as the most senior black officer in the Air Force Medical Service Corps, at the time of her retirement. She was also one of very few African-American women to be promoted to the rank of colonel in the history of the Air Force Medical Service Corps.

Dixon had promised her step-dad, Jarried Rivers, that she would return to Thomasville for her retirement ceremony, but, sadly, he died a few months before she could retire. She still came home to hold the ceremony at the Thomasville Civic Center, with her boss at Malmstrom AFB, Brigadier General Anthony Cotton, conducting the impressive ceremony for hundreds of family, friends and community members.

Dixon looked back on her life and said that of all her accomplishments and accolades, her children were her greatest joy. All three have inherited her insatiable hunger for education. Mark works for Jackson State University in Mississippi, and Michele is now pursuing an additional accounting degree in Atlanta. Her stepdaughter, Elishia Dickinson, just finished her doctoral degree. Elishia lives in Nashville and recently presented Dixon with her first grandchild, a son, Michael, named after his grandfather.

After retiring, Dixon had planned to go back to Montgomery or Birmingham to work in hospital administration; however, she stayed home to help care for her beloved mother. Even after her mother’s health improved, Dixon felt the pull to remain here at home and "give back" to her community.

Dixon holds her first grandchild, Michael Dickinson, named after Leslie’s late husband. She can’t say enough about her grandbaby, who lives in Nashville.

She now volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club of Thomasville, works with the American Legion and serves on many boards and committees within the community and her church. She uses her many experiences as a motivational tool, sharing with young people the same values her mother once taught her.

"I like a challenge," Dixon stated. "I also like to keep busy!"

That’s why she has begun yet another online degree: a certification in Project Management.

"I am so thankful to my mother for instilling character and integrity into me," she said. "I am also thankful for my teachers, my church elders and my community members who watched out for me and cared about me. Looking back, I can see how God has lined things up for me," Dixon reflected. "If I had not had my faith, I could never have understood these things."

Years ago, Leslie Dixon listened to her mother’s teachings and decided to serve God, her family, her country and her community. She chose to live life with purpose, and it has made all the difference.

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached ad drinkardcarolyn@gmail.com.



The Co-op Pantry


Wow, spring is upon us! Where did the first three months go? Things are blooming, the grass is growing and my allergies are giving me fits! But, this is my favorite month of the year! Along with this, April is Pay Your Taxes Month, Autism Awareness Month, IBS Awareness Month, National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and many others.

Most importantly to me, it is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As a foster mom, I spent 13 years dealing with every kind of horror a child could experience at the hands of the very people who were supposed to love and protect them. We adopted one of our foster children and have taken a two year break, due in large part to helping the child overcome years of abuse from the biological parents. We are all at the point where we are getting ready to start fostering again. Let me take this opportunity to encourage you to contact your local DHR or the police if you even suspect a child is in a dangerous situation. Do something; don’t sit there while children are dying every day. If you are interested in fostering, call DHR or check with your religious affiliation to see if they can recommend a good foster agency.

Now, this may seem a strange way to start a cooking column, but one thing I found with all those kids is that they needed food prepared for them. Yes, they like fast food and snacks like all children. However, many of them had never had a parent in the kitchen (my husband and I share cooking duties); someone who cared enough to make something special for them. They equate cooking those meals or preparing comfort food with loving them. That works the same for your biological children, too!

Let’s get to the food part of the article. I am going to share some recipes my former foster children and my adopted child love. As well as showing your love, it is an excellent bonding time to spend with your child, teaching a biological, foster or adopted child how to become self-sufficient.

HAM AND MOZZARELLA
CHEESE QUESADILLAS

4 (10-inch) flour tortillas

½ pound deli sliced ham

1 pound mozzarella, thinly sliced

Your child’s favorite fruit or yogurt

Turn oven on broil. On HALF of each tortilla, layer ham and cheese. Fold the plain half over on the prepared half. On a cookie sheet or oven tray, broil until the cheese melts and the tortillas are lightly browned. Each side will need 2-3 minutes to get them browned and ready to be removed from the oven. Cut the tortillas into wedges. Add some fruit or yogurt to the plate and you have a fast healthy meal everyone in the family will enjoy.

Note: Super easy and you can have it ready to eat in about 15 minutes.

BACON & BEAN SOUP

4 slices bacon

1 cup carrot, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 cup onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 (15½-ounce) can drained great northern beans

2 cups water

2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1¼ teaspoons salt

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, usually 6-7 minutes. Put cooked bacon on paper towel-lined plate to cool.

Put skillet back on medium heat. Add carrots to bacon drippings and cook for about 5 minutes. Add celery, onion and garlic to pan. Cook for 3 additional minutes stirring as the vegetables cook. Add beans and water. Bring to a boil, cover and turn heat to low. Let simmer for 10 minutes.

Uncover the vegetable mixture. Take a potato masher and mash mixture until it gets slightly thick. Stir in parsley, salt and bacon. Place in bowls and enjoy!

Note: This is the perfect recipe to teach a child how to use a timer.

TATER TOT NACHOS

1 (24-ounce) package tater tots

1 pound ground beef

1 onion, diced

1 packet taco seasoning (most kids need mild)

Shredded lettuce

Shredded Mexican cheese

Sour cream (optional)

Salsa

Prepare tater tots according to package directions. While tater tots are cooking, place skillet on medium heat and add ground beef, onion and taco seasoning. Cook until no pink is left in meat. Stir often and break ground beef up as it cooks. When tater tots have finished cooking, place them on plates. Top with meat mix, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa. Easy and delicious.

