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February 2013

Youth Matters

4-H Wildlife Team Competes On Texas King Ranch

The Alabama team from left: Maggie Moore, Garrett Johnson, Brad Gentle and Josh Jones.

by Keith Johnson

Four teens from Alabama got a chance this summer to compete in the National Wildlife Habitat Education Program on the legendary King Ranch located in South Texas. Maggie Moore, Josh Jones, Brad Gentle and Garrett Johnson from Morgan County represented Alabama in this year’s annual contest held in a different state each year.

WHEP is a 4-H and FFA competition in which 14- to 19-year-olds show off their wildlife knowledge and management skills. The emphasis is on knowing wildlife terms, judging quality of habitat, wildlife habitat management practices and wildlife damage management. The students are scored as a team and as individuals.

The Morgan County team earned the right to compete at the national level by winning the state competition in Auburn last June. They then went to work to raise the necessary funds to make the trip to Kingsville. Many individuals and organizations donated generously and the kids worked at a two-day dog show to help earn the money.

The students listen to experts lecture on the unique ecology of South Texas.

Dr. Jim Armstrong came up from Auburn to Hartselle for a day to help the team prepare for the competition. Ronald Britnell and Spencer Bradley, natural resource extension agents, worked with the team as well as Sharon Fischer, the 4-H coordinator for Morgan County.

Although the team had hoped to win the competition, they came in seventh as a team, and Maggie Moore placed seventh in the individual competition while Garrett Johnson placed fourth. Alabama and Tennessee teams have dominated the competition since it began in 1989 winning more first and second place trophies than any other state. Tennessee won first place this year and Texas placed second.

"If we couldn’t win, I am glad Tennessee won this year. They were really nice kids. In fact, there were a lot of nice people involved from all over the place," Garrett Johnson commented.

The competition lasted for two days and Head Coach Sara Gentle and Assistant Coach Melissa Johnson stayed with the students. The participants were housed at the Texas A&M University at the Kingsville campus. The Alabama team agreed, while it was a lot of work to prepare for the contest, they felt like it was well worth it, and they would highly recommend the competition to others who are interested in wildlife and their habitat.

Some of the teams meet on the Texas A & M Kingsville campus before going out on their first stop.

The King Ranch is a mind-boggling 825,000 acres and is about as different ecologically from Alabama as any place could be. The area is much drier and the plant life was quite unique. This presented a challenge for the Alabama experts, but one that they enjoyed.

They were warned to wear leather boots and watch for rattlesnakes which were abundant to say the least. When the first railroad was being built into the area, so many workers were killed by rattlesnake bites that ranch matriarch Henrietta King placed a bounty of a nickel for each rattler killed. She called it off after paying for over 250,000 dead rattlers and still no noticeable dent in the population. Melissa Johnson said South Texas has gorgeous beaches, but also the only ones she was on had signs warning visitors to watch for rattlesnakes.

Before the railroads came to Texas, the nation’s first cattle drives started from this ranch as the cattle were driven from Kingsville to Kansas City to be shipped by rail to Chicago. The building of the rail system to Kingsville effectively doubled the profit margin on every head sold.

These teams chose to go to the Natural Toxins Research Center to hear about research into snake venom of which there was no shortage in the area.

The ranch is larger than the state of Rhode Island and has over 2,000 miles of fencing and cross fencing. It is so large that it was not uncommon in the early days for a cowboy who lost his horse to die of thirst before reaching water. Today, the ranch has several crew members whose only job is to keep the water flowing from the wells around the ranch. Thirty thousand cattle drink a lot of water in the merciless South Texas heat.

The ranch developed the Santa Gertrudis breed of cattle and the first American Quarter Horse ever registered came from there. An operation this size takes a lot of people to keep running. When the ranch was first established in 1853 virtually no one lived in the area, so founder Richard King travelled to Mexico and convinced an entire village to move with him to run the ranch. Their descendants were the people the team met who are still working the ranch today and Richard King’s descendants still own the ranch.

While cattle and oil are the main income producers for the ranch today, hunting and wildlife watching are coming on strong as businesses in and of themselves. The ranch is located in a birdwatcher’s paradise and Richard King would no doubt be shocked at what people from all over the world pay to come here and see the many species of birds. Huge herds of deer roam the area as well as the very elusive and quite large nilgai antelope from India which was introduced to the area over 80 years ago and quickly adapted. They are notoriously difficult to hunt and therefore are much sought after by hunters willing to pay the fees. There are estimated to be about 10,000 on the ranch today.

The ranch stretches all the way into the Rio Grande Valley where the subtropical climate makes the southern section of the ranch more suitable for crops. The students were surprised to find there were plenty of alligators here as well as birds common to tropical areas. Looking at this area makes it difficult to believe it is all part of the same operation.

The team certainly enjoyed the opportunity to see this ranch with its very unique ecology. South Texas has an unusual legacy and place in history and the trip opened their eyes to the variety of American geography and diversity of wildlife.

"It was a trip to be remembered for a lifetime," said Melissa Johnson.

Keith Johnson is a freelance writer from Hartselle.

Through the Fence

A Girly Solution

by Lisa Hamblen Hood

It gives me some kind of twisted satisfaction to know other rancher women who end up in difficult situations sometimes devise girly solutions. The comedian Larry the Cable Guy’s famous phrase, "Get ‘er done," rings true with all us country folk who find ourselves in bizarre predicaments with no conventional solutions available. We learn to make do with the resources at hand, often without help because we have no choice. If something is broken and can’t be fixed with udder balm, duct tape, baling wire or W-D 40, it’s probably not fixable.

My friend Sandy had taken in a huge, black Standard Poodle her grandmother had rescued from the vet’s office. It had been dropped there to be euthanized and her granny had taken pity on it. He was a happy, frisky dog with an unpleasant tendency to slobber all the time. Sandy named him Hydrophobia, but called him Hydro for short.

One afternoon, after a bout of major spring cleaning, Sandy had a load of oversized trash items loaded in the truck. She was about to drive back to the furthest edge of their sizable ranch to dump it all in their trash pit. Along came Hydro begging for a ride, so she let him climb up into the cab of the truck to ride with her. They had to drive through several large pastures to reach their destination and, when they did, the truck died. Sandy unloaded all the junk into the pit and tried unsuccessfully to start the vehicle again. Seeing how close the sun was to the horizon and realizing how far she was from home, she and Hydro set out for the house on foot. The walk would take more than an hour, provided nothing happened … but it did.

Hydro, in his usual frisky manner, bounded off looking for adventure. What he found was a baby calf which he started chasing in earnest, much to the dismay of its mother. Sandy heard the dog’s distant barking and saw a terrifying scene unfolding before her. Hydro was quickly rounding the calf toward her with the angry mama in hot pursuit. Without a tree large enough to climb in sight, Sandy ducked behind a clump of mesquites and started whistling for the dog to come to her. Luckily, he did, and the little calf and his mother trotted on past them and over a distant hill.

Not wanting a repeat of that incident or a similar one, Sandy started thinking of a way to restrain the energetic poodle. She went back and rummaged through the broken down truck for a rope or piece of bailing twine, but found nothing. Still shaken from the near miss she’d just experienced, she was very motivated to think of a solution. In a flash of feminine ingenuity, she unfastened her bra, took it off and looped one of the arm straps around Hydro’s curly black head, and headed for the house.

Fortunately, the elastic held and no other calves, deer or jackrabbits popped out of the brush inciting the dog’s chasing instinct. The mental image of an exasperated woman leading a large hyperactive poodle through a remote pasture by a bra strap still brings a smile to my face. I can only hope I will be as resourceful when facing the next inevitable fiasco in my own life.

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

Co-op Matters

AFC Employees Honored for Years of Service

At the 2012 AFC company Christmas party, service awards were presented by CEO Roger Pangle (right, except 5 year award).

For 35 years of service was Donnie Saylors, AFC Feed Department.

For 30 years of service was Terry Rouse, AFC Grain Department.

For 25 years of service was Jimmy Powers, AFC Farm & Home Department. Not pictured was John Toon, AFC Feed Department.

For 15 years of service was Jena Klein, AFC Insurance Benefits.

For 15 years of service was Keri Murphy,
AFC Accounting Service.

Receiving awards for 5 years of service were (from left) Jacqueline Hamm, AFC Purchasing & Properties; Linda Howard, AFC Computer Services; Josh Rowland, AFC Computer Services; Eric Wright, AFC Computer Services; and Christopher Pepper, AFC Feed Department. Not pictured was Tara Bradford, AFC Computer Services.

Homeplace & Community

Alabama Master Gardener Conference Returns to the Shoals

By Chris Becker

In April, Florence and the Shoals Master Gardeners will play host to the 2013 Annual Master Gardener State Conference. The conference was held in Florence in 2006 and was reported by some of the attendees as one of the best. Well, this year will be no different! With a fantastic venue and an even better list of speakers scheduled, this year’s conference is sure to please. This year’s conference will be held April 15-17 at the Marriot Shoals Hotel and Spa.

"Jazz Up Your Garden" is the theme for the 23rd Master Gardener State Conference. The speakers are ready to jazz you up with new garden plans and ideas that will have you excited and ready to return home to work in your garden. Some of the speakers include Walter Reeves, garden expert, writer and radio and television host; Don Shadow, author and owner of Shadow Nursery in Winchester, Tenn,; Daniel D. Spaulding, curator of Anniston Museum of Natural History; Erica Glassener, host of "A Gardener’s Diary" on HGTV; and many more exciting speakers.

On Sunday, come and join us for preconference garden tours led by Men’s Garden Club of Florence. On Monday, enjoy the "Cooking with Herbs" workshop as well as a self-guided tour of the Buffler House, a historic treasure in the small community of St. Florian. The Buffler House is also a Shoals Master Gardener project and won the 2011 Search of Excellence Award. Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace, is also an option for a self-guided tour. Monday evening come and enjoy good food, friends and music with a local jazz band. Tuesday is filled with great speakers and, of course, the annual awards banquet which is always a fantastic time!

For more information about the 2013 AMGA conference, visit their website

Chris Becker is a Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Almonds and Amaretto, The Beverage of Lovers

by Nadine Johnson

Since it’s February, "THE MONTH OF LOVERS," I think this is a good time to share this recipe containing amaretto, "THE BEVERAGE OF LOVERS."

Amaretto is an Italian liqueur which is flavored with almonds. Almonds are a very health-beneficial and tasty nut. Almond trees are native to the Middle East and South Asia. The almonds we enjoy eating are their seed pods.

Almonds are now grown in a number of other areas in the world. Spain produces a large part of the world’s supply. However, California can claim the largest world production. (I keep hearing California will someday drop off the earth and be swallowed up by the Pacific Ocean. Won’t that be a great loss for the world though?)

Almonds are low in saturated fat. They contain no cholesterol. They are very low in sodium. They are very low in sugar. They are high in manganese and also high in magnesium. In fact, it is impossible for me to list here all the wonderful benefits of almonds. By eating a handful daily, you will possibly lower your level of LDL cholesterol (known as "BAD" cholesterol). In fact, almonds are known as one of the world’s healthiest foods.

You can easily find whole, sliced or slivered almonds. Other almond products are available such as milk, oils, syrup and flour.

If this Valentine’s Day you are not in the roses or chocolates mode, you might bake your sweetheart an Amaretto Cake and toast each other with amaretto. I wish my sweetheart of over 57 years was here for another Valentine’s Day.

Amaretto Cake

1 cup butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2-2/3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1½ teaspoons almond extract
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
¼ cup amaretto

Mix cake batter in the usual manner. Place in prepared 12-inch Bundt pan. Bake at 350° for one hour.

Meanwhile prepare the glaze:
¾ cup amaretto
1/3 cup sugar

Place in sauce pan. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

After removing cake from oven, prick it well with a toothpick and pour the glaze over it. Allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes before inverting cake to a plate.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577 or by email at

Farm Fresh Memories

And -- He Sang “Amazin’ Grace” A Capella …Wow, I Sure do wish I could!!!

by Joe Potter

It was Wednesday night, the final night of spring revival down to the Flat Rock Baptist Church. Bro. Les Devlin, Bro.’s evangelist preacher friend from over to Atlanta, had just completed altar call for the final meetin’ service of the revival.

Here Bro. took the floor and thanked Bro. Les for his evangelical near-hell fire and brimstone-type revival preachin’ and his family for three nights (Sunday-Tuesday) of Bible scripture-type hymnal music singin’. Bro. followed with a "love offerin’" from the church congregation for Bro. Les and his family. Then Bro. asked Willerdean, the church secretary, to give a results-type summarization of the spring revival services. Willerdean offered there was a total of eight converts, 23 personal revisions and five individuals professed for Sunday baptism and the "love offerin’" totaled $854.35 for the four nights.

Next Estelle stood and expressed a personal "Thank You" to the music man himself Mr. Harley Hood and friends for the Wednesday night hymnal-praise musical presentations and offered $100 of the "love offerin’" was for them. Essex stood and proclaimed with humbled excitement, "And he sang ‘Amazin’ Grace,’ a capella alone … Wow, I sure do wish I could!!!" The widow Cora, Ms. Ida and several other revival-comers were standin’, still doin’ word and hand-wavin’ praise.

Here Bro. stepped back center front and called for Farlow to give the final benediction prayer followin’ one more a capella altar call verse of "Amazin’ Grace" by Mr. Harley Hood, as all the other congregationers stood. Soonly, followin’ Farlow’s prayer, the congregationers begin to offer goodbye howdyies t’ward Bro. Les Devlin and family, as others directed praise for Mr. Harley Hood’s "Amazin’ Grace" a capella hymnal-revival praise musical song. More Flat Rock folk howdyied with Bro. and begin to disassemble t’ward home and the Wednesday 10 p.m. TV nightly news and weather.

Lynn and I settled in the pickup and directed ourselves pure-arrow west facin’ Mississippi and home to Potter’s Mud Creek Farm.

Durin’ our ride home, I commenst to thinkin’ on my growin’ up years at Old Bethel Baptist Church. The pure-hell fire and brimstone preachin’, folk doin’ word and hand-wavin’ praise testimonials, spring and summer revivals, and my favorite hymnal musical praise songs like …

My very favorite was/still is "Just A Little Talk with Jesus." Mr. Harley Hood quite possible just tonight changed that with his hymnal praise song "Amazin’ Grace." Like Essex, "Wow, I sure do wish I could." "Blessed Assurance Jesus Is Mine," "Jesus Loves Me," "Just a Rose Will Do," "The Old Gospel Ship," "In the Garden (He Walks with Me)," "Sweet By and By," "Sweet Sweet Spirit," "Softly and Tenderly" and "Only Trust Him."

Here a deer darted directly in front of the pickup at Mud Creek Bridge. My thoughts quickly shifted away from the final night of spring revival down to the Baptist church and were directed back to my drivin’ duties and our gettin’ home all in one piece.

Now come your spring revival time, schedule permittin’, I am sure Mr. Harley Hood would be proud to offer his hymnal-praise song version of "Amazin’ Grace" a capella. Wow, I sure do wish I could!!!


Joe Potter, Potter’s Mud Creek Farm is located at 5840 County Road 339 (County Line Road), Russellville, near “Our” Flat Rock, in Lawrence County; email:

The Herb Farm

Back to Work (Play)

Seed from Johnny’s and plants from Alabama Grown will be the source of my tomatoes and peppers again this year.

by Herb T. Farmer

Please accept my apology. The world did not end on the Winter Solstice last December and I missed my deadline. Therefore, while enjoying my last supper (or so I thought), I was unknowingly skipping the chance to tell you about my latest gluten-free cookie recipes. There will be one at the end of this column.

For 2013, I decided to shake things up a little bit and plant more varieties of vegetables and herbs than try to choose one or two new ones from each category.

For example: Last year I chose the best-producing varieties of tomatoes from the previous year (Roma, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter) then added two varieties I had never tried (Yaqui, Amsterdam). Both new varieties failed. It seems I have the most success with the old standards and the new types I experiment with either fail or don’t produce enough fruit to justify their existence in the garden, let alone the fertilizer it takes to keep them growing.

