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December 2013

16% Range Cubes

by Jimmy Hughes

As we enter into winter, this is a good time to think about what feed options may be available. This is also a good time to look at the body condition of your cows and see if they need extra supplementation to improve that condition before we get into the cold and wet conditions of January. Cattle going into winter in thin body condition normally will not improve body condition until summer. Cattle in thin condition will be more susceptible to disease, have poorer reproductive performance and, in severe cases, may not survive the winter chill.

If you are considering the possibility of feeding a range cube to either improve body condition or to offer during extreme weather conditions, I would recommend feeding our high energy 16% Range Cubes. This all-natural, high-energy cube will help provide your cattle with extra energy to improve overall body condition when compared to most range cubes on the market. The cubes are very convenient to feed as most producers just pour them out on the ground. They are very hard and will not melt away on wet grass.

I would recommend you feed based upon the current body conditions of your cattle. Evaluate the current body conditions and feed the cubes at a daily rate of five pounds per head per day and increase up to eight pounds per day for cattle in poor body condition. Feed until the cows reach the desired body condition you are looking for as a producer.

These 16% Range Cubes are available at your local Quality Co-op.

If you have any questions, please contact me at 256-947-7886 or

Jimmy Hughes is AFC's animal nutritionist.

A Good Accountant is Important to Your Farm and Business

by Robert Page

During my years with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, I have met dozens of farmers who seem to think the cheapest accountant or tax preparer is good enough for their needs. While that assumption may be true sometimes, most accountants can be far more helpful to their farm clients if given the opportunity.

In last month’s column, we reviewed the value of farm tax planning. This month, let’s briefly review some examples of high-value accountant work for farm clients in addition to the yearly tax return.

Example 1: Preparing an annual year-end Balance Sheet (also known as a Net Worth Statement) for the farmer.

An annual Balance Sheet tells whether your net worth went up or down during the year. Hopefully, farmers will see their assets grow year by year while keeping their liabilities low enough to be easy to financially manage. An experienced farm accountant can help document your assets and liabilities by asking the right questions and calculating the results of your year-by-year progress.

Example 2: Preparing an annual year-end Profit and Loss Report (also known as an Income Statement). An Income Statement can be prepared for just a single year or a comparison report for several years. If you have an extensive chart of accounts, you can see at a glance how sales of different crops have increased or decreased over the years, and how expenses have varied for each year being compared.

Example 3: Having a complete Depreciation Schedule for your farm’s fixed assets. Most accountants prepare depreciation schedules on an income tax basis. However, depreciation software also allows many different variations of depreciation reports that can be helpful for farm operation planning. For example, while many assets are written off (or expensed) in one year, their useful life may be 5-7-10 years longer. A straight-line depreciation report can be a useful tool to determine a current fair market value report of your assets along with an outside appraisal of your assets.

Example 4: Preparing an annual Cash Flow report can show the farmer where all the money went during the year. This report is usually an eye-opening report of how much money you had at the beginning of the year, then adding your bank deposits for the year from loans, sales or money from savings for a complete source of funds for the year. Then the use of funds section of the report shows where the money was spent for operations, loan repayments and funds put away for future use in savings or CDs to end up with available cash at the end of the year in the farm checking account.

These reports require a significant amount of time for an accountant to prepare and discuss with the farmer client. An accountant’s time costs money, so be prepared to pay a fair price.

Whether you are a beginning small farmer or an established commercial farmer, you need a good working relationship with a qualified farm accountant. When farmers ask me about finding a qualified accountant, I recommend they find an accountant who does at least five farm returns a year. Sometimes they can find a local farm accountant and sometimes they have to go out-of-county to find someone who is a good fit for their operations. A good farm accountant is generally worth the higher fees charged for the valuable advice and services provided.

For more information about farm management and financial analysis, please contact your County Extension Coordinator or an Extension Specialist: North Alabama: Holt Hardin, 256-574-2143 or Robert Page, 256-528-7133; Central Alabama: Jamie Yeager, 334-624-4016; Southwest Alabama: Steve Brown, 251-867-7760.

A Good Accountant is Important to Your Farm and Business (2)

by Robert Page

During my years with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, I have met dozens of farmers who seem to think the cheapest accountant or tax preparer is good enough for their needs. While that assumption may be true sometimes, most accountants can be far more helpful to their farm clients if given the opportunity.

In last month’s column, we reviewed the value of farm tax planning. This month, let’s briefly review some examples of high-value accountant work for farm clients in addition to the yearly tax return.

Example 1: Preparing an annual year-end Balance Sheet (also known as a Net Worth Statement) for the farmer.

An annual Balance Sheet tells whether your net worth went up or down during the year. Hopefully, farmers will see their assets grow year by year while keeping their liabilities low enough to be easy to financially manage. An experienced farm accountant can help document your assets and liabilities by asking the right questions and calculating the results of your year-by-year progress.

Example 2: Preparing an annual year-end Profit and Loss Report (also known as an Income Statement). An Income Statement can be prepared for just a single year or a comparison report for several years. If you have an extensive chart of accounts, you can see at a glance how sales of different crops have increased or decreased over the years, and how expenses have varied for each year being compared.

Example 3: Having a complete Depreciation Schedule for your farm’s fixed assets. Most accountants prepare depreciation schedules on an income tax basis. However, depreciation software also allows many different variations of depreciation reports that can be helpful for farm operation planning. For example, while many assets are written off (or expensed) in one year, their useful life may be 5-7-10 years longer. A straight-line depreciation report can be a useful tool to determine a current fair market value report of your assets along with an outside appraisal of your assets.

Example 4: Preparing an annual Cash Flow report can show the farmer where all the money went during the year. This report is usually an eye-opening report of how much money you had at the beginning of the year, then adding your bank deposits for the year from loans, sales or money from savings for a complete source of funds for the year. Then the use of funds section of the report shows where the money was spent for operations, loan repayments and funds put away for future use in savings or CDs to end up with available cash at the end of the year in the farm checking account.

These reports require a significant amount of time for an accountant to prepare and discuss with the farmer client. An accountant’s time costs money, so be prepared to pay a fair price.

Whether you are a beginning small farmer or an established commercial farmer, you need a good working relationship with a qualified farm accountant. When farmers ask me about finding a qualified accountant, I recommend they find an accountant who does at least five farm returns a year. Sometimes they can find a local farm accountant and sometimes they have to go out-of-county to find someone who is a good fit for their operations. A good farm accountant is generally worth the higher fees charged for the valuable advice and services provided.

For more information about farm management and financial analysis, please contact your County Extension Coordinator or an Extension Specialist: North Alabama: Holt Hardin, 256-574-2143 or Robert Page, 256-528-7133; Central Alabama: Jamie Yeager, 334-624-4016; Southwest Alabama: Steve Brown, 251-867-7760.

A Man’s Cave Is His Castle

Some things that are real special to Don Renfroe are under glass. One of these is a cowbell worn by a Jersey cow named Sammy. Her milk helped Don gain weight when he was a newborn baby.

by Jaine Treadwell

Long before muleskinners made their appearance on the Earth, there were cavemen.

Don Renfroe can trace his ancestry back to the early muleskinners so he knows and understands his love of the ol’ mule.

But, if his family history could go all the way back to the Stone Age, Renfroe would probably find that his ancestors sat around in caves munching on roots and craving raw fish.

And that would explain his desire for a man cave and his determination to build one.

Renfroe and his family live on a road less traveled in rather rural Pike County. And, if his mules were "a-mind" to sit at the head of the family table, Renfroe would oblige them.

He’s a mule man. It’s in his blood.

But, the cave? That’s another not quite as easily understood.

The way Renfroe tells the story of his man cave is that it was a thing of necessity.

"It all started when the family got so big we couldn’t all get in the house," Renfroe explained. "I thought about closing in the carport to make the house a little bigger, but my better half, Susan, didn’t want to do that. The grandboys had played in what they called a fort. Then the grandgirls took it over as a playhouse. But it wasn’t big enough to do anything with. So I decided to get Jimmy Bryan to put me up a pole barn."

However, Bryan suggested something more "substantial."

"At first, Susan didn’t want anything like that, but she saw one Jimmy had built and liked it," Renfroe said. "He got to work and closed the pole barn in. My first thought was to put some cheap paneling in it, but I decided, if it was going to be my man cave, I wanted it nice."

A sign welcomes all to Don Renfroe’s man cave, below.
The man cave started out when the family got so big they couldn’t all fit into the house. Renfroe decided if it was going to be his man cave, he wanted something nice. It also gave a place to display some things special to him.

Being the kind of sentimental muleskinner he is, Renfroe thought about using the wood from his granddaddy and grandmother Renfroe’s old house.

"In their later years, they got electricity - one light on a cord, but they always had an outhouse – they never had a bathroom or indoor plumbing," Renfroe continued. "So I used some old weathered wood from their house and made the door the bathroom. I dedicated the bathroom to my granddaddy and grandmother Renfroe because they never had a bathroom."

If a man’s cave is to be his castle, Renfroe decided it should be filled with memories.

Everything, every tangible thing, in Renfroe’s man cave has a story. So there are hundreds of stories to be told.

"All the pieces are related to me in some way," he said. "My grandmother’s quilting frame was used to frame quilt pieces and it adds color and interest to the bathroom. And I put some things that are real special to me under glass because I don’t want them to get misplaced."

One of those "things" is a cowbell.

"There’s a story about that cowbell," Renfroe told. "When I was born more years ago than I want to say, I weighed six pounds and lost from there. Somebody said I needed rich Jersey milk to gain weight. So, my daddy Max Renfroe bought a Jersey cow named Sammy and her calf Caledonia. I drank the milk and gained weight. We kept Sammy for 26 years and she wore that cowbell every day for all those years."

Also, "under glass," is a hammer Renfroe’s dad designed especially to install wood in Pullman Standard Manufacturing Company’s box cars. The elder Renfroe left the farm for a while and worked for the manufacturing company.

Left to right, Don Renfroe’s great-grandmother Renfroe’s copper funnel and dipper are encased in glass along with a sifter that belonged to his mother Mildred Renfroe and his great-granddaddy Renfroe’s drawing knife and plane. Also “under glass” is a hammer Max Renfroe designed especially to install wood in Pullman Standard Manufacturing Company’s box cars. Renfroe’s grandmother’s quilting frame was used to frame quilt pieces and it adds color and interest to the bathroom. When one of the Renfroe clan rings the dinner bells, everyone gathers in the man cave to enjoy some good food.

Renfroe’s great-grandmother Renfroe’s copper funnel and dipper are encased in glass along with a sifter that belonged to his mother Mildred Renfroe and his great-granddaddy Renfroe’s drawing knife and plane.

Several pictures are hung in prominent places.

"This drawing is real special to me because it was done by my granddaughter Marley, who was the one that got me into mules and wagons," Renfroe said. "She loved for me to tell her stories about mules and that just piqued my interest. Marley was a little girl when she did the drawing and, to me, it’s as good as art gets."

The enamel pan was used by Renfroe’s mother to make jellies and jams. And the jug of Josie moonshine?

"No comment," Renfroe said, laughing. "But Josie is known for making the best moonshine around."

Left to right, there are several drawings and paintings of mules in the man cave. The painting of the two white mules was a gift from Susan Renfroe. It was done from a photograph taken of Renfroe’s mules during a parade. One piece of artwork in the man cave is a Jack Deloney cane mill print, which hangs between two cane strippers. At right, this drawing is real special to Don Renfroe because it was done by his granddaughter Marley, who was the one that got him into mules and wagons.

The painting of two white mules was a gift to Renfroe from his wife.

"Susan bought it at the Pike Road craft show because I have two white mules," Renfroe said. "I got to looking at it and knew they were my mules. I could tell by the harnesses and the way the wagon tongue was painted."

About a year later, Renfroe met a man at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama in Troy and recognized his name as the signature on the painting of the mules.

"He had taken a picture of my mules at the China Grove parade and had painted the picture from that photograph," Renfroe said. "So I have an original painting of my mules."

Another piece of artwork is a Jack Deloney cane mill print.

"It was a gift from a relative who thought it would be a good centerpiece for the two cane strippers I have hanging," Renfroe said. "Like I said, everything in the man cave has a story, and it may not be worth a dime, but its worth is in the memories that it holds."

And, when one of the Renfroe clan rings the dinner bells, everyone gathers in the man cave for dinner, supper, a birthday or anniversary celebration, a church event or just time together.

"We have three dinner bells," Renfroe concluded. "The oldest belonged to my great-great grandfather Renfroe. I don’t know how old it is, but it is the oldest. The bell that belonged to my great-granddaddy Hixon was cast in 1901. The other belonged to Susan’s granddaddy Park. A lot of families are represented here so this is not just Don Renfroe’s man cave; it’s a gathering place for family and friends, and a place where we make memories that will last a lifetime."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Annie’s Project

Ana Kelly (center) talks with Andy and Paula Kemp of A&P Farm.

Helping Women in Agriculture

by Suzy Lowry Geno

We are kind of accidental farmers," Paula Kemp explained about her and her husband Andy’s 5-year tenure in the agriculture world.

The couple moved to acreage in the Gallant area (in St. Clair County but near Etowah) from the more metropolitan Trussville area because they simply wanted to be in the country.

"I continued to work off the farm, but Andy worked on the farm and kind of dabbled in farming," Paula told those at Annie’s Project in Blount County.

But it wasn’t long before the farming "bug" bit Paula as well.

"There’s just something about watching a seed grow into food for people that is fascinating," she added.

Around 2007, their first year as "full-time" farmers, they grew one acre of vegetables and sold them at two farmer’s markets.

The next year, they increased it to two acres.

"We wanted to see how much we could grow and how much we could sell," Paula recalled.

Soon they were farming "acres of strawberries," 200 peach trees, vegetables grown primarily in two high tunnel houses, and having to hire full- and part-time help as they sold at eight farmers’ markets.

Andy feels they were at an advantage by "being so green and not knowing anything."

Sharon Rose Murphree, Brandy Abel and Stephanie Miller at Annie’s Project.

"We learned just about everything from the Extension Service," he said. "We had the advantage because we learned everything the right way from them in the beginning."

Their A&P Farms took a huge hit when Alabama’s immigration policies went into effect. Full- and part-time workers were harder to find and the couple now are both basically retired.

During the the six-week Annie’s Project course, the Kemps were some of the most popular speakers.

Paula explained the Top Ten Lessons for new growers including the importance of variety, the Extension service’s information, gauging labor, estimating market value, testing the soil, attending classes and workshops, making a business plan, advantages of laying plastic, the importance of early planning, and how vital regularly scheduled spraying and fertilization plans can be.

Annie’s Project groups have been meeting around the United States for close to a decade. It was founded by Ruth Fleck Hambleton in honor of her mother Annette "Annie" Kohlhagen Fleck.

Annie was married to a farmer for more than 50 years and she died in 1997 a wealthy woman and "doing things her way," according to the Annie’s Project website. But things weren’t always that easy.

Annie faced many obstacles including three generations living under one roof on the farm, and low profitability left little money to raise her four children.

According to Annie’s Project’s information, "through it all, Annie kept records" to show what was profitable and what was not.

"When big decisions had to be made, Annie was there with her records. To increase cash flow, Annie sent her husband to work off the farm while she milked cows and kept an egg route in Chicago. Eventually her records guided them to discontinue an egg laying enterprise, a seasonal turkey enterprise and a dairy enterprise. Other farmers with larger equipment and more resources could better run the farm. So Annie and her husband became the landowners renting to other farmers. She paid expenses and marketed corn and soybeans."

One of the couple’s daughters, Ruth, married a man from a farm. But while Annie never would have dreamed of working off the farm, Ruth worked for the University of Illinois Extension Service as a Farm Business Management and Marketing Educator.

When she retired in 2009, she started the not-for-profit Annie’s Project to help women from diverse backgrounds as they made risk-management decisions about their own farms - whether large or small.

Meeting for six weeks, beginning the third week in September, the Blount County session of Annie’s Project was enjoyed by women who certainly fit the description of "diversity" that Annie and Ruth aspired to.

Some farmed alone. Some with husbands or other family members. Some are young with young children. Some older with grown children who sought other careers. Some are pursuing agricultural issues full time while others dabble part time as they consider their futures. Some are leaning toward basic agriculture crops while others are seeking to specialize in value-added products.

Sherry Brewer, a Locust Fork English teacher, also sponsors her school’s Master Gardeners Club and has "farming plans for my future, but I’m just not sure what they are."

Wanda Merrit and her husband own the Hillview Farms Bed and Breakfast in Cleveland, and grow and sell blackberries - both winning prizes at the Blount County Fair recently for their jelly!

Ana Kelly and her family bought a farm in Gallant and have just been licensed as perhaps the only licensed sheep dairy in Alabama, making and selling gourmet cheese at venues such as Pepper Place.

Rita Hutcheson Cobbs is a member of a group who regularly catches swarms of bees and she also has goats, chickens, raised bed gardens and more at her Somerville home/farm.

Lisa Taylor, Blount County, is unsure about her future in agriculture, but knows she wants to make a living at home closer to the land.

Intha Rafadin raises goats for milk and meat at her Empire farm and is a fiber artist using mainly local fibers.

Stephanie Miller’s family farms 1,200 acres of cotton, peanuts, corn, wheat and cattle in Blount County, but has a Boaz address.

Brandy Abel and her family have chicken houses and cattle on 100 acres in Cleveland.

Rita Briscoe and her husband raise cattle dogs, have a forest and are in the process of getting honeybees on their Douglas acreage.

Sharon Rose Murphree has previously lived on a farm for years, but is now considering several options for her future.

I raise goats, laying hens, ducks, Angora rabbits and produce on my Blount County homestead.

Ruth Brock began working for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service in January 2006 and coordinated the Blount Annie’s Project group. She and her husband live in Ashville with several pets, including a miniature horse Nina and a miniature donkey Norman.

She has a master’s in financial planning and an Education Specialist in Adult Education and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Adult Education through Auburn University.

Brock led the group in several informative discussions concerning financial planning, finances on the farm, agricultural expenses, the importance of writing a business plan and including your farm’s assets and more.

Dr. Gary Lemme and Ruth Brock talk during a break of the Blount County’s Annie’s Project meeting.

Dr. Gary Lemme, executive director of Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, noted that by 2040 to 2050, the population of the world is expected to be 9 billion, and small farms and big agribusiness must work together in order to feed the world.

Lemme noted statistics showing Blount County has 606 full-time farmers with 808 part-time farmers, of which 1,237 are male and 177 female, with the average age of farmer being 57.5 years. A startling statistic, though, is that 77 percent of the farms in Blount County make less than $20,000 per year.

Lemme noted that U.S. Census data showed the number of women going into farming overall has almost doubled from 5 to 10 percent.

He urged everyone to strive to "Shape Your Own Future" through "Dream It, Plan It and Do it!"

Dr. Lucretia Octavia Tripp, an Auburn University associate professor in the College of Education, focused on learning your own personality traits and the traits of those around you in order to be a better business person, family member and community achiever. And her presentation was just plain fun!

Karen Wynne, a soil scientist and farming systems consultant from Hartselle, led a lively discussion on women in agriculture and what they must be ready to face.

Other speakers and discussion leaders included Robert Page, Risk Management; Donna Shanklin, Good Agricultural Practices; Cynthia Smith, Farm Credit Services; Dr. Robert Tufts, Tax and Estate Planning (with family members and spouses attending with the Annie’s Project members); Dr. Jatunn Gibson; Angela Treadaway, Food Entrepreneurship; Synithia Williams, Stress Management for the Busy Business Woman; and Sallie Lee, beekeeping.

Handouts were plentiful and provided additional "homework" for the women to complete between sessions and for use in their own farm and financial planning.

But most agreed it was the fellowship between women of all ages who are involved in agriculture that was the most vital ingredient of Annie’s Project! We think Annie would be proud!

For more information on Annie’s Project, contact your local Extension service office.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer and homesteader in Blount County and can be reached through her website Information is also there on ordering her recently published book Simple Times at Old Field Farm that contains many of her past "Simple Times" articles.

Aquaculture Meets Hydroponics

Birchfield Farms Combines Systems for Unique Food Production

Tony Birchfield grows butter lettuce in waterbeds free of pesticides and field debris.

by Ashley Smith

Over the years, my life experiences prepared me for the kind of work I am doing today," Tony Birchfield shared. "From my childhood years growing up on a farm to years working for the Alabama Sheriff’s Boys Ranch and later in construction, I gained hands-on knowledge about how things work. In hindsight though, I could use a few more chemistry classes!"

As Birchfield explains aquaponics, one easily can see that chemistry, life science and more are now major components of his everyday life.

Managing an aquaponic farm may not have been what Birchfield thought he would be doing in his retirement years, yet he seems entirely prepared for the work. Several years ago, his son Andy purchased some Tallapoosa County forestland and asked his father to manage it. Andy believed the property, now known as Birchfield Farms, would be a great place for his own children to spend weekends - hunting, fishing and enjoying the blessings rural life offers. The farm provides a family escape from busy life in Montgomery. In his role as farm manager, Tony built a fishpond, constructed a barn and made other enhancements so Andy and his grandchildren could enjoy the land. The idea for adding aquaponics to the farm grew from Andy’s hope to care for others.

"Andy and his wife Tanya, active members in their church, visited Haiti on a mission trip in 2010," Birchfield explained. "Haiti had experienced a horrible earthquake earlier that year. The death toll was high and lots of kids were orphaned as a result. When First Baptist visited Haiti, they found 16 children living in a tent and being cared for by only one young adult. The church felt led by God to help these children and others like them."

Because produce grows in the greenhouse at Birchfield Farms, vegetables can be grown year round.

First Baptist Montgomery adopted the Haiti Initiative as one of the key pieces of their Children’s Hope ministry. The Haiti Initiative now includes an orphanage to care for as many children as possible. At the orphanage, the children live, learn and grow.

In an effort to sustainably feed the children and adults working at the orphanage, Andy considered aquaponics. He knew aquaponics proved to be a viable option in Third World countries and hopes it can work for the orphanage in Haiti.

Before taking the idea south, he wanted to be sure of the system. Adding aquaponics to Birchfield Farms seemed to be the logical way to learn more.

As an aquaponic farm, Birchfield Farms has been in operation since September 2012. With much help from Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, Tony and Andy have successfully grown the operation. Aquaponics, a food production system, combines aquaculture with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. Basically, raising aquatic animals in tanks (aquaculture) and cultivating plants in water (hydroponics) are combined into one balanced system known as aquaponics.

Carol Birchfield and her granddaughter Hope with a package of lettuce grown in a waterbed at Birchfield Farms.

In the Birchfield’s symbiotic system, fish provide nutrients for a variety of vegetables grown in waterbeds or pots irrigated with water. Inside of a 100 by 30 greenhouse, Birchfield tends two 2,000-gallon tanks with each tank holding 600 tilapia. Water from the tanks pumps through a drain and into a clarifier. Inside the clarifier, solids are removed. The water continues through biofilters for further cleaning before being used to irrigate the plants. The plants use the water they need and the remaining water returns to the closed system.