BREADED BUTTERMILK
CHICKEN TENDERS

1 pound chicken breast tenders

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

½ teaspoon poultry seasoning

¼ teaspoon pepper

Canola oil for frying

In medium bowl, place chicken tenders. Pour buttermilk over tenders. Mix to ensure tenders are completely coated. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature.

In large zip top bag, mix flour, seasoned salt, poultry seasoning and pepper. Add tenders and shake until the tenders are completely covered.

In large skillet over medium-high heat, heat about an inch of oil. When heated, shake excess flour from chicken tenders and add to skillet. Fry until cooked through, about 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side. Don’t overload skillet, fry in batches. Remove each batch to a paper towel-lined plate or platter to drain. Taste a tender for seasoning, and sprinkle with salt while still hot if needed.

Note: This would probably be most suitable for a teen to work with, due to the hot cooking oil.

Mary Delph is an associate editor with AFC Cooperative Farming News. You may email her at maryd@alafarm.com.

I am looking for cooks of all ages, cooking traditions and skill levels to feature in this column. I want to hear from those in Alabama as well as our out-of-state readers. The simple requirements for being a featured cook are to love to cook (and eat) and to share your story with us. Get those recipes coming! Any featured cooks during 2016 will receive a free copy of our new cookbook. - Mary

BAKED MACARONI AND CHEESE

1½ cups elbow macaroni

Salt, to taste

3 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 cups cheddar cheese, cubed

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook macaroni in boiling, lightly salted water per package directions for al dente. Drain, rinse with warm water and set aside. In a small skillet, melt butter. Blend in flour. Slowly whisk in milk and stir constantly until thick and bubbly. Add cheese; stirring until melted. Add cooked macaroni and blend well. Place into a lightly buttered 1½-quart casserole dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown on top and bubbly.

Note: The world’s favorite comfort food! While I am not knocking the boxed mixes, it is so much better when made from scratch.

MEATLOAF MUFFINS

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup onion, finely chopped

½ cup carrot, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon garlic, minced (from a jar is perfectly OK)

1 cup ketchup, divided

1½ pounds ground beef, extra lean (raw)

1 cup (about 20) fat-free saltine crackers, finely crushed

2 Tablespoons prepared mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

2 large eggs

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. In large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add onion, carrot, oregano and garlic. Fry about 2 minutes. Cool. In large bowl, combine onion mixture, ½ cup ketchup and remaining ingredients except cooking spray. Coat muffin pan with cooking spray. Spoon meat mixture muffin cups. Top each with 2 teaspoons ketchup. Bake for 25 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160°. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Note: This is a great way to show a young person how fractions work in real life.

DIFFERENT BANANA AND PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES

½ cup peanut butter

1/3 cup vanilla yogurt

1 Tablespoon orange juice

2 ripe bananas, sliced

4 (8-inch) flour tortillas

2 Tablespoons honey-crunch wheat germ

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In small bowl, combine peanut butter and yogurt; stirring until smooth. In a large zip lock bag, pour juice and add bananas. Shake gently to coat. Spread about 3 tablespoons peanut butter mixture over each tortilla, leaving a ½-inch border. Arrange about 1/3 cup banana slices in a single layer over peanut butter mixture. Combine wheat germ and cinnamon; sprinkle evenly over banana slices. Roll up. Slice each roll into 6 pieces.

Note: This recipe can be made even healthier by using low fat or nonfat ingredients.

STRAWBERRY KIWI SMOOTHIE

1 banana

6 strawberries, capped

1 kiwi, peeled

½ cup frozen vanilla yogurt

¾ cup (or 3/8 cup each) pineapple and orange juice blend

In blender, put banana, strawberries, kiwi, frozen yogurt and juice(s). Blend until smooth. Easy and healthy!

HOMEMADE AND HEALTHY RANCH DIP

¾ cup low-fat buttermilk

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon dried chives (optional)

1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1½ teaspoons salt (kosher works best)

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream and vinegar. Add chives, parsley, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper. Mix well. This will store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Note: I have designated a couple of things optional because we have had several children with food allergies. If your child can tolerate the chives and pepper, by all means use them.



The FFA Sentinel: Active and Engaged

FFA members at New Brockton High School are preparing their annual vegetable garden.

The New Brockton FFA Chapter is having a very productive school year.

by Taryn Mitchell

The New Brockton FFA Chapter had a very productive first semester of school and has continued to be productive during the second semester of this school year. From community projects to exhibits, everyone has and continues to participate with much enthusiasm. Under the guidance of our Chapter Advisor Keith Lee Gunter, we have made outstanding progress in our yearly endeavors. Gunter strives to include and involve all students in every activity undertaken during the school year.

We began our 2015-2016 school year with multiple projects and field trips. Our chapter was invited to Country Best Farms in Enterprise to learn how to plant and care for strawberries. All participating members worked hard to remove each individual strawberry plant from the flats, load them in boxes, carry them down to the field and plant each one in the correct place provided. At the end of the day, we had helped plant over 14,000 strawberry plants.

One of our yearly activities, and our most favorite, is attending and working at the Coffee County Farm-City Petting Zoo. The petting zoo, started as a one-day event, has now grown into a two-day event. Our FFA members are responsible and delighted to help setup, clean up and work during this event. Our members really enjoy helping in all areas of the petting zoo, from serving juice and peanut butter crackers to working the livestock pens. Over 1,000 elementary students, teachers and guests attend this event each year, contributing to making it very successful. Participating in this event is an excellent learning experience for everyone involved.