Chili peppers and sweet peppers are a different story. I’ll grow the ones that have produced for me the best over the years and just add one or two new and different in small numbers.

Hot chilies include jalapeño, Tabasco and cowhorn for pickling; cayenne, habanero and Bhut Jolokia for dried hot powders; and serrano, Peter and chili pequin for salads and general cooking. A friend brought me some Mexi-bell seed the last time he traveled south of the Rio Grande. I’m looking forward to snacking on those this summer.

From left clockwise,Renee sent me some seed to try here in the herb garden; this one is a salad mix. My friend John gave me these Mexi-bell seeds and I can’t wait to harvest the fruits. He said they will produce a medium bell pepper with a little heat. The chili pequin makes an almost shrub-like bush loaded with color. They may be small, but they're hot!

Sweet peppers include Cal Wonder, Golden Cal and orange bell for stuffing and general cooking bell types; sweet banana, Anaheim and poblano for grilling, salads and snacking; and pimento for pickling or drying to make paprika powder.

If I add any varieties at all to the mix, it will be ornamentals for potted plants and any other unusual type I have not yet grown.

My old standard French lavender began to die out a couple of years ago. The plants were so old, though. The roots and main trunks had become large and woody. I will be replacing them with Otto Quast and Goodwin Creek cultivars. Both are great bee plants.

Oops! I almost forgot to take the picture. Dark chocolate peanut butter salted cookies and milk are just too tempting sometimes!

Additionally, I want to add some new cultivars of rosemary. Arp is a tall shrub-type that grows to as high as five-foot tall. Salem is a shorter cultivar that only grows to about three feet, but has a great flavor. A friend gave me some prostrate rosemary last year and it seems to be doing well in a hanging basket. I think it’s time to take cuttings and make a few more.

Now, let’s talk cookies! This gluten-free cookie is my favorite and is simple to make. Just be sure to have all of your ingredients together before you start.

Gluten Free Salted Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Pecan Cookies

1¼ cups gluten free all-purpose flour
½ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons Red Mill Vegetarian Egg Replacer + 6 Tablespoons water
¾ cup crunchy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 ounces dark chocolate chips
½ cup pecans, chopped
Kosher salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350° and grease baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter, peanut butter and sugars about three minutes or until light and fluffy. Slowly add eggs and vanilla, beating well. Scrape sides and slowly add flour until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Drop dough on sheet 1½ tablespoons at a time, spacing about 1½ inches apart, sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt on top of each. Bake for 10 minutes and remove from oven, leave cookies on baking sheet 1-2 minutes (they will bake a little more as you do this). Carefully transfer onto racks to cool completely.

We’ll have more on culinary herbs and another recipe in March.

Until then, watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water and breathe!

Thanks for reading!

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.

Youth Matters

Chick Chain

Livestock Program Perfect for Rural and Town Kids

By Anna Wright

The 4-H Chick Chain program is 3 years old and has become one of the most popular livestock programs in the state. Almost 100 4-Hers participated this year in the program among six counties: Cherokee, Clarke, DeKalb, Blount, Etowah and Washington.

Chick Chain teaches members (ages 9 to 19) the recommended management practices for growing and raising chickens. In the spring, members received 25 day-old, pullet chicks. Their goal is to care for them the following 21 weeks then return for a show, sale and auction in the fall.

Clockwise from top left, Lucas Garmany and all of his awards, Cherokee County Grand Breed Champion, Overall Show Supreme Pen and Overall Supreme Champion, from the Cherokee-Etowah Show and Sale. Everett Kelly was the Etowah County Grand Breed Champion at the Cherokee-Etowah Show and Sale. Sarah Oden was the Etowah County Grand Champion Showman at the Cherokee-Etowah Show and Sale. Taylor Parker and all of her awards, Cherokee County Champion Showman and Overall Supreme Showman, from the Cherokee-Etowah Show and Sale.

"As Chick Chain grows year after year, kids are gaining positive experiences by participating in this affordable livestock program," said Danny Miller, Cherokee County Extension coordinator. "This program reaches all demographics of the county and strikes a nerve in the heart of youth who benefit from a manageable animal science project."

This was the first year for Clarke, Washington, Blount and Etowah to hold it in their counties.

Etowah County’s program had about 20 students to participate.

Above, winners in the 9- to 12-year-old division of the Blount County Show and Sale were Andrew Latta, 1st (Champion Showman); Jesse Sherrell, 2nd (Reserve Champion Showman); Savannah McConnell, 3rd; Alexander Castillo, 4th; Elena Stephens, 5th; Darrian Kent, 6th; Catie Bittles, 7th; Hunter Jackson, 8th; and Drew Williams, 9th.
Below, in the 13- to 15-year-old division of the Blount County Show and Sale, winners included Harrison Edwards, 1st (Champion Showman); Jaida Johnson, 2nd (Reserve Champion Showman); McKayla Edwards, 3rd; Sarah Horton, 4th; and Andrew Harper, 5th.

"We were very pleased with the level of commitment our 4-Hers gave to this program," Amy Burgess, Extension coordinator for Etowah County, said.

Blount County also implemented Chick Chain into their 4-H program this year. There were 22 kids from Blount County and two from Marshall County who participated.

"This was a good opportunity to introduce youngsters to animal agriculture," Dan Porch, Extension coordinator in Blount County, said. "We had a great turn out at the Blount County Fair for our show and auction. This gave us a lot of exposure in the county, resulting in further support for the program."

Andrew Latta is a Chick Chain participant from Blount County who created his own blog on Facebook to promote his project.

Clarke and Washington counties’ top agriculture commodity is timber. Only a small handful of residents in southwest Alabama raise commercial chickens, compared to the rest of the state. Even so, there was a great turnout of kids who completed the Chick Chain project. Almost 40 kids in the two-county program participated in the first year.

"We were really thrilled with how the program went for us," Kevan Tucker, Extension coordinator for Clarke County, said. "We had a perfect blend of rural and town kids."

Tucker said the Clarke-Washington Fair Board was glad to have a livestock program back on its list of events and very supportive of the auction and show held among the week’s events.

Top left, Katherine Dixon won Champion Individual Bird and Leah Bagley won Reserve Champion Bird at the Clarke-Washington Show and Sale. Top right, Kate Jones won Overall Champion Pen and Anna Dixon Reserve Overall Champion Pen at the Clarke-Washington Show and Sale.

Traditional livestock programs can cost a considerable amount and often require a farm set-up and space for the animals to live and grow. Chick Chain is also a livestock program, but it can be accomplished in a rural or town residence. This is the draw of Chick Chain: it is manageable to have most anywhere, it attracts all types of 4-Hers, is fairly inexpensive and the program only lasts a few months.

In the spring, students signed up for Chick Chain with a $50 registration fee. This fee guarantees their pullets that arrived in May. It also helped each county Extension office know exactly how many birds to order.

Two mandatory meetings are held for students and their parents. These meetings gave participants a comprehensive understanding of what the program would involve. Information was given on what type of chicken coops they could use and the ratio of feed to give their pullets as they began to grow. Students also learned how to show a bird for judging.

Over the summer months, students managed their small operation by feeding, watering, cleaning and watching for animals that could threaten their flock. Students kept records of what they were doing to keep their operations running smoothly.

Each county’s Chick Chain show and auction was held in the fall. Each participant could enter up to three pens of their best chickens (a pen is five chickens of the same breed) for the auction and sale.

Chickens were judged on their egg-laying ability, appearance, and bone and muscle structure. Judges chose a grand champion pen, and then out of that pen they selected a grand champion chicken.

For the showmanship category, students were asked to remove a bird from the cage and judges made notes on how they handled them. Judges interviewed each student on how much feed they used, their living environment and why these particular birds were selected to compete.

The auction began just after the show with the grand champion pen being sold first, and then the grand champion bird from that pen.

The idea for Chick Chain began when Burgess and Miller were seeking a program to provide 4-H members the opportunity to learn about poultry in a hands-on environment. Since then the program has proved its success and will be available to all 4-H programs in Alabama in 2013.

"This year, the Chick Chain program will be going statewide," Burgess said. "Training for the program will be held to teach leaders in other counties about the program so they can implement it in their 4-H plans for the year."

Chick Chain has proven to be an excellent program to teach 4-H members responsibility and give them exposure to livestock management.

Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.

Youth Matters

Children and Nature, a Natural Combination

Students at Macon-East Montgomery School are looking at black swallowtail caterpillars eating on their fennel plants.

by Doyle Keasal

Alabama is blessed to be a state rich in natural resources, the fifth most biodiverse state. From mountains to coastal wetlands, we have five distinct geographic regions – Piedmont Upland, Highland Rim, Cumberland Plateau, Alabama Valley and Ridge, and East Gulf Coastal Plain; 77,242 miles of rivers and streams; and about 68 percent of our land area is forested.

Even though our state has so much to offer its citizens in the area of natural resources, our citizens are becoming more and more disconnected from nature. Many of the adults reading this have fond memories of exploring the woods, fields and streams found around their childhood homes. But, for some reason, many of these same adults have stopped exploring nature and have also failed to pass on this love and understanding of the outdoors to younger generations. In many cases, they have allowed the hustle and bustle of today’s society and technology to dictate their lives and those of their children.

These observations are echoed by Richard Louv in his book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." Louv explores the growing trend many of us see on a daily basis of our children choosing computer games and televisions over the outdoor adventures we enjoyed while growing up. He refers to this disconnection as "nature-deficit disorder," and includes numerous examples from the thousands of children, parents and educators he interviewed during his research. One quote from a fourth-grader he encountered highlights this trend, "I like to play indoors better, ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are."

Clockwise from above, Students at Oak Hill School in Tuscaloosa are working in their greenhouse. A kindergartener at Byrd Elementary School in Selma is watering the classroom garden. FFA students at Elba High School are constructing a bridge in their outdoor classroom.

In his writings, Louv links nature-deficit disorder (not a medically recognized disorder) to disturbing childhood trends such as the rise in obesity and attention deficit disorders. However, he further explains how experiences in nature can be therapeutic for these childhood maladies.

He writes, "As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature."

Clockwise from top left, Children at Billingsley School in Autauga County are helping to install an aquatic study area at their school containing a 10’x12’ pond. Students at Eclectic Middle School are looking at the organisms they find in the school’s pond. Students at Monroeville Intermediate School are constructing a pond in their outdoor classroom.

He demonstrates how direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development as it engages children’s senses, providing solace and peace while at the same time a "wildness" that piques children’s curiosity. More specifically, he explains how utilizing our very own backyards for "environment-based" educational opportunities can dramatically improve students’ learning potential (and performance on standardized tests) while also facilitating their problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making skills. Some schools utilizing environment-based educational programs also report improvement in their students’ social skills and decreased behavioral problems.

Children are taking part in a forest floor activity where they look at what’s on the surface and compare it to what they find under the surface.

To help fill this need and support this "natural connection" between children and nature, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have partnered to assist Alabama’s educators, interested parents, and other concerned individuals and groups by creating the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program. The purpose of this program is to provide technical support and assistance to K-12 schools interested in developing effective and sustainable outdoor classrooms on their campuses. Through this program, educators are encouraged to teach their students about the importance of our natural resources while engaging them in learning about nature through hands-on, inquiry-based, multidisciplinary activities and projects in the outdoors whenever possible. All materials and resources used through this program have been developed to provide fact-based scientific information and insights and will help prepare future generations to be informed stewards of the environment.

Regardless of the location of the school and whether they have natural areas on the campus such as a stream and wooded area or are completely surrounded by concrete, the development of an outdoor classroom is possible. The AOC program’s staff with the assistance of partners such as local 4-H agents will help train educators to enhance the school grounds to develop outdoor learning laboratories. These outdoor classroom sites may include nature trails, aquatic studies areas, pollinator gardens, birdfeeders and nesting boxes as well as many other possibilities. Our goal is to help schools create a site that can be utilized as an education tool while also providing habitat for local wildlife. Through an outdoor classroom, students will have the opportunity to experience nature firsthand as they help develop and maintain the outdoor classroom, and as teachers utilize the site for hands-on learning opportunities.

Hopefully, by including the development of an outdoor classroom and getting children outdoors to learn, we can combat nature-deficit disorder in today’s children and create a new generation of concerned citizens who have a passion for wildlife and the outdoors, and the knowledge to help conserve it.

If you are interested in learning more about the Alabama Outdoor Classroom, you may check out the program and some of its resources at You may also contact me at 334-844-6398 or

Doyle Keasal is an Environmental Educator and 4-H & Youth Development with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Horses, Horses, Horses!

Clues to Next Year’s Trophy

Sometimes you may see the tips of an antler protruding from the grass giving you a clue to what lies underneath. Well, what if you could smell an antler and you could cover 20 times the territory of a human? Enter “shed dogs!” No, not sled dogs … SHED dogs! Is that even fair?
(Credit: Tony Peterson)

Winter/Spring Scouting & Shed Hunting

by Todd Amenrud

It’s over until next year and many hunters won’t think about visiting the whitetail woods again until the following hunting season. Those hunters are missing out on learning tons about their herd and the mature bucks inhabiting the realm. A great deal can be absorbed by observing their movements and habits all year long, but the time from February through May can be especially important for several reasons.

Late winter and early spring are my favorite times to go through my spots with a "fine-toothed comb." During this time of year, even the property’s sanctuaries are fair game. If you bump a buck now, he has months to forget the intrusion. If you wish to consistently harvest mature bucks and if you’re serious about managing your herd, scouting during this time of year is important.

Some areas whitetails inhabit year-around, and other territories they move out of and into "yards" or wintering areas. This is famous for happening in the North, but, even here in the South, whitetails will make moves throughout their home range to meet different seasonal needs. For this one reason, I don’t put a lot of confidence in a shed antler leading me to a buck the following season. The buck that owned the antler might be living 20 miles away during hunting season. Then again, if you’re in an area whitetails do inhabit all year long, it’s possible to discover vital intelligence that will put you closer to killing that buck come fall.

“Shedding” has been taken to the next level with the use of “shed dogs.” Legendary dog trainer Tom Dokken has invented a line of products to help you train your retriever to search out and bring you cast antlers. Training silhouettes, like the one pictured, help them to visually recognize their target. (Credit: Tony Peterson)

This past season was a great lesson-learned for me that sometimes sheds should be taken seriously, other times they don’t mean squat. The buck I killed off my property (left in the grip-n-grin photo) was a "home-body." In 5 years and thousands of trail camera photos, he was only known to have left an area of about 150 acres once. For 2 years running, we found his sheds very near where he was killed. On the other hand, the buck taken by my brother-in-law, Mike Berggren, loved to gallivant and was seen at every camera location we had on the 500-acre property. We’re not sure, but we may have the sheds from Mike’s buck from when he was a 2-year-old, other than that, no sheds from the buck. The sheds from my buck (the home-body) were found in the food plot in the background of the photo, only a short distance from where he was killed. He was 7 years old and much larger during age 4 through 6, and seemed to peak as a 5-year-old when he would have almost made the 170 inch Boone & Crocket minimum.

Some people go absolutely nuts for shed hunting. Most of the time I go for the purpose of scouting and if I happen to run across a shed that’s a bonus. "Shedding" has become so popular that some people have started training dogs specifically for finding shed antlers. I must admit I’ve been considering it and have been looking for a new puppy. Shed hunting is a great way to get your family involved more in the outdoors.

Tom Dokken and his Oak Ridge Kennels have probably done more to "mushroom" this sport than any other. Tom has his own line of dog training tools specifically relating to shed hunting. There are contests throughout the country and trials specifically for "shed dogs."

Sheds are great to find … unless you find them protruding from a tractor or ATV tire! A plot of brassicas, a favorite wintertime food source of whitetails, can produce dozens of shed antlers. Some managers actually plant blends like Maximum or Winter Bulbs & Sugar Beets for no other reason than collecting sheds.