Because the produce grows inside a greenhouse, vegetables can be grown year round. Birchfield Farms grows lettuce, kale, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers and more. Inside the greenhouse, pests are rarely an issue for the produce.

"Even if pests were an issue, we would not spray pesticides as they could be harmful to the fish," Birchfield stated. "Anything we spray could go directly back into the water/fish tanks."

The tilapia receives protein from a commercial fish food. On a daily basis, Birchfield tests the water to ensure the system stays in balance. When he has questions, he calls upon Dr. Jesse Chappell, an assistant professor and Extension specialist at Auburn Fisheries.

Over the past year, Birchfield has learned a great deal. He staggers the age of the fish so there are always larger size fish available. Fingerlings, or baby fish, are purchased from Auburn University Fisheries. Within seven to nine months, the small fish grow to approximately a two-pound size.

Birchfield continues to work on timing for plants. For example, he has learned he must plant lettuce seeds every 15-20 days, especially since he has a dedicated, strong market for his lettuce.

Demand for other vegetables and the tilapia is growing. Currently, Birchfield sells directly to the public. Vegetables can be purchased at standard market prices. He sells tilapia live by the pound. He recommends buyers bring an ice chest for travel.

Below, fresh picked cucumbers from Birchfield Farms are crisp and delicious!

Although Birchfield hopes the aquaponic farm in Dadeville will eventually pay for itself, he is quick to share how this farm is more about learning the basics of aquaponics so the lessons can in turn be shared with people who need food, jobs and so much more in Haiti.

"Andy really wants to help those in need in Haiti," Birchfield proudly said. "He fell in love with the people there and feels called by God to help. I’m glad he is able to help them and glad to do my part in the process."

Want to buy fresh vegetables or tilapia for dinner? Birchfield Farms is open to the public. Call Tony Birchfield at 205-928-0130 before going. The farm is located north of Dadeville on Madwind Road. For more information about First Baptist Montgomery’s Children’s Hope program, please visit

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.

Christmas Decorating with Nature’s Bounty

by Nadine Johnson

In the early 1990s, Richard and I were involved in the remodeling of our home in Goshen. This house had been built by my great-grandparents George Soasbe and Delilah Wilson Johnson around 1890. I was also tending my herb garden and writing an herb column for The Montgomery Advertiser.

When my editor asked if I would decorate early for the holidays and allow my home to be featured in a special Christmas edition, I was thrilled. Of course, parts of the house were in chaos, but I hurriedly made some parts presentable for this occasion.

I had grown up on a farm and learned early in life about nature’s bountiful supply of wonderful, natural Christmas decorations. For this 1990’s project, I relied heavily and happily on this early knowledge. From the countryside and the Conecuh river swamp, Richard and I gathered smilax, magnolia, holly, cedar, yaupon, pine foliage and cones, wax myrtle (also known as bayberry) and Spanish moss.

We made swags, wreaths, centerpieces and other ornamental arrangements. Along with the greenery we used other decorations appropriate for the season. This included red, green, silver, gold and crystal. Of course, there was a nativity scene in a special place.

Pine trees are so common they need no introduction. However, they provide us with many useful products other than lumber. In my youth, there was always a bottle of turpentine (a pine product) in the medicine cabinet.

Smilax is a twining vine. I can only praise it for its use in decorating.

Magnolia is as Southern as I am. This magnificent tree provides fragrant white blossoms in the summer. In the winter, it provides huge, glossy, green leaves for decorating.

Cedar is a tree providing us with a moth-repelling wood. It also provides us with great greenery at Christmas and often a tree for Santa Claus to visit.

Holly produces bright red berries which are at their best at Christmas times. Most woods provide all we need for decorating - and we need quite a bit.

Yaupon is a relative of holly. It has small green leaves and pretty red berries just in time for Christmas.

Wax myrtle is a large evergreen shrub. Its fruit or berries are used to make candles. Both the greenery and candles are great additions to Christmas scenes.

Spanish moss is another truly Southern asset. You can drape it artistically with your Christmas greenery. The gray tendrils add a unique aura to your home and even to the Christmas tree.

The blended aroma of the wax myrtle, cedar and pine is very pleasing.

The scenes from my old house appeared along with my herb column to cover a whole page in The Montgomery Advertiser that December. The gathering, the creating, my husband’s willing help and the appearance in the newspaper all formed wonderful memories for me.

As always, I advise you to consult your physician before taking any herbal remedy.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 866-570-7302, or by email at

Christmas Letter From Baxter

by Baxter Black, DVM

We started out last year in Pasadena riding in the Rose Parade as part of RFD-TV’s 100 Palominos entry. I came home with flowers in my hair! It was one of five speaking programs I did (out of 65 in 2012) in California. The National Western Stock Show in Denver has been a big part of our lives for years. I see a lot of friends walking the barns and signing books and often do a program somewhere in town. We lived in Colorado for many years before moving to Arizona.

January-February also included two events I never miss, the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko and the National Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting, in Nashville that year. I spent time with my TV and radio sponsors. They include B&W Trailer Hitches, Sweetlix, IMI Global, The Beef Checkoff, RFD-TV and U.S. Farm Report. I’m a good boy and try to make myself useful!

March brought in the "Southern Alberta Cowboy Tour," which was me! We hit all the big cities: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal … no, pardon me, Pincher Creek, Stavely and Youngstown! They’ve got more character in one community hall than all the legislators in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa combined!

I had the pleasure of being part of the Horseman’s Reunion in Paso Robles. I got to hang out with Martin Black, Larry Mahan, Craig Cameron, Chris Cox, Pat Parelli, Bryan Neubert and Bill Ink, etc. Pretty exciting. Of course, being true horsemen, they paid me in horse. With a little more work I think I’ll be able to get on him without wearin’ him down!

Summer flew by, Cindy Lou and I spent a few days in one of my favorite places - Acadiana, La. We got to see some friends who had hosted my son and me when we went down to help after the hurricanes. We also made the Florida Cattlemen’s meeting at Marco Island then went home with one of the ranchers. I saw more rain in one day than I had seen all spring at home!

In June, we pulled some calves off early and took ‘em to town due to the drought. Then came the fires!

Since I met Cindy Lou at the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association back in the Dark Ages, we try to make the summer meeting. It’s sure ‘nuf cowboy and we feel right at home.

Priefert Company has taken us into their "endorsee" category. We flew to Mt. Pleasant, Texas, to meet the boss and see the shop. A great group; my kinda people! While we were there we got to see our son who is goin’ to school in the area.

"On the Road Again" - Lewistown, Mont.; Tulsa, Okla. (saw my daughter, son-in-law, and year-old grandchild!); Dallas; Portland, Maine; College Station (the big Horse Initiative); the Ozark Farm Festival; Cincinnati; Washington State University; the Bell Ranch; Sterling, Colo.; Loomis, Calif.; shipped more calves and deer season (a nice 4-pointer).

In the last four weeks before Christmas, I spoke to the Cattlemen’s Associations in South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Iowa … salt of the earth!

I know we, as a nation, are still tryin’ to drag ourselves out of the mess we have made of our country. In my travels this past year, I have seen many thousands of people with their shoulder to the wheel holding us all together. They are the ones who still believe in Kennedy’s words, "Ask not what your country (government) can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Thanx for bein’ there for us all.

Merry Christmas, God Bless y’all and pray for "Next year better!"

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,

Christmas Wreath From Your Yard or Garden

by Tony Glover

Eastern red cedar and Leyland cypress are excellent choices for creating your own Christmas wreath. Nandina berries and pine cones are good options for decorating the evergreens.

Making a Christmas wreath is easy, fun and educational. Take your pruners and harvest sprigs of greenery from an Eastern red cedar or Leyland cypress. While you are at it, prune all the dead wood out of the Leyland cypress because, if yours looks anything like the ones around our area, there are likely several dead spots. Look for camellia, magnolia leaves, fruit pods and pine cones. Holly and nandina berries are also good candidates. Be creative and use what you have available that is not poisonous.

To make a holiday wreath, get a vine wreath to be the base for your natural holiday project. If you have access to some muscadine vines, you can harvest your own from the wild or from a vineyard. Those from the wild are great because they are normally very long making for quick work in forming your wreath frame. Make sure you know the wild vines are grapevines since poison ivy and poison oak make vines as well. They are toxic even without the leaves on them.

These grapevine wreaths are a lot easier to work with than you might imagine. Take the bottom third of the foliage off your clippings then push the foliage-free ends through the wreath until they are secure. Progress clockwise around the circle creating fullness in the outside and inside edges. Strive for a full and plump appearance.

Using florist wire available at craft stores, fasten pinecones in clusters of two or three at the 12 or 6 o’clock position on the wreath. Another option that looks great is to position them equal distances apart at about three locations on the wreath.

Making a Christmas wreath is easy, fun and educational. You can find what you need by taking a walk around your yard or in the woods.

Then add clusters of holly or nandina berries to fill in empty areas and to create a balanced look. The old-fashioned nandina berries really create a visual holiday impact when cascading downward in the center hole of the wreath.

Acorns can make a nice addition to a homemade wreath. The burr oak produces absolutely gigantic acorns perfect for the wreath. These acorns are so large people often bring them in for us to identify. Also, sweetgum balls, which can be a nuisance in the landscape, look great spray-painted with gold paint. Place these all around the wreath for added effect.

Finish the wreath by adding a decorative bow. The finished product will be a sign of welcome to your family and friends over the holidays and will have added significance because you made it yourself. Why not make an extra one to give as a gift because when you start clipping greenery you will quickly get more than you need.

There are many materials perfect for a wreath, and even a beginner can easily complete the project. Take a walk in the yard and woods to start collecting. Let your kids or grandkids help with this fun and easy project.

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

Corn Time


Cultivating Community by Gardening and Giving

Members of the Verily, Verily Vegetable Team are (from left, back row) Joe Thornton, Tom Wilcox, Jimmy Hicks, Phil Craddock, Hank Sheffield, (front row) Bonnie Hicks and Linda Sheffield. They worked long hours in the garden.

by Ashley Smith

Okra stalks grew straight and tall, ever reaching upwards toward their Heavenly goal. Leafy squash and zucchini plants blossomed bright yellow flowers. Green beans, new potatoes and sweet corn flourished in abundance. Cucumber vines wove their way across the rows, their leaves sheltering crisp green fruit. Sweet potatoes nestled beneath the soil, awaiting the long summer’s heat. Shiny green and red tomatoes promised tasty BLT sandwiches. Snippets of conversation carried across the churchyard. "The okra grew two feet since last Sunday!" declared one. Another exclaimed, "Look how healthy those tomato plants are!" Someone else stated, "Isn’t it gorgeous – not a weed in sight!" Everyone who passed the vegetable garden marveled at its beauty and productivity. As church members walked to and from Sunday services, nearly everyone passed by way of the garden.

Once the idea of a church garden became planted in the minds of the members at Headland United Methodist Church, the possibilities for the garden grew.

Bush Cooper, left, and Bob Rudder take a break from garden preparation.

"Our church congregation seeks ways to reach out to others in our community, extending the hand of Jesus," said Brother Phil Craddock, pastor at Headland UMC. "There was a lot of interest in our church planting the garden. We knew the results could directly help others."

Initially, the fruits of the garden labors would supplement food delivered through the Brown Bags for Seniors program created to supplement food needs of senior citizens in the Wiregrass area. From planning through production, picking to delivery, the 2013 Verily, Verily Vegetables Garden far exceeded expectations.

The idea of the garden grew to reality as plans formulated. The vision for the garden first began with a conversation between Bonnie Hicks, the church secretary, and Brother Craddock.

"We knew we would need a number of members involved to make the project successful," Brother Craddock recalled. "We wanted to plan the garden from the beginning stages all the way through to delivering vegetables to those who needed them the most."

Thirty-four volunteers provided willing hands to pick, wash, bag and deliver the produce.

Once a core team of volunteers committed to the effort, garden planning began. Church member Dallas Hartzog, a retired Auburn University agronomist, shared his love of the land and knowledge of agriculture as he applied years of conservation to the garden.

Harvest time! From left, Nora Beth Grayson, Cora Faison, Stella Kate Grayson and Josie Faison are all smiles about the plethora of vegetables from the garden.

"I told Brother Phil I would love to be involved," Hartzog said. "My only request was that we take the time and care on the front end to ensure agricultural successes."

The empty lot adjacent to the church proved to be the ideal spot for the Headland UMC garden. By taking a scientific approach, proper steps were taken on the planning and preparation side of gardening. Soil samples were collected so volunteers would know how to best amend the soil with proper nutrients. Other basic groundwork on the area included bed preparation, plastic covering for the beds, and drip-tape irrigation.

Word about the church garden extended beyond the church. Billy Davis donated a water source for irrigation. When Jay Jones, manager at Headland Peanut Warehouse Co-op, heard about it, he knew the project was one in which the Co-op would want to be involved.

From left, Mike Murray, Joe Thornton and Bush Cooper wash and prepare potatoes after digging.

"A garden where the vegetables are grown and given to those who need them most – what a worthy project!" Jones exclaimed. "We strive to be involved in all aspects of the communities where we operate."

Through connections at the Co-op, all of the seed, fertilizer and most of the plants were donated to the project. The Co-op was 100 percent behind the idea. Among others who agree, Jones hopes the church plants again in the spring.

A variety of plants were grown in the garden, producing an abundance appreciated by hundreds of people who received the garden goodness. Church member Betty McGriff shared how she was blessed.

"I am a city girl and don’t know a thing about gardening," McGriff exclaimed. "Wanting to help, I volunteered to deliver vegetables. Other church members picked, some washed, while still others prepared and bagged vegetables for delivery. So many people in our church came together to make it all happen!"

The garden produced an abundance of food all summer long, ripe for sharing with those in the community in need. When one plant stopped producing, another began. Joe Thornton and Tom Wilcox were in the garden every day, leading the team of volunteers in harvesting vegetables. Okra, the last vegetable in the summer garden, continued to grow well into September. One garden picker, who shall remain anonymous, shared.

"God truly blessed this garden, and with the way this okra keeps producing, I’m thinking we should pray for an early frost!"

McGriff added delivering vegetables provided her the opportunity of experiencing gratitude and seeing the joyous expressions of the recipients. One recipient opened her bag of vegetables and said, "Oh! Real food!" Another asked, "Do you know how much this would have cost in the grocery store?" Everyone was so pleased to receive fresh produce as most of their vegetables are canned. For McGriff and others on the delivery route, the garden proved to be a great blessing.

"Truly the garden was God-blessed," McGriff continued. "It was serendipity! There was a profusion of vegetables!"

The church expanded beyond the Brown Bag program, delivering to Headland and Newville senior centers as well as to Overflowing Ministries in Abbeville, a program assisting families with children through the Judson Baptist Association. Produce traveled south to Dothan’s Harbor Church and was delivered as an outreach for the homeless community in that area. With still more vegetables to distribute, the Headland UMC garden shared food with Hospice patients, senior adults, and the homebound in their congregation and community. Everyone knew someone who needed a fresh blessing from God so the church tried to cover as many bases as possible.

"Many people in our area need food," McGriff explained. "This wonderful fellowship project, concocted by Brother Phil and others in our church, grew to become a beautiful blessing in our community for all who were involved."

All who saw the garden proclaimed it lovely.

"Of course our Lord would have a pretty garden!" Hartzog said.

With the garden’s bounty – the handiwork of God – Headland UMC’s church garden cultivated the spirit of love in their community by gardening and giving.

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.

December Chores and Gift Ideas

by Kenn Alan

It’s cold outside, but this little lizard found a warm place to play in my office.

With three weeks of autumn left before the Winter Solstice, there is still enough late afternoon daylight to enjoy garden chores without the intense heat of October days.

Frost hasn’t been too drastic here at the Tomato Tower, although the banana trees and Colocasias have been bitten pretty drastically. Still, the limp foliage needs to be cut away from the base of the stalks and sent to the compost heap. Also, mulch is applied to the banana stumps to protect them from the upcoming cold weather.

This is the time of year that I attack the roots of a few invasive plants that seem to like the moist areas of tropical gardens. Small-leaf spiderwort (Tradescantia fluminensis) and chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) are nice groundcovers, but they have been getting out of hand over the last couple of years. When they smother out the trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpits, it’s time for them to go.

Right now is a good time to layer the primocanes of your blackberry bushes to share in the spring. Bury the stems under about three to four inches of soil and leave them until the spring foliage buds start to show, then cut away from the crown and cut the rooted sections. Plant them in nursery pots for sharing or starting a new blackberry trellis row.

This is the time of year I divide my strawberry plants, too. Pull up runners that have taken root. Trim off all of the foliage from the crown and then wash off all soil from the roots. Bundle the plants loosely and place them in moist peat moss to overwinter in a cool dark place.

Note: When you harvest strawberry runners for next year’s bare root planting, be sure to take this year’s runners. Always keep up with the age of your strawberry plants and rotate them out of the garden after four years of production for maximum yield.

Now is a good time to prepare your flowerbeds for the spring.

Left to right, the Giant Garnet variety of mustard volunteers in this bed twice a year and produces enormous amounts of this tasty green … or red. Fatsia japonica blossoms start their show in late fall.

Remove all dead foliage and roots from the beds, and spread a layer of at least four sheets of newspaper over the surface. Water the newspaper so it will become one with the soil underneath. Add a heavy layer (at least three inches, four would be better) of mulch, then dress it all up with a layer of pine straw.

In the spring, you will be glad you did this because it will all become nice, healthy soil.

If your tender perennials have not yet died down for the dormant season, trim them back and mulch them heavily for the winter.

As you probably have noticed lately, I have been reviewing more and more books related to gardening topics. Please understand I will not waste our valuable time telling about bad reads. I have already done that on Amazon or at other booksellers’ websites. If the books are good enough to be included in this column, then they are completely recommended by me.

Recently, I renewed an acquaintanceship and perhaps even converted it into a friendship. I was at a social gathering last month when I realized the author of one of the books in my nature reference library was there. The gathering was held just across the street from my house, so I ran to get my book for him to sign. Our paths cross so infrequently I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

I am talking about Dr. Mike Howell, author of "Spiders of the Eastern United States."

I have had the book since shortly after its publication in 2004, but realized I bought it before I began reviewing books. You want my review now?

Left to right, Dr. Mike Howell signs my copy of his book. Spiders is a great photographic guide for identifying the eight-legged creatures in and around your home.

This pictorial guide is a must have for gardeners and naturalists alike. It makes a great companion to any college-level biology course book and high school students can use this guide as a key tool for positive identification of our spiders.

You can’t go wrong with good reference books for holiday season gifts and this one is definitely a good one!

If you have any questions or comments regarding the features discussed in this column, email me at

Become a fan of Home Grown Tomatoes on Facebook and keep up with the latest news. Tell all your friends, too!

December Lawn and Garden Checklist


  • Deciduous trees and shrubs can still be planted and transplanted.
  • Plant bare root trees, shrubs and roses during their winter dormancy. This allows time for a healthy root system to develop without competition from the top part of the plant.
  • Dormant roots of asparagus are available now in some nurseries. Consider male-only plant varieties for greater harvest. Plant asparagus in areas with good drainage such as raised beds or hillsides.
  • Plant the tulips and spring bulbs you forgot you have stored in the refrigerator. Spring bulbs should be planted by this month so a good root system will develop to nourish the bulb before it sends up leaves and flowers in spring.
  • While grocery shopping, you can pick up bulbs of Jerusalem artichokes, elephant garlic and shallots to plant in your garden.


  • Take a soil test instead of guessing what the garden needs and wasting money on unnecessary amendments. Unneeded amendments do not improve the health of the garden and, in some cases, may be detrimental. Add recommended amendments such as sulfur, lime and organic compost. Amending the soil now allows time for amendments to settle in and change the soil for spring plantings.
  • Wood ashes from the fireplace, used sparingly, are a good source of nutrients for the garden, especially phlox, sweet William, peony and spring-flowering bulbs.


  • Prune outdoor limbs or branches damaged by storms. The damaged parts should be removed immediately. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too.
  • Prune open-grown apples and pears (but not those trained or espaliered against walls).
  • Remove older canes of blackberries.
  • Cut back asparagus fronds and mulch crowns with hay or straw.
  • Midwinter is the best time to prune edible and ornamental vines to prevent bleeding of the sap from the cut stems.
  • Prune formal deciduous hedges. Informal deciduous hedges that have grown leggy can be rejuvenated this month with some radical pruning. Cut every second stem close to ground level. Next year, when new growth has sprouted from the base, the remaining stems can be cut down.
  • The dead tops of many perennials can be removed.
  • Prune climbing roses now; cut away diseased or damaged growth and tie any new shoots to their support. Prune older, flowered-side shoots back by two-thirds of their length.


  • Insulate outdoor spigots or turn them off at the main. Also drain and pack away unneeded hoses.
  • Turn off and drain sprinkler systems by removing the head from the sprinkler at the lowest point of your lawn or install a sprinkler-end drain.
  • Winter rains tend to make you forget about watering your garden. However, plants and shrubs growing beneath large evergreens or under the eaves of the house may be bone dry by this time.
  • Reduce watering of houseplants.
  • Water in your greenhouse sparingly, early in the day.
  • For those with outdoor ponds, be sure to add water as needed to keep aquatic plants from drying out.
  • Check overwintered plants in the basement and garage to check for possible water needs.


  • Don’t store firewood in the house as insects can come in with it. Leave the wood outside until you are ready to use it. Burn the oldest wood first so that pest populations do not get a head start.
  • Carefully plan your vegetable garden for next year so you ensure good crop rotation to avoid a buildup of pests and diseases.
  • Keep mice away from stored produce.
  • Protect all young trees from rabbit damage by placing wire around the base of the tree.
  • Apply dormant oil to fruit trees to control over-wintering pest problems such as aphids and other scale insects. You will need to access all the nooks and crannies where they hide.
  • Apply broadleaf herbicides to control winter annual and perennial weeds. Use only as directed.
  • Gather up fallen leaves from around the base of rose bushes that suffered from blackspot or rust this summer to reduce the chance of infection next year.
  • Check camellias and azaleas for spider mites and treat with insecticidal soap if mites are found.
  • Check houseplants and any plants brought indoors for the winter for insects that may have hitched a ride. With the heat on, they can multiply quickly. If tackled before they get out of hand, non-chemical methods are usually successful: a simple shower, insecticidal soap spray (as directed on label) or, with the most tenacious (like mealybugs), sometimes an alcohol swab and Q-tip.