Once a year, chapter members are chosen to spend the day setting up for the Farm-City Banquet held at the New Brockton Farm Center. We have a significant responsibility when preparing for this event. Our duties include setting up tables and chairs, dinnerware, seating and serving approximately 350 guests.

For many years, the New Brockton FFA has had a display booth at the National Peanut Festival in Dothan. This year’s theme was titled "Blue Ribbon Memories." We worked on this exhibit for approximately eight weeks. We had a great deal to display in our exhibit this year. Our exhibit featured pictures with a short description from several of our "Blue Ribbon Memories." We cut and glittered picture frames, letters and ribbons.

The National Peanut Festival’s Greased Pig Contest is a favorite event for some of the FFA members.

We also participated in the National Peanut Festival Greased Pig and Calf Scramble. This year, we had two young ladies, Alex and Bethany, participate in the Greased Pig event. Alex came home with the winning prize, a greasy pig.

This past year was the 18th year the New Brockton FFA Chapter has been in charge of the National Peanut Festival Lamb Show. Our responsibilities for this event include weighing the lambs, checking their ear tags, checking health papers, assisting the judge, recording placings and presenting the ribbons. This year, we had over 70 lambs from Alabama, Georgia and Florida participating in this event.

About 10 years ago, our FFA chapter began participating and building an exhibit for the Alabama State Fair in Montgomery. This year’s theme was "The 10 Best Days of Fall." Students were asked in each class to tell what activities or things they liked or enjoyed best about fall. Upon completion of this survey, we came up with a list of the 10 top things we enjoy about fall. We did our best to make our exhibit look like the fairgrounds. In our booth, we placed woodchips and tickets at the base of our exhibit with glittered letters, put in a wooden Ferris wheel and put balloon darts on the back wall. We also had train-like boxcars being pulled by a wooden tractor that described what our chapter considered to be the 10 best things about fall. After all the weeks of hard work and planning, we finally loaded up and traveled to Montgomery.

Between building exhibits and participating in lamb shows, we had several shop projects we accomplished. New Brockton Elementary School requested a new storage building be built for use at the school. The FFA members met with teachers and administrators to determine the size of the building as well as choose an appropriate site. This project required us to determine the materials and labor required for the task. Throughout this project, students acquired skills that aided them in constructing the floor, walls and roof of the shed. Once completed, the students loaded and transported the shed to the site.

One of our smaller shop projects was to complete floats for the National Peanut Festival Parade and for our local New Brockton and Coffee County Queens.

As our Christmas break began, we had many deadlines that needed to be met. We participated in the Angel Tree project at our school by purchasing and wrapping Christmas gifts for a needy family. One of our own teachers was married over Christmas break and our chapter created and constructed small, wooden, column-type boxes in which to put flowers for the wedding.

Our chapter also plants and maintains a school garden. The students enrolled in seventh- and eighth-grade agriculture classes are responsible for maintaining the garden. Now, the garden has cabbage, collards and turnips growing in it.

As you can see, our chapter stays extremely busy and we take great pride in the knowledge we gain from each activity we undertake. We have many projects and events to complete for the second semester of school. The county and district FFA competitions are coming up very soon and we plan to have multiple teams to compete. Gunter has hoped that our teams will go all the way to state and win.

We could not be more thankful to Gunter for what he has instilled in us, whether it is work ethic or determination.

As expressed, our FFA chapter keeps busy with various projects and there is no project we will not attempt within reason. We are proud of our chapter; therefore, we venture into all projects with great pride and joy.

Taryn Mitchell is a 12th grade member of the New Brockton High School FFA.




The Weapons of War

“You can go to a Civil War battlefield, but they don’t have what we have here,” says Robert Parham at the Blue and Gray Museum on Bank Street in Decatur. In addition to the extensive collection, Parham is a major reason to plan a visit to the museum. He provides the history behind the weapons used in the Civil War.

Blue and Gray Museum in Decatur houses largest private collection of Civil War weaponry in the nation.

by Cecil H. Yancy Jr.

The Civil War weapons at the Blue and Gray Museum are silent, but the man walking the aisles hears the blasts from their barrels and sees and smells the smoke from both sides as he opens the door to the nation’s largest private collection of Civil War weaponry.

The Blue and Gray Museum, located on historic Bank Street, is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Robert Parham, a Decatur native and Civil War historian, gives the collection a distinctive Southern voice.

Valued at $3 million, the collection belonged to the late Robert Sackheim, a native New Yorker who moved to the Tennessee Valley in the 1990s to work with NASA. It represents about 90 percent of the weapons used in the "War of Northern Aggression," collected throughout Sackheim’s lifetime, and is regarded as the nation’s largest private collection on display.

Entering the museum, you’ll find a man’s passion as well as a big part of his legacy.

By 2007, Sackheim had amassed two houses full of Civil War weaponry.

"I told him, if you can’t look at it, how can you enjoy it, if it’s all packed away?" Parham recalled.

Robert Sackheim thought long and hard about where to locate the largest private collection of Civil War weaponry. He set up shop on Bank Street in Decatur, due in large part to his relationship with fellow Civil War buff Robert Parham. Sackheim passed away a few years ago, but his legacy lives on.

The legend goes, however, that Sackheim’s wife gave him the ultimatum that the collection had to leave their home in Madison.

For more than a decade prior, Parham and Sackheim had developed a relationship based on their mutual love for the Civil War. Ultimately, that’s what brought the museum to Decatur, when he joined with Parham, who owns Parham’s Civil War Relics and Memorabilia, now housed in the same building as the Blue and Gray Museum.