I love to bring my daughters with me. For one, because it’s fun! Also, their eyes are far better than mine. It’s like "CSI," Cast Shed Investigators. We treat it like a game and it gets us all outdoors together. They’ve already learned to spot the subtle signs that an antler might be present better than I.

Trail cameras are still very useful after the season. During the colder winter temperatures, I use a small, rechargeable 12 volt battery in my trail cameras (on the models with this option), rather than the batteries they normally use. This saves me hundreds of dollars on batteries. Cameras are especially important to me this time of year so I can learn for sure which bucks made it through the season and what management decisions need to be implemented for the coming year. I will pull my cameras in March and put them back out again in July, when their antlers are large enough I can begin to see the differences in specific bucks again.

March through May is my favorite time for that "boots on the ground," in-depth type scouting. I want to learn every little detail now so, when the season draws nearer, I don’t have to pressure the spot. With the foliage off the trees, rubs you’ve never seen before start to pop out. I do put a lot of confidence in these. Travel routes, direction of travel and size of buck can be told, and this sign was most likely made during the hunting season.

Even though the season has ended, glassing can tell you how your density fared and the overall health of your herd. Some argue, "With their antlers gone, how do you tell what you’re looking at – is it a buck or a doe?" These are usually the same people who won’t step foot in the woods again until next hunting season. When you see the body of a mature buck, there’s no mistaking it. There can be exceptions to the rule, but, for the most part, you know a "shooter buck" whether he’s carrying antlers or not. After years of observing whitetails, you can begin to tell the difference between bucks and does just by the way they walk, run, stand or act around other deer.

Shed antlers may, or may not, help you get close to a specific buck. The buck the author killed (left) was a “home-body” and sheds were found nearby. On the other hand, the buck killed by Mike Berggren loved to gallivant all over and was seen at every camera location on the property. The sheds from the first buck (the home-body) were found in the food plot in the background, only a short distance from where he was killed.

Whitetails definitely don’t move as much during the winter months, but their stomach and their need for food will still make them travel, and if you time it right you can learn a lot. If you anticipate the weather changes or wait until bad weather breaks, it sometimes seems like the "whitetail flood gates" have opened. Just before or just after a major cold front, when we get a warm up after several days of severe cold temperatures or after a long period of harsh winds, are good times to stake out near a food source like brassicas or corn.

I mentioned I don’t worry as much about spooking the animals this time of the year, but why let them know you’ve been there if you don’t have to? I always take the same precautions with scent elimination anytime I enter their turf. Rubber boots, trapper’s gloves (or clean, cold weather gloves) and Scent Killer are my most important scouting tools. I really like the new Scent Killer Gold – like all Scent Killer Sprays it has "Hunt Dry" technology and will work for days after it’s dried into your clothes. In the cold winter temperatures, who wants to be wet? Not only do we have to pay attention to the odors we carry on us, but also the ones we may leave behind. A mature buck can imprint on your mistake, so these steps and tools are important whenever you enter your hunting area.

Just before and during the actual hunting season, I back off of an area and observe from the edge and let my cameras do their job. If you have a good understanding of an area from your winter/spring scouting, why mess up your chance at a potential trophy? I have no doubt you’ll find scouting during this time of the year will help you put a buck in your sights during the up-coming hunting season.

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.

Feeding Facts

Coccidiosis vs. Johne’s Disease

by Jimmy Hughes

It seems every year in the late fall and early winter, I talk to a lot of producers who have a cow or two within the herd that are just not maintaining body condition. The cows are alert, have good hair coats and seem to maintain a very good appetite, but they continue to lose weight, have severe dark-colored diarrhea, and, in severe cases, will eventually lose strength and become unable to stand before eventually dying. The most disturbing part of this puzzle is the cows maintain a strong appetite and eat very well as the condition worsens. I know I have talked with producers who say the cows just have a "messed up gut" and "just not a lot you can do to correct it." As we look for a possible cause of this condition, two disorders come to the forefront: coccidiosis and Johne’s disease. While some of the symptoms are very similar, they are two different disorders and should be treated differently depending on the diagnosis.

Coccidiosis causes severe economic losses upward of $100 million yearly in the cattle industry. Coccidia are host-specific protozoan parasites. The life cycle of these parasites is complex. The infective form of the parasite (oocysts), passed in the feces of cattle, are resistant to disinfectants and can remain in the environment for long periods of time and maintain their infectivity. These eggs are eventually ingested by the host and are released into the intestine. As these organisms multiply at a rapid rate in the intestines, they cause the rupture of the cells in the intestine wall leading to the disease and the development of clinical signs. With light infections, the damage to the gut cells is minimal as the cells are replaced rapidly and the damage is repaired. In heavy infestations, the cells are attacked and ruptured, damage is severe and there is a loss of blood in the feces. Also fluids, electrolytes and blood proteins are lost. Once you have coccidiosis, it is transmitted by the fecal-oral route. Infected fecal material contaminating feed, water or soil serves as the carrier for the oocysts; therefore, the susceptible animal contracts the disease by eating or drinking, or by licking itself. The more of the oocysts ingested, the more severe the disease.

The clinical signs of coccidiosis can include the following: severe diarrhea that is dark in color due to blood loss, straining, loss of appetite, fever, debility and, in severe prolonged cases, death. Many cattle are affected and experience weight loss and decreased gains leading to a majority of the economic losses. Diagnosis can be determined by observation of clinical signs, fecal examination or postmortem examination.

The best way to control coccidiosis is through a prevention program. Both lasalocid (Bovatec) and monensin (Rumension) are effective in preventing coccidiosis, but are ineffective as a treatment once the cattle have the parasite. Amprolium (Corid) is the only product on the market approved as a treatment for coccidiosis and can be offered as a drench, as an additive to water or as a feed-through product. Just remember, drugs useful for treatment are not necessarily useful for prevention and vice versa. I would also recommend cattle showing severe signs be isolated and treated individually according to drug recommendations for a period of five days. At the conclusion of the treatment, cattle will usually start to respond by showing an increase in appetite and more consistent stool in color and texture.

The second disorder gaining attention is Johne’s disease. Johne’s is a disease of the intestinal tract of cattle. It is caused by bacteria very similar to the organism that causes tuberculosis in humans and animals. The disease causes lesions with a thickened and corrugated appearance in the lining of the small and large intestine. Symptoms of cattle infected with Johne’s disease include weight loss and diarrhea with a normal appetite. Several weeks after the onset of diarrhea, a soft swelling may occur under the jaw (bottle jaw). This swelling is caused by protein loss from the bloodstream into the digestive tract. Animals at this stage will not live very long, perhaps a few weeks at most. Cows that do not recover from Johne’s will die due to the inability to absorb nutrients and fluids from the intestinal tract, and severe diarrhea leading to emaciation.

Signs of the disease are rarely evident until two or more years after the initial infection, usually occurring shortly after birth. Animals are most susceptible to the infection in the first year of life that usually occurs through ingestion of fecal material. The incubation period is very long and symptoms usually show at 2 years of age, with peak periods of signs at 3 to 6 years of age. The organism grows within the lining of the intestine and will be shed in feces. Due to the long incubation period, it is very difficult to identify carrier animals.

Diagnosis of Johne’s is very difficult and is mostly diagnosed postmortem. Blood tests, immunoassay tests and cultures of feces are also being used to determine animals that are shedding or have been exposed to the bacteria causing the disease. Johne’s is not a treatable disease and all cows showing clinical signs will eventually die. I would recommend, if you believe you have cattle showing clinical signs of Johnes, you contact your veterinarian for a specific diagnosis.

As you can see, coccidiosis and Johne’s show similar clinical signs – both can lead to rapid weight loss and eventually death. The biggest difference between the two is the fact that coccidiosis is preventable and treatable while Johne’s disease is not. If you, as a cattle owner, have cows showing clinical signs of these two disorders, I would recommend getting an immediate diagnosis. In either disorder, keeping cows that are carriers will only lead to further problems in your herd. While I believe coccidiosis will more than likely be the cause of bloody diarrhea and severe weight loss in cattle this time of the year, I wanted you to be aware of Johne’s as well. In either case, the cow’s ability to digest feed and absorb nutrients is highly compromised.

If I can help you in any manner or be of further assistance, please feel free to contact me at 256-947-7886 or email me at

Jimmy Hughes is AFC's animal nutritionist.

Outdoor Life

Creating Multi-Purpose Fire Lines

John Knighten (left) and Ben Norman look over a map of the area where fire lanes are being constructed. Opposite, fire lanes make excellent shooting lanes for deer hunters.

Permanent fire lines not only stop wildfires, they can serve as roads, shooting lanes and food plots for wildlife.

by Ben Norman

If you have ever fought a forest fire with a pine top, shovel or flap, you have a deeper appreciation for a well-constructed fire line than someone who has never stood in front of a roaring inferno consuming everything in its path.

Fire lines, often called fire lanes or firebreaks, are usually constructed with a bulldozer pushing vegetation or pulling a forestry plow in a manner to remove the fuel from a strip of land preventing the fire from continuing to burn. Most fire lines constructed in the early days of forestry management were narrow, plowed strips that served their purpose, but often caused erosion problems. Today, all permanent fire lines are constructed with a dozer blade. When possible, the Alabama Forestry Commission even uses the dozer blade to push temporary fire lines because it is more environmentally friendly than the fire plow, especially on steep slopes.

Fire lines are basically of two types: the one put in quickly to head off a wildfire and the permanent type. Permanent lines not only protect timber and other property from wildfires, they are a great asset to sportsmen and land managers. With a little extra expense, a fire line can be constructed to serve as a permanent road providing access to remote areas of a property that would be hard to reach otherwise. Hunters benefit from a permanent fire line also. Many fire lines provide a straight shooting lane for several hundred yards. Permanent fire lines can also be utilized as food plot strips.

Above, Ben Norman (left) and John Knighten discuss building water bars to minimize erosion. Right, steep slopes like this one should be planted in grass immediately after construction.

John Knighten, a forestry specialist with the Alabama Forestry Commission, is a recognized authority on fire line construction.

"Permanent fire lines are a real asset to the land owner or leasee. You can use them as roads to keep check on your timber and property lines, as a recreation road for four-wheeling, and, where you have a good backstop, they are ideal for sighting in your rifle and for recreational shooting. I really recommend going to the extra expense of putting in permanent fire lines with properly constructed water bars. Water bars are long mounds of dirt constructed to prevent soil erosion and water pollution by diverting drainage from a road or skid trail into a filter strip. Many permanent fire lines can be traveled on two-wheel drive vehicles in decent weather," Knighten explained.

Ben Norman (left) shows Forestry Specialist John Knighten where to construct fire lines.

"The Alabama Forestry Commission is much more concerned with water quality and other environmental factors today than they were 30 years ago. Today, we put in water bars and turnouts to divert water out of the fire line/forestry road to prevent erosion. Especially on steep slopes, it is a must to have a properly constructed water bar and turn out to carry the water off the road."

Fire line maintenance after construction is also important.

"Most permanent fire lines can be maintained with a medium-size farm tractor using a rotary cutter, disk and box blade. Fire lines will be taken over by native vegetation if they are not bush hogged or disked. A box blade is excellent for maintaining water bars. With time, the water bar will get smaller due to erosion and the box blade can be used to pull soil back onto the water bar and divert the water into the turn out. We recommend planting permanent fire lines in some type of vegetation after they are constructed and the controlled burn is completed. Ryegrass is good for a fall and early winter planting, and Bahia grass is good for the spring planting, especially on steep slopes. One may want to consider wildlife plantings, also. They can contact the Alabama Department of Conservation or the county Extension service for recommendations on liming, fertilizing and seeding."

Knighten is quick to point out that the primary reason for constructing a fire line is either to contain the fire on your land during a controlled burn or to prevent a wildfire from coming onto your land from adjoining lands.

Crenshaw County Forester Jeremy Lowery starts a controlled burn from a recently constructed fire line.

"While we do recommend establishing a vegetative cover to prevent erosion, this can be counter-productive when it comes to stopping a wildfire. If you establish a good vegetative cover, it is a good idea to disk it up good prior to the primary fire season, usually early fall and again prior to March. March can be a secondary fire season partly because of the high winds this time of the year. Grasses like Bahia can be disked well enough to prevent a fire from crossing the fire line, but it will come back out and establish a good root system in the spring," Knighten added.

With the ever-increasing interest in wildlife management and hunting, Knighten is seeing more and more permanent fire lines constructed and used to enhance wildlife. While food plots are probably planted more for deer than any other species, turkey and quail benefit from permanent fire lines also. Young turkey polts and baby quail depend heavily on insects during this stage of their life. Fire lines provide ideal "bugging areas" for these ground-feeding birds.

According to Knighten, stream crossings can present a challenge to landowners establishing permanent fire lines.

"Each crossing should be considered on an individual basis. Sometimes it is better to put in a pipe and slant the stream banks at an appropriate angle. Other cases call for making a ford using clean demolition material such as flat pieces of concrete placed in the bottom of small streams. Sometimes a small bridge may be the best bet. Whatever stream crossing system the landowner is considering, he should make sure it is in compliance with Alabama’s Best Management Practices for Forestry," Knighten recommended.

So, if the cross-country hike to the back 40 is getting longer and the bones ache more than they used to after the trip, consider establishing a permanent fire line/road system and you can just drive there next time.

Ben Norman is a writer from Highland Home.

Farm & Field

Dairying Done the Wright Way

David Wright is shown with some of his Holsteins in a summer pasture.

Family Business Built from the Ground Up

by John Howle

Ask anyone in Alexandria where Wright Dairy is located and they will tell you to turn off Highway 431 at the old milk delivery truck painted like a Holstein cow. They know where the dairy is because many of them buy all their dairy products there. The great thing for most customers is they don’t even have to get out of the car because the dairy store has a drive-through.

From Simple Times to Fast Times

David Wright is a second generation dairy farmer. His parents started the original dairy farm in the late 1940s, and they sold their milk in bulk to a creamery in a nearby county. The local doctor in town encouraged David’s father Milton to set up a bottling plant and deliver milk because he was concerned the children of the area did not have a good source of fresh milk. From 1949 to 1953, David rode the milk route with his dad picking up empty bottles. In those easy times, Wright’s Dairy even provided the school lunchroom in the county with fresh milk in half-pint bottles.

Outdoor Life

Don’t Fall into a Hog Trap

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

by Joel D. Glover

How would you like a new and exciting year-round hunting opportunity that could be accommodated on your property with no added habitat requirements? Not only is the species challenging to hunt, but the population almost immediately replaces any animals removed. If this isn’t enough, add the adrenaline rush of hunting a "dangerous" animal. This opportunity is available right now. Thousands of landowners are more than willing to share their animals with you. "This is too good to be true," you are probably thinking. "Why would these landowners be so willing to set you up with this great opportunity?" The answer is simple. They have had all the "fun" they can stand. Their wild hogs have not only destroyed once-good wildlife habitat, they have migrated onto all the neighbors’ properties and are even rooting up their yards and gravel roads. They will gladly give you every one of them!

Unfortunately, many landowners have fallen into a "hog trap." They may have heard about problems associated with having wild hogs on their property, but they thought the fun, new hunting experience would outweigh the negatives. While hog hunting can be enjoyable, the fun quickly dissipates when you begin to realize the animals are destroying the habitat of many other desirable wildlife species and their numbers are out of control.

The wild hog population in the United States, and especially the Southeast, has grown exponentially in the past few years. While several factors are involved, it is primarily a result of their tremendous reproductive capability. Wild hogs are capable of having three litters in 14 months. Litter sizes range from four to 14 piglets. These pigs are sexually mature at 6 months of age and begin having their own litters. Therefore, the numbers quickly go through the roof. It is no surprise the population quickly exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat causing habitat destruction and often a migration onto adjacent properties.

Many people do not understand that wild hogs are opportunistic omnivores – meaning they will eat almost anything – with a keen sense of smell. Not only do they vacuum up any available hard and soft mast, they also consume the eggs of ground-nesting birds and have been reported to kill and eat deer fawns and domestic calves. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates wild hogs cause $800 million of damage to agriculture annually in the United States.