  • On the coldest days of winter, give yourself a break and spend some time inside looking out. Like us, our garden has earned this well-deserved rest.
  • In your garden journal, review your notes from this past year and devise strategies to overcome problems you faced last year. Draw up a landscape design that can be installed in the spring.
  • Shorter days, the possibility of rain, colder temperatures and the activities of the holidays tend to put gardening on the back burner … but don’t totally neglect it.
  • Continue mulching and composting chores. Your plants will love the added benefits and mulching landscape plants now may help them survive the winter. If you don’t already have one, build or buy a compost bin!
  • Cover compost bins with a piece of old metal roofing or some plastic sheeting to prevent the compost from becoming too cold and wet to rot down.
  • For those with heavy soils, this is the perfect time to dig, so winter frosts can help break down newly turned clods. Wait until the ground is dry. This is also the ideal opportunity to work in organic matter like the contents of the compost heap/bin(s), well-rotted manure or composted bark.
  • Give gardening tools from your local Co-op store and subscriptions to landscaping magazines as Christmas gifts.
  • If you successfully kept last year’s plant alive and have been keeping it in 14 hours of darkness since September, your Christmas cactus should be ready to bring back into the living room by Dec. 1.
  • Prevent Christmas gift plants such as azaleas, Christmas cacti and indoor cyclamen from going rapidly over a cliff by keeping them cool at 55-59 degrees. Orchids and poinsettias require a minimum temperature of 60-66 degrees. Forced bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths prefer even lower temperatures.
  • Saved seeds left to dry can now be cleaned and packaged. If you have enough, a packet of homegrown seeds makes an ideal little gift slipped into a Christmas card.
  • The more recently cut a Christmas tree is the better it will hold up indoors. To test the freshness of a Christmas tree, pull lightly at a needle. If the needle comes off easily, the tree is not very fresh. The best way to assure a fresh tree is to go to a local "choose ‘n cut" tree farm. Go to a grower near you.
  • Check stored fruit and vegetables for signs of rot and promptly dispose of any affected.
  • Check that greenhouse heaters are working correctly.
  • Ventilate your greenhouse whenever there’s a sunny day to keep the atmosphere dry.
  • Glossy leaved houseplants such as philodendrons, rubber plants and palms should be sponged off periodically to allow them to breathe. Plants which have fuzzy, textured or other non-glossy-type leaves should be set in the sink and sprayed gently with room temperature water until the dust is cleaned away. Be sure the foliage is allowed to dry completely.
  • Provide your houseplants with extra humidity by grouping plants together or by setting the pots on leak proof trays filled with moistened pebbles.
  • Coastal lawns if not already dormant will soon be. Continue to mow, rake leaves and water during dry spells.
  • Keep clearing leaves off the lawn to let the light in and prevent dead patches from appearing.
  • Stay off frozen lawns!!!
  • Net your pond to keep the water clear of leaves.
  • Removing pumps and filters from ponds and water features will help prevent them from being damaged by freezing water during the winter.
  • Throw a rubber ball on to the surface of your pond so an air hole for fish can easily be made without having to smash ice.
  • Tidy up sheds and clean pots and trays making them ready for the next season.
  • Check the security of your garden shed. This is particularly important in winter when you visit it less often.
  • If you didn’t do it in previous months, or you have used some tools since putting them away for the season, take a day to clean, oil and store garden tools and equipment such as shovels, sprayers, wheelbarrows, etc. Give hand tools a wipe of linseed oil on the wooden and metal areas to help prevent rusting.
  • Now is a good time to shop around and bargain for some good prices on equipment you will need later.
  • Send your lawnmower and other power tools to be serviced and sharpened while they are in less demand.
  • Once deciduous plants and climbers have cleared, repair garden structures.
  • Wash all pots and seed trays so they are ready for spring sowing.
  • Become a Master Gardener! Call your county Extension office for more details.
  • Attention new urban farmers: Chickens need to be high and dry. If your run gets muddy, add a few bags of sand or put down wood chips or hay/straw to give the hens a place to roam above the muck. When it gets dryer, they’ll love having a place to hunt for bugs!
  • If you are thinking about becoming a beekeeper, now is the time to order bees. Contact your local beekeeping association for more information. Your local Alabama Cooperative Extension Office can point you in the right direction.
  • If you potted up some bulbs such as hyacinths or daffodils last September for winter forcing, keep an eye on them. Make sure they remain moist and in the dark until they have established their root systems. If they have already filled their containers with roots and new top growth has begun, bring them into the house and set them in a cool room in indirect light. After a week or so, move them into bright light and watch them go to town!
  • If you have pottery you won’t be using for winter, it is usually a good idea to empty them and store them where they will either be dry or free of frost. Terra cotta is especially prone to breaking when frozen.
  • Lift and store dahlia tubers once their leaves are blackened by frost.
  • Prepare the ground while it’s dry for woody plants you plan to install. If you wait to dig a hole until after it rains, the too-wet soil drives out air essential to good root growth.
  • During dry and frozen times, fill the birdbath. You don’t have to haul out the hose; just fill a pitcher with water. Some gardeners invest in birdbath warmers to keep the water from freezing.
  • Hang suet cakes and keep bird feeders topped off to attract birds that will in turn eat pests in your garden. n


Forage and Grassland Conference Scheduled for December

The 2013 Alabama Forage and Grassland Conference is set for Dec. 12 at Lake Guntersville State Park in Guntersville. The one-day conference, hosted by the Alabama Forage and Grassland Coalition, will provide attendees the opportunity to learn from and interact with some of the top forage experts in the country.

The registration fee is $75. Space is limited, so early registration is recommended.

The conference theme is "Forages: Past, Present, Future." It will provide producers and farmers with a look at some of the latest research and a chance to ask questions, as well as learning new and improved ways to produce top quality and quantity forage.

The morning session will focus on the forage industry and includes Dr. Don Ball, a former Alabama Cooperative Extension System forage specialist, and Dr. Jennifer Johnson, the current ACES forage specialist.

The conference also features several nationally known forage experts: Dr. Pat Keyser, director of Center for Native Grasslands Management at the University of Tennessee, and Dr. Peter Ballerstedt, forage product manager at Barenbrug USA.

In addition to the morning session and discussions with Dr. Keyser and Dr. Ballerstedt, the conference includes two breakout session tracks:

Extending the Grazing Season

Pasture Weeds and Weed Control Options

A pre-conference session will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Sand Mountain Research and Extension System in Crossville. Participants will have the opportunity to see current forage research projects and interact with the research scientists. The cost of attending this session is $10. Pre-registration is required and will be first come, first served.

Attendees will be able to earn continuing education credits for confined animal feeding operations, certified crop advisers and pesticide applicator certifications.

A block of rooms has been reserved at the Lake Guntersville State Lodge, available at $82.50 per night plus tax. To make reservations call 256-505-6621 or 256-571-5540 and mention Alabama Forage Conference or market code 345.

For registration and other information, contact Johnson at or Eddie Jolley with Natural Resources Conservation Service at

Grits are Good and Kale That Kids will Love

Plus: Time for Dozer Decisions

by John Howle

time of reflection

As we enter the month of December, it’s a time of reflection. We look back with receipts to see if our farming year was profitable, but there’s a more important question. What did we "change" during the past year?

As Ronald Reagan pointed out, change begins at the dinner table. It starts by changing our own attitude and those of our family before we can expect positive change on a larger scale. Finally, the most important aspect of change is: Did we do anything over the past year to help change people for the better during this time?

Jesus set the example for us to follow if we want real change. His change meant a renewing of our mind for things of spiritual importance. During this spiritual renewal is when we truly change things around us.

Grits make a healthy food choice if prepared properly.

Grits make a healthy food choice if prepared properly.

Grits are Good

This December while you are changing things at the dinner table, enjoy one of the best tasting staples of the Southern diet - grits. Made from dried corn where the hull and germ are removed, the resulting product, hominy, is then ground into grits. This dish is becoming more common in other meals besides breakfast.

Many restaurants now serve grits as a side item like green beans or potatoes. Also, who could resist a plateful of shrimp and grits? Either way, grits taste great and they provide substantial energy for the body without much fat.

When you compare grits and oatmeal, grits have less fat, they will make you feel fuller and a typical serving has close to 40 grams of carbohydrates, great for athletes or farmers putting up a new section of fence.

Even though grits served with a lot of butter and a little bacon grease taste good, you are losing a lot of the health benefits when these things are added. I’ve come up with a delicious alternative to greasy grits, which tastes good and is good for you.

First, boil the grits like you would normally. If you read on the side of the box, follow the directions for six servings, which make about two servings for me. Add olive oil, butter buds (a butter substitute), sea salt, black pepper and, for a little zing, some powdered red pepper.

This is a truly healthy way to enjoy grits without sacrificing taste, and the amount you don’t eat can easily be stored in the fridge in a glass bowl. To eat on them for the next couple of days, simply spoon out what you want, heat it in the microwave and, once stirred, they taste fresh again. You can also add chunks of lean ham to the mix to get that extra burst of protein.

Kids Love Kale

Hopefully, you planted winter greens in your garden this past fall and you are now enjoying the fruits of your labor. Greens, especially kale, are high in iron and plenty of other nutrients the body needs. Unfortunately, some kids may not have developed a taste for this healthy side item.

Try this recipe I got from Phylis Lovvorn. Wash the kale thoroughly, but instead of throwing it into the pot with a chunk of fatback to boil, lay the kale out on paper and let it dry. Spray olive oil on both sides of each leaf, and bake the leaves on a cookie sheet in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. If the leaves haven’t become crunchy, flip them for another five minutes.

The olive oil allows the kale to cook with a slight amount of crispiness. Sprinkle a little sea salt on the baked kale while it’s hot. This is a delicious treat even kids will enjoy. My youngsters like it better than potato chips, but you don’t have to tell them it’s healthy.

The winter rains of December make a great time to check scrapes that have been re-freshened by bucks, or search your fields for flocks of turkeys.

December Deer

December is a great time to be in the woods, especially after a winter rain. The bucks will be making scrapes in the forest floor leaves. Every time it rains, the scent left by the buck gets washed away and he will revisit these areas regularly to freshen the scrape.

If you can set up downwind of the scrape with a fairly open field of vision to see the buck when he is approaching, you can increase your chances of a harvest. There are products on the market where you can pour scents of buck or doe urine into the scrape to further increase the interest of the buck visiting these scrapes.

During the winter rains of December is also a great time to scout your pastures for turkeys for the upcoming spring. During a light rain, the turkeys will leave the seclusion of the woods for the open pastures.

When you are checking the cattle, also keep your eyes open for buck scrapes and flocks of turkeys.

Do you need dozer work done on your property this winter? A skilled operator can save you money if the dozer is large enough for the job and the operator has experience.

Dozer Decisions

This winter, you might have watched your access roads turn into gulleys from winter rains, or maybe you want to clear some firebreaks through your property or create a farm pond. It’s not too early to start talking with dozer operators in your area to get estimates on prices.

Some may charge by the hour or by the job, but it’s best to line up the work in the winter before the operators get booked for warm weather. A skilled dozer operator can make improvements to the land in an efficient and safe manner while saving money. Something to look for in a professional operator is: Does he have large enough equipment for your job? If not, you can spend hundreds of extra dollars paying for time and inadequate horsepower on the dozer. Also, make a site visit to an area where the dozer operator is working so you can determine whether he/she is completing the job with efficiency.

This December, as you reflect over the past year, decide what change you really want. As Reagan said, it all begins around the dinner table.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

How's Your Garden?

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

A Tomato Tunnel

This garden arch was spotted at the Moss Mountain Farm of P. Allen Smith in Roland, Ark. Last summer it held a cascade of cherry tomatoes. The vines planted at the base of the arch grew up and over to create a green tunnel and provided easy pickings of the cherry tomatoes dangling down. In addition to cherry tomato vines, plants that would climb it well include pole beans, sugar snap peas and hyacinth bean for harvest, and morning glory and cypress vine for beauty. Winter is the time of year to put these kinds of dream projects on your list. I thought I’d share it before Christmas in case you know someone who would love to have a tunnel of tomatoes next summer! The 16-foot cattle panels are held together with zip ties and anchored to the ground with rebar.

Amaryllis Can Go from Tabletop to Flower Bed

Many of the amaryllis sold for the holidays and in January, either in boxes or already potted, will often also grow in a protected location in your garden. After your amaryllis blooms indoors this winter, keep it in a bright place and water to keep it from drying out. In the spring, you can transplant it to a bright spot in the garden. Next spring it may surprise you with another big bloom. Plant the bulb in a spot that gets at least four hours of sun daily. The biggest threat to these bulbs is rot, so be sure the soil drains well. Ideally, the bulb is planted so the neck is above ground to help avoid rot, but that exposes the bulb to more cold than it can bear in the winter. So plant the bulb’s neck an inch or two below ground to protect it from freezing weather. These are hybrid amaryllis that are not as hardy as the old-fashioned, red, perennial type, but nevertheless worth a try in the garden. The holiday amaryllis I have transplanted to the garden have usually bloomed for a few springs, making it worth the time to dig the hole. You can just tuck them into a flower bed where they will be noticed when in bloom, but the foliage can be anonymous.

Blueberry bushes might be an idea for the gardener on your Christmas list. The trick is to make sure there are two varieties that bloom at the same time for cross-pollination.

A Blue Christmas

Is there a gardener on your Christmas list who might enjoy a few blueberry bushes? If they can grow azaleas, they can grow blueberries. The plants are in the same family - they like acid soil and have delicate thin roots needing some TLC to start, but become more adaptable as they age. More folks are making a place for blueberries in any size garden, large or small. The plants are attractive and fit well into most any landscape setting making a nice background for flowers and herbs. And they can live for decades with a little care. Look for blueberry plants in nurseries now and through winter, or wrap up a gift certificate along with some peat moss and an offer of your labor for planting anytime between now and February. The trick to blueberries is making sure the garden contains two varieties for cross-pollination that bloom at the same time. You can check with your county Extension office for an updated list of varieties in your area as bloom times and variety recommendation can vary from the northern part to southern part of the state. Ideally you want a berry that won’t bloom so early that risks losing the blooms to a late freeze. Some of the earlier varieties are Climax, Brightwell, Price and Vernon. Later ones include Tifblue, Powderblue, Onslow and Yadkin.

Southern Gardening Symposium is Soon

Nurse your cabin fever with a couple of days of camaraderie with other gardeners at the 28th Annual Southern Gardening Symposium at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. The event begins with a large reception on Friday night and continues though Saturday and early Sunday with presentations on a wide variety of subjects by garden authors, designers and others steeped in gardening. You may register now for the event which takes place January 24-26. The symposium also offers a scholarship to one horticulture student and professor. You can find out more at

Certification Lets You Know What You Are Buying

Do you know what is in a bag of mulch or soil that you buy for your garden beds? Products contain bark, composted forest products and other materials, but it’s hard to know a good product from a bad one (which could contain any type of ground wood such as decks and treated lumber). To help ensure satisfaction and safety, the National Mulch and Soil Council developed a voluntary program for producers to submit to testing and standards for uniform quality. Look for a list of certified brands and learn more about the standards for mulch and potting soil at

The small blank spaces between stepping stones are great spots for succulents that thrive in shallow, dry environments. Hens and chicks is probably the best known.

Between a Rock and a Rock

The little blank spaces of soil between stepping stones or stacked rock walls are great spots for certain succulents that thrive in the shallow soil and dry environment. Hens and chicks may be the best known, but the nursery industry has introduced many others that trail or clump, have pretty blooms and vary in leaf color from lime green to red to gray. These are often also good for the border around a stone path, in containers, and little dry spots here and there (but not as a mass ground cover). Look for cold-hardy, perennial succulents in your garden center, making sure to check the label or ask a knowledgeable person. There are many tropical succulents sold in greenhouses as houseplants, but these are not generally hardy enough to make it through our winters in the landscape. Sedum species (also called stonecrop) include a large number of hardy perennial types.

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

Hunting & Fishing Almanac

Hunting Heritage Foundation Releases 2nd Edition

by Corky Pugh

The Hunting Heritage Foundation recently announced the publication and distribution of the "2013-2014 Alabama Hunting & Fishing Almanac." Twenty thousand free copies of the "Almanac" were published in partnership with the Alabama State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and distributed through H. T. Hackney Co. to independent grocers across the state.

With the help of NWTF and Hackney, we are happy to be able to provide this ready-reference guide for hunting and fishing to retailers to give to their customers free. The Alabama Chapter of NWTF clearly demonstrates a strong commitment to keeping the ranks of hunters broad and deep. The partnership with Hackney results in getting the "Almanac" in the hands of rank and file hunters and fishermen through hundreds of grocers at the local level across the state.

Most of these small, independent stores no longer receive the "Official State of Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest" because they are not license agents due to lack of Internet access. Demographic research has shown the vast majority of Alabama’s licensed hunters are hard-working, middle-class people; most are not advantaged economically or otherwise. Comparisons of year-to-year license databases reveal a huge "churn" or turnover in license-buyers on an annual basis. The least-advantaged, less-avid hunters are the ones we are losing first. The "Hunting & Fishing Almanac" is written on a very elementary level and aimed at the huge segment of not-very-avid, not-very-advantaged hunters and anglers.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you are an avid hunter like me. It’s important to remember the vast majority of hunters are not avid or committed. Most are casual participants, only hunting occasionally, either by choice or due to lack of opportunity. Many don’t have a place to go. The mill worker or miner, working a shift that precludes hunting, may only get to hit the woods one or two days a year when things close for Christmas.

Yet, every hunter who buys a license counts exactly the same in terms of the license they buy and the 3-1 matching federal aid monies Alabama and 49 other states receive. Each state’s annual apportionment of matching Wildlife Restoration dollars is based essentially on how many licensed hunters that state has.

NWTF State Chapter President Phil Savage said, "The Alabama Chapter of NWTF is pleased to play a major role in funding the printing of the ‘Almanac’ as part of NWTF’s ‘Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.’ initiative. We recognize that all the good habitat-related work we do can only be sustained by keeping the ranks of hunters strong. This targeted approach is aimed at the hard-working, middle-class hunters who are the backbone of hunting in Alabama and across the nation."

An additional 3,000 copies of the "Almanac" have been custom-printed for other businesses, most notably Alabama Farmers Cooperative, making them available at Quality Co-op stores for free. The corporate citizenship displayed by H. T. Hackney Co., AFC and others is a real asset. Keeping people hunting and fishing not only pays for putting Conservation Enforcement officers and biologists on the ground and the water but it drives a huge economic engine.

Last year, 10,000 copies of the "First Edition Alabama Hunting & Fishing Almanac 2012-13," also funded in large part by the Alabama State Chapter of NWTF, were distributed by Hackney. The publications were quickly picked up and utilized by patrons of stores all over the state. Many favorable comments were received, especially as to the simplicity of the content. In essence, if an individual can read a calendar and knows when his off day is, he can see at a glance what he can hunt on that day. The simplicity and succinctness of the content is preserved in the expanded second edition.

This targeted approach is aimed at keeping people hunting, an essential part of NWTF’s "Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt." initiative.

As set out in NWTF CEO George Thornton’s "On the Horizon" column in the March/April 13 Turkey Country, " … the past has proven we won’t have sustainable wildlife habitat unless hunters are involved. Hunters pay for 80 percent of the budgets for state wildlife agencies driving the research and work to restore essential habitat for game and nongame species."

The "Second Edition Almanac" is a 32-page, calendar-based guide to hunting seasons and regulations. The user-friendly text has proven popular with all kinds of hunters - the avid and not-so-avid. Every hunter counts the same in paying for management and protection of wildlife resources enjoyed by all of society. This is why it is so important to keep the base of hunters broad.

Hunting amounts to a $1.8 billion economic impact annually in Alabama. Freshwater fishing adds another $780 million. The two activities are responsible for $1.7 billion in direct retail expenditures, spinning off $155 million in state and local taxes every year in Alabama.

To learn more about the role hunters play, go to

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

If Newell Barnes Could Only See Things Now

by Corky Pugh

Born and raised in Monroe County, Newell Barnes hunted at every opportunity. He lived the sum total of his 86 years in this game-rich, southwest Alabama county and witnessed lots of changes in his lifetime. From this first-hand perspective, he would be absolutely astonished at the relative abundance of game populations and resultant hunting opportunities we enjoy today.

As his only grandson, I was the sole beneficiary of his concerted efforts to pass along the hunting heritage. The countless hours we spent together roaming around in the woods left an indelible mark on me, a mark I wouldn’t rub off even if I could.

We hunted squirrels, the most abundant and popular game animal of the era, up through the 1970s, when deer and turkey populations were starting to take hold due to restoration efforts. Granddaddy killed two turkeys and one deer in a whole lifetime of hunting. There simply were few if any to be killed in the era in which he lived and hunted - not even in Monroe County.

I’ve still got some of the old 12-gauge buckshot shells he carried around in his hunting vest just on the off chance he saw a deer. The old Peters brand shells, with casings made of thick paper instead of the more modern plastic, bear testimony to the general absence of deer. Granddaddy carried the shells around so many years he wore the writing off them. When they were new, the casings would have had "00 BUCK" stamped on the side. Only by the telltale bulges of individual buckshot pellets through the sides of the shell casings can you now tell what shot size they contain.

Barnes’ generation came along in the heyday of quail hunting. "Partridges," as he called them, were abundant in the era of the patch farm. As a landscape of weedy fence rows and fallow fields gave way to more modern, efficient agricultural practices, and as reforestation of cutover land occurred, quail habitat was largely lost. However, with the single exception of quail, game populations are far more abundant now than ever before.

Every time I travel to Monroe County to hunt on my little piece of dirt that holds the rest of the world together, I wonder about what Granddaddy would think if he could only experience what I’m experiencing. The land came from my great aunt who inherited it from the widow of a steamboat captain. The very first time Granddaddy took me hunting, we went there. Now, all these years later, I can go there and sit with my back against the same big beech tree he and I sat with our backs against. The older I get, the more I’m drawn to this place.

Things have changed for the better, though. Now there are abundant deer and turkey; back then, there were almost none.

Some things about the place have changed little, like the perennial stream cutting through the tract. The free-flowing branch originates from two springs in a high bluff and never runs dry. One of my earliest memories is of drinking water dipped from the branch in Granddaddy’s hat. It tasted oddly like sweat. Every time I step across the flowing water now, I’m reminded of the occasion, and it starts me to thinking about how lucky we are compared with our grandfathers’ generation.

For 76 years, hunters have paid for work by state wildlife agencies across the country to bring back species that were near the brink of extinction. Through hunting license purchases and matching 3-1 federal monies derived from excise taxes collected at the manufacturers’ level on hunting arms and ammunition, hunters have paid for restoration of sustainable populations of deer, turkey and a host of other species, both hunted and non-hunted. To this day, the management and protection of fish and wildlife in Alabama is totally funded by license-buying hunters and anglers. There are no general tax dollars paying to put conservation enforcement officers and Wildlife and Fisheries biologists on the ground and the water across the state.

Yet, everybody benefits from abundant and healthy wildlife populations. The benefits, economically and societally, are appreciable. The vast majority of people who hunt and fish in Alabama are residents of the state. Ninety-two percent (492,000) of the people who hunt in Alabama are residents of the state. However, some 44,000 non-residents travel to Alabama to hunt each year. Sixty-nine percent (473,000) of the people who fish in Alabama are residents; 31% are from other states.

According to the "2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife Associated Recreation," the economic impact of hunting in Alabama annually is $1.8 billion, spinning off over $104 million in state and local taxes. The economic impact of freshwater fishing amounts to $780 million, generating $51 million in state and local taxes. The majority of this spending is attributable to resident hunters and anglers. Most are hard-working, middle-class people. Together, hunting and fishing provide over 21 million man-days of wholesome outdoor recreation annually in Alabama.