"You can go to a Civil War battlefield, but they don’t have what we have here," Parham said.

Parham researched and documented each item on display.

"Every day for 2 ½ years, I was researching," Parham said. "We laid out the stuff on the floors and I’d pick up something and start working on it. We were still working on the collection when Bob passed away. The sad part about it was, about the time we got it looking like we wanted it, Bob passed away."

Reflecting the 10-1 advantage in weaponry the North had over the Confederacy during the war, the majority of guns in the collection are Union. European nations seized on the opportunity to make money during the conflict, selling outmoded weapons to both sides. Profiteering was rampant in the Civil War. At the beginning of the war, New York City wanted to secede from the Union in order to be able to sell weapons to both sides.

Walking the aisles of the museum, Parham stops to illustrate the industrial edge the South fought against.

Robert Sackheim, the late founder of the Blue and Gray Museum, built dioramas depicting the colorful uniforms of some of the soldiers.

"The Richmond Humpback was a reworked U.S. 1855 government rifle made from equipment taken in raid on Harper’s Ferry," he explained. "Confederate weapons are rare and expensive.

"I like the Whitworth rifle, a sniper’s gun. Using a Whitworth, a Confederate soldier in Decatur fired a shot that hit a Union soldier from 1,200 yards away, the longest shot of the war."

A Whitworth found in Courtland is on display.

At the front and in cases throughout the museum, you’ll find bullets imbedded in trees. Even after the war, these "war logs" preserved the battle’s fury so well that loggers stopped buying timber on battlefields such as Chickamauga because of the damage the bullet-filled logs were doing to their saws.

The stories surrounding the weapons on display at the Blue and Gray Museum bring them back to life. This Colt model 1851 Navy revolver that belonged to General Joseph K. Mansfield is a case in point. It was a gift from his bride-to-be.

Some of the finds came from unusual places. Parham bought an impact shell on display in the museum at a trade day from a woman who found it in her backyard in Decatur. Parham had the shell defused and traced it to a specific type of cannon fired by Union troops on Oct. 8, 1864 – the date Gen. Hood’s troops took Decatur and gave its 600 residents six days to evacuate the town.

It was the Decatur connection to the Civil War that piqued Parham’s interest as a young man.

In the 1970s, he discovered a 128-volume set of books related to all the battles of the Civil War at the Decatur Library.

"Forty of those volumes had something to do with Decatur," he said.

When he’s not giving tours to homeschool groups and folks who come from such places as Australia, Canada and England, Parham is sitting behind the counter filled with Confederate Treasury notes and other Civil War relics at Parham’s Civil War Relics and Memorabilia. He dispenses the knowledge he’s gained from listening to experts in the field and constant research on the War Between the States free of charge in a sort of a Shelby Foote style of storytelling, with a gleam in his eye. On a recent day, a man brought in a Civil War bond he found in a book he was about to throw away.

"I looked at it and saw that it was authentic," Parham said. "Many times people will bring in an item with a story that’s better than its authenticity."

Even more than 150 years after the war’s end, the fascination continues.

"The reason for that is it was ‘America’s war,’" Parham believes. "Families were divided, even when the war was over. Gen. George Thomas was a prime example of that. He fought for the North and was noted as the ‘Rock of Chickamauga.’ His Southern family never forgave him for fighting for the North. The difference between the North and the South in the war was the connection Southerners felt to their states, their ‘country.’ People like Lee and Stonewall Jackson were loyal to their state."

On occasion, Parham gets to visit with descendants of Civil War soldiers searching where their ancestors served. Two ladies from Ohio came in search of information regarding where their ancestor served with the 3rd Michigan Reorganized in Decatur. Parham took out a copy of an original map drawn by a soldier, compared it to engineer drawings and found the area where the soldiers camped during their stay in Decatur.

"People always look for family," he explained. "That’s the reason the Civil War era continues to fascinate people."

While rifles, pistols and mortar occupy a large amount of the collection, the cases also house photos of soldiers on both sides, absentee Union and Confederate ballots for the presidential election of 1864, hardtack, belt buckles, portraits of famous Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and Robert E. Lee, for example, as well as bayonets. The D-Guard Bowie Knife was one such bayonet fashioned to fit on a rifle for battle.

"The South was in dire need of weapons during the war," Parham said.

As the front moved South, one weapons company, the Memphis Novelty Works, continually moved its operations ahead of the advancing Union army.

The Nashville Plow Works turned the Bible verse, "… beat your weapons into plowshares …" on its ear when the company began making swords from its plows.

Parham continues to bring the past to life through the history of the people and weapons they used during the Civil War.

"The little stories regarding the items in the museum are the most interesting to me," Parham said.

Cecil H. Yancy Jr. is a freelance writer from Athens.



Two by Two Rescue

Heather Wyatt, Two by Two’s foster home coordinator, helps with the placement of the animals rescued.

The good hearted are kind to animals.

by Mary Delph

If you are an dog lover (and all other animals) as I am and you live in Alabama, then you probably know the story of Lazarus, a shepherd mix that was hit by a car and then surrendered to an animal shelter in Ozark where he was euthanized TWICE; only when they checked on him in the morning, he was alive and sitting up. He actually has a death certificate! Nevertheless, Lazarus was still going to be put down.

However, a wonderful lady named Sonya King heard about his plight. She went and got Lazarus and brought him to her home in Helena where she runs Two by Two Animal Rescue.