With few exceptions, landowners who have hogs wish they didn’t. Control methods can be effective in removing hogs if they are pursued aggressively and for the long haul. Active trapping is the most effective method and should be embraced by landowners who have hog problems. Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Wildlife Biologist Chris Jaworowski has worked with other wildlife damage professionals to develop a publication to assist landowners in this endeavor. "Managing Wild Pigs," a technical guide, is available from the Berryman Institute at publications.

If you start thinking wild hogs might be a good thing for your property, don’t fall in that hog trap!

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit

Joel D. Glover is a Certified Wildlife Biologist with Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

From the State Vet's Office

Don’t Let BVD Creep Up on You

by Dr. Tony Frazier

If you are not a cattle producer, when I use the term BVD you may think I am referring to underwear. If you are a cattle producer, you may know what I am talking about when using the term BVD. If you are a cattle producer who vaccinates against BVD, you are certainly aware of the virus. If you are a cattle producer who has had to deal with the results of BVD in your herd, you may be trying to figure out how much your underwear will bring in a yard sale because you have certainly lost money.

Bovine viral diarrhea is a potentially devastating virus that can affect cattle in a number of different ways with none of them being good. All of the signs of the virus are somewhat non-specific such as poor production, lameness, ulcers in the mouth or other areas with mucous membranes, diarrhea and abortions. The virus may exist in a herd without causing a lot of obvious damage, yet the virus may be like an iceberg. It is what is below the surface or what is not readily seen that is the problem. When the virus hits a herd with a vengeance, it is like a ship running into the iceberg.

In discussions with the folks at our diagnostic laboratories, I am reminded of how expensive it can be to have the BVD virus get into a herd of cattle. One incident related to me was of a producer who lost five calves that were two- to three-week-old when they died. When the producer lost the fifth calf, he took it to the lab, where BVD was diagnosed. As I mentioned above, abortions and early embryonic deaths can result from BVD. What may be even worse are the infections that may occur in the womb or even shortly after calves are born. Somehow those losses seem worse — those occurring after a calf is born and then it crashes. It is a little like the taxes they take out of your check. I may look at my check and not be very happy, but if my accountant tells me to write the IRS a check after it has made it to my bank account, that seems to hurt worse. Either way, you can do the math. To lose five calves to the BVD virus is like taking a sucker punch to the stomach.

Another incident involved a farmer who was feeding bottle calves. Out of 25 calves, he lost five. The culprit was BVD. I haven’t talked to anybody lately about the profit margin for raising bottle calves even if everything goes fine, but I suspect if you can make 20 percent on your money that’s fairly good. The best I can tell is, if you lose five out of 25, that seriously gets into the profit margin. And although I haven’t ever raised bottle calves, I do know it is extremely labor intensive. Fortunately, farmers do not count their time as an expense or that kind of loss could be devastating.

Another story related to me was of a stocker grower who was having a high incidence of respiratory problems and had lost a few calves to pneumonia. After submitting samples to the Auburn laboratory from a calf that died from pneumonia, it was determined BVD was involved. It is likely one of the calves he had lost was what is known as a persistently infected animal.

Calves become persistently infected when they are exposed to the virus while in the mother’s womb prior to 120 days of gestation. I like to think of it like the Trojan horse. You probably remember the story where Greek soldiers (probably the equivalent to our Navy Seals) got into a great big wooden horse somebody from the city of Troy had ordered. Then when the Trojans brought the horse into the city, the Greek special forces guys got out at night and defeated the Trojans (or something like that). Anyway, what happens with these persistently infected calves is that the virus gets in there before the immune system is at a stage of development that it recognizes the BVD virus as being foreign. So the virus sets up housekeeping and pretty much multiplies unimpeded. While most of these PI calves die very early, others do not. Those that live shed huge amounts of the virus and basically wreak havoc. It is often the case that a PI calf sheds so much virus even those others vaccinated against BVD eventually have their immune system overwhelmed and they become ill also. If you play the odds, you are not going to buy a PI calf. However, if you find yourself with a PI calf, you could have been better off investing with Bernie Madoff.

Fortunately, there are a few practices that stack the deck in your favor when buying calves. First, no matter what disease you are trying to prevent, you need to have a way to quarantine new additions into your herd. If you buy from a reputable producer who can provide you with a history of the herd of origin and vaccination history, quarantine may not be a top priority. If you are purchasing calves who cannot trace their ancestry beyond the sale barn, I recommend you keep these separate from your herd for at least two weeks. In addition, you may want to have new additions tested for BVD to make sure you are not introducing that virus into your herd. Discuss biosecurity measures such as quarantine and testing with your veterinarian. I figure it is sometimes like the old advertisement for FRAM oil filters. You can pay now or pay later. I recommend the now option. It is usually less expensive.

Finally, my interest in BVD is that it may look like some regulatory diseases like foot-and-mouth disease and vesicular stomatitis. I try to never miss an opportunity to ask producers to call me or their local veterinarian when you see ulcers in the mouth of a cow or even a horse. It is extremely likely it will not be a foreign animal disease. However, we do not want to miss or dismiss the importance of making sure these cases are not a foreign animal disease. And while we are at it, we may be able to help you and your veterinarian develop a plan to show BVD the exit sign if that is what the problem turns out to be.

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama.

The Business of Farming

Fayette County High School FFA Enjoys Busy Year

Carson Hubbert, a ninth grader at Fayette County High School, at the Alabama National Fair. He was the Overall Dairy Judging Champion with the highest set of reasons and placings in the contest.

by Katherine Madison

The Fayette County High School FFA Chapter is off to a great start this year! Students are inspired to learn as much as possible about Agriscience Education. We are very excited about our new FFA advisor Brad Cox. He is from Arab and graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in Agriscience Education. He has already proven to be a dedicated and inspirational agriscience teacher.

We have also recently installed our new officers for this year: Cal McDonald, president; Jacob Brooks, vice-president; Kayla Hollis, secretary; Tyler Paulk, treasurer; Kathrine Madison, reporter; and Davontae Sparks, sentinel. The officers were excited to hold their first chapter meeting on September 28, 2012. The meeting focused on many upcoming events in our community and assigning members to Career Development Event teams.

Three of the members of Fayette County High School FFA at a local meat and dairy goat show. They won several ribbons and hope to have a very competitive season next year. From left are Jacob Brooks, Zach Campbell and Kayla Hollis.

Zach Campbell exhibiting the Grand Champion Dairy Goat at the Fayette County Fair. He is with local producer Anna Griffith who provides the chapter with quality show goats.

The officer team was very excited about hosting a Land Judging CDE workshop held October 16 at the Fayette County Extension Office. All surrounding counties were encouraged to attend. Lunch was provided and there was no fee for this workshop. We would like to thank the Fayette County Farmers Federation for providing this wonderful training opportunity for agriscience students

Fayette County High School FFA’s booth at the Fayette County Fair. They decorated it with agriculture-related items and showcased some of their chapter’s previous and current accomplishments.

We had several activities going on at the Fayette County Fair October 16-20. We were able to set up a booth at the fair exhibiting some of our chapter’s many accomplishments: Dairy Show - Overall Grand Champion Heifer, Carson Hubbert, Zach Campbell and Jacie Renfroe. In the Goat Show - 3 divisional, 1st place; 2 divisional, 2nd, 3rd place and honorable mention; Overall Grand Champion Dairy Goat, Kayla Hollis, Zach Campbell and Jacob Brooks. In the Poultry Show - 1st place in six breed divisions, winning both best variety and best breed in all six and Reserve Overall Junior Champion Exhibitor. In Arts and Crafts – 2nd place in Egg Display.

Fayette County High School FFA Chapter was well represented at the Alabama National Fair. Carson Hubbert recently competed at the Alabama National Fair in the Dairy Judging Event and was Overall High Individual and Overall High Score on the Reasons class. Congratulations Carson!

The Fayette County High School FFA also hosted a heifer show in conjunction with the Fayette County Extension Office. The show began at 10 a.m. January 20, 2013. FFA Members from across the state were invited to attend the show.

We have many exciting events happening with our animal science class including the incubation of 17 laying hens to add to our already existing flock of six laying hens. The hens incubated and raised are a sexlink crossbred variety. We harvest the eggs from our poultry operation and sell them to teachers and other members of the community. We have learned how to do many things this semester with our poultry including clipping flight feathers, proper feeding regimens, and how to incubate and raise poultry. We will have a dairy bull calf donated this spring to our program for teaching purposes.

A selection of eggs from Fayette County High School’s poultry operation at their school. They were entered in the Arts and Crafts commodities division at their county fair and received 2nd place.

Later this year, FFA officers and members will be competing in district CDEs in the following areas: Prepared Public Speaking, 100% Chapter Membership, Livestock Judging and Opening Ceremonies Contest. The competition will be held April 26 at Wallace State in Hanceville.

The officers will then be attending the State FFA Convention in Montgomery, June 4-7. Officers will be able to experience motivational speakers, leadership training, gain career information and conduct business with fellow FFA members. Fayette County High School FFA will also be receiving the National Chapter Award, and have several students individually applying for Proficiency Awards. We will have two senior members who are hoping to receive their state degrees.

This group of FFA members and officers is very motivated and has big plans for accomplishments this year. We are looking forward to this year and wish everyone the best of luck at their district and state competitions!

Kathrine Madison is the Fayette County High School FFA Reporter.

Farm & Field

Feeding Corn Gluten Feed or Soybean Hull Pellets

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

by Jackie Nix

Many cattle producers feed corn gluten pellets or soybean hull pellets to supplement hay. Both are economical sources of nutrients. However, both feedstuffs do have negatives associated with them. The purpose of this article is to educate regarding advantages and disadvantages, and how to use them properly.

Corn Gluten Feed Pellets

CGF pellets are a co-product formed from corn processing. This includes soaking corn in a solution of water and sulfur dioxide to swell kernels to prepare them for extraction. The resulting liquid is called steep liquor and contains protein, minerals and vitamins leeched out of the corn kernels. Starch and oil are extracted from the swollen corn kernels. The remaining fiber (bran) is then mixed back with steep liquor to form CGF. This mixture is dried and pelleted to form the commonly fed product. However, the amount of steep mixed with bran can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, or batch to batch.

The Good

CGF is a fairly good source of nutrients including protein, phosphorus and potassium (see Table 1). Because CGF is low in starch, high in digestible fiber and low in oil, it is safe to feed in relatively large amounts to cattle. Cattle won’t have issues like founder or acidosis like they would on straight corn. Hay intake will not drop off like diets containing straight corn due to the high-digestible fiber content in CGF making it ideal for forage-based diets.

The Bad

Due to variability in incoming corn and within the processing itself, the nutrient content of CGF can vary quite a bit. You’ve also got to remember that hay quality is going to vary quite a bit, too. For this reason, cattle may do very well on CGF for a while and then drop off sharply with no warning. Also, CGF is relatively high in phosphorus and potassium, yet low in calcium and magnesium. Unless calcium and magnesium are present in other areas of the diet, imbalances can cause problems like urinary stones, milk fever or grass tetney. Additionally, because of CGF’s acidic properties, metal storage and feeding equipment can corrode when CGF comes in contact with moisture.

The Ugly

Because sulfur is used in processing, CGF contains high levels of sulfur. When fed at high enough concentrations, this sulfur can actually antagonize selenium, copper and vitamin B12, and cause functional deficiencies. These problems are compounded when CGF is fed in areas naturally high in soil or water sulfur levels or in which soil concentrations of selenium and copper are deficient. Both of these conditions occur in many areas across Alabama. Given that CGF pellets have no natural intake control, individual cattle can consume extreme amounts of CGF pellets under normal feeding conditions.

Soybean Hull Pellets

SHP are a co-product formed from the soybean processing industry. Processing includes soybeans being cracked through rollermills. Soybean hulls are separated from the meats by aspiration. The dehulled meats go on for further processing to extract oil and create soybean meal. The soybean hulls are pelleted for ease of use.

The Good

SHP are a fairly good source of nutrients (see Table 1). Like CGF, soybean hulls are a moderate source of protein, low in starch, high in digestible fiber and low in oil, and thus safe to feed in relatively large amounts to cattle without fears of founder or acidosis. SHP are highly palatable, have a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio and are a good substitute for oats in horses’ diet.

The Bad

While nutrient variability won’t be as extreme as that of CGF, some variability is to be expected. Potassium levels are elevated so magnesium and salt imbalances can result when large amounts are fed.

The Ugly

Like CGF pellets, SHP have no inherent intake control, thus the most dominant animals will eat the lion’s share so it’s possible to see grass tetney (magnesium deficiency) symptoms in your best cows even when the environmental conditions for grass tetney aren’t present.

The Gaps Left

Protein. Protein found in CGF or SHP may or may not be sufficient to properly supplement cattle needs. This will depend not only on variability within the pellets, but variability in hay sources and changing nutritional needs as pregnancy progresses.

Minerals. While both CGF and SHP are excellent sources of some minerals, others are lacking or, worse yet, may be rendered unavailable by antagonists.

No intake control. Both CGF and SHP are highly palatable and will result in slug feeding for the most dominant animals and underfeeding for the subordinate heifers and older cows.

What can SWEETLIX Supplements do?

SWEETLIX mineral supplements, pressed protein blocks or EnProAl poured blocks can provide essential nutrients (especially copper and selenium) lacking in CGF and SHP in convenient, self-fed forms. The combination of highly digestible fiber in the pellets and the spoon-fed nutrients provided by self-fed SWEETLIX supplements will help enhance hay utilization resulting in better performance on available forages. Contact your local SWEETLIX representative or visit to learn about the wide variety of mineral and protein supplement products available to mix and match in your feeding program.

In summary, while CGF and SHP provide some of the essential nutrients needed by cattle, nutritional gaps can result from inherent deficiencies in these feedstuffs, variable hay quality and variations in nutrient content of the pellets. For these reasons, it is important to balance the ration with appropriate supplements to maintain performance. Cattle supplements pay for themselves in added production when used properly. For more information about the SWEETLIX minerals or EnProAl poured blocks and information to help you decide if they will fit into your management situation, visit or call SWEETLIX at 877-933-8549.

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 SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife.

Youth Matters

FFA Officers Unite Across Geneva County During Leadership Retreat

Left, Geneva County FFA officers from Geneva, Slocomb, Samson and Geneva County High Schools pose for a picture together by Lake Eufaula.

by Geneva County FFA Officers

At the end of every summer, Geneva County FFA officers including Geneva High School, Samson High School, Slocomb High School and Geneva County High School come together at a countywide officer retreat. The Geneva County Officer Retreat is one of only a few retreats still occurring in Alabama for all officers in an entire county. This year it was held July 18-19, 2012, at Lakepoint Resort and State Park in Eufaula. There was a multitude of activities that occurred during the leadership retreat.

The first day, the officers all enjoyed bonding through swimming activities. After a couple of hours of swimming, a downpour hit without warning. Even though it was raining cats and dogs, no one seemed to care and the fun continued. However, one true leadership lesson was learned the hard way. In the excitement of the swimming activities, no one remembered to bring their belongings inside when the weather turned south. Once the officers made it back to retrieve their items, everything was drenched and the lesson was learned.

Chelsea Walden from Geneva High School and Robin Miller from Geneva County High School join forces to work on a project together.

After each day’s activities, the officers had sessions that all chapters attended and participated in by helping with different activities. Every session had different "icebreakers"; these are activities the county chapter officers chose to bring them together as a group. Officers learned all types of information about each other because of these activities, even the weird unusual ones that make us all the individuals we truly are.

One of the great parts of this retreat was being able to unwind and be yourself without trying to impress anyone. Most of the games allowed them to let loose and have fun while they relaxed and took advantage of a rare chance to just be a kid again.