Our grandfathers would be amazed at the abundance we now enjoy. The very thought of the huge economic value now attached to hunting and fishing would be mind-boggling. We typically see more deer in one afternoon than they saw in an entire lifetime. We hear more turkeys gobble on one morning from one location than would have been heard in a whole county for an entire spring.

Tom Kelly summed it up best when he wrote the closing line in an essay titled "The Bad Old Days" that reads, "The good old days are right this very minute."

To learn more about this incredible wildlife restoration success story and the important role of hunters, go to

Corky Pugh is theexecutive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.

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

Is Feed Too Expensive to Feed? ... Maybe Sometimes, But Not This Year

by Jimmy Hughes

From time to time, I am asked a question that is both relevant and eye opening. I like to incorporate some of these questions into an article if I feel it is timely and would be of interest to our readers. I had such a question a few weeks back I would like to address at this time. I was at a recent cattle production sale and I was talking with several producers about the market outlook for cattle as well as recent cattle prices at board sales. One of the producers, attending the sale just to see cattle prices, made the following statement, "With feed so high, I can’t afford to feed my calves." When the statement was made, a few other producers seemed to agree with it, leading me to the point of this month’s article. Is feed too expensive to feed?

The normal answer you would get from someone who is in the feed business is "no, it’s never too expensive to feed." While that may not always be true, this year is very much a year it is not too expensive to feed calves.

The whole key to determining if it’s too expensive to feed calves is based on the selling price of the calf itself. While some years the price of feed may be low, but if the price of calves is low as well, then it may not pay to feed the calves and to just let your momma cow put the weight on the calves. Other years, the price spread between a lighter-weight calf and a heavier-weight calf may be so large that again it’s not as feasible to feed a calf to add extra pounds. There are years like this year where feed is moderately priced, calves are at record levels and the price spread between lighter calves and heavier calves is less than normal, making this the perfect year to feed your calves.

Let’s look at the cost of feed and the cost of calves to determine how much additional money a producer can make by the added weight on calves this fall. If we look at the current Alabama cattle market on number one quality steer calves, 600-weight steers are bringing an average of $1.55 per pound. Once we see what the value of the calf is, then we just need to determine what the cost of feed is and what it will cost to put a pound of gain on the calf.

The biggest consideration is selecting the feed that will put the lowest cost of gain on your calves. To determine this, you cannot look at the ton price of the feed but you will need to look at the cost per pound of gain of the feed. I am proud to say, at Alabama Farmers Cooperative, we have researched and collected data on thousands of calves over the past several years, and we are confident we know the conversion rates of the feeds we offer to producers.

The conversion rate is the amount of feed it will take to put a pound of gain on a calf. Knowing the conversion rates of the feeds are very important because this is what will give you the actual cost to put a pound of gain on a calf. If you are using a feed from another dealer, I would suggest you question that dealer about conversion rates and cost per pound of gain. If the dealer cannot answer these questions, I would suggest you consider another feed dealer or talk to a nutritionist, who can help you figure the conversion rates based upon the nutrient value of the feed.

I would like to give you the information on three different products we offer through your local Quality Co-op. The first is CPC Grower 13, the second is 13% pellets with Bovatec and the third is a soyhull/corn gluten blend. All three of the feeds are palatable and will add weight to your calves. The question is how efficiently do they add the gain and at what cost can a pound be put on my steer calves. We have data over several years that makes us confident the CPC Grower 13 will add a pound of gain to your calf for every 6 pounds of feed the calf consumes, 13% pellets will add a pound of gain for every 7.5 pounds of feed consumed and a soyhull/gluten blend will add a pound of gain for every 9.5 pounds of feed consumed.

With these numbers, let’s now look to see what you can give for each of these three feeds and still make money by feeding your calves. Again, a 600-pound number one steer is worth $1.55 a pound, so as long as we are putting a pound of gain on for a cost of less than $1.55 a pound then we are making money by feeding the calves. If you look at the CPC Grower 13% feed that converts at a rate of 6:1, you could pay up to $516 per ton for the feed to break even on adding weight to your calves; the 13% pellets, you can pay up to $413 per ton; and the soyhulls/gluten blend, you can pay up to $326 per ton. I assure you, in today’s market, all three of these feeds will cost less and in the case of the CPC Grower 13% Feed, much less than the break-even cost on the feed.

I hope you can see from this example that you can make a lot of additional profits this year by feeding your calves. I also hope you can see that while all three feeds will make you money, the two complete feeds will help you realize much more profit over the commodity-blended feed. I would encourage you to look at the opportunity this fall with record calf prices to realize even greater profits for your operation.

In addition, I would encourage you to consider products for your brood cow herd to help improve forage digestibility. With the rainfall we have experienced, most pastures have an abundance of standing forage that cows can consume and digest. There are products available to help them do this in a very efficient and profitable manner.

If you have any questions about feed or other products, please feel free to contact me at 256-947-7886 or

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

It’s Still Fall

by Herb T. Farmer

So it is … still fall. I think it is time for some experimentation.

I’m getting too old to fool with much of the same old stuff I plant here on the farm. This year, I’ll plant my staples. There will be the usual crop of salad greens (mustards, lettuces, turnips and the like), but, this year, I’m trying stuff I’ve never tried before.

This season, I’m starting a new trend. There will be new, and never tried here, produce folks in my area should eat and enjoy.

At the top of the list is flaxseed or linseed (Linum usitatissimum). Although this plant is grown for textile fiber and is an ingredient in wood finishing products, it is also grown as a dietary supplement. It contains high levels of dietary fiber, micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. Research this one for yourselves, folks. It is a staple in almost everything I prepare from baked goods to fruit smoothies.

Chia (Salvia hispanica) is another oily seed consumed for its rich content of omega-3 fatty acids. It aids digestion and helps fight heart disease. Chia is another dietary supplement I regularly add to smoothies, oatmeal, grits, cookies and energy bars.

Pumpkin seeds or pepitas (Cucurbita pepo ssp.) make a great snack food. They contain protein, iron, zinc, phosphorus, copper, potassium and many other micronutrients along with a rich assortment of fatty acids. Vitamins include Bs, C, E and K. They are just plain good for you. I use whole roasted pumpkin seeds in my energy bars and cookies. Milled roasted pumpkin seeds make a tasty ingredient in breads and cakes.

Red flaxseed adds a nutty flavor to baked goods. It’s a healthy addition to salads, cereals and smoothies. To get the best nutritional benefits, be sure to mill the seed first. Chia seeds come in many shades of brown, tan, white and gray. White chia is the one I buy most often.
Pumpkin seeds taste great toasted. It’s a healthy snack for kids, too! Cooked red quinoa adds color to your dinner plate or green salad. White quinoa is becoming more and more popular since it is now promoted as a “superfood.” Mill the seed to make a flour. When used as a baking ingredient, it can replace many gluten flours that cause medical issues with many folks – like me.

Recipe: I make a puree from cooked sweet potatoes and add the milled pumpkin seeds to the paste, spread it thinly onto parchment paper about the size and thickness of a potato chip. Bake them at 350 degrees until crispy, but not burnt. If they aren’t salty enough for you, add salt at the beginning of the process.

Pomegranate seed (Punica granatum) contains phytochemicals, polyphenols, vitamins and micronutrients. Pop open a pomegranate and enjoy the seed on a green salad.

About 44 percent of the weight of hempseed (Cannabis sp) is edible oils. It contains dietary fiber, omega-6, omega-3, other essential fatty acids and protein. Again, I primarily use hempseed milled and added to energy bars and breakfast cereals. It is great for baking in cakes and cookies, too.

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) has to be one of my favorites among the grain-like seeds. Cooked quinoa is a fantastic source of protein, vitamins and minerals. You can even boost its nutritional value by soaking the seed in plain water for three or four hours before cooking it. Use cooked quinoa as a stuffing with fresh carrots. Mix quinoa with your favorite meatloaf meat for a great sandwich meatloaf. (Sandwich meatloaf: Doesn’t fall apart when sliced.)

Yes. I am going to plant all of these in the spring. My yields may not be profitable and I am certain I will still supplement my consumption greatly at the retailers, but at least I will be growing something good to eat.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you next year!

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

For more information, email me at

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.

Junior Master Gardener Program: How Gardening Can Help Your Child Grow

by Su Reid-St. John

Meet Elmore County’s very first certified JMG class! Betty Stricker, an Elmore County Master Gardener, leads this group from Eclectic Middle School with help from teachers and some fellow Master Gardeners.

Here’s a surefire way to teach your child how to do better in school, become more involved in the community, develop initiative and help people in need: Enroll him or her in your local Junior Master Gardener program.

"So many kids now haven’t had the experience of really being around plants or growing things," said Lisa Whittlesey, a Texas A&M Extension program specialist who coordinates the International Junior Master Gardener Program. "The program is a way for them to begin to understand that their food comes from the ground, and they can be a part of growing things that will help the community."

Through hands-on activities, fun group projects, meaningful community service - and, yes, work in the garden - the program helps kids develop a love of gardening, respect for the environment and a passion for giving back to the world in which they live. Around a million kids from across the country participate every year, mostly through school programs, but also through 4-H clubs, home school classes, summer camps and more.

There are two program levels, one designed for third through fifth grades, the other for sixth through eigth grades. But they are presented in such a way that they can be adapted for kids from preschool age all the way through high school.

"It’s a great learning environment," said Luci Davis, Alabama Junior Master Gardener coordinator. "The kids get their hands dirty and learn without even realizing they’re learning."

What’s more, the curriculum for each program is aligned with teaching standards for subjects like math and science.

"For many schools, it’s an active and hands-on way to teach science," Whittlesey added. "It’s a great alternative if a school doesn’t have the money to have a science lab."

This student at Oak Hill School in Tuscaloosa is helping pot plants for the school’s big plant sale. She is part of a special needs class that has been a key element of the school’s JMG program for over 10 years. A group of JMG candidates from Cullman County shows off George, a scarecrow made using recycled milk cartons.

As a bonus, kids who participate in the JMG program also tend to see improvements in their reading and math skills.

The benefits go beyond the school day, too. Research has shown kids tend to try to eat more fruits and vegetables when they grow the produce themselves. Plus, the preliminary results of a new study found that participating in the JMG program can help lower a child’s risk of becoming overweight or obese.

"It’s not just about kids digging in the dirt," Whittlesey explained. "It’s about improving kids’ health and well-being, and establishing good habits for life."

Those improvements seem to carry over to the home, too, with families of JMG candidates spending more time gardening and exercising together.

Left to right, Penny Smith, a JMG leader and Master Gardener, helps aspiring young gardeners plant the demonstration garden at the Mobile County Extension office. Not surprisingly, making “Plant People” is one of the most popular JMG activities.

Equally important is the community service aspect of the program. Kids do a wide variety of "service-learning projects" such as raising vegetables to donate to the local soup kitchen or nursing home, or doing clean-up at the school.

"The program teaches kids to give back," Davis said.

Sounds great, right? Here’s how to get your child’s school involved: Visit (or encourage your child’s teacher to do so) for details on getting started, including information on teacher training in your state. (There are programs in all 50 states, plus parts of Asia, Latin America and Canada.) At the training, teachers learn how to integrate the program into their existing lesson plans and to do it in a way that gives them confidence - even if they’ve never gardened before. When the program gets underway, adult Master Gardeners are brought in to answer questions and just generally help out.

"We don’t want teachers to feel like they’re on an island trying to do this by themselves," Whittlesey stated.

The school doesn’t even need to have a garden.

"There’s a lot you can grow in containers," Whittlesey said.

Two teachers from Castlen Elementary School in Grand Bay learn to build a bug aspirator - which makes it easy to catch and study small bugs - during a training workshop.

And while lots of kids complete the program and become certified Junior Master Gardeners (it’s a big commitment, as each child must complete 45 group and 45 individual activities), many teachers simply choose to do the activities and projects that interest them and their students.

Either way, the program works best when the whole school gets involved. At Castlen Elementary School in Grand Bay, for example, each class is required by the principal to spend at least an hour a week out in the garden. Each classroom is registered as a JMG group, and everyone works together to keep the garden beautiful. It’s a huge collaboration, and the kids thrive on it.

Whittlesey hears many inspiring stories about the effect the JMG program has on the kids who participate. Her favorite is of Andreas, a son of immigrant farmers in the south Rio Grande area of Texas, who took part in the program a few years back. His home lacked both water and electricity, but it had one priceless amenity: Andreas’ JMG completion certificate, proudly displayed on the wall. That certificate gave him the confidence to believe he could do whatever he set his mind to and that he could make a difference in the world. Andreas is now in college - and who knows what heights he might reach?

All because of a garden.

Su Reid-St. John is Bonnie’s web producer. Bonnie Plants is a sponsor of the Alabama Junior Master Gardener program.

Keeping an eye on the prize

by Lisa Hamblen Hood

I’m feeling a little melancholy tonight. My "only begotten son" Landon is leaving for college in the morning and he’s going to be seven hours away from his Mammy. But I’m trying to cut the proverbial apron strings and let him find his way in the world. During the last few months, he’s received lots of well wishes and some practical advice. But nothing illustrates a point like a story. And a good family friend named Roy told him a story the other night to explain the importance of staying focused at school.

He told about going to watch his brother’s Brittany spaniel, Classy, at a field trial. At that time, she was ranked fifth in the nation. There were about 15 other dogs there, all of which had had tens of thousands of dollars invested in their training. Like Classy, the dogs stayed with their trainers most of the year. They were constantly put through rigorous lessons and practices trying to ready them for the trial.

The owners and trainers were on horseback as were the judges so they could keep up with the dogs as they made their way through the course. It was about a mile and a half long by a quarter of a mile wide. At a dozen places throughout the area, there were quails staked out, tied by the foot. They were under bushes or trees or in clumps of tall grass or in dense brush. The dogs were set loose one at a time. They were supposed to find each bird and lock on point without moving a muscle, wagging their tail or running away. They were to hold that position until the men on horses arrived. That might be as long as five minutes. Then the owner or trainer would blow a whistle and give a verbal command for the dog to go find the next bird.

Besides running around and around searching for their prey, finding it and pointing it, the dogs had to resist the urge to notice other distractions. Occasionally, a rabbit would run by. If the dog took off after it, he’d be disqualified. Classy did great and finished the course. She found every bird and advanced in the rankings. However, a few other dogs did not perform as well. Just for an instant, they forgot their mission. They took their eye off the ball, so to speak. Not only would they fail the trial, it might take a day or two to find the missing dog.

When that happened, everyone could just see the owner and the trainer slump down in the saddle, a look of grave disappointment on their faces. And it wasn’t just that all the time and effort had been wasted, it was the vast amount of money invested in that animal that was gone - lost in a momentary loss of focus.

When Roy finished telling that story, he put his hand on Landon’s shoulder and said, "That’s what college is like." Seeing the boy’s confusion, he continued. "The dogs are the students. They have had years of work and thousands of dollars invested in them. The owners are the parents who’ve put up the money. The birds are the classes and the good grades. They are the prey." Landon smiled and nodded. "But the rabbits…," Roy said with a sad smile, "those are the pretty girls, the bars, the frat parties and all the other distractions that might take your attention off the goal. And those dogs who chase after them are the students who effectively flush those thousands of dollars of their parents’ money down the toilet."

The metaphor made perfect sense to an 18-year-old who was about to leave home a boy and come back a man. I have every reason to believe, and I certainly hope, he will be able to ignore all those rabbits that are surely going to run by in the next 4 years. If so, his reward will be much bigger than a field trial trophy. It will be the good grades that will land him a coveted job. It will also be the satisfaction of finishing the course and keeping his eye on the prize. And he will have one proud mama cheering him on all the way.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. Email her at

Leaving 4-H in Better Hands

Young people need to be part of a group. Belonging is basic to human nature and is fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being. If youth don’t find a positive group to identify with such as school or clubs they sometimes find that connectivity by “running with the wrong crowd.”

by Chuck Hill

Having written or ghost-written this column since its inception a decade ago, it is time for me to pass it along to others. I am retiring, so good people may spot me out on the back 40 counting the yellowhammers. But before I go, I thought I might pass along some observations from my years as both a 4-H specialist and a parent.

First, our kids are good. They are really, really good. As much as our society and the media try to crush us with fear and pessimism, I never bought it. Despite the pressures of materialism and narrow-mindedness, America’s young people are as idealistic and hopeful as they have ever been. They will continue to change the world for the better if we give them the tools to think logically and communicate clearly, and if we entrust and encourage them - and if we just step out of their way.

Isn’t it great to develop a new skill? 4-H helps young people develop such crucial skills as self-confidence and critical thinking, but it also helps build skills that are just plain fun – like gardening, archery or robotics.

Second, the 4-H model of building Belonging, Independence, Generosityand Mastery puts into words the ideals we intuitively value as parents and as a society.

Children and young people need groups to which they can belong, to be valued for whom they are. If not 4-H – or in addition to 4-H, they should be in the marching band or show choir. They need to be in Scout troops and robotics clubs and on baseball teams. And if it is a group that doesn’t always look or think like your family, so much the better, because that will better prepare them for a world where most people don’t look or think like they do.

Cutting the apron strings is done from “I can do it myself!” onward. Self-reliance and personal confidence are slowly learned, experience by experience. There is no more exciting and rewarding indicator of youth maturity than watching children develop their own independence and perspectives.

Independence can be tough for some parents and kids. But let go! Before he turned 21, our self-reliant son (a former 4-Her) had already ridden chicken buses through the lush jungles of Central America and hitchhiked across the New Zealand Alps – places far safer than riding on I-85. As a result of his experiences and having to be resourceful, his skills at problem-solving and planning are far advanced over mine as a college junior. We trusted him, but we also put trust in the inherent goodness of the world.

Generosity is crucial to the future of our society. In our 4-H pledge, we make commitments "for my club, my community, my country and my world." Generosity is not just financial charity, it means sharing your time, giving others the benefit of the doubt, and having the empathy to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Mastery ought to imply balance. Academic mastery is crucial, an area where America and Alabama have become woefully short-sighted. However, young people really need a wide array of masteries: social skills, health and fitness, self-expression, adaptability, and many more. However, the future is bright when any young person develops true mastery of something that is crucial whether it is water policy, screening for poultry disease or installing excellent septic tanks.

I have often said there is one essential thing we in 4-H, and we as parents, can provide young people - experiences they would not otherwise have had. For some kids that means coming to Auburn for 4-H Football Day or an experience at Citizenship Washington Focus. It can mean wading in the creek or digging up peanuts on a 4-H field trip. We die a little if we, as adults, quit seeking new experiences ourselves. We can serve as role models in our approaches to trying new foods or music and how we seek out pleasant and interesting people who could even challenge us on what we think or believe.

Left to right, do you put time and energy into making your community a better place? These young people from Opelika are learning new skills while practicing generosity. Twenty years from now, they may show their kids trees they planted - a long-term investment in their neighborhood. Hands-on learning should certainly be fun – “if it isn’t fun, it isn’t 4-H!” Youth and families and communities can make fun a regular part of our lives. Research shows that silliness and games (especially if you connect it to being physically active) make you feel better and connect you with others.

Some years ago, I did a military program I called "The Family That Plays Together, Stays Together." Every child, every teen and every adult needs to have fun. Research shows that fun causes "happy chemicals" to enter our bloodstreams to make us feel good about ourselves and one another. As family, communities and a society, having fun together will lead to "Wag More, Bark Less" as the dog lovers’ bumper sticker suggests.

My final observations – or advice really: teach your children to wear sunscreen, relish each blackberry they eat, to know the names of trees and birds, to be kind, and to not fear those things over which they have no control.

With the connection to "caring, committed adults," the long-term future for Alabama youth is brilliant. We leave them in good hands.

Chuck Hill is a 4-H Youth Development Specialist.

Lighting Up Life

Molly Anne Dutton was an intern this past summer at the Biltmore Estate. Dr. Jeff Sibley, Auburn Horticulture department head, stated the people at Biltmore said Dutton was probably the best intern they had ever had.

AU Horticulture student and Homecoming Queen’s campaign gains national exposure

by Anna Leigh Peek

Long before Molly Anne Dutton made national headlines as Auburn University’s Homecoming Queen, her passion for life was on display in her work as a horticulture student and as a spokesperson for adoption.

"We knew when we started the homecoming campaign there was a lot of negative stigma about sexual assault, abortion and even life carries stigma, but we wanted to make it fun," Dutton said. "To know that life is so light and radiant is how ‘Light Up Life’ began, life is something to be celebrated."

Dutton’s passion for sharing the story of adoption is rooted in her own experience. When her birth mother, a victim of sexual assault, went to her husband about being pregnant, he gave her an ultimatum: either abort the baby or face divorce. The woman found her way to Birmingham where she came into contact with Lifeline Children’s Services, and she decided to put the baby up for adoption. Dutton is a living testimony to the power of adoption.

Dutton’s passion for life is not just limited to adoption but growth and life in other areas such as plants. The day before the first day of Dutton’s freshman year, she walked up the stairs of Comer Hall and met with a College of Agriculture advisor.

"I have never experienced as much joy as I did when I walked up those stairs. I didn’t know what I was going to do in horticulture, but I knew that was where I needed to be," Dutton said.

She started at Auburn as a business major.

"So many times I had heard adults say, ‘If I could go back to school, I would do it all over again,’" Dutton said. "Well, I wanted to do it right the first time. I prayed fervently for a passion that was going to spearhead my career. Through prayer and wisdom, plants randomly came across my radar."

Dutton is well known in the Horticulture Department at Auburn. Dr. Jeff Sibley, department head, said Dutton is "very real, she is such an encourager and works hard."

"Molly Anne was the chairman of our plant sale back in the spring that raised thousands of dollars for our scholarship fund," Sibley added. "She works to recruit students, especially minorities, to come to Auburn."

Mary Anne Dutton with Governor Robert Bentley, her mother PJ Dutton and Auburn University President Jay Gogue after she was crowned Miss Homecoming Queen. Molly Anne Dutton’s homecoming campaign was titled “Light Up Life,” designed to share the importance of life with Auburn’s 25,000 students.

Now in her senior year, Dutton feels prepared to own a small retail plant nursery. Her goal is to build the nursery from the ground up and have both plants and people bursting at the seams. Her degree in Nursery Management and Greenhouse Production is equipping her to do just that. This past summer, Dutton was able to use what she had learned at Auburn in her internship at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

The Biltmore Estate sits on approximately 8,000 acres and has many gardens on its property; it is the largest estate in the United States. Dutton worked mainly in the Historical Garden. She planted and maintained many varieties of annuals and perennials, many of which she had never seen. A typical day for her was watering gardens and baskets, planting in various beds, composting, and working in the Butterfly and Rose Gardens.

Dutton assisted with the first International Rose Trial held on the East Coast. The trial identified which species of roses grow well in that climate. She learned how to deadhead roses and identify pests and diseases.

Throughout the summer, Dutton created a database and tracking system for all the tropical plants on the estate.