That was my first time learning of such a wonderful rescue organization! I really wanted to get to know more about these wonderful people, and they graciously agreed to be our shelter of the month.

Two by Two Animal Rescue is a 501c3 not-for-profit, no-kill organization founded in 2002 when King started feeding strays in Old Town Helena. She realized someone else was doing the same thing. After writing a note, they met and combined their efforts to save the strays and unwanted or abandoned animals.

Left to right, Sonya King, one of the founders of Two by Two Animal Rescue, with Lazarus. Jane Holston adopted Lazarus and they now have happy-ever-after lives.

They are still doing the good work. Also, on a larger scale, they are helping educate people on how to care for their animals responsibly. Their goal is to help every animal find a forever home. Please visit them at their website, www.twoby-tworescue.com and join them on Facebook.

Two by Two does not receive any state funding or government assistance, yet they manage to provide veterinary care for the animals that come their way. They also get them spayed or neutered AND microchipped. Every animal, regardless of breed or cost, is taken care of. Two by Two utilizes foster homes for keeping the animals until a forever home is found for them. They have foster homes all around the Birmingham area.

On Feb. 12, 2016, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, Two by Two Rescue was named the 2015 PGA Tour Champions Charity of the Year. King said that they were very excited by this honor and the monetary prize that came with it. King is hoping to build a no-kill shelter and dog park; the $30,000 award is her seed money toward that dream.

One really cool aspect to Two by Two is that they offer the perfect gift for the animal lover who has everything. Two by Two Rescue will send a special card to someone to let them know a gift has been given in their honor. You may consider donating for a birthday, anniversary or holiday, or in memory of a person or pet you wish to honor. Mail your donation to Two by Two Rescue at PO Box 708, Helena, AL 35080. They will promptly send a card notifying the recipient of the donation.

Now as for Lazarus, he was adopted by Jane Holston of Helena and hopefully, like his biblical namesake, he will go on to live out a full and happy life!

Mary Delph is an associate editor with AFC Cooperative Farming News. You may email her at maryd@alafarm.com.



Weird Again

I’ve been watching videos on YouTube concerning building a new greenhouse after this five-year-old one collapsed during a February windstorm!

by Suzy Lowry Geno

It happened again this week. Someone found out I do not now own a TV set and they almost insisted they were going to bring me one.

The couple looked at me with almost an expression of horror on their faces as I explained I don’t have one because I simply don’t WANT one.

Sure economics entered the picture when I first decided to cut the ties with my cable TV company. It seemed every month my bill was going higher and higher, but I was finding less and less on the channels I actually wanted to view.

Most everybody in my age group can remember when TV was something that came free over the airwaves. You bought a TV, hoisted an antennae and watched maybe two or three channels that were available.

Even that changed a few years ago when new regulations went in affect and now you need a TV equipped to work with one of those little antennas you stick in your window with a suction cup. You can get several more digital channels it seems with those things. But somehow my homestead’s location prohibits even those from working unless you install it above rooftop level.

When my husband died, the HUGE TV he insisted on watching was about to go out. So it’s now with my son. The other two older model TVs in the home were so big, so old and so heavy I couldn’t even move them around, although they both still worked well. I sold one for $40 and gave the other one away!

But I’m not one of those folks who has sworn off TV completely for religious or other reasons. Right now anything I watch is either on my desktop computer in my office or (what I use most often) a small eight-inch tablet that keeps me connected to the world!

But I’m not alone! There’s even a term for those like me. The great survey firm Nielsen calls us "Zero Households." They note there are now 5 million households (of the current approximate 125 million households in the United States) who currently don’t have "at least one" traditional television set in their homes.

So I’m one of the less than 5 percent of U.S. households without a traditional TV, but they say that number has doubled since 2007. But Nielsen explains on the Internet, "Being a Zero TV household doesn’t mean there is no TV. They are connected to the Internet, not to cable or satellite services."

On my little tablet, I can keep up with the local news and weather via the Birmingham-located TV stations thanks to free apps I just downloaded from the Internet. I watched every Alabama football game but one, thanks to special sports apps and TV network apps.

I have watched every episode of "Simply Southern" (the wonderful TV show created jointly by Alabama Farmers Cooperative and the Alabama Farmers Federation) by going to their YouTube channel.

YouTube has become a wealth of entertainment and knowledge as I regularly watched shows produced by other homesteaders such as "An American Homestead" and "Appalachian’s Homestead" with Patara. And there are thousands of videos free for the watching on how to make soap, how to quilt, how to can, how to do counted cross stitch, how to tend to all types of animals and so much more. And they’re not dull! Although many are educational, they are usually quite entertaining as well!

Remember Carla Emery, the wonderful back-to-the-lander who in the 1970s wrote the giant book "The Encyclopedia of Country Living"? Her daughter has a Youtube channel (just look up "Fouch-o-matic" on the Youtube search engine) detailing how they’re currently living in a yurt while building their dream cabin in the middle of the woods! Their Christmas show was especially precious!

(Oh, and "An American Homestead" and Carla’s daughters’ families are completely off grid, using solar power to access the Internet and edit the videos they produce!)

And when I find I just HAVE to watch something from "regular" TV (I do like the shows "Alaska the Last Frontier" and "Life Below Zero"), I can watch them via my son’s connection, but that’s not often.

One thing I have discovered is that I can no longer turn on the TV and let its mindless drivel drone on in the background simply because it was "there." I’m not bombarded with political ads, commercials with loud aggravating music and no-substance shows that come on one right after the other.