One of all the officers’ favorite activities was the designing of a county FFA t-shirt. All four chapters brainstormed together to design a t-shirt uniting the counties’ officers and the theme of the retreat. This year everyone decided on sky blue for the color of the shirt with each one of the officers’ school mascots on the back. With each school mascot, the officers’ names were printed over the mascot. Geneva’s mascot is a panther with President Hayden Whittle, Vice-President Chelsea Walden, Secretary Savannah Fredrick, Treasurer Shayla Wallace, Reporters Shelby Smithart and Morgan Bowdoin, Sentinel Dusty Watkins, Historian Brianna Drummond, and Parliamentarians Breanna Jordan and Marc Jackson. Slocomb’s mascot is a Redtop with President Alana Aplin, Vice-President Julie Dobbs, Secretary Trinity Everett, Treasurer Cody Brent, Reporter Caleb Harris, Sentinel Laramie Bolin and Historian Brandon Hovey. Geneva County’s mascot is a bulldog with President Brandon Skinner, Vice President Robin Miller, Secretary Isaac Hatcher, Treasurer Elliott Weston, Reporter Marshall Carroll, Sentinel Sam Loftin, Historian Tiffany Greggs, Parliamentarian Myles Anderson and Photographer Natalie Dillard.

During each training session, guest speakers came from different areas in Alabama to teach on the values of life and how to be a close FFA Officer Team. The speakers last year were Jeremy Knox, Collegiate FFA President at Auburn University; Brandon Smith, former Alabama State Officer; Megan Saunders, former Alabama FFA State Reporter; and Hayden Whittle, South District Secretary. Also during the sessions three main topics were presented such as leadership, the importance of involvement in your local organizations, and a question and answer period in which officers were able to ask about Auburn University. These sessions covered the topics extremely well and trained the officers about various careers and life outside of high school.

They also set aside time for reflections at the end of one of the sessions. Reflection time was to focus and share information about each other. The officers also take time to talk about the hardships faced so far in life. The officers bonded more strongly as a result of the reflections.

The retreat was a great way to come together as a county and make long-lasting friendships with the other chapter officers while learning leadership and career knowledge. It was a great way to have fun before the start of school. Even though school has started now, they still manage to meet once every month to share and brainstorm chapter ideas and plan for future events. The Geneva County FFA Officer Retreat has proven to be a great worthwhile event for all those who participated.

All the officers in Geneva County would like to encourage the other counties in Alabama to plan their own event each year; it is a great way to bring the chapters together as a whole and enhance the leadership training offered to chapter officers. The FFA officers across Geneva County are sooo excited for next year and just cannot wait.

In the News

Greenville Motor, Quality Co-op Make Donation; Killough Wins Drawing

Above, for several weeks, Greenville Motor Company and Quality Co-op gave everyone the opportunity to donate canned or non-perishable food in exchange for the chance to win $200 towards a utility bill. On Friday, December 21, 2012, Hope Langston, Greenville Motor Company, and Ryan Williams, manager of Quality Co-op, delivered the donated food to the Greenville Nutrition Center. Pictured from left are Cathy Brown, Nutrition Center Manager; Ryan Williams and Hope Langston. (Photo by Michelle Styron)
Below, Quality Co-op and Greenville Motor Company held their drawing for $200 towards any utility bill on Friday, December 21, 2012. The lucky winner of the check was Shirley Killough of Greenville. Pictured from left are Ryan Williams, manager of Quality Co-op in Greenville; Shirley Killough, winner of the drawing; and Hope Langston of Greenville Motor Company. (Photo by Michelle Styron)

Outdoor Life

Habitat Changes Affect Wildlife Populations

Quail photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

by Justin Brock

There was a time when bobwhite quail and many other wildlife species were more numerous than they are today. People who experienced or heard of those times often ask, "Why don’t we see coveys of quail like we used to?" Hunters are among those most interested in knowing the answer.

Alabama’s rural landscape in the early to mid-1900s looked very different from today’s rural landscape. The human population was much lower and small, single-family farms were common throughout the state. Most pine forests across Alabama were of mixed ages and relatively open as a result of more frequent burning and grazing by livestock. This habitat favored quail and they thrived in the fencerows, fallow fields and weedy croplands found on the smaller farms.

As time has advanced, larger farms have become much more common. These bigger farms make greater use of the available acreage by having fewer and cleaner fencerows. Fewer acres are left fallow than in years past. Herbicides have allowed farmers to create much cleaner crop fields, leaving very few native weeds and grasses on the tilled acreages. Stock laws require farmers to fence in their livestock and more acreage has been planted with improved pasture grasses. All of these practices have improved the farmers’ efficiency and productivity, but they have reduced the amount of quality habitat available to bobwhites and other species of wildlife in the state. Forestry practices have also dramatically changed and today intensively managed single-tree species forests are common.

Along with changes in farming and forest practices, there have been changes in the way land is used. It is not too difficult to remember when many of the current pine plantations and subdivisions were fields of soybeans, corn or some other crop. Many of these areas also were fallow fields. These crop lands and fallow areas were quite beneficial to many species of wildlife. The food sources provided by the crop fields and fallow areas are simply not there either in the quantity or quality they once were. Many former row crop farms have also been converted to cattle grazing operations using improved pasture grasses. These pasture grasses do not offer the food or cover once found with native grass-dominated fallow areas or pastures.

Over the past couple of decades, many landowners have started to implement practices to improve the habitats on their property for wildlife. Re-establishing longleaf pine stands, making more frequent use of prescribed burning, converting improved pastures back to native grass stands, expanding fallow areas around agricultural fields and other wildlife habitat management practices have helped transform many acres of marginal wildlife habitat into quality wildlife habitat that had been missing for decades. Those landowners are enjoying the results of their efforts by seeing more wildlife, including more quail. These efforts will not only improve wildlife populations but also improve enjoyment of wildlife viewing and hunting.

For additional information on land management practices to benefit wildlife contact any Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District office.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit

Justin Brock is a Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Youth Matters

HIdden Lake Elementary Students Join PALS to Encourage Cleaner Campus and Community

Don’t Drop It On Alabama" is People Against A Littered State’s slogan. Mary Stanford, PALS Clean Campus Coordinator, spoke to the third grade classes at Hidden Lake Elementary School in Houston County. The students were eager and ready to help be good students of their environment. They have an outdoor classroom, and utilize community services to promote and encourage students to take care of their school campus as well as their community.

The students learned about litter, and how it affects our environment and the creatures in our waterways. They then discussed ways to control our "litter" output. The students were shown samples of ways they could recycle, renew and reduce their "carbon footprint." Students were encouraged to think about things in a new way.

The purpose of the PALS Clean Campus program is to implement "litter education, and involve students in campus cleanup efforts." Each participating school will qualify to nominate themselves for the State Award to be presented to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners at the Governor’s Awards program in November. The first place school will receive a $1,000 scholarship, 2nd place $750 and 3rd place $500.

Stanford thanks Dr. Senn for inviting her to speak with the students. Hidden Lake Elementary School and PALS will work together to make Alabama a cleaner and more beautiful state for future generations.

LITTER FACT: People throw away 25,000,000 plastic beverage bottles every hour.

4-H Extension Corner

Homesteading at Pop Pop’s Playground

Larry Watkins and one of his laying hens.

by Suzy Lowry Geno

Larry Watkins and his wife Lucille always thought that when they reached retirement they’d probably buy a house along the Gulf Coast and spend their golden years closer to their daughter’s family.

"We always figured we’d just spend our time playing and fishing," Watkins explained.

But something happened along the way.

"I just don’t think that’s realistic now," Watkins stated. "That’s the beauty of having a little homestead. There’s something new to do each day, something different, the days are never the same. You might be fixing a fence, doctoring a goat or weeding the garden.

"Somehow I just feel like getting up every morning and hooking to a boat would get tiring after a while of doing it every day. I guess I just lost my fascination with the ocean."

Those who know Watkins aren’t surprised he would reinvent his life at this time. After all, he graduated from Athens State with a BS degree in vocational cooperative education in 1993 at the age of 46, and then went on to obtain his masters from Alabama A&M.

Larry Watkins greets one of his two pygmy goats.

This spring, he’ll be completing his 17th year at Eden Career Technical Center in Ashville where he spends his days as the cooperative education coordinator for students from St. Clair County’s five high schools: Moody, St. Clair County, Springville, Ashville and Ragland.

In the classroom, Watkins helps students prepare for the "real world" of work and business.

"We teach students how to write resumes, how to get along on the job, how to manage money and become smart consumers," he noted. "And we try to teach some life skills as well."

In the other part of his position, Watkins helps the students obtain jobs while in high school and then monitors their work there, but that part has become increasingly frustrating, in that so many jobs now require students be at least 18 before they can be hired.

Granddaughter Lindsey gives some extra affection to one of Pop Pop’s donkeys as older sister Rileigh looks on.

"In today’s world, we place a lot of students in fast food now which gives them work experience in maintaining schedules, working with others and meeting the public," Watkins said. "But we can still occasionally still place a student in welding or carpentry."

Help is also available to former students when they are ready to enter the work force or are seeking a career.

Watkins’ work history gives him a great background not only for his job at the school but for working on his 10-acre homestead.

After graduating from Locust Fork High School, he worked in the coal industry; for Robbins and Joy in the drill manufacturing business for 16 years; a couple of years in field service for Tractor and Equipment before working in the late 1980s for Perry Supply building items for Drummond Coal. When Drummond was about to move most of their operations to South America, Watkins began looking at options for the rest of his future.

"Somebody, I don’t even remember who, suggested I look into vocational education," Watkins recalled. "And it was a good fit."

Through the years, Watkins continued with special projects, beginning with things he learned in the original "back to the land" movement while he was reading the old original Mother Earth News magazine in the 1970s.

Larry Watkins and granddaughter Rileigh enjoy special time with the donkeys on Pop Pop’s Playground farm.

"I’ve always had a fascination with trying to be more self-sufficient," Watkins explained. "I know we can’t be totally self-sufficient in today’s world, but we can certainly do more than most of us do.

"I remember my grandparents, John and Lula Watkins, in the 1950s being almost completely self-sufficient. They owned a dairy in the Compton Community of Blount County (now known as Sand Valley). They went to church on Sundays and went to the store about once a month for salt, coffee and flour. They raised animals and he hunted a lot. They ground their corn for cornmeal. I loved that lifestyle."

Watkins’ mother, Eula Armstrong Flowers, is a remarkable woman in her own right.

In later years, Watkins enjoyed working on the little Blount County farm of his in-laws John Owen and Delma Lee Griffin. First J.O. passed away and then Mrs. Griffin. A little more than 4 years ago Watkins bought the 10 acres and started his own little homestead.

Portion of the still-incomplete barn. It is sided with lumber obtained from a neighbor who was tearing down a fence around their swimming pool.

While Larry and Lucille maintain their more modern home in the Blount County town of Highland Lake, he has two small flocks of laying hens, two pygmy goats and two donkeys at what he laughingly calls Pop Pop’s Playground, in honor of his granddaughters, just outside Oneonta.

The first order of business was doing "a lot" of cleaning and clearing. There’s now about a half-acre garden and a small pond.

Watkins’ friend James Bryson, Highland Lake’s former mayor, and Watkins’ brother Mike both have helped build the barn that is still a work in progress. The roomy barn is sided with weathered wood Lucille saw and Larry received from a neighbor who was tearing down the fence around their swimming pool.

He built a ram pump, using plans he found online from Clemson University, to pump water to his animals a couple of years ago and he has other plans on how that can be made more efficient.

While he doesn’t think the little creek is deep enough or contains enough water year-round to generate much electricity, he’s looking into that possibility, maybe supplemented by solar panels.

With his friend Bryson, Watkins planted about an acre of sorghum this year on Straight Mountain and they were amazed at the amount of sorghum syrup they obtained when they had it squeezed and cooked into syrup by an Ashville man.

"The fodder can be fed to the animals and the seed heads to the chickens," Watkins noted.

The two men also planted acreage in heirloom old-time Moseby corn.

All sorts of greens and turnips were still growing in the garden patch in January. The piles of leaves, barely noticeable, are protecting the onion bed.

This small shed by the pond is an experiment. Larry Watkins burned and charred the pine wood as “old timers” did when they were forced to use pine, to see how much longer the wood would last. So far it’s been over a year and the pine has not rotted.

"That’s what old folks around here used to plant," Watkins explained.

They make big ears, 12- to 14-inches long. It could be made into a lot of fodder to feed the stock, made good hominy and made good cornmeal.

"Folks north of here usually planted Hickory King, but Moseby was king here," Watkins laughed.

The men took the corn to Wilber Beavers and Son, close to Blountsville, to be ground into cornmeal. More planted corn and more cornmeal are also planned for this spring and summer.

"You can save the seeds and they are pure from these heirloom crops," Watkins explained. "There may come a time in this modern world when we need those and when we need to know how to do these things."

Watkins’s also been making homemade laundry detergent for his friends and family, and recently started selling a little bit of that as well. He got the basic recipe off the Internet, but "tweaked it" to make it special utilizing the best of washing soda and other items.

Small labels show a photo of his other grandmother Hamlett Armstrong (her father loved Shakespeare!) and the detergent is called Mombo’s Down Home Laundry Soap.

"She had 13 children and raised them all to adulthood," Watkins said.

While last year, Watkins "put up loose hay" using a pitch fork into about a third of his barn, this year he will be baling behind the small Belrus tractor.

Watkins’s accomplished "a lot of work," but he noted most everything he’s done on the little farm "has been fun. As long as I stay healthy, I’ll be right here."

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

Farm & Field

How Soil Conservation Saved the Farm

And Changed the Face of Southern Farming

by James Langcuster

Famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’s recent account of how soil conservation practices saved Midwestern farming in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl is both highly informative and inspiring.

Now for the rest of the story: Soil conservation changed the face of Southern farming and probably saved it, too.

Even as early as the late 19th century, some agricultural researchers at Southern universities already perceived farmers were working with soil resources that could be severely depleted if not properly managed.

One of them was famed researcher John F. Duggar, who worked at what was then known as the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). He began laying the groundwork for what we know today as sustainable agriculture.

"His (Duggar’s) premise was that we could sustain cotton production by following a few simple practices — rotating crops, keeping the land covered in winter," said Dr. Charles Mitchell, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist and Auburn University professor of agronomy and soils. "(That) underscored that so long as land remained productive we could sustain agricultural production."

As Duggar was fond of saying, "Agriculture will come into its own when her fields are green in winter."

Unfortunately, few farmers then were heeding the calls of Duggar and other conservation-minded scientists. By the 1930s, the proverbial chickens came home to roost in the Midwest. A decade-long drought was made worse by farming practices paying little heed to the environment.

Precious topsoil that had accumulated over centuries crumbled in the summer heat and was blown hundreds of miles by brisk prairie winds.

Eventually, the worsening effects of this Dust Bowl drove about 25 percent of the population of the Great Plains states off their farms — an environmental catastrophe explored by Burns in "The Dust Bowl."

The Deep South, blessed with plentiful rainfall, escaped the Dust Bowl’s effects. Even so, plowing was eroding topsoil at an alarmingly rapid rate and, much like in the Midwest, was exacting an immense environmental toll.

Instead of being blown into the wind, topsoil in the South was washed by ample rains into lakes, rivers and streams. After more than a century of row-crop agriculture, much of the state’s soil had settled at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Dust Bowl forced policymakers to see the nation’s soil reserves in a new way: As a national security issue, because, without adequate reserves, the nation couldn’t sustain farming.

"Over time you lose your productivity and your ability to feed yourself not only as a person but as a state and country," said Dr. William Puckett, director of the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Alabama.

The Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resource Conservation Service, was established in 1935 to provide farmers incentives to preserve eroding topsoil.

Alabama and other Southern states turned out to be the indirect beneficiaries of the national response to the Dust Bowl crisis.

Puckett said, from the beginning, his agency has operated on the principles of Hugh Hammond Bennett, the pioneer of soil conservation and the first Soil Erosion Service administrator, who always emphasized that direct interaction between a farmer and a government employee was typically not the best way to propagate good soil conservation practices. Instead, soil conservation districts were organized to serve as an intermediary between farmers and the agency employees, underscoring that soil conservation efforts represented as much an innovation in thinking as it did in technology.