During her time at the Biltmore Estate, Dutton learned valuable skills such as driving a stick shift and a tractor. She was also able to visit several of the 250 rooms in the house the public does not get to see.

There was always wildlife to see on the estate, including the occasional bear.

Asheville is a very culturally diverse area providing different food and recreation. Dutton was able to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs from the estate and from local farmers.

"I wouldn’t take back my experience there for the world," Dutton remarked. "It spiked my knowledge in the classroom and gave me a very practical experience. The longer I am away from the Biltmore Estate the more I want to go back."

When Dutton did come back to campus this past fall, she had lunch with two friends and they suggested she run for Miss Homecoming. She was sponsored by the Professional Landcare Network Club on campus and began her campaign, fittingly titled "Light Up Life."

During Homecoming Week, Dutton’s green and yellow shirts could be seen all over campus. Her campaign staff and friends worked to get her story out to the 25,000 students on Auburn’s campus. They worked to spread the word through YouTube videos, daisies and literature emphasizing options available to young women during crisis pregnancies.

Molly Anne Dutton was featured on “Fox and Friends” on the morning of October 16 after her story started spreading on the Internet. Through Fox, she was able to tell her story to thousands, if not millions, of viewers.

"Because that resource was made available to my mother, she decided to give birth to me and here I am talking to you 22 years later," Dutton stated in one of her campaign videos for "Light Up Life."

Her inspiring story swept the Auburn campus and she was crowned Homecoming Queen on October 12. By the following Monday morning, her story was being told by bloggers and news stations across the country. On Wednesday morning it was featured on "Fox and Friends," so Dutton was able to share her story with millions on national television.

Through her "Light Up Life" campaign, Dutton is working to show how adoption can bring light into a dark situation.

"I was given grace to carry that story," she said. "My story is a voice for the voiceless."

Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.

Listen to the Breeze

Structure, Wind and Treestand Placement

Whitetails are always using their extremely sensitive sense of smell to their advantage and will not spend a great deal of time in an area where the air currents aren’t to their advantage. (Credit: Lynn Bystrom)

by Todd Amenrud

"Pink-light" was breaking over the horizon and the timber was waking up around me. I was perched in a treestand overlooking eight huge, fresh scrapes, but I puffed my "wind-checker" and watched the particles go floating off exactly where I didn’t expect them to. I considered getting out of my set-up so as not to foul the area - but it was too late. Some dry leaves let me know "he" was headed my way. The buck appeared over the top of the ridge, but because the thermals were now warming and the air current rising the conditions had switched to being in his favor.

The big 5x5 walked in my direction until he came upon one of those scrapes about 18 yards away. With the thermal sucking my scent towards him, I thought I had better take the first opportunity that arose. I held at full draw until it felt like my arms were going to fall off, when he finally turned his hind-end around to get a better vantage to work the licking branch – now was my chance. I released and was able to watch the buck topple over after a 100-yard dash.

Out of all the avenues this buck could have taken in the middle of 2,000 acres of timber, why did he pick the route of my vantage? More importantly, why did "I" choose that spot? Many hunters have questions about treestand placement. Every situation is different and there aren’t any rules where there aren’t any exceptions. However, over the years, I’ve learned some general practices that will help in most situations when placing a treestand.

Much of choosing the proper stand site has to do with "structure." As with most animals, whitetails travel from place to place using cover and terrain to their advantage. Learning to recognize the transition areas, access points and travel corridors of whitetails is a key to stand placement.

One of the first things you should do when approaching a new spot is to obtain a satellite image, aerial photo or topographical map. The first spots to focus on are the funnels. No matter where you hunt - big timber, agricultural land or suburban lots, there are funnels in your hunting area. With a funnel their movement is confined, and wherever you can restrict their movement to a smaller zone there will be more traffic and it’s easier to position yourself to remain undetected by their "noses."

I like to use either the satellite image or aerial photo in conjunction with a topographical map. It’s often difficult to see terrain breaks on a photo taken from above, but the topographical map will point out elevations. Funnels aren’t always created by two obvious obstructions. Oftentimes they’re created by subtle terrain changes that guide or force movement one way or another, and most often these terrain changes can’t be seen on a picture taken from above so the topo map can be valuable.

When looking over an area, I like to imagine the terrain without any trees or debris first. Look for the points, terrain breaks, steeper angles, edges or turns that will force or encourage the animal to go one way over another. If you try and foretell his travel patterns this way first, when you add the trees, brush and blow-downs back to the picture it can sometimes seem obvious where he will pass.

Why not influence whitetails to travel where you want? It’s possible to create your own trails by using a pruner through brush or a weed-whacker through tall grass and weeds. Mature bucks can often be found around the thickest, nastiest cover you can find. However, when traveling through the thick cover, they will almost always, unless forced, travel the easiest route they can find - the path of least resistance. You can also fell trees to force them to go in a certain direction. Create your own "man-made" funnels.

Knowing a whitetail’s no. 1 defense is its extremely responsive sense of smell, we can experience consistent success by learning how to battle it and maybe even use it to our advantage. Aside from reducing odors on our person and cutting down on the foreign odors we leave behind, we also need to understand how whitetails use the air currents to their advantage.

Left to right, conditions are constantly changing in the wild. Use a quality system of scent elimination to protect yourself in case the circumstances aren’t what you planned on. With a wind detection tool, you can puff fine particles into the air and actually see how the air current is flowing and how smells are being carried to a deer.

Scent elimination is extremely important. We need to reduce foreign odors to a minimum. Everything I bring into the whitetail’s domain will be treated with the Scent Killer system to destroy smells at the molecular level. I really like the new Scent Killer Gold Spray because of its "Hunt Dry" technology. This can be sprayed on your hunting clothes and will work for days after drying.

Besides reducing offensive odors, we also have to learn how to play the wind and thermal currents. They are the "hallways" and "elevators" carrying smells to a deer’s nose. You have to know how to place yourself within their terrain so you can "see them" before they "smell you." Learning air current patterns is also a secret to predicting whitetail movement.

Everybody knows what the wind is, but most whitetail hunters don’t pay enough attention to thermal current. The heating and cooling of the air combined with different temperatures emanating from various sources make the air current do some strange things. In the West, because of the mountainous topography, most veteran hunters are familiar with thermals, but it’s also important in flat areas. It could be as simple as when hunting a clearing, paying attention to where the sun will rise. When the sun comes up it shines on one side of the clearing first. The sun warms the air and the current rises on that side of the clearing before it does anywhere else.

Pay particular attention around water, rocks, dark conifer trees or anything that may retain a different temperature than the air. When the temperatures differ, you’d be amazed at how the air current may be swirling around.

Many mediocre hunters lick their finger, stick it in the air and point downwind to the spot where they’ll place their stand. Here’s where they fail - often the sign they are observing has been made under totally different conditions than the wind blowing that one specific direction. A whitetail will not spend a great deal of time in an area where it can’t use its nose efficiently. A buck may never use that trail or enter that area under those specific conditions.

You can’t just set up downwind of an area and think, "Well, he won’t smell me here," and expect to have luck. My first thought about a spot is "under what conditions will a whitetail want to be in this area?" I want a buck to feel comfortable with the chosen site, but also under the conditions I want to hunt the site. You need to set up for how a whitetail plays the wind.

My best advice is to purchase some sort of wind-detection device or unscented cotton. With a "dust-puffer" you can actually see how the air current is blowing. Aside from this being a great tool to physically play the wind, when you actually see the air current it really helps to teach you some of the secrets of deer movement.

It may be advisable once you find a good spot to set up multiple-stand locations so you can play different wind directions and conditions yet hunt the same deer. At a given time, I may have as many as a dozen different stand locations to pursue one specific buck. This way you won’t burn a stand and ruin your chances at a mature buck by pushing your luck and hunting a site when the conditions aren’t in your favor, which is NEVER a good idea.

More bucks are harvested each year while hunting from treestands than by any other method. If you examine the site’s topography and structure, and then take the wind and thermal into consideration, success will come for you.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.

Miniscule Mussels

A Key to Waterway Restoration?

Important study underway at Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center

Dr. Paul Johnson, resting his right arm on a book about mussels, examines two mussel shells at his Perry County office.

by Alvin Benn

Mention Alabama to most people in America and they’ll probably think of football players with lots of muscles, not little mussels living underwater.

Unlike large athletes who represent the state on the gridiron, tiny aquatic varieties now are part of an important study that, one day, could help clean polluted waterways.

It’s being done at the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Perry County where the mussels are being babied by Paul Johnson who directs the facility.

Mussels don’t have four legs because they are invertebrate animals similar to saltwater clams, but these are found in rivers and streams.

Johnson is a scientist who believes mussels could hold the key to an environmental breakthrough.

"Using these creatures to promote ecological restoration of our waterways will improve water quality and quantity, thereby reducing multiple regulatory burdens," Johnson said.

He said clean-up efforts in critical watersheds not only support the needs of rare species, "but they have economic impacts far beyond wildlife."

To put it more succinctly, Johnson said, "The cleaner your water source is, the cheaper the treatment process."

Mussel existence in Alabama is a well-kept secret known mostly by scientists and environmentalists who study them for a living.

What few know is that Alabama has one of the richest and most diverse groups of mussels in the world with 181 species reported by state authorities.

However, historic modifications and pollution combined to cause 26 species to go extinct. Another 15 were eliminated from state waters and 55 species were listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Reports show the Tennessee River coursing through the upper regions of Alabama has the most important source of commercial mussels in the world.

Besides benefitting some aquatic species that like to dine on mussels, the mussels’ shells add up to millions of dollars in exports.

Geology and history combined to make Alabama home for mussel growth and production, dating back millions of years when the northern reaches of the Gulf of Mexico extended to parts of central Alabama.

This bucket contained hundreds of tiny mussel shells produced at the Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Perry County. Paul Johnson hauls up a bucket filled with mussels produced at his research facility in Perry County.

"Basically, Alabama was part of an inland sea with the Tallapoosa, Cahaba, Coosa and Warrior rivers all isolated from each other," Johnson explained. "It all added up to an explosion of fauna and led to a unique biodiversity."

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources dedicated Johnson’s facility in October 2010 with then Governor Bob Riley on hand for the big event.

The site was last operated by the U.S. Geological Survey which closed in 1995. Four years later, the property was deeded to the state of Alabama and the division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries began renovations in 2005.

Fisheries Section Chief Stan Cook said, at the time, conservation efforts led by Johnson affect everyday issues "such as the quality of our drinking water."

"Improving the water quality in Alabama also improves game-fish habitat - a win-win situation for everyone," Cook said. "This is just one piece of the puzzle that helps to improve the quality of life for all Alabamians."

In addition, 64 mollusk and fish species are considered threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Top to bottom, the displaying female Alabama Lampmussel (Lampsilis virescens) from the Paint Rock River in Jackson County. The species is federally endangered and currently occupies about 20 miles of riverine habitat in the Paint Rock River and Emory River, Tenn. AABC restoration efforts have reintroduced the mussel into several Tennessee River basin sites in an effort to establish new populations. To date, over 10,000 animals have been stocked into four different rivers in both Alabama and Tennessee. If the species becomes established, it may be possible for the USFWS to down list the mussel. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is a partner in restoration efforts for this species. The female is luring for smallmouth bass, the host fish for the juvenile mussels. The Plicate Rocksnail (Leptoxis plicata) is restricted to the Black Warrior River basin, and historically occupied some 500 miles of riverine habitat. In 1998, the snail was listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because habitat modification and water pollution throughout the Black Warrior basin left about 20 miles of habitat in the Locust Fork in Jefferson County. Restoration efforts completed by the AABC have initiated a new population in Blount County. Eventually, if water clean-up efforts are successful, the species could be returned to the Mulberry Fork. (Credits: ADCNR)

That’s one reason for the hiring of Johnson who already had more than 14 years of experience in the development of artificial propagation and culture techniques for freshwater mussels, snails and some fishes.

A Kentucky native who earned his doctorate in Zoology and Fisheries at LSU in 1995, Johnson arrived in Alabama after serving as director of the Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute.

Among his initial efforts as director of the Perry County facility was to launch a recovery function through surveys, culture and research.

"Culture work is most visible, but we also do a good number of research projects with universities," Johnson said.

A good way to inform the public about the importance of mussels and their aquatic cousins is comparison - comparing them to underwater vacuum cleaners.

In basic terms, mollusks filter water through their bodies by sucking it in and then pulling out bacteria and suspended solids.

"A big mussel can filter several dozen gallons of water a day," Johnson stated. "When our rivers were modified and polluted, we lost the natural filtration component of the rivers."

As a way to turn that problem around, Johnson spends much of his time inside at his rural laboratory or outside where tiny, cultured mussels are kept underwater in large buckets.

In a way, the buckets serve as an underwater incubator and Johnson provides plenty of TLC to the fledgling fish that the young mussels use for hosts, discarding any fish that don’t make it and those not showing good signs of life.

Nick Nichols, assistant chief of fisheries for the state Department of Conservation, said research at the Perry County facility will go a long way in solving some of the problems associated with "conserving and reintroducing aquatic species to streams and rivers."

"Dr. Johnson is doing a great job and I’m confident his operation will produce important results," Nichols said. "What he’s got there is bigger than any federal operations doing similar work."

Nichols said one important goal of the research "is to understand the species life cycle and bring them in from the wild, so to speak."

He indicated that Johnson’s research is a long-term project and not expected to bring about an overnight conclusion, "but we’re confident it will be successful."

"What Paul’s doing with mussels, snails and other species only started late in the last decade," Nichols said. "It takes a while for success because specific, unique needs are involved."

One of Johnson’s priorities is to help remove aquatic species from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered lists "and I feel we’re making good headway in that direction."

When he’s not hard at work at his office, in his lab or outside where the mussels are growing in those big buckets, Johnson and his family are enjoying country living.

"We’re a long way from big cities, but we’re not concerned about that," he said. "It’s kinda nice to have a bald eagle nesting in your backyard."

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

New Ways to Use Deer Meat

by Christy Kirk

Cason and Rolley Len Kirk love to help their mother Christy fix their next meal including making Venison Egg Rolls.

By the time school starts in the fall, our reserves of deer meat in the freezer start getting low. We never want to run out of it, especially our ground meat, because when it starts getting cold outside we love chili, spaghetti, burgers and deer vegetable soup. When bow season starts in October, Jason starts replenishing our supply for the coming year.

Throughout the year, Jason cooks the majority of our dinners, but during hunting season I am in the kitchen more than usual. Although we make our favorite meals over and over, I always like to try and find something new to do with deer meat. Luckily, anything that can be made with hamburger can be made from ground deer meat, and deer steak can replace beef cubes in most recipes. Just when I think I have heard of all the possible variations of cooking deer meat, I find a new recipe that sounds delicious.

This time of year, I start collecting recipes for new ways to cook deer meat. You never know where inspiration will come from, and I have a few recipes to share with you I have come across in the last few weeks. I have a few I am really excited to try.

One of my favorite books when I was a child was a thick, yellow collection of stories and poems with a story about a wacky lady who made all kinds of pies. She made mincemeat pies and fruit pies marking their crust with an "IM" for "Is Mince" and an "IM" for "Isn’t Mince." I always thought that mincemeat was just a fancy word for deviled beef. I recently found out that I was mistaken.

I was reading a recipe in a Woman’s Day magazine for fruit pies, and the introduction said one particular pie had been adapted from a 1945 deer-based mincemeat pie. I investigated using a World War II era cookbook I have and the Internet. The recipe below is derived from what I learned and what I think I would like to eat. You may want to adapt it to your own tastes depending on what you have on hand. If you are out of ground deer meat (or ground beef), green tomatoes can be substituted for the meat. Just dice and cook them with the rest of the ingredients. Some people like to add oranges and lemon for a citrus flavor.

Mincemeat Pie

1 pound deer meat, cube
½ pound chopped beef suet OR ½ pound shredded frozen butter
2 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored and choppe
3 cups sugar
1 pound raisins
Grated nutmeg, to taste
½ Tablespoon salt

Preheat oven to 425°. Stew meat in shallow water until tender. Cool and chop into fine pieces. To pan of stewed meat, add suet or butter. Add apples, sugar, currants, raisins, spices, oranges and salt. Mix and cook for 1 hour.

Prepare a pie crust in a pan. Spoon 3 cups of mincemeat into the crust. Place top crust over mince. Poke or cut top of crust to vent. Bake for about 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Deer can handle a lot of spice and flavor, so the idea of an Italian-style deer meat pie sounds delicious to me. Here is a recipe I adapted and will be trying this month. It seems like it could taste like a calzone.

Deer Pie

Salt and pepper, to taste
Cooking oil
3 deer steaks, cubed
½ Tablespoon minced garlic
Onion, diced
3-4 medium potatoes, skinned and cubed
2 Tablespoons water
1 can diced tomatoes, drained well
Double pie crust

Coat deer meat with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. In a large skillet with cooking oil, add meat, garlic, onion and potatoes. Add water to keep moist and heat on medium; stirring occasionally. Prepare pie crust in a pie pan while the mixture is cooking. Add tomatoes to the skillet and allow to heat through. Once meat mixture is cooked, spoon into pie crust. Add top crust and seal around edges with a fork. Poke holes in top of crust to vent. Bake at 350° until crust is a golden brown.

For a more stew-like deer pie try this recipe:

For meat mixture:

1 pound deer steak, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
¼ cup Bisquick mix
1 can cream of celery soup
½ can water
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 package frozen mixed vegetables
1 medium potato, chopped
Salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste

For sauce mixture:

2 cups Bisquick mix
1 1/3 cup milk
1 egg

Heat oil in a large skillet. Coat deer with Bisquick. Cook until done. Remove meat and drain oil. Add soup, water and bouillon to skillet. Stir together. Add meat, veggies and potato. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder. For sauce, mix Bisquick, milk and egg together. Pour over top of meat mixture. Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350° or until top is golden brown.

A few Sundays ago at my church, Union Christian in Little Texas, there was a fellowship meal after the service. I started talking to one of the ladies about cooking. I mentioned Jason does most of the cooking except during hunting season. She said, like my in-laws, she made sure her son could cook. We started comparing different recipes like croissant chicken with the delicious yellow sauce we had that day at lunch, chicken stuffed shell noodles one of my students brought me from culinary class, and then she mentioned a recipe for deer egg rolls that sounded like it would be awesome.

Cason and Rolley Len Kirk enjoy eating Venison Egg Rolls by the fireplace.

Here is the recipe:

Esther Waters’ Venison Egg Rolls

1½ pounds ground venison
1 pack dry Lipton onion soup mix
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Accent
1 egg
¾ cup celery, finely chopped
¾ cup carrots, grated
4 green onions, finely chopped with green tops
Egg roll wrappers

Mix all items together. Cut egg roll wrappers across from top left to bottom right corners. Roll meat mixture into logs (about 2½- to 3-inches long and ½-inch thick). Place meat on cut (long) side of wrapper, place right and left sides of wrapper over meat and roll. With your finger, place a small drop of water on the tip of wrapper to hold it together. Fry egg rolls in vegetable oil turning often until light golden brown, drain upright in colander. Dip in sweet and sour sauce. (Esther’s family likes theirs with ketchup.)

Just thinking about trying these new deer recipes makes me hungry. If you try them and come up with your own variations for your next meal, I would love to hear how they turn out. Send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_parent">

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

No Holiday for Food Safety

Follow basic fundamentals for safe and festive meals

by Angela Treadaway

When we think of the holidays, we usually think of family and friends together having fun and lots of good food. We don’t want to think about people getting sick. Unfortunately, many people do get sick at this time of year from the food they eat. Food safety doesn’t take a holiday. Following basic recommendations will help ensure safe food and prevent foodborne illness for diners - not only during the holidays, but year-round.

1. CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often. Keep everything clean while preparing holiday meals. Wash hands and kitchen surfaces often with soap and water. Wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item. Paper towels are recommended for cleaning up kitchen surfaces.

2. SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate. That’s when bacteria can spread from one food to another. This is especially true when handling meats and ready-to-eat foods that don’t need further preparation. Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods when shopping at the grocery store and in your refrigerator. Use one cutting board for raw meat and poultry, and a separate one for other food. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat and poultry unless the plate has been thoroughly cleaned.

3. COOK: Cook to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked to proper temperatures. Do not second-guess the internal temperature of cooked foods. Cook roasts and steaks to at least 145 degrees, whole poultry to 165 degrees in the thigh and ground beef to 155 degrees. When reheating, leftovers should be thoroughly heated to 165 degrees; sauces, soup and gravy should be brought to a rolling boil. Eggs are safe to use in food such as homemade eggnog or Caesar salad as long as egg mixtures are cooked to 160 degrees or you use pasteurized shell eggs.

4. CHILL: Refrigerate promptly. Consumers should refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours. Place leftovers in shallow containers for rapid cooling. The refrigerator should be maintained at 40 degrees or below and the freezer at 0 degrees or below. Use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature. Keep hot foods hot, 135 degrees or above, and cold foods cold, 41 degrees or below. This is especially true for holiday buffets. Use chafing dishes, crock pots and warming trays to keep foods hot. Keep cold foods cold by nesting the serving dishes in bowls of ice. Never defrost food at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator, in a cold water bath or in the microwave. Marinate foods in the refrigerator.

Some more important steps you can take for a safe holiday meal:

COOKING FOR GROUPS. Holiday festivities often require preparing meals for larger groups of people. People who are otherwise great cooks for their families don’t necessarily know how to safely prepare, store and handle large quantities of food for large gatherings. FSIS recently published "Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer’s Guide to Food Safety." It provides recommendations for safely preparing, transporting and serving food at a large gathering. The Guide can be printed from the Cooking for Groups web page at

TRAVELING WITH PERISHABLE FOODS.To transport cold food, wrap it and then place it in an ice chest containing ice cubes or freezer packs. If you are transporting hot foods, keep them hot by wrapping them first in clean kitchen towels and then with newspapers packed in a corrugated box or insulated cooler. Serve or reheat within two hours.

FOODS IN THE MAIL. When sending cold or frozen food in the mail, use an insulated cooler or heavy corrugated box packed with a frozen gel-pack or dry ice. Label the package "Perishable - Keep Refrigerated" on the outside of the box. Ship the package by overnight delivery and alert the recipient to arrange for a mutually agreeable delivery date. Perishable mail order food should arrive still frozen or cold to the touch - if not, don’t consume the food. Don’t even taste it. Always check the label on the item for storage instructions. If the food is to be kept cold, refrigerate or freeze it immediately.

HANDLING PRECOOKED DINNERS AND LEFTOVERS. Some cooks forego cooking holiday foods at home altogether and choose to purchase precooked dinners. There are also basic safety measures for the safe handling of these holiday meals. If the dinners are to be picked up hot, keep the food hot. Keeping food warm is not enough. Harmful bacteria multiply fastest in the "danger zone" - the temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees. Set the oven temperature high enough to keep the internal temperature of meat and side dishes at 135 degrees or above.

Eat the food within two hours of pickup. When picking up cold dinners, refrigerate them as soon as possible, always within two hours. Serve the meal within 1-2 days.

Have a Happy and Safe Holiday!