Streaming shows over the Internet through NetFlex or Amazon or any number of other such companies also lets me pick and choose what I want to watch and when I want to watch it for nominal cost. But it would be easy to get "addicted" to those services as well.

I’ve seen on Facebook where folks talk about a marathon of watching an ENTIRE SEASON of a certain TV series over the course of a long night or a weekend! I can’t imagine sitting through all that!

In his May 15, 2012, article in the Business Insider telling why he no longer had a TV, writer Alden Wicker explained, "It’s costing you money …. You’re keeping up with fictional Joneses …. It makes you covet things you never knew you needed …. Life is more fun without TV …. It’s cramping your social life …." and "It can make you fat."

According to LifeScience, "about 1 to 2 percent of those in the U.S. refrain from TV all together .... Some give it up to avoid exposing their families to excessive sex, violence and consumerism."

But, from what I’ve read and seen, the majority of folks without "traditional" TV service in their homes are more like me – watching things via the Internet (or even just through DVDs).

Right now I’m researching what sort of greenhouse I want to build back since my tiny 5-year-old greenhouse was recently destroyed in a February wind storm! There are so many ideas and free videos on the Internet about greenhouses; I will just have to force myself to stop and actually start building!

So for those of you who are worried about me while I live without a clothes dryer, heat completely with wood and have NO TV set, don’t fret!!! I’m living the blessed simple life of my dreams!!!

Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.



Wild Turkey Research

Some hunters feel turkey numbers are down. Are they?

by Chuck Sykes

Many of those who have experienced it will tell you there isn’t anything much more exhilarating than a wild turkey gobbling at dawn. For over 60 years, Alabama turkey hunters have lived the good life. Through restocking and wise wildlife and forestry management practices, wild turkey numbers increased steadily for several decades. With healthy populations, Alabama hunters have enjoyed liberal seasons and bag limits.

Unfortunately, being blessed with a great turkey population can have its drawbacks. Decades of good populations make it easy for landowners, hunters and even wildlife managers to become complacent and take for granted that this is the norm.

This turkey was shot by Chuck Sykes on Commissioner Gunter Guy’s property in Lowndes County.

One must wonder if people felt the same way about quail many years ago. Often, when I speak with landowners about the lack of quail where they once were abundant, they will say they don’t understand because the landscape hasn’t changed. Reality is that the landscape has changed, slowly, but significantly, over time. Areas that were once fallow fields with grown-up fence-rows are now pine plantations, and a new home sits on the old garden spot. Are changes such as these looming for the wild turkey and its habitat? Recent research has shown that without exception all southeastern states are experiencing declines in wild turkey reproduction. Fortunately, Alabama does not seem to have experienced as great a decline as some states, but now is the time to determine what is going on.

When folks hear that turkey numbers seem to be declining, they often jump to the conclusion that predators must be the culprit. Removal of predators by trapping or hunting is nowhere near what it was 30 years ago. However, while it is true almost every predator likes to eat turkeys and turkey eggs, that is just the price one pays for nesting on the ground. Another factor to consider is that in the past few years over 18 million acres of Southern industrial timberlands were sold. This has no doubt served to fragment turkey habitat. Could it be that turkeys have reached equilibrium with their available habitat? In all likelihood, the answer will be a combination of these factors.

In an effort to improve wild turkey management and, thereby, maintain healthy populations, a Wild Turkey Committee has been developed composed of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries biologists from each district of the state, a representative from the National Wild Turkey Federation and a member of the Alabama Wildlife Federation. The members are charged with the responsibility to make recommendations to improve the wild turkey resource and its management, and address seasons and bag limits. The WTC is working with the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in a structured decision-making process to use the best information available using a decision tool/predictive model. Wild turkey research focusing on reproduction, survival and harvest rates is being conducted, and the results will be used in the decision tool to make better informed recommendations for seasons and bag limits and to address other management concerns.

Study sites in three eco-regions were selected in 2015 in the first year of an approximately 10-year study. The project entails trapping, radio-tagging and leg-banding wild turkeys and exploring the breeding cycle, home range and use, and annual habitat needs. Game cameras have been deployed to measure reproductive success and brood home ranges. Standardized routes are being used to measure brood success compared with incidental counts currently conducted by WFF biologists. Spring gobble counts are being conducted to determine efficiency of indexing adult gobblers in relationship to radio-tagged gobblers in the population.

Chuck Sykes, left, called up this turkey for Steve Hodges, right, on his property in Macon County.

In 2014, WFF initiated an avid spring turkey hunter survey using hunter volunteers and staff to provide an index of gobbling activity (number of gobblers and gobbles heard), turkeys seen and harvest information. Collected observations will provide a measure of peak gobbling activity.

Even though participation in the survey increased greatly in 2015, we still need more avid turkey hunters from across the state to participate. Collecting observations on each hunt will provide valuable information on statewide and regional trends in gobbling activity, hunter effort, harvest rates, turkey age structure and sex ratios. This knowledge ultimately helps WFF make management decisions linking the interest of sportsmen with the wise use of the state’s wild turkey resource. Participation in this process allows hunters a unique opportunity to contribute directly to the conservation and management of turkey in Alabama. WFF management decisions that directly affect the recreational opportunities of sportsmen and conservationists will be made using the best available data. Input from across the state will no doubt assist us in making these decisions.

Recording your observations in the avid survey only takes a couple of minutes following your hunt. If you would like to participate, contact steve.barnett@dcnr.alabama.gov or joel.glover@dcnr.alabama.gov, or go online at outdooralabama.com/wild-turkey. Your efforts will assist WFF in monitoring Alabama’s turkeys and making decisions in the best interest of resources and hunters.