Burn’s documentary has provided Puckett and other conservation advocates with an opportunity to remind 21st century Americans of the myriad ways conservation practices that grew out of the Dust Bowl crisis literally have changed the face of the country.

Perhaps no other natural event in recent times underscored the value of soil conservation more than the severe drought of 2012. Despite one of the driest summers on record, U.S. farmers produced more corn and other crops in 2012 than they did in the 1980s.

Puckett said the effects of these advances are plainly visible today — almost 80 years later.

"One thing I like to tell people is that if they take a Sunday afternoon drive with the family, they will see the mark of conservation efforts wherever they go," he said.

James Langcuster is a Specialist III in Communications & Marketing-Department with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

How's Your Garden?

Solar-powered electric chargers are perfect for electric deer fences not located near an outlet.

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Polyface Farms

You may have already heard of Joel Salatin, an unconventional farmer and author of "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal." Salatin is a pioneer in sustainable farming practices. You can get a peek at his 100-acre operation in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in a video from "Growing a Greener World" television show hosted by gardening personality Joe Lamp’l. Look up Polyface Farms in the search feature at to find an article and link to a 20-minute video tour of his pastures and commonsense techniques.

Garden Protection

Winter is a good time to work on the garden infrastructure including putting up a barrier for large animals such as an electric deer fence. Solar powered electric chargers are perfect for fences that are not near an outlet. Most quality models contain a battery for energy storage so the fence stays hot day and night.


If you can poke a hole in the soil, you can probably grow onions. Prepare the ground by working it deeply, but don’t set your onion transplants deeply or they won’t make a good bulb. Plant so the top part of the red or white neck of the plant is partially above ground. If you can’t plant your onions right away, untie the bunch, separate the seedlings and put them in a pail with a couple inches of moist soil over the roots. They should hold for a week or two if you keep the bucket in a cool, bright place such as a daylight basement.


Are you planting a tree near a house, sidewalk, driveway or other structure this winter? If so, avoid trees with extra-vigorous roots such as ash, poplar, willow and maple. Also, avoid Bradford pears because they can reseed and become noxious weeds in the wild. Stick to small trees maturing at less than 30 feet tall when working within 10 or 15 feet of a structure; save the large shade trees for more open spaces.

Compost Spreader

This idea for easy handling of small amounts of compost or refuse comes from a community garden. A black nursery container fashioned with a rope handle makes it easy to collect a few items from the garden while you work and dump them into the pile. It also works the other direction, for transporting a small amount of finished compost to the raised beds or the garden so you don’t have to get out a wheelbarrow. It’s obviously a great idea for a community garden filled with small, individual plots, but it’s adaptable anywhere because every garden task isn’t a big affair.

Left, don’t plant onion transplants deeply, and plant so that the top part of the neck is partially above ground. Above, a black nursery container fashioned with a rope handle is a great idea for handling small amounts of compost.


Remember boxwoods, gardenias, camellias and other evergreens still need water during winter if the ground is dry. This is especially important before a cold snap when cold winds can easily dry the leaves. Keep your evergreens watered if the weather has been dry.

Stored Plants

Check plants overwintering in the garage or basement to make sure they are still in good condition and don’t need water. Citrus, geraniums, mosquito plant and bay tree all adapt well to winter "stasis" until the temperatures warm up enough to put them out in the spring.


Colorful bromeliads are common in garden centers this time of year.

Late this month you can begin feeding houseplants again. They will notice the days getting longer and respond with new shoots. As soon as all danger of frost has passed in March or April, move them to a shady spot outdoors. In the meantime, give those without fuzzy leaves a good shower indoors to keep the leaves clean and minimize insect problems.


This time of year it is very common to find beautifully colored bromeliads in garden centers. These often last for many weeks indoors and are very well suited to the dry, heated air. However, don’t be surprised when the original plant starts to die back, that is natural. Often, small "pups" or baby plants are sprouting around the base. As the mother plant dies back, trim away the dead leaves and let the pups fill in. By the end of summer you will have a new, full plant if you have watered and fertilized it through summer. The American Bromeliad Society offers these tips for getting the plant to bloom again. Fertilize with a little Epsom salt for extra magnesium and sulfur. Use two tablespoons of Epsom salts per gallon of water. If your plant doesn’t want to bloom by fall, put it in a plastic bag with an apple for a week! The ethylene gas given off by the apple will help initiate blooms, but give them some time to become visible.

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

For What It's Worth

Just Another Week in Haiti

November 2012

by Robert Spencer

The first 5 years of my visits to Haiti have primarily focused on meat quality and food safety as it relates to rabbit production and processing; much of it is based on HACCP guidelines. During the past year (year 6), I have added production quality, or as I call it "Animal Welfare," to my subject matter. This topic was the result of my realization of producers lacking a basic understanding of production essentials in regards to caring for their animals. Based on my observations, I decided to focus on specific areas including nutrition (vegetation, feed and water), care of newborns, shade and protection from harsh environmental conditions, sanitation and more. I felt this area was more important to know; without quality production, producers will not have adequate numbers for processing and marketing. It was obvious there were health and mortality problems, much of which could be attributed to poor nutrition, dirty or no water, direct exposure to elements and heat stress, poor sanitary conditions (dirty cages and accumulation of manure and urine under cages), and no shelter for newborn rabbits. I also realized much of this applied to other forms of livestock including poor nutrition (limited access to forage), inadequate access to water, continuous exposure to sun, etc. My theory is: as producers develop basic production quality skills, from there they can move forward with better results.

Robert Spencer and Anderson Pierre speaking to group in La Coline on animal welfare. The people have asked Spencer to come back and share more details on rabbit and goat production.

Producer in La Coline showing Robert Spencer teeth of a buck to verify his young age.

The first week of my visits included the following regions and communities: South, Port au Prince and Riviere Foride; and Southwest, La Coline and Passe Bois D’ome. The purpose of the visit to La Coline was to address meat goat production; in Passe Bois D’ome, the focus was marketing of rabbits; and, in Riviere Foride, we delivered rabbits and talked about basic considerations for rabbit production. This was my first time to address meat goat production in Haiti, but it is one of my areas of specialty. The people in La Coline were eager to discuss this topic so we had a good time interacting. The rabbit producers in Passe Bois D’ome have an impressive inventory of rabbits, but lack in marketing ideas; so Anderson Pierre and I spent a significant amount of time sharing ideas with them. The special needs school in Riviere Foride is new to rabbit production; we delivered 34 rabbits and conducted an educational workshop. The next day we returned to build rabbit cages then distribute cages and rabbits to those who had attended previous training.

Robert Spencer sharing ideas on marketing strategies with a group in Passe Bois D’ome. One of the producers told Spencer they have seen increased production as the result of allowing does to mature before breeding them.

Rabbits ready for transport from Passe Bois D’ome to Riviere Foride.

Rabbits being unloaded at new rabbitry in Riviere Foride.

One group of women from Riviere Foride leaving with their new cage and pair of rabbits.

I always enjoy my visits to Haiti and working with the Farmer to Farmer staff. They are like family to me and I consider Haiti my second home. Everywhere I visit, the people are so friendly and receptive to training. These factors keep me motivated with return visits and striving to improve situations through education and encouragement. As producers’ abilities to understand quality of production increases and their desire to apply this knowledge increases, their animals will remain healthy and more productive; thereby, leading to increased inventories, whereby they can start thinking about best management practices for processing and marketing. This has remained my primary area of focus for almost a year and, as I revisit communities from previous trainings, I see results and hear testimonials regarding improved situations and increased production.

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

Your Next Meal From the Wildside

Katahdin Sheep Good Fit for the Family

Gathering to enjoy Scott Bennett’s roasted lamb are, from left, Willie Kirk, Scott Bennett and Tumpsie Trionne. Sheep can provide a lot of meat and is as versatile as a beef roast.

by Christy Kirk

Jason and his parents have about 15 acres of pasture between our two houses. For many years, they kept cows, but it has been 3 or 4 years since they have had cattle in the pasture. Now, instead of cows, we have 15 Katahdin ewes, one ram and five lambs. Jason plans to get up to 30 ewes and then sell or trade the rest. Most of the rams will be sold or bartered for ewes, but some of the rams will be eaten in the Kirk household.

Sheep can be much better to have around small children than cows. Because of the sheep’s smaller stature, we worry less about Rolley Len and Cason getting trampled underfoot. Most of the sheep, including all of the newest mothers except for Fuzzy who is quite skittish, are laid back. Fortunately, they don’t seem to mind our kids playing, running and squealing about them in the pasture. Rolley Len and Cason like to play sheepdog and herd them. So far there haven’t been any accidents or injuries, but the ram William Tom Hill does seem to have a yearning to challenge Cason. We try to keep a close eye on the two of them to make sure William doesn’t head-butt Cason into next week.

Rolley Len Kirk enjoys playing with the Katahdin sheep.

The Katahdin sheep were a good choice for us because they are low maintenance, do not require shearing and are usually domesticated. They eat grass, oats and hay, and they keep the grass low throughout the year so Jason won’t have to bush hog as often. Because the sheep are mostly grass-fed, their meat will be lean and healthier than some other meat choices. A sheep can provide a lot of meat and is as versatile as a beef roast.

Last month, a friend of Jason’s grandfather Scott Bennett arrived with his son at the hunting camp in Tuskegee. Scott is the culinary program director at the First Coast Technical College in St. Augustine, Fla. Willie had mentioned to Scott that Rolley Len and Cason had gotten some sheep. One of Scott’s favorite dishes is leg of lamb; so, while he was in town, he made lamb, seasoning it simply with fresh rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. He added fresh local vegetables for a delicious meal.

When Jason was growing up, his family would spend two weeks at a time at the Tuskegee farm and camp over Christmas break. The Kirks hunted and shared their time together. The house and the camp have weathered through many years surviving lightning strikes and other forces of nature. They still stand strong as emblems of the family’s outdoor heritage. The hunting camp in Tuskegee is now more for social gatherings than actual hunting trips.

During the winter months, you never know who you will run into at the camp in Tuskegee. We try to take advantage of unexpected visitors, especially those who like to cook. Sharing food and recipes brings friends and family closer together. You may get a chance to experience something out of the ordinary when your next meal is planned by your spontaneous special guest.

Roasted Leg of Lamb

1 leg of lamb
Rosemary, to taste
Fresh crushed garlic, to taste
Okra, whole
Fresh tomatoes, diced
Green beans

Rub rosemary and garlic on the lamb. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes per pound of meat. For the last hour of cooking, add okra, tomatoes and green beans to the pan around the lamb.

Lamb Stew

2 pounds lean lamb
½ cup flour
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
1 small onion, diced
4 cups water
3 cups turnips, diced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Cut meat into small pieces, about 1-2 inch cubes. Roll pieces in flour. Melt butter or margarine in a large skillet. Add onion and meat to pan and cook until brown. Put browned meat and onions into a sauce pot. Add water to skillet to lift giblets from browned meat, then pour into sauce pan. Cover and let simmer for 1 hour. Add turnips, green pepper, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 30 minutes longer. Serve hot with roasted potatoes.

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

The Magic of Gardening

Landscaping a Wall

Tangerine Beauty Crossvine

Putting Vines to Good Use

by Tony A. Glover

Vines are sometimes called the thugs of the plant world because many of them do harm to other plants. Generally speaking, they get their light by climbing on other plants which can be harmful to those plants. Think about kudzu, Chinese wisteria and even English ivy which make their living by climbing whatever they are close to including other plants.

This thuggish quality can be put to good use in the landscape in many ways, but it is all about proper plant selection for the job you have in mind. For instance, vines can be used to cover an arbor or pergola, or they could be used on a southern wall to reduce heat buildup in the summer.

There are several things to consider when choosing an appropriate vine for your intended purpose. First, vines climb in various ways. They may use tendrils to grab or they might twine around something or lastly they may cling with disk-like adhesive tips. The first two will require something to attach the tendrils to or twist around such as a frame or wire support. The last type can attach itself directly to a structure, but can do damage to the structure over time. You would not want to use clinging vines on wood structures because they can cause moisture problems which would lead to decay. Some of these vines can even cause problems to the mortar in brick or block buildings.

Virginia creeper

To avoid damaging a building, it is best to grow vines on a support system a few inches from the building to allow both air flow and reduce direct attachment. Aluminum wire or conduit-type tubing can work very well or even concrete reinforcing wire. Wood material can be used if it has been treated or is a slowly decaying type of wood such as cedar or cypress.

When choosing which vine to plant, you first need to determine whether or not you want an evergreen or deciduous vine. If you are covering a wall or structure for summer shade and want the sun to shine through during the cold winter months, choose a deciduous vine. Next you need to consider the amount of light the vines will receive. Lastly, think about the soil and water issues that may come up. It’s a good idea to test the soil and adjust the pH as needed for the species you choose. Pay close attention to water issues because plants near walls may miss out on natural rainfall due to the overhang of the roof or there may be areas that get excess water because of the roof runoff being directed into low spots near the home.

There are many great vines to consider, but some of my favorites include:

Crossvine is a showy orange or reddish-blooming native evergreen for full sun.

Armand’s clematis (evergreen clematis) has beautiful white and fragrant blooms in spring that grows best in part shade.

Coral honeysuckle is a great hummingbird plant for full sun to part shade that is native and not invasive like its Asian cousin the Japanese honeysuckle.

Climbing hydrangea has a beautiful white bloom and tolerates shade well.

American wisteria makes a beautiful arbor covering and is not a complete thug like the Chinese wisteria seen taking over large trees on roadsides all over Alabama.

Virginia creeper is often thought of as a native weed, but it has great fall color for spots where you want summer shade and winter sun and it is a great food source for many native bird species.

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

Farm & Field

Learn How to Manage Ants and Other Pests Via Don’t Bug Me Webinars

Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

Got ants? Tired of ladybug invasions in the fall? Brought home bed bugs from your last trip? Alabama Cooperative Extension Systems professionals will moderate a free webinar series that will take on all of these topics. In 2013, most of the webinars will be on fire ants and other invasive ant species. Other topics for the year include bed bugs and various insects invading homes each autumn.

Alabama Extension Entomologist Dr. Kathy Flanders said these free webinars are designed for homeowners and the general public.

"We will provide them with sound, research-based management solutions for these pests from some of the best experts around the country," she said. "The webinars are specifically for ordinary people who need answers they can use.

"Participating is as simple as clicking on a web link."

Each webinar will begin at 1 p.m. Central Time and will last 30 to 45 minutes.

Flanders said not to worry if you cannot tune in for the live webinar.

"The webinars will be recorded and archived. If you miss one, you will be able to watch a recording later," she explained.

The webinars are sponsored by eXtension and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. They are coordinated by the Imported Fire Ant eXtension Community of Practice.

First Friday of the Month Spring Series

February 1, 2013. Fire Ant Home Remedies - What Works, What Doesn’t. Home remedies for fire ant control are dominating the Internet. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Learn about safe and effective techniques for fire ant management for home landscapes. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Dani Carroll.

March 1, 2013. Ants! Ants! Ants! Tawny crazy ants and Argentine ants don’t sting, but their large colonies are definitely annoying. Learn how these ants live and how to control them. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Bethany O’Rear.

April 5, 2013. You Have Fire Ants Where? Targeted fire ant management in sensitive and challenging areas including vegetable gardens, fish ponds, compost piles and electrical boxes. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Willie Datcher.

May 3, 2013. Protect Your Loved Ones From Fire Ants. Learn safe, effective, research-based methods to protect your family and pets from fire ants. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Charles Pinkston.

June 7, 2013. Get Rid of Those Bed Bugs. Learn how bed bugs live and get sound, research-based advice on how to get rid of them. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Chris Becker.

First Wednesday of the Month Fall Series

September 4, 2013. Fall - A Good Time to Control Fire Ants with Bait. Applying fire ant baits in the fall is an effective way to minimize fire ant problems in home lawns and other landscapes. Learn how to get the most out of your fire ant bait and discuss communitywide fire ant management programs. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Sallie Lee.