Note: For additional food safety information about meat, poultry or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline’s toll-free number 1-800-535-4555. For other questions regarding food safety during the holidays, call your local county Extension office or contact Angela Treadaway.

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

Peanut People

Pig Squeal

Left to right, Riley West of Fyffe, Joshua Richards of Crossville and Laramie McCurdy of Geraldine proudly display the ribbons they earned at the 2013 DeKalb County 4-H Pig Squeal Show and Auction.

DeKalb County event features quality hogs and quality young men

by Anna Wright

Three young men were the first participants of the DeKalb County 4-H Pig Squeal Program: fifth-grader Riley West of Fyffe, seventh-grader Laramie McCurdy of Geraldine and eighth-grader Joshua Richards of Crossville. They showed their finest pigs for the Pig Squeal Show and Auction at the livestock arena at DeKalb County VFW Fair on Saturday, Sept. 28. These 4-Hers were judged on their knowledge of their breed of hog, information they gained in raising them and how they did with the hog in front of the show judge.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System Director Dr. Gary Lemme spoke to the crowd before the show and explained that 4-H uses animals to help kids grow in responsibility and knowledge.

"These are quality hogs, raised by quality men," he said.

There was a lot of work that went into being successful at the show and auction, but nothing like the time and effort they had invested for the past 120 days leading up to the show. Students picked up their two vaccinated, composite feeder pigs when they weighed about 50 pounds each at the end of May. For those 4.5 months following, they fed, worked and watered as if they were a commercial hog operation.

Left to right, Laramie McCurdy of Geraldine talks with show judge Lyndy Jury at the 2013 4-H Pig Squeal Show and Auction. Joshua Richards of Crossville poses with his pig after the Pig Squeal Show and Auction. Riley West of Fyffe works his pig in the show ring at the DeKalb County Fair Livestock Arena.

Riley West decided to get involved with the Pig Squeal project because his family raises cattle and he thought hogs would be a good addition. His two pigs were named Bacon and Ham.

"Bacon became crippled after getting scared when lightning struck in a field near our house," he said. "Ham is a pretty good pig, but if you mess with him, he might mess with you."

In April, students signed up for Pig Squeal by enrolling with the DeKalb County Extension System office and paying the $100 registration fee. 4-Hers and their parents attended mandatory meetings which informed them on how to have a successful pork operation, types of acceptable swine facilities, nutrition, how to safely handle the pigs, showmanship and how to take accurate records of feed and water.

A production manual was provided to educate participants on how to haul the pigs, guidelines for building facilities, ratios for feed and how to prepare for the show. Extension personnel also made appointments with each participant and visited their operation to offer advice and answer any questions.

All of this contributed to their success in the program - which was not necessarily to win the most ribbons. The knowledge of pork production, responsibility and the experience they gained throughout the process was proved at the show and auction.

Participants were asked to bring one of their two hogs for the show and could bring the other hog for the auction. They were judged on showmanship first. This part of the show determined which 4-Her was the most knowledgeable about his animal, was capable of communicating well with the judge and could work his hog the best in the arena.

Joshua Richards, Laramie McCurdy and Riley West show their pigs during the Pig Squeal Show. These three young men were the first participants in this new 4-H program.

The second part assessed the best-looking hog under market-hog standards that would bring the best money for its size, etc. Once the judge made her decision, she then gave oral reasons for her selection.

Judge for the event was Lyndy Jury, regional Extension agent for Animal Science and Forages. She grew up exhibiting livestock through 4-H in Kansas and later competed on a collegiate judging team.

After the show, hogs were auctioned off to the top bidders. The hogs that were sold went straight to the processor. Buyers who purchased one of these were supporting the pork industry, confidence of a youth, 4-H and the Pig Squeal program with their purchase.

"As the pigs got better, I got better with the pigs," Laramie McCurdy stated.

His pigs Homer and Jethro were named after famous archeologists because they kept digging up random items in their yard.

For Joshua Richards, Pig Squeal was an opportunity to grow.

"My mom made me do this project to learn some responsibility," he explained.

To Joshua, the most interesting thing about the project was the personality of each of the two pigs.

The DeKalb County Young Famers Association and three students from the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine volunteered with the Pig Squeal Show and Auction.

The 4-H Pig Squeal Project is one of the newest livestock projects for Alabama 4-Hers. Students gain real pork production insight and become more responsible. This is one of the many ways 4-H is impacting the 107,000 Alabama 4-H members.

Winners List:
Supreme Showman - Riley West
Reserve Showman - Laramie McCurdy
3rd - Joshua Richards

Market Hog Class:
Grand Champion - Laramie McCurdy
Reserve Champion - Joshua Richards
3rd - Riley West

Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.

Reflecting on the Past Year in Agriculture

by Robert Spencer

Reflecting on the past year of agriculture should be considered a learning opportunity. Prices for goats and sheep at livestock sales facilities never came close to the $3/lb. of previous years. For a short time this spring, goat prices hovered around $2/lb., but during summer and fall they ranged around $1.50/lb. for medium weight, prime animals. Sheep prices had their seasonal rise around Easter, yet prices were very disappointing throughout summer and fall (as low as $1/lb. for top-grade animals). Cattle production and prices have remained strong this year … people love their beef. Nothing exciting in the rabbit industry; one of the major buyers of rabbits has cut back on their purchases, hurting some farmers.

On a more positive note: Fruit and vegetable farmers appear to have had a good year; the number of and interest in farmers’ markets has really taken off this year. In the Huntsville area, there are at least four farmers’ markets and every one of them has been busy with vendors and shoppers. All roadside farmers’ stands appear to have been busy. People really appreciate the opportunity to buy fresh, local foods! Hay production and harvest has been very successful this year. Despite a short-term drought in early summer, many farmers were able to easily get two cuttings this year and sometimes three.

It has been an interesting year for row-crop production with many areas in the Midwest experiencing excessive rains that delayed planting. Here in the Southeast, we had cooler-than-normal temperatures throughout the summer. Early summer brought a drought, but the rains came to our rescue the latter part of summer. All in all, forages and row crops did well.

Farmers face an unusual dilemma when it comes to agriculture yields and prices received post-harvest. If they have a good year with above-average harvest, then prices paid decline. If yields are below average, then prices received are high. A headline from a USDA report released late this summer reflected that dilemma; it read, "Farm Income Forecast Reduced by Larger Than Expected Harvests." The article stated net cash income is expected to decline by more than 10 percent from 2012. Yet a government official claimed this situation reflects the resilience and productivity of farmers. Not sure about the resilience part, farmers tend to be price takers and not price makers.

While row crops, livestock, poultry, fruits and vegetables did well, production expenses were at an all-time high: $354.2 billion. To a small-time goat farmer like me that sounds like a lot of money. Yet we know agriculture is the biggest industry within Alabama and many other states, and it has a huge economic impact. As farmers, we need to plan for 2014 and how we can improve our situation within such a strong industry while managing production expenses.

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

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "That boy, young Milligan, plans to hobnob with them rich folks ‘til he figures out how to get there his self."

What does hobnob mean?

To hobnob means to associate on very friendly terms. It does, in current usage, have a sense of associating with the rich and famous (or influential). In a June 19 Associated Press story about corporate campaign contributions, someone asked, "What are they getting out of it besides the opportunity to hobnob and negotiate with aides and principals in the presidential campaign?"

Hob and nob were originally hab and nab and probably came from the subjunctive forms of the Old English verbs habban "to have" and nabban "not to have." "Habbe he, nabbe he" means "whether he has or does not have."

Although there is a long gap in the written evidence for this phrase, it must have been part of the spoken language, for it reappeared in the 16th century as "hab or nab" or "habnab" meaning "hit or miss" or "however it may turn out." Lyly wrote in Euphues in 1580, "Philautus determined, hab, nab, to sende his letters."

Except in the dialects of Devonshire and West Somerset, where hab or nab is still common, the words changed to "hob" and "nob" by the end of the 16th century. The first written appearance of hob nob meaning "give or take" was in Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night" (1601) where Sir Toby Belch, who is trying to arrange a duel, said, "His incensement at this moment is so implacable, that satisfaction can be none, but by pangs of death and sepulcher: Hob, nob is his word: giv’t or take’t."

By the 18th century hob or nob, hob a nob, and hob and nob referred to two people drinking to each other. To drink hob or nob or hob a nob meant "to drink to each other alternately" or "to take wine with each other with clinking of glasses." Hobnob first appeared in various forms as a verb meaning "to drink together" in the second half of the 18th century, "We hobbed and nobbed with ... the celebrated bailiff of Chancery Lane" (Thackeray, Paris Sketchbook, 1840).

The loss of the alcohol connection and the shift to our modern meaning occurred in the first half of the 19th century. A Lady Grenville wrote in a letter in 1828, "It cannot be her interest to hob-and-nob with Lord Fitzwilliam." In 1879, George Macdonald wrote of a character in his novel "Paul Faber," "He ... hob-nobbed with Death and Corruption."

Spanish Fort HS Students PAL with Troop 8170 for Coastal Cleanup

by Mary Stanford

Alabama PALS had their Coastal Cleanup and around 275 participants. Alabama PALS Clean Campus Program was proud to have students from Spanish Fort High School participate in the Coastal Cleanup.

Troop 8170, under Troop Leader Vicki Nobles, practiced what they were taught. The girls spent the day picking up litter and trash on the beach. They used PALS bags for the clean-up and received Alabama PALS t-shirts.


People throw trash on the beach. It is then carried into our water and our sea creatures eat the trash thinking it is food. This can cause our creatures to become endangered.

The Spanish Fort High School girls are passionate about keeping our environment clean, and are such good role models for all our youth today. They also expressed an interest in "Adopting An Area."

PALS wants to thank Troop 8170 and their troop leader for their dedication in taking care of our Earth. We also want to thank Spanish Fort High School.

If your school is interested in having me come and present an educational PALS Clean Campus Program, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. '; document.getElementById('cloak25972').innerHTML += ''+addy_text25972+'<\/a>'; //--> or call 334 224-7594.

Starting Strong

Judson College Equestrian Team scores well in fall horse show contests

by Katelyn Vanhoozer

The Judson College Equestrian Team announced its new slate of team members for the 2013-2014 show season.

Returning members of the Western team include sophomore Caitlin Autrey, Selma; senior Shelby Crews, Greenville; junior Brianne Culp, Bruinswick, Ohio; senior Jana Davenport, Jemison; senior Christina Duke, Vestavia; sophomore Mary Kilpatrick, Dothan; and junior Rylee Parnell, Tibbie. Taylor Chambers, Hanceville, and Lindsay Tubbs, Brent, both freshmen, are new to the team this year.

Returning members of the Huntseat team are senior Olivia Breimhorst, Warrior; sophomore Katie McQuaig, Cumming, Ga.; sophomore Veronica Primavera, Deatsville; sophomore Dakota Runnels, Gainsville; junior Kayla Syck, Deatsville; and senior Faith Williams, Crossville. New to the team this year are freshman Katie Brown, Muscle Shoals; freshman Taylor Cason, Warrior; freshman Katie Gehr, Waukesha, Wis.; freshman Alexandra Huber, Mechanicsburg, Pa.; senior Rebecca Malphurs, Dothan; freshman Sheila Palmer, Hoover; sophomore Katelyn Vanhoozer, Waco, Texas; and junior Megan Walker, Pell City.

The Judson teams hold membership in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, Zone 5, Region 2.

Judson’s 2013-14 Western team members are (front row) Caitlin Autrey, Brianne Culp, Rylee Parnell, (back row) Shelby Crews, Mary Kilpatrick, Cristina Duke, Jana Davenport, Lindsay Tubbs and Taylor Chambers.
Judson’s 2013-14 Huntseat team members are (front row) Megan Walker, Dakota Runnels, Kayla Syck, Katie McQuaig, Olivia Breimhorst, Faith Williams, (back row) Katelyn Vanhoozer, Rebecca Malphurs, Katie Gehr, Katie Brown, Veronica Primavera, Taylor Cason, Alex Huber and Sheila Palmer.

The University of North Georgia held their annual Gold Rush Classic set of IHSA horse shows on September 28 at Epiphany Farms in Dahlonega, Ga. Teams competing in the shows were Berry College, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Judson College and the University of North Georgia.

In the first show in Novice Horsemanship, Kilpatrick placed first – qualifying her for the 2014 Western Regional Show, and Duke placed fourth. In Intermediate Horsemanship, Crews placed sixth. In Beginner Horsemanship, Autrey placed first, Culp placed second and Tubbs placed fourth.

In the second show in Advanced Horsemanship, Kilpatrick placed second. In Novice Horsemanship, Duke placed fourth. In Intermediate Horsemanship, Crews placed third – qualifying her for the 2014 Western Regional Show. In Beginner Horsemanship, Autrey placed first, Tubbs placed second and Culp placed fifth.

Overall the Judson College Equestrian Team ended with a second place or Reserve Team Award for both shows.

"This is a very strong start to the 2013-2014 show season, and we are very excited to have the opportunity to work with such a group of strong and dedicated young ladies and look forward to many more successful shows this season," said Judson Western Coach Jennifer Hoggle.

The University of Georgia held its annual Fall Classic set of IHSA horse shows October 19 and 20 at Silverthorn Farm in Athens, Ga. Teams from Berry College, Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Judson College, Kennesaw State University, Mississippi College, University of Alabama and University of Georgia competed in the show.

In the first show in Beginner Walk-Trot-Canter, Primavera placed first (making her eligible to move up to Walk-Trot-Canter Equitation), Syck placed third, Malphurs placed fourth, Sheila Palmer placed fifth, Cason also placed fifth in another division of the same class, and Huber placed sixth. In Walk-Trot-Canter Equitation, McQuaig placed third, and Breimhorst placed fourth.

In the second show in Beginner Walk-Trot-Canter, Syck placed third, Malphurs placed fifth, Huber and Walker also placed fifth in other divisions of the same class, and Vanhoozer placed sixth. In Walk-Trot-Canter Equitation, McQuaig placed second and Breimhorst placed third.

"The girls have worked hard for this show, and I’m looking forward to helping them improve as the season progresses," said Janice Williams, Judson Huntseat coach.

Berry College held its annual Fall Classic set of IHSA horse shows October 26 and 27 at the Gunby Equestrian Center in Rome, Ga. Teams competing in the shows were Berry College, Emory University, Georgia College and State University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Judson College, Kennesaw State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi College, University of Alabama, University of North Georgia and University of Georgia.

On the Huntseat team in the first show in the Beginner Walk-Trot-Canter class, Malphurs placed fifth and Palmer placed sixth. In the Advanced Equitation class, Syck placed fifth, Primavera and Walker both placed sixth, and Breimhorst placed reserve. In the Novice Over Fences class, Brown placed fourth in her first Over Fences competition for IHSA.

On the Western team, in the first show in class 13, Duke placed fifth; in class 12b, Parnell placed sixth; and, in class 11, Culp placed second, Autrey placed third and Tubbs placed fourth.

In the second show in which only the Western team competed, in class 14, Kilpatrick placed third; in class 13, Duke placed fourth; in class 12b, Parnell placed reserve; and in class 11, Autrey placed second, Culp placed third and Tubbs placed fourth.

"The girls are constantly improving, and their hard work is paying off in the shows. We’re looking forward to even better placings next month," said Hoggle.

Katelyn Vanhoozer is Judson College Equestrian Student Reporter.

STIMU-LYX, The Best Choice for Your Cattle

by Jimmy Hughes

From year to year, each feeding season is different and the best feeding options for producers may change based upon feed prices and the quality and availability of forage. We work hard to evaluate and to make the very best recommendation for each feeding year based upon several criteria. These criteria include cost of product and feed, outlook for winter cost, availability of feed, and the quality and availability of forage and hay.

We are grass growers in the Southeast and use cows to harvest this grass and convert it into a saleable product (pounds of beef). While each year is different as to the amount and quality of the forage, this forage should remain the base of your feeding program.

This has been a very interesting year in that we had an abundance of summer rains. While we never complain about summer rainfall, this amount of rain created an interesting situation for most producers. Several producers were unable to get a mid-season hay cutting due to the wet conditions. What this did was reduce the quality of the hay when they were able to harvest. The more mature hay is harder to break down and utilize, and has a lower nutrient profile. We also had an abundance of standing grass and forage still in pastures going into the fall. While this is also more mature and lower in quality, it can and should still be utilized as cattle can get some value from this standing forage.

As far as your hay is concerned, I would first suggest a hay sample. A hay analysis will allow you to see what the value of your hay is and what you will need to supplement during the feed season. Nutrition is by far the biggest expense in maintaining a cow herd, so it’s very important you know how to supplement your hay to meet the cows’ needs. If you do not know what your hay provides, then it’s impossible to efficiently supplement to meet their nutritional needs. With lower-quality hay, a producer will need to provide additional nutrition. When it comes to hay supplementation, you have a couple of different options to consider.

With lower corn and overall feed cost, some producers will chose to supplement the cattle in this manner. Other producers will choose a supplement tub to help meet the nutritional needs above the hay. While both products will help cattle meet their nutritional needs, I lean toward the product that will help you get the most out of your hay.

STIMU-LYX Supplement Tubs are designed to help improve the digestibility and utilization of your hay. Research has shown the use of low-moisture tubs such as STIMU-LYX increase the utilization and digestibility of the hay by as much as 25 percent. This is done through the regulation of rumen pH to a basic level more conducive to digesting forage.

The rumen is the part of the cow’s digestive system where large numbers of bacteria work to help convert grass to a useable product for absorption. Two different populations of bacteria live in the rumen with one being primarily forage-digesting bugs while the other is more grain-digesting bacteria. The two populations are regulated by rumen pH with the forage-digesting bacteria thriving in a more basic pH environment and the grain-digesting bacteria thriving in a more acid pH.

With this in mind, a low-moisture supplement tub will be beneficial when there is an abundance of hay available. As the name implies, a low-moisture tub is a nutrient-dense supplement tub with less than 2 percent moisture in the product. This process leaves a hardened product that cannot be over consumed and the consumption is controlled by the product’s hardness.

There are several low-moisture products on the market today, but only one has been formulated for Alabama forages and that is STIMU-LYX Supplement Tubs. These tubs help regulate rumen pH through licking action. Cows lick the tubs creating a large quantity of saliva. This serves as a natural pH regulator and will help keep it at a more basic level - creating better digestion and utilization of your hay.

I am not saying that feed will not work, just that the use of low-moisture tubs alone or in conjunction with other feed products will help cattle more efficiently utilize the hay being consumed.

The other product we are seeing a lot of this year is standing forage in your pastures. In past years, producers would use a hot meal as a way to get cattle to eat the tough standing grass in the late fall and early winter. While this practice would cause cattle to consume the grass as a way to "cool their gut," this did not improve the digestion and utilization of that grass. What this led to would be cows that would appear fat, but would rapidly lose that appearance as their gut emptied and they were unable to absorb the nutrients in that standing forage.

STIMU-LYX Tubs can not only be used as a pasture management tool but will also help break down the lignin cell wall content and actually allow cattle to extract nutrients from that standing forage. The cattle will graze within 500 yards of the tubs allowing producers to move the tubs as cattle graze a certain area in the pasture. When that area is heavily grazed, the producers can move the tubs again to encourage the cattle to graze in other areas of the pasture. Also, certain tub formulations will help the cattle to break down this grass into a product they can absorb and utilize.

Another advantage of the tubs is from a cost standpoint. When you compare tubs to a feed/ingredient costing $250 a ton, you could only feed three pounds of the feed per head per day to equal the same cost of providing STIMU-LYX Supplement Tubs. The cost of a STIMU-LYX Tub is less than 0.32 cents per head per day. The benefits of STIMU-LYX Tubs are a highly palatable product combined with a consistent average intake of less than one pound per head per day, enhanced digestive function from an improved rumen environment increasing fiber digestion, increased reproductive performance related to improved body condition and a highly available mineral and vitamin package, and a cost that will make it the most economical means of supplementing brood cows this winter.

In most cases, a producer would need to feed at least five pounds of feed per head per day to see the same type of performance seen from the use of a low-moisture tub. Five pounds of a feed that cost $250 a ton would give the producer a feed cost of 0.62 cents plus an additional 0.07 cents per head per day mineral cost for a total of 0.69 cents per head per day total supplement cost. The use of a feed could easily cost twice as much this winter per head per day than the use of STIMU-LYX Supplement Tubs.

Because of the large amount of grass and hay as well as the lower quality of this hay, I would encourage each producer to use STIMU-LYX Tubs this winter. These tubs will not only provide additional protein and energy but will also meet the cow’s mineral and vitamin needs as well. All that must be provided is a salt product because the tubs do not contain any salt. The intake of the tubs will average 0.75 pound per head per day and one tub should be put out for every 25 to 30 head of cattle. The tubs should be placed at least 75 yards from the hay and water source to assure proper intake.

You have several choices to help supplement your cattle. While most all of these products will work, we would recommend the product that will best help your cattle digest the large amounts of lower-quality hay and grass most producers have this winter. We believe in STIMU-LYX Tubs and the advantages they offer as a winter supplement product.

If I can help you in any manner or answer any questions you may have about specific formulations of STIMU-LYX Tubs, please feel free to contact me at 256-947-7886 or

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

Stockpiled Grazing Pays . . .

During summers with plentiful rain, consider if you have fields that can be set aside for stockpiled, winter grazing. When the cattle have the forage around two inches, it’s time to supplement winter feed.

But Stay Flexible

by John Howle

If you were one of the many cattle producers in Alabama who received a bountiful harvest of rain this past summer, you might have decided to stockpile your forage for winter grazing and save some on the hay and feeding bill. You might have found yourself in a position where every time you thought you were going to put grass on the ground to bale, it rained. For most of this past summer, there was rarely a week that went by without regular summer showers.

If you followed the guidelines for stockpiled winter grazing, you fertilized your set-aside pastures with 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre at the end of summer and held the cows off the growing areas to give the forage a chance to reach knee high during the fall.

Now that winter is here and it’s time to utilize that grazing, there are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to go hay free or reduce the amount of hay fed. Things change over the winter so it’s important to be flexible. If there is an unexpected snowfall or drought conditions set in, it’s always wise to have plenty of hay on hand. Even though your goal may be to go totally hay free, don’t be discouraged if you have to feed hay. At the very minimum, you will reduce your winter feed bill.

Fescue to the Rescue

Fescue is by far the most commonly stockpiled forage because it is hearty, has a dense root system and can stand harsh grazing. With a late summer application of nitrogen and considering the pH is adequate and other essential nutrients are available, you should have good quality winter forage.

Tall fescue is high in soluble sugars and, even after frost, fescue maintains much of its forage quality and digestibility. In addition, the thick sod formed by fescue holds up well under hoof traffic on wet pastures common in the winter months. If the stand of grass is predominantly fescue instead of warm-season grasses, your winter grazing quality will be much higher.

Keep a check on your forages as they are growing and apply fertilizer before a good rain in the fall.