In addition to the avid survey, agency staff and selected public participants continue to collect brood survey data based on incidental counts in July and August. These observations are crucial for monitoring the production rate. The results of the avid turkey hunter survey and brood survey will be published in an annual report.

Last season was a disappointment for most hunters, me included. For the most part, the weather was lousy and turkeys didn’t gobble. Lack of gobbling yields lack of harvest, reducing hunter satisfaction, or at least it does at my house. I don’t necessarily have to harvest a bird to be happy. But, I can guarantee you that going day after day and not hearing or being able to at least work a bird makes me extremely unpleasant to be around.

On the bright side, the reduction in last year’s harvest should have allowed more gobblers to make it through the season. I am optimistic, with good weather, we will have a great spring. I’m counting down the days!

Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.



“Fast Food” From the Farm Pond

by Christy Kirk


Top to bottom, Rolley Len was off to a fast start with the first fish. Jason and Cason celebrate a good catch and look forward to dinner.

When Jason is about to head into town, sometimes he says he will bring back something for dinner. What he picks up depends on whether he goes north or south once he turns onto Highway 29. If he goes into Tuskegee, he may stop at Calhoun’s or The Yellow Store, but fairly often he brings home "fast food" in the form of catfish fresh out of the pond at the farm. One recent gorgeous weekend morning, he took me, Rolley Len and Cason over to the farm to check on some of our new lambs and to catch a fish dinner.

As poles are readied and baited, an unofficial competition develops between Rolley Len and Cason that fuels their quest to catch the most. They know they must reel in a certain number of catfish for us to have a full meal. Fishing definitely has an element of luck to it, but there are also skills that must be honed and that create motivation and determination. This forces them to challenge themselves as they adjust their skills to improve their results.

Within about 15 minutes after baiting and putting out the poles, Rolley Len caught the first fish. The look on Cason’s face said it all – he must even up the tally! Forked sticks were set up along the dam so they could set poles to double up on the odds. That meant watching two bobbers and being ready to quickly pounce on the line being pulled on by our next meal. They were focused solely on out catching the other.

Even though it was nearing lunch time, no one seemed to notice. The kids were determined to fill their bucket to the brim before leaving. It was Jason who finally called time on the competition. Although it didn’t feel it, about two hours had actually passed. We loaded up and as Jason started the truck, Cason shouted that he was hungry. Could he wait for us to get home with the catfish? It was a gamble, so this time we stopped at The Yellow Store for chicken legs on the way home just to be safe.

On this trip, our "fast food" was caught quickly, but Rolley Len and Cason were having so much fun we stayed later than we had planned. It would not have been served fast even if we kept it simple and fried them. Fried catfish is always a family favorite, because it is simple and easy to prepare, but there is so much more you can do to create amazing dishes. The next time you make a trip for fast food, bring home fresh fish instead and try some of the recipes below for your next meal.

Having access to a stocked pond or lake is best, but you can always buy farm-raised catfish from local farmers. For more information on local farmers and a wide variety of recipes, visit uscatfish.com.

FISH/CATFISH RECIPES

Fish flakes may be leftover broiled, boiled or fried fish depending on your personal preferences.

FISH SALAD

Flaked fish
Green peppers, chopped
Onion, chopped
Pimiento, chopped
Tomatoes, chopped
Chives, chopped
Salt and pepper
Mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients except mayonnaise. Add just enough mayonnaise to moisten. Serve on rolls, toast or with crackers.

FISH PIE

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
2 Tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
¾ cup green peas (boiled or canned)
1 Tablespoon onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon green pepper, chopped
1 cup mashed potatoes

Heat oven to 400º F. Melt butter in skillet. Add flour and brown. Add salt and milk. Heat and stir until creamy. Add fish, peas, onion and green pepper. Heat through and then put into a greased baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes. Bake for about 12 minutes.

CAJUN CATFISH FILLETS

2 Tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1½ teaspoons seasoned salt
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
¾ teaspoon ground red pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 catfish fillets

Preheat broiler. Coat broiler pan with cooking spray. Combine all except catfish in a zip-lock bag. Add a catfish fillet, seal bag and shake to coat. Remove fillet from bag and place on pan. Repeat procedure with the remaining fillets and cornmeal mixture. Broil about 6 inches from heat for 6 minutes. Carefully turn them over and broil 6 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

COCONUT CATFISH FINGERS

2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (12-ounce) can beer
2 pounds catfish fillets, cut into 1-inch strips
1 (14-ounce) package sweetened flaked coconut
Vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine 1½ cups flour, baking powder, paprika, curry powder, salt, cayenne pepper and beer. In separate bowls, place remaining flour and coconut. Dredge catfish strips in flour. Dip strips in beer batter and roll in coconut. Fry coated strips in deep, hot oil (350º F) until coconut is golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

SWEET DIPPING SAUCE FOR FISH STRIPS

1 (10-ounce) jar orange marmalade
3 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
3 Tablespoons Creole mustard

Mix ingredients. Serve with catfish strips warm or cold.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.




“Oh! Now You Tell Me!”

by Glenn Crumpler

You may remember back in February when I wrote the article, "But You Didn’t Tell Me," where I shared a story about my 6-year-old grandson Bradyn getting in trouble at school for talking too much. I explained to him why it was important for him to mind his teacher and to behave, and I warned him that his misbehavior not only affected him, but also affected others because someone was always looking up to him as an example. I also shared with Bradyn the traits I saw in his life and his character leading me to expect so much from him and, because I loved him, I expected him to live up to his full potential.