October 2, 2013. Home Invaders. Every fall certain bugs come into our houses looking for a place to spend the winter. Learn what they are and how to evict them. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Ellen Huckabay.

November 6, 2013. Keep Ants Off the Thanksgiving Table. Learn safe and effective ways to keep ants from invading your house. Hosted by ACES Regional Extension Agent Mallory Kelley.

As the date for each webinar approaches, watch eXtension’s Don’t be Bugged Webinar Series page – dont-be-bugged-webinar-series-2013for more information on that particular webinar.

Outdoor Life

Longleaf Pine Restoration Grants Available to Landowners

by Traci Wood

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is now accepting applications through its Landowner Incentive Program to continue longleaf pine restoration efforts in Alabama. LIP funding is made possible through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is available to qualifying landowners for longleaf pine restoration on private lands.

Landowners are encouraged to submit applications to receive assistance with site preparation, seedlings, planting, native grass restoration and/or exotic control costs. This program is focused on longleaf pine ecosystem restoration for the benefit of wildlife species in greatest conservation need. Currently, applications are being accepted for 50/50 cost share on-site preparation, containerized longleaf pine trees and planting. All applications will undergo a competitive ranking process.

For an application and program information, contact Traci Wood at 334-353-0503 or The deadline for LIP applications is March 1.

Eligibility requirements are that the property must have suitable soils for planting longleaf, be held under private ownership, have a 15-acre minimum for reforestation, and fall within the following counties: Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Elmore, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lee, Macon, Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Pike, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, St. Clair, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa and Washington.

LIP funds are administered to complement WFF habitat restoration goals of the longleaf pine ecosystem. This program provides financial and/or technical assistance to private landowners to conserve, manage or enhance the habitats of species in greatest conservation need associated with Alabama’s longleaf pine ecosystem.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit

Traci Wood is with the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.

Howle's Hints

Make it a Point to Sharpen your Shovel and Avoid Cold Feet

With pine bed slats and tie down straps, a convenient pack for a backpack can be constructed for around 10 bucks.

by John Howle

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." -- Henry Ford

This February, keep an eye on your goals and don’t let the obstacles slow you down. The days are short so there’s plenty of time for nighttime planning and completing projects in the shop. Finally, don’t forget to set some small, attainable goals for yourself each week.

Build a Pack for Your Back

I recently had the opportunity to go on a six-mile backpack and campout with the Boy Scouts in my area. After I saw prices upwards of $170 for a framed backpack, I decided to build my own and it only cost around 10 bucks.

For the frame, I used bed slats off an old bunk bed made of lightweight pine. Once the frame was constructed and screwed together with inch and a quarter screws and a bead of wood glue for extra security, I then needed shoulder straps.

I used ratchet tie down straps for the shoulder straps because they were wide. I secured these to the pack with roofing nails and placed another strip of wood on top of the straps. For extra padding on the back, I cut strips out of a foam camping pad, and I also secured these strips to the shoulder straps with duct tape.

Make the Model

Whether you are building a new house or a barn, it’s a good idea to build a miniature model of the structure with one inch being equal to one foot before you begin construction. This will allow you to see how the sun will strike the structure to gain the most out of the sun in winter and the breezes in summer. I got my daughter Emma to build the miniature model of a barn with stalls for the purpose of this tip. Once you see the floor plan in real dimensions, it gives you an idea of any changes you want to make. To make the barn more realistic, you can even add toy cows, horses and chickens.

Stop Cold Feet

During February, feet can get cold if you are not working hard. A sure fire way to alleviate cold feet is to spray them with an antiperspirant deodorant spray before putting your socks on. Even in cold weather, your feet will sweat some, and this moisture creates the cold feet.

Before building the real thing, make a miniature model of the structure you are building. This way you can see how the sun will strike it.

Spray Antiprespirant on your feed to help you stay warmer.

If you are hunting, spray a scent-free deodorant on your feet. Finally, wear a good pair of merino wool socks to wick moisture and hold heat.

Sneaking up on Squirrels

February is a great time to introduce youngsters to the outdoors through squirrel hunting. The best method for hunting with youth is to teach them to softly walk a few steps, stop, look and listen. If no squirrel appears or tail flickers, move forward a few more steps. If you move slowly enough, squirrels often don’t run and hide in the nests and hollow trees.

If you do harvest a few squirrels, be sure to teach the youth about trigger to table. Allow them to help in cleaning of the animals. Even if you’re not a great cook, squirrel hams and shoulders can be battered and fried on the lowest setting in a covered skillet. The slow cooking helps tenderize the meat.

This February, take some time to get those indoor, in-shop projects completed and stay focused on your goals.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Homeplace & Community

Master Gardeners Install 2013 Officers

CAMGA Former-President Bob Brown, far left, swore in the organization’s officers for 2013 at their December meeting. The new officers are (from left): President Candy Jones, Equality; Vice-President Carol Rattan, Wetumpka; and Treasurer Becky Ashurst, Wetumpka. Not shown is Secretary Amanda Borden, Tallassee.

Central Alabama Master Gardeners’ Association installed their officers for the year 2013 during their December meeting and Christmas Party at First Baptist Church in Wetumpka.

Former CAMGA President Bob Brown, Wetumpka, swore in Candy Jones, Equality, as President, Carol Rattan, Wetumpka, as Vice-President, Becky Ashurst, Wetumpka, as Treasurer and Amanda Borden, Tallassee, as Secretary.

CAMGA, with nearly 100 members primarily from Autauga, Elmore and Montgomery counties, is one of the most active Master Gardeners groups in Alabama.

For more information about CAMGA, call 334-567-6301 or visit the Elmore County Extension Office at 340 Queen Ann Road in Wetumpka.

Home Grown Tomatoes

Pay Homage to the Great Groundhog

Jess and Noelle sporting their custom groundhog shirts. They really know how to dress for the occasion!

by Kenn Alan

The spring-teaser weather is right on time. So far this winter, we have had our typical unseasonably warm days in the seventies. (I am no meteorologist, but if a weather pattern becomes typical then should it be no longer unseasonable?)

Now, at the halfway point of winter, we can breathe easier because we know springtime is just a few days away. Already, we are seeing early bulbs blooming (daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, etc.). And, by the end of the month, azalea blossoms will be bursting with color! Flowering trees, forsythia, quince, loropetalum and other spring-blooming ornamentals are enough eye-candy to make any visitor, from above the Mason-Dixon Line, envious of our southern climate.

February has its share of fun and otherwise important holidays and distinctions, too. It is also a perfect opportunity for me to lay a little trivia and history on you!

One such notable day is February 2, Groundhog Day. It is my single, most-favorite holiday because, for the most part, it has escaped widespread commercialization. Oh, there are commercialized celebrations around the country designed to boost tourism, but they are mostly based on the silliest notions. (If, in fact, groundhogs are able to predict the weather, I truly don’t believe humans have figured out how to get that information from the little hairy buggers!)

Home Grown Tomatoes celebrates Groundhog Day because it represents the life, light and warmth coming in just six short weeks. It is a good day to spend starting seeds in the cold frame or greenhouse. It’s a perfect time to make those final plans for your vegetable and flower gardens. It is also a fine day for sharing food and drink with your gardening friends and neighbors.

Be creative this Valentine’s Day. I found this one-of-a-kind art heart at Naked Art Gallery in Birmingham. It’s created by local artist Gannburg. Art galleries are great places to find atypical gifts

Typical foods served on Groundhog Day are red beans and rice, sausage (ground hog, of course) and peppermint ice cream on a brownie. Typical drinks are iced tea with mint and white sangria.

February 14 is Valentine’s Day. It is the day for sweethearts. Valentine’s Day is the single busiest day in the florist business. For the cut flowers and potted plants industry, it is the second biggest revenue day, next to Mother’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is a big day for confectioners, too. Strawberries are in season now and are sold in most grocery market delis, pre-washed and dipped in chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate … National Chocolate Mint Day is February 19. However, the herb chocolate mint isn’t the focus. This holiday is a designed by confectioners. So, what would you do for a Klondike?

Cherry trees are beginning to bloom. Cherry Pie Day is on the 20th.

Wasn’t it a cherry tree our first President got into trouble by cutting down? George Washington’s Birthday is on the 22nd.

President’s Day is on the 18th (Always on the third Monday).

Mardi Gras is on February 12 this year.

February 8 is Boy Scout Day. Founded on that day in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America allowed me to learn about and appreciate nature, survival and citizenship.

Another widely recognized holiday is Pistol Patent Day and is celebrated on the 25th.

According to the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, Samuel Colt invented the revolver and received Patent #138 on February 25, 1836.

Above, whole hog sausage, Cajun turkey sausage and gluten-free cornbread are fresh out of the oven and ready to be served with red beans and rice. Right, red beans served with rice makes for a hearty Groundhog Day treat.

Ramblings – Much to my surprise, Samuel Colt and his .45 caliber pistol were not the inspiration for Colt 45 malt liquor (a brand of malt beverage introduced by the National Brewing Company in 1963 and now owned by Pabst Brewing Company). The beverage is actually named after pro football running back #45 Jerry Hill of the Baltimore Colts’ 1961-1970 rosters. Hill, along with other greats such as Johnny Unitas, Ray Perkins, Bill Curry and Bubba Smith, made up the Baltimore Colts Super Bowl V Championship team. The Colts moved to Indianapolis, Ind., in 1984. Baltimore got a new NFL franchise in 1996, The Ravens. The Baltimore Ravens is named after the classic poem, "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe, who was born in Boston, Mass., but died in Baltimore.

This brings us to Super Bowl Sunday XLVII, February 3, the day which some consider a de facto American national holiday. It is the second-largest day for food consumption in the United States (first being Thanksgiving Day).

Perhaps I did ramble a bit, but I also mentioned some things we might take for granted.

Freedom. Think about that while you enjoy watching the Big Game. Think about that while you’re out hunting with your child. Think about freedom while you’re working your garden soil.

In 1938, President Harry Truman signed a bill proclaiming February 1 as National Freedom Day.

February 1, 1865, is the day President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.

February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday.

February is Black History Month.

Finally, I want to tell you a story about citizenship. Two years ago, a friend of mine became a United States citizen. Last November, she said she had gained a super power and she used it when she voted in her first American presidential election.

Then, on December 17, another friend went to Atlanta to become a US citizen. Several of our other friends went with her, to support her, and one of them had this to say on Facebook.

"Watching my friend Samantha take the citizenship oath this morning with 188 other people from 66 countries was inspiring. Knowing, for example, that the gentleman from Congo faced far fewer terrible fates after 10:30 a.m. than he had for the entire previous portion of his life is wonderful … it was a very impressive ceremony and made me think about my advantages, which came to me rather effortlessly."

February is loaded with good stuff to enjoy and appreciate! So, go and be free. Do good amongst the peoples while you think about your freedom.

Happy Groundhog Day, Everybody!

If you have any questions or comments regarding things discussed in this column, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

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In the News

Regional Horse Show Scheduled in Marion

Judson College will host the only Intercollegiate Horse Show Association show in the state on February 16, 2013. There will be two Western shows at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. featuring riders from IHSA Zone 5, Region 2. Invited schools in addition to Judson include Berry College, Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Kennesaw State University, Mississippi College, Mississippi State, The University of Alabama, The University of Georgia, The University of North Georgia and The University of West Georgia. There is no admission charge for attendees and the public is welcomed. For more information contact Judson Equine Coach Jennifer Hoggle at 334-683-6866 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Homeplace & Community

Save Food Dollars by Using Coupons

by Angela Treadaway

Do you cut out coupons and never use them? Do you organize your coupons inside a pocket of your handbag? Do you save coupons on your window sill and find them again months after they have expired? If you answer yes to any of these questions, chances are you are just a Coupon Collector. But do not despair. By making a few changes you can be on the road to becoming a Coupon User.

If you save coupons, chances are you have seen articles or the shows on TV talking about the shopper who bought three grocery carts full of food and paid under $50 or less for it all. Do you ever wonder how those people do it? For one thing, those who accomplish such miraculous coupon success are what we refer to as Coupon Queens and chances are they spend a "lot of time" perfecting their skills.

If you do not have a bunch of time to devote to couponing, you can still advance your skills by adding just a few strategic steps to your collecting process. It is up to you and how much time you are willing to put into finding the best deals on groceries, household goods, clothes, etc. However, once you get started and save $20-$30 on your grocery bills, it’s addictive and you’ll want to do more!

Shop at Stores That Double Coupons

If you do not have a store in your area that doubles coupons, it may be worth it to organize a shopping day in a town nearby that does have such a store. Buddy-up with a friend and make the trip together. Two eyes are better than one and your friend may spot a deal you miss.

Learn to Spot When Generic is Better

Generic food products are made at the same companies that produce many of your favorite brand-name products. The packaging is all that is lacking. By pulling out your calculator and adding up the difference in using your coupon for a brand-name item versus buying generic, you will quickly figure out what direction will save you the most money. Remember, just because you have a coupon does not mean you have to use it. Always use the method that will save you the most.

Double-Up Your Savings

Combining your coupon with other promotions in the store will save you a bundle. If you have a shopper’s card, look for those items you have a coupon for that are also discounted with your shopper’s card. Double-up on 2-For sales such as two cans of soup for a discounted price plus your coupon. This is also an excellent time to use the coupons that specify you save only when you buy two of the same product. Always shop with the grocery store printouts of what is on sale so you don’t miss any of the super buys.

Save and Trade

Save all coupons, even those you do not need, and begin trading with friends and relatives. To find others interested in trading in your area, check the classified section of the paper. Also, do not be afraid of proposing the idea to any groups you belong to or start a group and see if your local library will sponsor meeting times. Meeting one evening every two weeks for a few hours should not be too over demanding for a busy schedule.

Keep It Organized

Keep your coupons organized. Everyone seems to have a slightly different approach to how to accomplish such a task. The best approach is to come up with your own then stick to it. Being consistent in how you file your coupons is the most important piece of the coupon organizational puzzle. If you keep switching your method, you risk forgetting where things are when you are pushed for time at the grocery store.

Plan Your Menu

Menu planning will help use the coupons you have before they go out-of-date. I have planned many a week’s meals based on what products I have coupons for and the savings is always substantial.

Know What Is On Sale

Know what the grocery stores are offering on a weekly basis. Either subscribe to your local paper or pick up the paper on the day generally offering grocery store inserts. You do not want to miss capitalizing on using coupons on your favorite items that may be on special nor do you want to miss a special triple-coupon promotion. The Sunday paper generally carries food coupons and the Thursday paper will carry grocery store inserts, but check your local paper to make sure those days are the same where you live.

If you are interested in taking a class on Using Coupons, contact your local county Extension office. Each office has access to a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety/Preservation/Preparation who can do a program on couponing.

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.

On the Edge of Common Sense

Shipping Mr. Gerald’s Hereford

by Baxter Black, DVM

Todd’s neighbor has raised good Hereford cattle as long as he had known him. As years went by, Mr. Gerald, the neighbor, let his herd dwindle in numbers. Then last winter he fell and injured his knee.

Todd offered to help and was called upon. Just a word about Todd, he is an east river Dakota cattle farmer with the heart of a west river rancher. He’s a good horseman, wears a big hat and carries a 60’ rope!

Mr. Gerald wanted to ship some of his long yearlin’s. His whole herd consisted of 12 big cows, one old bull and assorted progeny. On the big day, Todd went to the back of the pasture and worked his way through the gullies and breaks, pushing what he could gather to the corral. Mr. Gerald had his wife drive him out in their Jeep Wrangler SUV to help. Things went smoothly till they got close to the corral. In particular, Mr. Gerald wanted to ship a yearlin’ bull that had somehow missed his castration appointment! After turning back at the gate twice, Mr. Gerald gave Todd permission to rope him.