If your fescue stand does have a lot of dead summer annuals, the nitrogen in those plants stays locked up in the decaying grasses. The downside of winter grazing is that most of these summer grasses may have absorbed many of the nutrients that could have been used by the fescue root system. Get an accurate analysis of your forages before determining a path for stockpile grazing.

Keep or Cull

Another consideration for the beef producer is: "Do I want to keep this cow or cull her now?" If the cow in question is an animal you’ve considered selling or culling, you certainly don’t want the added cost of feeding her through the winter. Cull your herd appropriately before turning the cattle into the stockpiled area. This means getting rid of cows that never fatten up, cows that are too old to eat and calve efficiently, or cattle with health or dental problems.

When cows are calving or lactating, more energy and protein are needed, and you should supplement your stockpile feeding program. In addition, keep minerals out at all times, especially during the winter because many of the trace minerals needed might not be gleaned through grazing. Here in Alabama, copper, selenium, zinc and magnesium deficiencies are common in the winter. Protein blocks and lick tubs are ideal for providing the additional protein and energy needed for the winter months.

When your stockpiled forage begins to get below two inches, it gets harder for cows to graze enough forage to maintain energy levels and keep body heat at a normal level - especially during cold months. These protein and energy supplements, available at your local Quality Co-op, can take your cattle through the winter by not only surviving but thriving.

Harsh Weather

Even though cattle can paw through snow to get at grass, this is wasted energy that could be used to accumulate fat and avoid malnutrition. Look at the long-range forecast and feed a couple of extra round bales in advance of an approaching storm. The last thing you want to happen is to have forage sitting under six inches of snow and cattle having to burn loads of energy to get to it. If you have rare instances where it does snow, you might consider rolling out the round bales so all cattle, not just boss cows, can get to it.

John Lyons knows the importance of keeping quality Co-op minerals on hand all year long, especially during the winter when you may be grazing stockpiled fescue.

In addition, it is better to have your cows calving at about the same time. This way you can plan for added supplements for the lactating periods. Otherwise, if you have cows coming in and calving at various intervals throughout the winter, you basically need to feed with a mindset that all the cows are lactating. This results in some cows becoming overfed and this is an unneeded waste of money.

Year End Closeout

Once the cattle have grazed the fescue to around two inches, this makes an ideal time for overseeding pastures with varieties of clover. Use the cows as your workers, and they will stomp and mash many of the seeds into the ground through hoof traffic. In addition to the cattle cultipackers, the frosting and heaving of the damp soil will help allow for seed-to-soil contact making for a good stand of clover in the spring.

Finally, with the addition of a high quality clover from your Co-op, you will also reduce your future nitrogen bill thanks to the nitrogen-fixing nodules on the clover root system. Stockpiling may not totally eliminate the need for hay this winter, but it will certainly reduce your winter feed bill, and a bale saved is a bale earned.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Stronger Prices for Supplies and Commodities Boost Farmer-Owned Cooperatives

Ag Secretary calls for certainty to maintain momentum

by Jim Erickson

United States farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives set records for sales, income and assets in 2012, according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Boosted by strong prices for farm supplies, grain and other commodities, sales by agricultural and fishery co-ops were nearly $235 billion. That total topped the 2011 record by $18 billion, an 8.3 percent increase.

Net (pre-tax) income also was a record high of $6.1 billion, up almost 13 percent from the previous high of $5.4 billion set in 2011.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack used the recent announcement about co-op sales, income and other financial indicators as a reminder of the importance of USDA programs for rural America.

More specifically, a comprehensive new food, farm and jobs bill would further expand the rural economy - just one reason why Congress must approve such legislation as soon as possible, he emphasized.

"Agricultural cooperatives are a driving force in the nation’s thriving farm economy," Vilsack said. "Because they are farmer-owned and -operated businesses, the sales dollars and income generated are much more likely to be returned and spent in rural areas and communities.

"Ag cooperatives are also vital to the rural economy because they support 185,000 full- and part-time jobs and are often the major employer in many rural towns."

USDA’s annual survey of the nation’s more than 2,200 agricultural and fishery cooperatives shows that grain and oilseed sales increased more than $7 billion in 2012.

Farm and ranch supply sales by co-ops also were up $7 billion, primarily due to rising energy prices. Fertilizer, feed and petroleum sales by co-ops each increased by at least $1 billion.

In addition, net assets owned by agricultural co-ops – which range from local grain elevators and farm supply stores to major food and beverage processing plants – showed a major increase in 2012. The $82.9 billion total was 4.4 percent higher than 2011’s $79.4 billion mark. During the same period, owner equity gained $1.8 billion.

Equity capital remains low, but clearly is showing an upward trend with a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year, USDA said.

As a sector, the biggest gainers on USDA’s list of the nation’s 100 largest agricultural cooperatives were grain and grain/farm supply co-ops. Eight of the 10 biggest increases on the list were scored by co-ops in those categories.

The 100 largest agricultural cooperatives reported revenue of $162 billion in 2012, a new record and a jump of more than 9 percent from 2011’s revenue mark of $148 billion. Net income for the top 100 co-ops also set a new record in 2012, reaching $3.5 billion, compared with the previous record of $3.1 billion in 2011.

In January of this year, lawmakers extended many of the expiring 2008 Farm Bill programs for nine months. That extension ended at the end of September, providing no long-term certainty for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

Vilsack has stated that America’s producers need certainty about U.S. farm policy in coming years to continue the recent momentum of the U.S. agricultural economy and rising farm income.

"Getting a food, farm and jobs bill passed this year is essential, and it can’t fall victim to politics as usual," Vilsack added. "Too much is at stake, and too many people lose out if Congress can’t act."

Late in October, congressional conferees began the process of trying to resolve differences between the Senate and House provisions of farm bill legislation.

"We have an opportunity to move forward with strong agriculture policy (and) provide the tools and safety net for farmers and ranchers across the nation," said Conference Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted, "There are over 16 million people across this country whose jobs rely on agriculture. They are counting on us to get the farm bill done."

Sweetlix Isn’t Just for Livestock Anymore !

by Jackie Nix

More and more people are turning toward traditional livestock species as pets than ever before. For many of these, this will be a first time experience. While enthusiasm runs high, sometimes knowing how to properly feed these pets can be a challenge. With this in mind, SWEETLIX is proud to announce the introduction of two new products designed especially for these companion animals, the SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Block and the SWEETLIX All Purpose Goat Pail.

Make sure your backyard flock gets everything they need with SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Blocks.

SWEETLIX Farm FlockSupplement Block

As a backyard flock owner, we know you want the best for your birds. You buy the best feed available to keep your birds healthy and happy. However, sometimes due to either lack of feed choices or a mistaken purchase of the wrong kind of feed, birds can lack necessary nutrients. The SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Block is designed to provide supplemental protein, energy, minerals and vitamins - just in case. Also, since birds are very competitive at feeding time, not all birds get equal amounts to eat. They don’t call it a "pecking order" for nothing! Because SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Blocks are available around the clock, all birds have equal access and each one can get what they need.

I mentioned protein, but did you know that all protein is not created equal when it comes to feeding birds? Unlike ruminants and horses that can manufacture amino acids (the building blocks of protein) via the microbes in their digestive system to overcome any deficiencies, birds only get what you feed them. Some amino acids are harder to come by than others. Of these, methionine and lysine are the hardest. This is why the SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Block specifically contains guaranteed levels of both methionine and lysine to make sure your birds get these essential, limiting amino acids.

One look at the SWEETLIX Farm Flock Supplement Block lets you know it’s different from typical blocks. Chock-full of healthy, whole grains, this block provides balanced nutrition from all parts of the grain. Energy comes from the natural, unprocessed oils and carbohydrates found in these grains. Removing these whole grains from the block satisfies the birds’ natural pecking tendencies. This, in turn, can help alleviate some of the aggressive behavior between birds.

The SWEETLIXFarm Flock Supplement Block also delivers essential minerals and vitamins needed by all classes of birds. These supplemental nutrients nicely round out what is provided by the commercial feed of your choice and natural scavenging. Please remember that the SWEETLIX XFarm Flock Supplement Block is truly a supplement and not a substitute for the proper commercial feed mixture.

Nutrition made simple so you can spend more time enjoying your goats.

SWEETLIX All Purpose Goat Pail

Since goats are ruminants, they are designed to digest forages such as grass, browse and hay. And because these little guys are living the high life as pets, their needs won’t be as rigorous as animals in a production setting. Under these conditions, it’s very easy to overfeed your goats. The SWEETLIX All Purpose Goat Pail was developed to "spoon feed" your goats the essential nutrients most likely to be lacking in hay and pastures. Think of these pails as insurance to bridge nutritional gaps – just in case. In many situations, this pail, fresh water and plentiful pasture or good-quality hay are all you need. When you don’t know the quality of your hay or if you notice your goats are losing weight, it’s best to hedge your bets by feeding a small amount of commercial feed as well.

We know that nutrition can be confusing! That’s why the SWEETLIX All Purpose Goat Pail delivers the full daily requirement of salt, minerals and vitamins along with supplemental protein needed to keep your goats healthy and happy. Provide to goats on a self-fed basis as directed for glossy coats and strong hooves. No other sources of salt or minerals are needed or recommended. So be sure to throw away all of those white salt blocks and red trace mineral blocks as they will interfere with proper intake of the SWEETLIX All Purpose Goat Pail.

This convenient, 18-pound, flat-back pail is designed to be easily hung from fencing or a post anywhere your goats are. We recommend placing them within 10-30 feet of their water source. You don’t even need to shelter these weather-resistant pails from the elements as the unique SWEETLIXformula retains its excellent palatability in rain, sleet or snow. Also, no need for measuring scoops as these self-fed pails allow goats to adjust to their needs on a daily basis.

Plus, since these pails are available 24/7, there are no worries about the dominant goats keeping the smaller, weaker ones from getting their share. Just provide one pail per 5-10 animals so that each one can have access. It may be necessary to have at least two pails at all times if you have one very dominant goat. Once these heavy duty plastic pails are empty of the supplement, they make great water and feed buckets.

Another added benefit is that when these pails are hung up, kids cannot climb or lie in them, keeping the supplement clean. As you know (or will soon find out!), keeping feed clean of kids’ dirty little feet is an uphill battle! Goats are very clean animals and will refuse to eat feed, minerals or hay covered in dirt and manure if given a choice. When feed pans and hay troughs are contaminated with manure, goats are more likely to contract deadly parasites. Keeping the supplement clean not only promotes proper intake of nutrients, but also helps protect your goats from disease.

For more information about either of these new companion-animal supplement products, visit or ask for them by name at your local Quality Co-op!

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations ( You can contact her at or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about the SWEETLIX companion animal supplement products.

Tackling Streambank Stabilization

Collinsville farmer Thomas Barksdale knows the power of running water, especially as it causes erosion.

from Sand Mountain-Lake Guntersville Watershed

Personnel from the NRCS assisted Thomas Barksdale in designing a Streambank Stabilization project for the Thomas Barksdale Farm in Collinsville. The technical assistance team included Autry Burns, DeKalb NRCS technician; Jessica Mills, resource ag engineer; and Tim Williams, Civil Engineer for the North NRCS Team.

The Collinsville farmer has witnessed the effects of swirling water in a creekbed on his farm as it comes all the way from Valley Head - a distance of about 30 miles. The moving water builds volume as the surrounding watershed also dumps its water into the collection of other waters before traversing the Barksdale farm.

For at least 10 years, Barksdale watched as the creek changed its course, yet the water still continued to slough off the banks of the creek running through his farm and seemed to eat them away. He saw precious topsoil and even subsoil on the creek banks loosen and disappear into the ferocious, eroding creek waters. A conservation-minded farmer, Barksdale pondered what could be done to remediate the problem.

Then he consulted the DeKalb County Natural Resources and Conservation Service, and that’s when he got help. NRCS sent a technical assistance team that included a civil engineer to scout out the situation on the Barksdale Farm and to propose a solution. A conservation plan was developed and implemented featuring placement of almost 600 tons of large rip-rap rock, covering an area of 430 feet, on the streambanks to stabilize them, thus slowing down and maybe even stopping the erosion. A permanent sod of fungus-free fescue was established as a cover to the area adjacent to the creek banks, and trees were planted alongside the creek as a long-range stabilizing measure. Then a perimeter fence was installed to keep Barksdale’s 100 head of beef cattle away from the stream.

Barksdale’s confidence in the durability and effectiveness of the reinforced streambanks got a boost during the mid-June to mid-July heavy rains and the consequent flooding.

"In spite of all the pressure, the banks held!" he said.

The “before” photograph illustrates the erosion that was occurring to streambanks on the Thomas Barksdale Farm in Collinsville before a conservation-oriented Streambank Stabilization Plan was initiated approximately 3 years ago. The same area after the completed Streambank Stabilization project on the Thomas Barksdale Farm in Collinsville. Some 630 tons of large rip-rap rock were placed on 430 feet along the banks of the stream to buffer erosion. Land area adjacent to the stream was covered with fungus-free fescue sod; trees were planted to provide long-range coverage on holding the soil in place; and a perimeter fence was added to isolate cattle from the stream.

The total project, from start to finish, required the bigger part of 3 years to complete and was done under the 319 Cost Share Program through Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation District using Streambank Stabilization practices.

Tax Planning for Farmers

by Robert Page

As we approach the end of the year, farmers should strongly consider meeting with their tax preparers to plan their estimated 2013 taxes. During the many years of Extension’s Farm Analysis program, no farmer meeting was more important than the annual fourth-quarter, tax-planning meeting. That’s because these meetings were worth $10,000-$200,000 or more in federal and state taxes for commercial farmers. This year, with Extension’s Farm Analysis Program discontinued as of April 30, 2013, our former clients will be meeting with their accountants and tax preparers for this critical meeting.

Commercial farmers are planners and organizers. Someone farming over 1,000 acres has to be to get everything done. While most, if not all, commercial farmers work in agriculture because they enjoy the lifestyle, they also farm for money. During my years in the Farm Analysis Program, I’ve worked with farm clients with over $200,000 in annual losses and with over $400,000 in annual profits during the fourth-quarter, tax-planning meeting.

For the sake of this article, let us assume our client farmer is a sole-proprietor farmer filing a basic Form 1040 with a cash-basis Schedule F farm return. Each year, the meeting would have the same series of questions. These are the questions the farmer’s economist would have asked for the 2013 crop year.

What was the farmer’s year-to-date actual profit or loss as of a set date? In most instances, the farmer would select the end of October or November year-to-date as a starting point. This would mean all the farmer’s income and expenses would have to be posted into QuickBooks as of that date. Note to procrastinators:Having an October 31 or November 30 starting point would mean commercial farmers did not wait until January 2014 to begin entering 2013 income and expenses into their accounting records.

What was the farmer’s expected income for the one or two remaining months of the year?During some years, farmers were still harvesting crops in October. In other years, all the crops had been harvested and the farmer had a good idea of what their income would be for the last two months of the year.

What was the farmer’s expected expenses for the one or two remaining months of the year?With up-to-date QuickBooks records, the farmer and I could quickly see monthly averages for each expense line. We would discuss each expense to come up with a reasonable amount for the remaining one or two months of the year.

What equipment or other fixed assets had the farmer already purchased during 2013?These current year purchases would be added to the farmer’s Fixed Asset and Depreciation Schedule to determine an estimated amount of depreciation expense for the year.

Using this best estimate of the farm’s projected year-end income and expense, the farmer and I would prepare a projected amount of estimated federal and state taxes due for 2013. This tax estimate might be $0 tax due for farmers with a loss or a tax bill of $250,000 or more for farmers with large profits. Note: Extension Economist Steve Brown in Escambia County and earlier economists had developed an outstanding Excel-based tax program Brown updated each year for this task. All of the farmers in the state Farm Analysis program and current and earlier Extension economists owe a debt of thanks for Brown’s good work with this tax estimate/projection spreadsheet.

What amount of federal and state tax did the farmer want to pay for 2013?This is the point where tax planning really begins for the farmer. If the original projected amount of federal and state taxes due was not satisfactory to the farmer, what could they do to change the tax? Typically, the farmer had several options to lower their estimated tax bill before year-end.

The farmer could prepay for crop inputs needed for 2014. This option would pull 2014 expenses back into 2013 for larger expenses, and thus a lower tax bill.

The farmer could decide not to sell 2013 harvested crops and keep them stored until 2014. This option would push 2013 income into 2014.

The farmer could review the farm equipment and other fixed assets already purchased in 2013 and see how different types of depreciation would affect their 2013 estimated taxes. Some farmers might decide to fast depreciate some large pieces of equipment for maximum tax benefit in 2013 or look ahead to decide that the fixed assets would be depreciated over 5, 7, 10 or more years.

The farmer could decide to buy more equipment or other fixed assets in the last month(s) of 2013 so they could have additional depreciation for 2013 to lower estimated taxes.

The farmer could decide how much money to deposit in an individual traditional IRA or other retirement savings account to reduce individual taxes.

By changing amounts of these five typical options, the farmer’s estimated tax bill could be cut dramatically for 2013. However, the farmer also had to consider how profitable they expected the farm to be for 2014, 2015 and beyond. As planners and experienced farmers, cutting taxes too much in 2013 might lead to a higher tax bill in 2014 or 2015.

As a result of considering several different "what if" scenarios for these different options, the farmer could reduce farm income by hundreds of thousands of dollars for tax purposes. Thus, a four-hour annual meeting could save the farmer $10,000 to $200,000 in taxes.

Today, the former client farmers of the Farm Analysis Program will need to visit their local accountant to conduct this meeting for a preliminary tax estimate. However, I believe most, if not all of them, will say the time and cost of a preliminary tax planning meeting is money well spent. That’s because cash-basis farmers must record cash income or expense before December 31, 2013. After year-end, a farmer’s tax preparer is typically limited to options on depreciation to reduce 2013 farm income. If you and your farm are having a good year and expect to pay significant taxes for 2013, you should consider visiting your tax preparer for a tax planning meeting. It can save you money.

For more information about farm management and financial analysis, please contact your County Extension Coordinator or an Extension Specialist: North Alabama: Holt Hardin, 256-574-2143 or Robert Page, 256-528-7133; Central Alabama: Jamie Yeager, 334-624-4016; Southwest Alabama: Steve Brown, 251-867-7760.

The Co-op Pantry

We have a rare treat this month! Elani Hantel is an American melting pot lesson all on her own. Elani was born to a Greek Cypriot mother and a Texan father, which makes for interesting cooking! Elani grew up in Dallas and now lives in Houston.

Elani stated, "My parents met in London while my father was stationed there in the U.S. Air Force. He brought her home to East Texas where she could not cook what she was used to eating in Cyprus. So, she learned to make chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, pinto beans, greens, etc. This is the type of food I grew up eating, not Greek food.

"I went to Texas A&M University and graduated with a degree in Marine Biology. I went to work for an engineering firm in Houston doing environmental management. I worked for the State of Texas as an environmental inspector, for the Environmental Protection Agency as a contractor, for an environmental consulting firm and, lastly, for an oilfield services company as the Worldwide Environmental Compliance Manager.

"In this position, I traveled all over the world, and tasted many cuisines. Middle Eastern food was the most dynamic and delicious and for the first time in my life, I realized I was Middle Eastern!!! The island of Cyprus sits right in the middle of the Middle East! I have 35 first cousins from there and, fortunately, have visited every few years for my entire adult life.

"With my career, I didn’t have much time to cook. When I was 40 years old, I met the love of my life, a widower with three young children. We married in 2001 and I quickly realized I could not continue to travel and raise these children properly. So, I quit my job to become a ‘stay-at-home’ mom. (There really is no such thing – as moms are continually gone from home driving, at school, at concerts, at meetings, at soccer games, etc.).

"The first thing that needed remedying at our house was food. It was take-out food five nights a week and usually on-the-go. It dawned on me that my little family needed to sit down at a table and eat properly and visit. So I began to cook - and cook and cook and cook.

"Years ago, I bought a bottle of olive oil and it had a mail-off card for a free cookbook. For $3.95 shipping and handling, I received the best Greek food cookbook I have ever seen. With the heritage of my mother and the experiences gained working at the church, I began to cook from this cookbook. I made some delightful pastries and main dishes."

Elani credits her heritage as a Greek Orthodox Christian as a major factor in her love of Greek cooking. She is involved with a church ministry for senior citizens and helps each year to prepare foods for the Greek festival, an annual fundraiser.

"Many of the same senior citizens I see every other Tuesday are the cooks for the Greek festival. I have learned to make many pastries as well as main dishes by volunteering at our Greek festival preparations," Elani added.

"About 7 years ago, at Christmas time, I decided to share my heritage with my friends by hosting a baklava-making party. I had four of my ‘mom’ friends over and we made four pans of baklava. Each took home a pan of this pastry for Christmas to eat or to give away for gifts. It was so successful I now have a week-long event, four to eight friends a day, making up to 32 pans of baklava!!! Each pan contains approximately 80 pieces of the pastry.

"My mother and I have been making several Greek pastries at Christmas-time for years. We wrap up an assortment and give them as Christmas gifts to doctors, friends, neighbors, etc."

Elani, thank you for sharing your fascinating story with us!


Now, for you who are wondering how Elani’s and my paths crossed, Elani’s paternal (Gray family) roots run deep in the Southeast. Her earliest known history runs back to the 1820s in Franklin County - Russellville to be exact, then here to Hardeman County, Tenn.

Like many people in the western push around the time of the Civil War, part of Elani’s family moved on through Tishomingo County, Miss., and ended up in East Texas. Others still remain in Alabama in Franklin, Lauderdale, Lawrence and other counties where many of them are Co-op customers. I met Elani (online) through my genealogical research and, wow, we turned out to be cousins! It is truly a small world.

Stories like Elani’s make one appreciate this great country we live in and all the different cultures that have gone into making us the wonderfully diverse nation we are. Appreciate your heritage and keep on cooking!

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

(Cucumber Yogurt Dip)
(From Krinos Greek Gourmet Cookbook)

16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 cucumber
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
Salt and white pepper, to taste

Line a strainer with a towel or coffee filter. Spoon in yogurt and allow to drain up to 6 hours. Peel, seed and grate cucumber. Drain on paper towels. Combine all ingredients in bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Excellent dip for vegetables or for a sauce over grilled beef.

(Baked Eggplant and Meat with Béchamel Sauce)
(adapted from Krinos Greek
Gourmet Cookbook)

4 large (about 5 pounds) eggplants
½ cup olive oil, divided
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup parsley, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 (1-lb) can tomato sauce
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated and divided
7 cups béchamel sauce (recipe included)

Peel eggplant and cut lengthwise into ½” strips. Lightly brush each strip on both sides with olive oil. Place on grill and grill, turning once, until lightly browned and tender.

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in skillet and sauté onions and garlic until onions are tender. Add ground beef and brown. Discard excess fat from skillet. Stir in parsley, nutmeg, cinnamon, tomato sauce and wine. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Grease a 10x15x3 baking pan. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Place half of cooked eggplant on bottom of pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and 1/3 cup grated cheese. Spread meat mixture evenly over eggplant and top with remaining eggplant. Sprinkle again with salt, pepper and 1/3 cup of grated cheese.