This talk helped for a few weeks, but then Bradyn returned to his bad habits. Because he continued to be disobedient, it caused him to miss out on a road trip with me going to cattle sales in Tennessee and Kentucky. If he could not behave in class, he could not miss class to go with me. I will never forget the hurt on his face and the huge tears in his eyes when I told him he could not go with me because he had misbehaved. He looked at me with that heartbroken look and said, "But you didn’t tell me." The truth was I had told him several times. What I had not told him was that he could not go with me and stay in hotels if he did not behave. He knew to behave; he just did not think there was going to be any immediate consequences if he did not. I closed the story stating, so many times, we live our lives the same way: disobeying God’s Word and doing what we know to be wrong thinking we will get away with it. Jesus is indeed coming back to judge the world. Because we have free access to God’s Word and the Gospel message, when He returns, just saying, "But You didn’t tell me," will not suffice.

Well, Bradyn continues to make the headlines! This past Friday, while I was again on the road in North Dakota, Lisa called me to tell me that he had fallen and broken his arm just above the wrist. She said, "He fell off the freezer!" What? How could he have fallen off an upright freezer? What would he be doing on top of the freezer?

To make a long story short, Lisa had told Bradyn and his older brother, Bryant, to go outside and play so she could get baby Brooke to sleep. She had already gotten on to them several times while they were outside for climbing up and hanging from the basketball goal, so she told them one last time go get down and go play doing something else. I suppose those instructions were not specific enough!

Within just minutes, Bradyn came running in crying and holding his arm begging for help because it was hurting really badly. "Help me, Grandmama! Please do something! It hurts so bad!" Lisa immediately saw that his arm was broken, so she called me and his mama and headed for the emergency room. After he had calmed down just a little and while they were waiting for the x-ray results to arrive, she asked him what he was doing when he fell. He said, "I was climbing up on the freezer in the barn to get the key to the office so I could watch cartoons." Lisa said, "Why didn’t you just ask me instead of sneaking? I would have let you in. You didn’t have to try to sneak unless you were doing something you knew you were not supposed to do."

Well, that night at the dinner table after getting a temporary splint put on his arm, the story got a bit more interesting. Lisa said she noticed that a table on the porch of the office had been moved against the wall to a place where we usually kept an extra key.

"Which one of you boys moved that table and got the key?" she asked.

Bryant immediately denied it, but Bradyn just tilted his head and smiled.

"Why did you do that?" she asked.

"Because the outside door was also locked," he responded.

His mother then said, "Well, Bradyn, the same key that opens the barn also opens the office. Why didn’t you just open the office while you had the key?"

"Oh, now you tell me!!!" he responded.

I about busted a gut when they told me that story! I can just imagine what he was thinking. Sitting there with a broken arm, knowing he could have successfully gotten away with his plan uncaught and uninjured when he had climbed on the table and gotten the first key, ‘if’ he had just known it opened both doors. He had seen us use both keys a number of times, but no one had ever told him we just used different keys to save us steps. We never actually told him both keys would open either door, but, looking back, if we could have known he would get hurt learning that lesson, we would have.

In the February article I mentioned earlier, I touched on the fallacy of trying to say on the Day of Judgment, "But you didn’t tell me" when we in America have free, unlimited access to the Gospel message and the Word of God. We have churches on every corner, daily church services and Christian programming on both television and radio, Bibles in every bookstore and hotel, and we have Christian missions, shelters and recovery centers for the drug-addicted, homeless, abused and downtrodden. I also alluded to the tragedy and the consequences of never actually telling those we know and love what they so desperately need to hear to be ready for the coming judgment. They already know there is a God, whether or not they know who He is. They already know they have sinned whether or not they know what to call it. What they need to know is that this God loves them so much He sent His son Jesus to pay the debt for their sin so they can know Him and experience this love, forgiveness, hope, peace and eternal life. They desperately need to hear and we so desperately need to tell them!

But, when do they need to hear? When would be the best time to tell them? Deathbed professions can be real and I have seen several, but wouldn’t it be much better if they heard and had the chance to repent and follow Christ’s plan for their lives before they got so hurt by the consequences of their sin? Wouldn’t it be much better if they heard before they hurt or wrongly influenced others?

If I had had any idea that Bradyn would break his arm learning that both keys opened both doors, I would have surely made it a point to tell him – even if he was doing wrong when he got hurt. How much more should we intentionally warn those we love and take the time to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them if we already know for certain they are going to get badly hurt and suffer greatly in life because of their sin; they will surely hurt and cause suffering for others; and, when this life is over, they will also spend eternity in Hell – a place of separation and eternal, indescribable suffering and anguish?

We all know people we have not told about Jesus? But, how much more hurt, pain, loneliness, rejection, hopelessness, condemnation and suffering are we willing for them to endure before we tell them there is a God who loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives? Why are we willing to wait until they have to say, "Oh! Now you tell me!"

God said, "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future," (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) so we know that God does not want anyone to suffer the consequences of a life of sin. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:13) But look at the three questions that follow in verses 14-15: (1) "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?" (2) "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" and (3) "How can they hear unless someone tells them?" Who will that "someone" be for the ones you love if not you? When will the right time be if not now?

Glenn Crumpler is is president of Cattle for Christ International, Inc. He can be contacted at 334-393-4700 (home), 333-4400 (mobile) or www.CattleforChrist.com.




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