Béchamel Sauce

¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter
¾ cup flour
6 cups hot milk
6 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and white pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. In a 4-quart saucepan, melt butter and combine with flour. Cook for 5 minutes until golden, stirring constantly. Gradually add hot milk, continuing to stir until smooth. Remove saucepan from heat. In a blender or food processor, beat eggs until frothy. With machine running, add 2 cups of hot mixture to eggs and beat well. Slowly return contents of blender to saucepan, stirring constantly until mixture is thick and smooth.

Pour béchamel sauce evenly over the top of casserole, sprinkle with remaining cheese and dust with paprika.
Bake for 1 hour or until top is golden and puffed. Cool for 20 minutes before cutting. Serves 8.

Greek Wheat Pilaf
(a healthier alternative to rice!)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup medium wheat (Bulgar wheat)
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a heavy sauce pan and sauté onion until softened. Stir in the wheat and sauté with the onion until the onion is just brown. Add chicken broth and cover. Simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Mix well and serve hot.

Fig Jam

2 pounds fresh figs
2 cups sugar
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
¼ teaspoon Mistake (thickener from import store) or use Sure-Jell

Wash figs and trim the tops and bottoms off. Mash them while cooking on low heat with sugar. When the texture turns jam-like, add sesame seeds and Mistake. Stir continuously, until mixed. Put in jars and store in refrigerator.

(a Greek butter cookie)

1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon orange juice
1 Tablespoon brandy
3 cups flour
1 egg, beaten, plus 2 Tablespoons water

Cream butter and sugar with mixer for 5 minutes. Add eggs and beat well. Mix together baking powder, orange juice and brandy, add to mixture. Add flour one cup at a time. Mix or knead with hands until smooth. Let dough rest 15 minutes.

Take approximately 1 tablespoon of dough. Roll dough on floured surface into a 7”-long roll, bend in half and twist twice. Place on cookie sheet and brush with egg/water mixture. Try to ensure that all cookies are approximately the same size for even baking.
Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on cooling rack. Store in airtight container. Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies. Excellent with coffee.

Stuffed Grape Leaves
(Adapted from Krinos Greek Gourmet Cookbook)

2 pounds lean ground beef
2 large onions, grated
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup bulgar wheat (or long grain white rice)
2 egg whites
2 Tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 (2-lb) jar grape leaves
Chicken broth
Lemon slices

Mix thoroughly all ingredients except grape leaves, chicken broth and lemon slices. Rinse and drain grape leaves. Using a 4-5 quart sauce pan, line the pan with several large grape leaves. Prepare rolls by placing teaspoon of filling on the bottom of each leaf. Fold over top of leaf, fold over sides, and roll up. Depending on the size of the leaf, more or less filling may be needed. Place rolls in sauce pan, layering up the side of the pan until 2/3 full. Add chicken broth to cover rolls. Top with lemon slices. Place a small plate on top to weigh down. Simmer until tender, about 2 hours, or until most liquid is absorbed.

Remove to serving platter. Serve room temperature.

Aunt Ruby's Easy Candied Pecans

¼ cup butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups pecan halves

Combine all ingredients except pecans and microwave on high until sugar is dissolved. Stir in pecans and mix until well coated. Spread on wax paper until dry.

Note from Elani: These are great wrapped in gift bags with ribbons for Christmas.

Pear and Candied Pecan Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients in a lidded container and shake well.

8 cups greens
2 Asian or Anjou pears, or apples
1 cup candied pecans
1 cup blueberries (optional)

Toss all ingredients with honey mustard dressing and serve.

Elani’s Yummy Chicken Salad

2 chicken breast halves, boiled and chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
8 Tablespoons Hellmann’s mayonnaise
6 Tablespoons honey mustard dressing (recipe above)

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Beautiful when served in avocado halves with cheese sticks. Makes 4 sandwiches or generously fills 4 avocado halves.

Lemon Blueberry Scones

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
½ cup sour cream
1 egg
2 cups white flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon FRESH baking powder
¼ teaspoon FREST baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons lemon zest, grated
1 cup fresh blueberries
White sugar to sprinkle over scones before baking

Preheat oven to 400°. Grate frozen butter by hand or with grater in food processor. Whisk together sour cream and egg in a small bowl. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a blending blade, combine butter, wet ingredients, dry ingredients and lemon zest in food processor and pulse just until blended. Remove dough to lightly floured surface and gently form an 8” diameter, ¾” patty. Sprinkle fresh blueberries onto surface of patty and gently push blueberries into dough.

Cut patty into 8 wedges with pizza cutter. Place each wedge onto cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, approximately 1” apart. Sprinkle scones with white sugar. Bake on middle rack of oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove scones to cooling rack for 5 minutes. Serve with English Clotted Cream or Crème Fraise. Makes 8 large scones.

Note: The texture of the scones will be better with less handling. Be gentle!

Elani’s Easy Cornbread Dressing – Thanksgiving

18 cups cornbread (6 packages of Jiffy Cornbread Mix)
4 cups biscuit crumbs (one can of 10 biscuits)
2 white onions, finely chopped
1 can cream of celery soup
1 teaspoon pepper
3 Tablespoons rubbed sage
18-20 cups chicken broth
1 boiled chicken (optional)

Cook cornbread and biscuits. Crumble breads into large aluminum pan or casserole and mix together with all ingredients above (even chicken if used). Cook uncovered at 450° for 45-60 minutes. Stir every 10-15 minutes until done.

Note from Elani: “This is a combination of several recipes I have to make easy, delicious, cornbread dressing that looks and tastes like Grandma used to make. At Thanksgiving, my grandmother cooked for everyone. She made dressing and added boiled chicken pieces as it was baking. This recipe can be made with or without the chicken pieces.”

The FFA Sentinel: Off Balance, On Purpose

FFA members attend Joint Leadership Development Conference and career cluster exhibition

Wayne’s Chemical discussed careers related to chemical application in the agriculture industry.

by Kelsey Faulkner

The 2013 Joint Leadership Development Conference was held September 23-24 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. Organizations represented were DECA, FBLA-PBL, FCCLA, FFA, HOSA, JAG, JROTC, SkillsUSA and TSA. There were more than 5,000 teachers, chaperones, students and guests present at the conference. FFA had more than 500 members present. The theme of this year’s conference was "Off Balance, On Purpose."

Dan Thurmon, this year’s keynote speaker, is the author of two books, a renowned expert in delivering performances and the president of Motivation Works, Inc. Thurmon’s philosophy of being off balance comes from his belief that we will never achieve "perfect balance" and should, instead, learn to embrace uncertainty and initiate positive changes leading to growth.

Another presentation was given by Amy Gallimore of TRI Leadership Resources, LLC. It was entitled "How Happiness Happens" and focused on students learning to leverage their lives by overcoming obstacles and situations, and attracting other happy leaders to their world.

Left to right, Cherokee County Career and Technical Center students built and provided a unique mobile learning laboratory for students. This 26-foot learning lab on wheels is the first in Alabama and only the fourth in the nation. It is designed to be set up at local K-middle schools to allow students to experience farming hands-on. Auburn University Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts provided an interactive trailer for students to learn more about alternative fuels and energy consumption.

Special guests at this year’s conference included Governor Robert Bentley; Dr. Thomas R. Bice, State Superintendent of Education; Dr. Phillip Cleveland, Director of Workforce Development and Career and Technical Education; and William (Bill) C. Taylor, President of Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. Students had the opportunity to attend workshops presented by various Alabama Career and Technical Student Organization State Officers including FFA. Students were able to choose which organization’s workshop they wanted to attend. As far as FFA, the state officers encouraged students to "Just Due It." The popular Nike slogan was incorporated into the workshops by asking members to pay their "Dues" to experience the numerous opportunities through FFA.

A new and exciting part of JLDC this year was the career cluster exhibits. Students had the opportunity to explore various career options by visiting nearly 100 exhibitors from 16 different career clusters. These companies showcased different career paths students may pursue in Alabama. Exhibitors provided students with eye-catching, hands-on interactive exhibits. These companies also discovered the unique and specialized skills and training Alabama’s student leadership organizations offer its future workforce. Many students growing up in rural Alabama are not aware of the many high-wage, high-demand jobs available. Our exhibitors explained to students about the multitude of jobs available in the agriculture industry. Agriculture is still Alabama’s number one industry. It is up to Alabama FFA to ensure we have a strong and viable workforce available to fill this growing demand. We want to thank all of our industry exhibitors that participated including: Auburn University Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts, Exmark, Blalock Equipment Company, Advanced Mower, Auburn University College of Agriculture, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Forestry Association, Alabama Urban Forestry Association, Wayne’s Environmental Services, Alabama Green Industry Training Center, Auburn University School of Forestry, Thompson Caterpillar, Tri-Greene Equipment, and the Cherokee County Career and Technical Center for providing the Alabama "Ag in Action" trailer.

JLDC was definitely a great experience for students as well as adults to grow and develop their knowledge of the agriculture industry while learning some valuable lessons in leadership. If you would like to participate in the JLDC conference next year as an exhibitor, please contact Jacob Davis at 334-242-9114.

Kelsey Faulkner is Alabama’s FFA Reporter.

Touching Hearts and Souls

HorsePlay Drill Team members are dressed in costumes that aid them in relaying the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The riders gave a stirring, first-place performance in the Drama Theme Division at the World Super Ride Competition in Tyler, Texas.

HorsePlay Drill Team earns standing ovation for their performance at World Competition.

by Jade Currid

Arider in flowing white garb loped victoriously around the arena triumphantly carrying the Christian flag for the finale of a breathtaking equestrian drill performance that stirred the souls of the crowd and earned a standing ovation at the 2013 Super Ride XI National Drill Team World Competition in Tyler, Texas, in June.

The stunning performance garnered first place in the Drama Theme Division and was presented by a team hailing from Alabama, HorsePlay Drill Team, that, notably, was the only equestrian drill team to represent the Southeast region in the prestigious event.

"That was a God thing and it was just really awesome," HorsePlay Drill Team Head Coach T.J. Butler said. "We were all crying before we came out of the arena."

HorsePlay Drill Team’s performance touched the hearts of the audience and of the special riders who made it come alive on the equestrian’s stage - a dirt-filled arena.

"It just really blessed our hearts and blessed those who were watching," Butler said. "The crowd just really got into it and stood up and applauded, and we just left there very blessed."

The team viewed the esteemed competition as an opportunity to learn, grow and have fun and winning a national championship exceeded the members’ expectations, Butler said.

HorsePlay Drill Team depicted the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus through graceful riding, choreography, music, narration and costumes.

The equestrians wore costumes representing Jesus, Jewish people, Roman soldiers, death and resurrection while executing flawless maneuvers on horseback as narration and music supplemented their storytelling.

"We just put it together trying to honor the Lord," Butler said.

Selected Division 12 National Champions at the World Super Ride Competition in Tyler, Texas, HorsePlay Drill Team members are all smiles.

HorsePlay Drill Team received additional honors including the Super Ride XI Directors Award for 2013 and fourth place in the Adult Small Teams Division.

Preparation for the Super Ride XI National Drill Team World Competition was a community effort.

Churches donated costumes and a narrator volunteered his time.

The overall experience of competing on HorsePlay Drill Team at the monumental event and feeling the tremendous response from the crowd after their winning performance topped the team’s co-leader Wanda Robbins’ list.

"Just that, whether we won or not, would have been well worth the trip out there," she said.

Robbins described the atmosphere at the competition as accommodating and friendly.

"The people out there were great," she said. "All the teams were great. Anybody you came in contact with was very nice and helpful to us newcomers."

A long-time equestrian, Robbins’ passion for horses ignited when she was a child and her cousins owned them.

As a young adult, she began showing and running barrels. Later, when she had children, she encouraged them to develop an interest in equines.

The participation of her youngest daughter Samantha Robbins on the Elmore County 4-H Club Equestrian Drill Team, Untamed Expressions, sparked her desire to become involved with the sport.

Robbins and Butler, who both coached Untamed Expressions, decided to form a mixed team of adults and young people.

Their vision launched as HorsePlay Drill Team in 2011.

"HorsePlay started as a group of ladies who wanted to have fun with their horses and do something creative," said Rebecca Salamone of Alabama Horse Talk, who is a former member of HorsePlay Drill Team. "In just a short time, they have developed into a world-class, top-level team - a real testament to their hard work and dedication! I was so pleased to have been a part of this award-winning group of cowgirls!"

Currently, 15-year-old Samantha Robbins and Auburn University at Montgomery freshman Kendal Butler, T.J.’s youngest daughter, ride on the team.

"It’s something Mom and I find special because we get to do it together and we’ve always had a passion for horses," Kendal said of her experience of competing on the team with her mother.

Before joining HorsePlay Drill Team, Kendal also helped coach Untamed Expressions.

Robbins’s oldest daughter, Kristen Thompson, who is expecting a child, rode on the team until the past year.

"She enjoyed it, too, and she is looking forward to getting back into it," Robbins said.

Robbins credits the people she rides with for making participation on HorsePlay Drill Team fun and considers them true blessings.

"They’re just a good Christian group and just some of my best friends," she added.

"The horse world has a great group of people, and I’ve met a lot of great people I would not have met otherwise," she continued. "The drill team is a bigger aspect of that because you’re working as a team; so there are more people who travel around together. You don’t go to a show and meet one or two people. You go and meet a team of people and you learn from them and they learn from you."

Competing on an equestrian drill team requires commitment, discipline and effort. Horse and rider must be conditioned to meet the physical demands of the sport. Riders must be mentally focused and ready to give their all whether it’s during a two-hour practice, a competition, a clinic or a rodeo performance.

"It’s a sport," Butler said. "It’s not for the weak."

Even though riding on a drill team is hard work, Robbins considers it her stress relief.

There is no place she would rather be than spending time with her close friends, daughters and horses, all aspects of partaking in a thrilling activity she adores.

"I leave every practice wishing the practice was still going on," Robbins shared. "I just enjoy it so much."

The ladies of HorsePlay Drill Team give the glory to God while giving their very best and riding and living life to the fullest, adhering to their motto: "Love, Laugh, Lope!"

Anyone who is interested in sponsoring HorsePlay Drill Team or having the team perform at an event, please contact T.J. Butler at 334-300-1810.

Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.

Uh Oh. Jesus Got Toothpaste on His Head!

by Glenn Crumpler

It was about 6:30 a.m. when my grandsons Bryant, 6, and Bradyn, 4, were brushing their teeth before leaving for kindergarten and pre-school. My wife Lisa and daughter Ashley were watching and helping them to make sure they did a good job instead of just putting a little toothpaste on their tongues just in case someone wanted to check them by smelling their breath. (Somehow little boys figure this little game out without any coaching!)

Unbeknown to the boys’ mom, they had run out of their bubblegum-flavored children’s toothpaste the day before. Too late to do anything else, Grandmamma and Ashley explained to them that since they were such "big boys" now, it would be okay for them to use grown-up toothpaste until they could get more of their own.

Now that sounded like a good idea at the time and proved a little "childhood psychology" could go a long way in making a little 4-year-old boy poke his chest out and strut around like a game rooster! The problem arose just about the time the toothpaste got all foamed up in the brushing process and little Bradyn got choked on the strong taste and accidently swallowed some of the "big boy" toothpaste. Just as he got his breath back and regained his composure, he looked at his mom and said with all seriousness, "Uh oh. Jesus got toothpaste on His head!"

Having absolutely no idea what Bradyn was talking about, Lisa and Ashley just laughed and asked "What did you say?"

Before Bradyn could answer, 6-year-old Bryant jumped in and said, "You know. Jesus lives in his heart so now He’s got toothpaste on His head!"

How telling is it that such an honest and profound statement about the reality and an awareness of God’s presence in our lives could not be readily understood by us as adults, but to the child that professed it and to another child who heard it, it was absolutely clear and made perfect sense without any further explanation? Bradyn did not hesitate to recognize and acknowledge, with some concern, the toothpaste he accidently swallowed had landed squarely on the head of Jesus because he knew for a fact that Jesus lived in his heart. Bryant also understood exactly what Bradyn meant by his confession without having to think it through or ask for any clarification. He answered the questions of his Mama and Grandmamma for Bradyn before Bradyn could respond. What the boys had been taught they had completely accepted as truth, and they professed that truth without hesitation or questioning. They believe exactly and literally that Jesus lives in their hearts - exactly what they have always been taught and have experienced for themselves.

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was to come after His crucifixion and resurrection, He told them, "If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be with you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" (John 14:15-20).

Jesus said again as He prayed to the Father just after the Last Supper and just before He went to pray and be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, "I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them" (John 17:26).

If Jesus promised that He (through His Holy Spirit) would live in the hearts of those who belong to and who follow Him, why would that thought of Jesus having toothpaste on His head in the mind of a child seem so strange to us? Why is it they "really" believe in and are aware of His presence in their lives when we as adults do not think of His actually indwelling us as He promised to do? We can fill our hearts, lives, minds and bodies with all kinds of evil and idolatry that we think God doesn’t know about; but, in reality, we are doing those things right in His face - right where He lives! Perhaps we would be better off if we had the faith of a child.

Jesus said in His own words; "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

He said again, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Luke 18:16-17).

How would our lives as adults be different, how much more intimate would our relationship with our Lord be, how much worry and stress could be avoided, how much more peace could be ours, how much more of His power would be manifested in our lives, how many more lives could we touch for His purposes if we just had the faith of a child to believe that Jesus indeed lives in us and is always with us as a "real" personal being? He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. How would our lives look if we "really" believed that truth and if we were always aware of His presence in our lives? What would our lives look like if we really had childlike faith?

What if we just took God at His word, believed His promises and accepted the fact that He is the all-knowing, all-powerful, creator GOD? What if we just accepted the fact that He loves us and knows what is best for us without feeling the need to doubt, question, challenge, dilute, rationalize, reject or otherwise alter His Word to suit ourselves and our own desires and intellect? How would childlike faith change not only our beliefs but the way we lived our lives? How would it change our priorities? How would it change what we do in private? How would our families, vocations, time management and bank accounts be affected?

I remember an old bumper sticker you may be able to take some shots at, but perhaps we ought to remember. It read: "God said it. I believe it. That settles it!" Maybe that kind of thinking and acceptance of the Word of God just as it is written would bring revival to our nation and our churches. However, we cannot believe and we cannot live out what we do not know. We need to read God’s Word for ourselves and then, like a child, believe it and live it out. All of Scripture points us to Christ, the Gift of Christmas. Accept Him as your own and allow Him to rule in our heart.

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

Using Technology to Enhance Animal Disease Traceability

by Dr. Tony Frazier

I grew up watching "The Jetsons," a cartoon based some time in the future. Probably most of you reading this article remember that cartoon. "Meet George Jetson, Jane his wife, daughter Judy, his boy Elroy …… " You remember the theme song. It was one of the great Saturday morning cartoons of the 1960s and maybe the early 1970s. Everything was very futuristic like being able to use voice commands for kitchen appliances and stuff like that. The funny thing is, other than everyone’s car flying instead of having tires and traveling on a road, I think most of those things that could have only been imagined by the cartoon writers are a normal part of the world we live in today.

Technology is an absolutely amazing thing when it works correctly and sometimes a near-disaster when it doesn’t work as it was intended. Nonetheless, technology is here, and while we may wish for the good old days, I doubt that many of us would want to go back to the old rotary phones or, heaven forbid, go back to when television sets did not have remote controls. So, as much as people like me resist change, there are areas where it is best to just embrace those technological changes and make them work for us. We are in the process of doing just that with Certificates of Veterinary Inspection or, as many people fondly refer to them, health certificates.

I can’t remember if I have written an article about CVIs before; so, if I have, it has probably been quite a while. For those of you who have not shipped animals across state lines and who have not had to use a veterinarian to obtain a CVI to accompany the shipment, I will give a brief summary of what we used to refer to as a health certificate and its role in animal health. All states have regulations dealing with the importation of animals. The use of CVI documents shows those regulations have been satisfied. Some of the basic requirements are the names and addresses of the shipper and receiver of the animal. It requires some type of identification and description of the animals. Also any required test results such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, Coggins tests and others must be documented on the CVI.

And, as a sidebar, the reason we call the document a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection instead of a health certificate is because there is a difference between having a veterinarian examine an animal or animals and actually certifying the health of those animals. I think we can all relate to feeling fine at 10 p.m. when we go to bed, and at 3 a.m. we are in the bathroom with a severe case of vomiting and diarrhea. Now if someone had looked at us at 10 and certified us as healthy, another person who saw us at 3 would feel that our health certificate written at 10 was misleading.

That is sort of the problem we get into when we call the health paper a health certificate. An example would be a person who takes his horse to the veterinarian before taking it to Mississippi to be bred. When the veterinarian examines the mare, the animal appears perfectly healthy. A week later the mare shows up in Mississippi to be bred, but by then she has a full blown case of strangles. The person at the receiving farm in Mississippi becomes upset at the veterinarian who wrote the CVI because the assumption was that the veterinarian certified the health of the horse. In reality, the certificate only states "the animal or animals on the certificate were free of signs of infectious diseases on the day they were examined."

Anyway, that is why we no longer refer to the document as a health certificate. If anybody ever asks you why, you will know.

Now back to the original subject I am writing about. That is the use of modern technology as it relates to CVIs. For a long time, veterinarians would write the certificate, usually in quadruplicate (usually government documents were in triplicate, but this went one better). One copy accompanied the animal(s) being shipped. One copy went to the state veterinarian in the state of origin. One copy went to the state veterinarian in the state of destination. And the final copy stayed with the veterinarian who examined the animal or animals and wrote the certificate.

For the last few years, there has been a trend to begin using computers to electronically write and send the appropriate copies where they need to go. There have been companies that have developed the technology for veterinarians to write these certificates that we call e-CVIs. The use of this technology allows us to, faster than I can snap my fingers, send copies to the state veterinarians in the states of origin and destination. That can be significant in a situation where animals might have been exposed to certain diseases.

My office is working with other states to give any Alabama veterinarian the capability to produce e-CVIs. This will be especially helpful for veterinarians who work at stockyards and inspect the animals, often several hours before anyone even knows where the state of destination may be. Using a computer and access to the proper software, the veterinarian would be able to inspect the animals at the stockyard in the morning; then be given the shipping information that night, produce the e-CVI, send copies to the appropriate states and email a copy back to the stockyard to accompany the shipment. That would allow everything that needed to be done concerning the CVI without the veterinarian making a trip back to the stockyard to complete his paperwork.

Maybe the biggest advantage to the e-CVI will be our ability to more rapidly trace animals that may be exposed to disease. In the old days (not really that long ago), if we needed to look through old CVIs, we had to pull out the appropriate drawer in the filing cabinet and go through the paper copies of the certificates one by one. And that could sometimes take up a lot of time. The use of computers to electronically store and search for that information can only improve our response time when disease traceability is an issue.

I don’t know where technology will take us in the next few years. Maybe we will all be driving cars like George Jetson drove. I do know this: we will make every effort to incorporate new technology into what we do to enhance animal agriculture. One thing is for certain, we are not ever going back to the old rotary phone.

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama.

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