Any fair-to-middlin’ roper relishes the opportunity to rope a big target, especially if it belongs to somebody else! It didn’t take long for Todd to run him down and rope him around his stubby horns.

The target refused to be led to the gate and Todd didn’t have enough horse to drag him. Plus the bull ran up the rope a couple times trying to intimidate Todd. They were both losing their temper!

Todd yelled at Mr. Gerald to pull his Jeep up in front of the gate. His idea was to tie his rope over the bumper hitch and let the Jeep drag the bull into the corral.

Now I can imagine you readers trying to picture Todd accomplishing this feat of cowboy daring-do! But, as I told you, Todd was a good hand and he did it! He managed to get a half-hitch over the ball and still escape entrapment and injury. In a testosterone milli-minute the bull encircled the Jeep like a yoyo on a string! Not once but three times, then jammed his head into the right front wheel well! The Jeep was rocking dangerously and the Geralds were trapped inside being thrown about like orangutans in a paint shaker!

In an act of sacrifice, Todd leaped in and cut his good rope freeing the front seat prisoners. The bulk of the rope ran off with the yearlin’ bull over the horizon. Mr. Gerald rolled his window down, pulled his "Herefords Forever" cap off his eyes and turned to watch the bull disappear.

"Well," he said with the wisdom of an ol’timer. "He wuddn’t quite ready to ship anyway."

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,

Farm & Field

Small Scale Production, Large Educational Benefit

Auburn University’s Don Conner, who directs the AU Department of Poultry Science, has reason to smile during a visit to the $7.1 million teaching, research and production facility.

New Auburn Milling Facility is a 12,500 Sq. Ft. Classroom

By Alvin Benn

Don Conner’s long wait is over and he’s ready to get to work at one of Auburn University’s newest facilities – a $7.1 million feed production plant that will serve more than one purpose.

The Poultry and Animal Nutrition Center contains all the bells and whistles of much larger commercial operations, but it will do nicely when it comes to teaching as well as production.

"There’s nothing like this in the Southeast," said Conner, director of the AU Department of Poultry Science. "It will enable us to take a close look at process control because of its importance to the poultry industry."

The new feed mill replaces an antiquated facility built four decades ago and basically out-of-touch with all the changes within the poultry industry, especially when it involves producing nutritious food for broilers.

The 12,500-square foot building also doubles as a classroom, one that will provide hands-on experiences for students who are majoring in poultry science.

Conner and his staff are developing a course that will familiarize students with the nuts and bolts of just what a feed mill is all about.

A big sign points the way to a $7.l milling operation at Auburn University.

Not all students enrolled in agriculture are familiar with the intricacies of milling operations, said Conner, who grew up in Virginia, but not on a farm.

That didn’t stop him from focusing his academic future on what he’s doing now and he’s as enthusiastic today as he was when he first started toward his doctorate.

During a recent tour of the facility for the Cooperative Farming News, Conner discussed the poultry industry at length as well as issues surrounding one of Alabama’s best kept secrets.

"One of the questions we’re faced with is ‘How do we efficiently feed animals?’" said Conner, 54. "How do we do it well and in a safe way? That’s vital to our state, nation and the world."

Most Alabamians are unfamiliar with poultry production and its role in the state’s economy. Conner is happy to point that role out.

He doesn’t have anything against cotton, but wonders why promotional material about Alabama often has photos of cotton fields on covers.

"Cotton production pales in comparison to poultry," he said, referring to a chicken industry that has soared into the billions of dollars annually. "Just check your shirt and you’ll see what I mean."

By that he meant places of origin for shirts and other garments coming to America from China, Vietnam, Brazil and other countries. In so doing, Alabama’s textile industry has virtually vanished.

"The last thing I’d want to see is broiler imports from countries where we may not be sure about safety," Conner explained. "It’s one thing to buy a shirt made somewhere else, but we don’t need to be relying on someone else for our food."

America is the world’s largest poultry producer and Alabama plays a key role in that agricultural area. It ranks just behind Georgia and Arkansas when it comes to poultry production.

Alabama’s top poultry producing counties are Cullman, DeKalb, Marshall and Blount with the state ranking 13thnationally in egg production.

One statistic stands out above everything else and that is the economic impact of poultry production in Alabama. It’s $8.5 BILLION annually which is 10 percent of the state’s economy.

Auburn University’s Poultry Science display was on prominent view during the grand opening of the new facility.

AU leaders as well as other executives and officials familiar with the poultry industry were effusive in their praise of the new milling operation that had an open house on Nov. 16.

"The new Poultry and Animal Nutrition Center at Auburn is the result of a great partnership between the university and agribusiness," AU President Jay Gogue said.

Bill Batchelor, dean of the AU College of Agriculture, added his praise for the new facility, "The feed milling industry will be more essential than ever as the need for feeds that optimize poultry, livestock and fish production increase.

"In Alabama and globally, the agriculture sectors face daunting challenges in the future and as demands on our resources continue to soar, animal nutrition will become a huge global issue."

It’s for that reason $7.1 million has produced a building that may not look like much from the outside, but, indoors, looks a bit like something out of a science-fiction movie.

In this case, no fiction is involved. Science is and, from the machinery in place, it’s obvious Conner got just what he wished for when he spoke to the Cooperative Farming News two years ago, long before the first spade was turned at the site several miles north of the main AU campus.

For those unfamiliar with milling operations, Conner likes to compare it with baking a cake. That’s a lot easier to understand.

Twelve huge bins can hold tons of raw ingredients such as corn, soybeans, salt and calcium. Once they are introduced to the system, they are mixed "a lot like a cake" to make sure everything turns out just right.

Don Conner inspects the instrument panel used to operate Auburn University’s new $7.1 million poultry science facility.

"Those ingredients are mixed up, stirred and involved in manipulations that insure the prescribed diet for poultry," he explained. "That is the main purpose of much of our equipment."

What happens if that diet isn’t produced properly? Conner has an answer for that in a flash.

"Accuracy and precision are important," he said. "Leave salt out of the mix, for instance, and you might lose a whole flock of birds."

One look at all the expensive equipment surrounding those huge bins and it’s easy to see what he means, especially when he compares the facility with AU’s old mill.

"Let me put it this way," he said, "What we have here now is like a BMW with a high precision engine compared with a Model T Ford."

The new milling facility, about a tenth the size of huge operations in the heart of the north Alabama poultry industry, will only be producing feed for hands-on instructional purposes.

A multi-colored control panel keeps pace with the ingredients being fed into the bins and if there is a problem it will show up and operators can make proper adjustments.

The new plant was built "to scale" and will be able to produce about a million pounds of feed annually. That’s "chicken feed" when it comes to what the giant milling facilities can turn out each year.

"What we have here is a place where students can come and study, and then put their knowledge to work by using the equipment we’ve got," he said.

A large classroom, adjacent to the milling site, is next to a flat screen monitor and recognition of corporate sponsors who made the facility possible.

The mill was built in Minnesota in modular form much like a giant jigsaw puzzle and brought to Alabama on nine flatbed trailers. It didn’t take long to put the whole thing together and finishing touches have been added along the way.

The bottom line, he said, is having something on campus that answers an age-old question from those who wonder "Where does food come from?"

"Ask somebody and they’ll probably say it comes from a supermarket," he said. "People don’t consider food an essential part of our national infrastructure and it doesn’t rank very high in the list of issues in our country."

It’s for that reason alone Don Conner and his students will be putting the new instructional milling facility into operation to make sure the food we eat is safe.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "I barely had the request out of my mouth before that waiter brought me a glass of water. He’s really on the ball!"

What does it mean to be "on the ball"?

Meaning: To be alert; in command of one’s senses.

Some authorities have suggested "on the ball" originated in the sporting arena, and alludes to runners being on the balls of their feet, eagerly ready to run a race. This has some similarities with being "up to scratch," which derives from boxers or runners being ready at the starting line. It is a plausible derivation, but has nothing to recommend it beyond that.

A more commonly advocated location for the source of "on the ball" is the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. This is where the oldest surviving and best known time-ball is sited. The Greenwich time-ball was installed in 1833 to signal the accurate time to passing ships. It was, and still is, raised just before 1 p.m. each day and falls as 1 p.m. strikes on the observatory’s clock. Captains needed to have their ships’ chronometers set accurately in order to navigate correctly; hence, they needed to be "on the ball." It’s a nice story and there are any number of tour guides around the observatory who are all too happy to repeat it. Unfortunately...

Need I go on? It isn’t true.

The phrase "on the ball" did actually originate in the sporting arena, but relates to the eyes rather than the feet. It is a contraction of the earlier expression "keep your eye on the ball," which advice has been given to participants in virtually every known ball game. For the source, we need to look to early ball games. The phrase is recorded in early records of cricket, golf, croquet and baseball, and many people regard baseball as the origin. Well, that appears to be almost true - the earliest citation I can find in print comes from the English game of rounders. The English novelist William Kingston wrote "books for boys," and in 1864 published "Ernest Bracebridge, or, Schoolboy Days," which includes this scene:

Ellis seized the bat with a convulsive clutch.... Remembering Ernest’s advice, he kept his eye on the ball, and hit it so fairly that he sent it flying away to a considerable distance. "Capital!" cried Ernest. "Run! run! - two bases at least."

American readers will recognize the similarity of the rounders terminology with that of baseball. For those not familiar with rounders and/or baseball, suffice it to say they are essentially the same game, but it is easier to imagine Sylvester Stallone playing baseball. There’s no consensus on this, but there’s a strong case to be made that baseball is in fact an English game, being merely a beefed-up variation of rounders.

In 1744, which is certainly before anyone is known to have played baseball in the USA, John Newbery, an English publisher and a man with a reasonable claim to be the originator of literature printed specifically for children, produced "A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly." That title sounds entirely suitable as the source of the rules of the game of rounders, which is played nowadays by children. Nevertheless, the book includes a graphic labeled "Base-Ball," which shows men playing the game and which is accompanied by a rhyme that pretty much sums up the basics of both rounders and baseball:

The ball, once stuck off,
Away flies the boy
To the next destin’d post,
And then home with joy.

Baseball may or may not have been the origin of "keep your eye on the ball," but it did take over the use of the phrase. As well as the batters "keeping their eye on the ball," the pitchers were also said to "put something on the ball," i.e. they imparted some spin or curve on it. This usage dates from the start of the 20th century, for example, this piece from The Indianapolis Star, April 1910:

Graham put something on the ball that fooled even Bowerman.

The figurative version of the phrase "on the ball," i.e. with the meaning of being "alert or apt" in a context where no actual ball is present, began later still. In 1989, W. C. Williams and J. Laughlin published "Selected Letters," which contained an extract from a letter written Williams in 1939:

The novella by Quevedo... [is] right on the ball.

As to whether the phrase originated in the USA or the UK, on present evidence, I’d call it a 1-1 draw.

Sage Grass & Cedars

The Co-op Pantry

We are honored to have a special lady as our cook of the month, Karen Sims. She is a real cooking professional who was, and is, a farm girl as well. Karen related to me that she did not really cook growing up because her family had a cook and all the children had to work outside either with milking cows, tending to pigs or the crops. Her journey to becoming a Family and Consumer Sciences teacher is fascinating!

Karen Sims

"My name is Karen Duffield Sims and I live in Atmore. My husband Josh and I live on our family farm. We raise horses and pygmy goats. This is a hobby for both of us as it is so relaxing to come home from work to critters that don’t talk back, don’t ask for money and love you unconditionally. We also enjoy spending time with our four grandchildren, who enjoy riding horses and spending time at Nana and Pop’s. We enjoy traveling and taking our grandchildren Madeline, Sydney, Makayla and Seth to horse events, the mountains, kayaking, the Grand Hotel in Point Clear and Disney World. My husband and I attend "Road to the Horse" each year where we pick up new information he uses in his horsemanship training program.

It was not until I was attending Judson College in Marion that I decided to major in Home Economics which is now called Family and Consumer Sciences. My suite mate was majoring in Home Economics and I became interested in the courses she was taking. The instructor took students on a trip to Europe every spring break. I really liked the instructor and going to Europe each spring break was icing on the cake. So I decided I would major in Home Economics and minor in Business. I lived one semester in a house with other girls and we each had a budget we had to stick to and prepare three meals a day and our instructor would drop in unexpectedly to eat. After graduating from Judson, I could not find a job teaching so I went to Troy and go another major in Elementary Education. I taught elementary school for five years and did not enjoy my job. Then a Home Economics job came open and I have been teaching it ever since. I have now been a teacher for 31 years (currently) and have always told my kids, ‘If you choose a job you love, you will never work a day in your life.’ I enjoy teaching a class the students want to take and learn how to cook. I have had several students go on to culinary school. I can’t imagine teaching anything else.

Pumpkin Cake Roll

I teach Food and Nutrition to students in grades 9-12 at Baldwin County High in Bay Minette. For the past few summers, I have also been teaching a class I developed called Cooking With Class to children between the ages of 8-12. The students learn proper etiquette, table setting, how to write thank you notes and how to cook. I feel these are lost arts so many children are not receiving at home these days.

I especially enjoy teaching Food and Nutrition, and my students learn everything from making homemade biscuits to chocolate meringue pies. Everything we make is from scratch. The students are amazed at how much cheaper their grocery bill is when they cook from scratch rather than a box. I have my students do research papers on chefs, a Powerpoint presentation and prepare a recipe from their chef. I then take the student who does the best one to dinner at a fine dining restaurant. They all look forward to being chosen for this experience. I am so proud they are enjoying cooking and still email me years after my class to ask me for a recipe or how to prepare something they are having trouble preparing."

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


1½ cups self-rising flour
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ cup cooking oil
¾ cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together flour and sugar. In another bowl, whisk together oil, milk, eggs and almond extract. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture. Mix until dry ingredients are moistened. Fill the muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Yield: 12 muffins

Substitution: If you use plain flour, you will need to add ¾ teaspoon baking powder (not baking soda) and ¾ teaspoon salt mixed together.


1¾ cups self-rising flour
¾ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk
1/3 cup cooking oil
½ cup blueberries*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir flour and sugar. Make a well in the center. In a second bowl, combine egg, milk and oil. Pour egg mixture into well of flour mixture. Stir until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 12 muffins

*Substitutions: ½ cup blueberries, ½ cup chocolate chips, ½ cup cinnamon sugar (1 teaspoon cinnamon & ½ cup sugar)

If you have plain flour, you will need to add 2 teaspoons baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Banana Nut Muffin: decrease milk to ½ cup, stir in 2 mashed ripe bananas and ½ cup chopped pecans.


3 cups cooked sweet potatoes
2 eggs
½ stick butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
1 Tablespoon of vanilla

Use an electric mixer to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly and then pour in a greased casserole dish.

2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup self-rising flour
2 cups pecans, chopped

Mix all except pecans with a mixer. Stir in the pecans. Put topping on by dollops and spread lightly to not mix filling with topping. Bake at 350 degrees until topping is browned. Freezes well without topping.

Note from Mary: I made this one and it is so good!!!!


2 cans kidney beans
2 cans black beans
2 cans Rotel, mild or hot, your choice
4 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
1 pack taco seasoning
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1½ teaspoons chili powder

Mix all together. Do not drain the beans or Rotel. Simmer and stir for 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips, cheese and sour cream.


1 apple, peeled and sliced into 8 pieces
1 can crescent rolls
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup butter
½ can Sprite

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add sugar and cinnamon, mix together and simmer over low heat. Stir the apples in the sugar mixture and simmer for 30 minutes.
Roll out and separate crescent rolls. Pour a little of the mixture on each roll. Roll the crescents up and place in a greased casserole dish with sides down. Pour Sprite over top. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until brown.


3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin
2/3 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice mix, optional

Spray, flour and cover baking sheet with sides with parchment paper. Mix all together and pour into baking sheet. After baking, take out and roll in a wet towel and put in the refrigerator until it cools. Roll it out again and put in filling (recipe included below) and roll again and put on a platter. Garnish with confectioners’ sugar. Keep in the refrigerator.

4 Tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 cup pecans

Cream butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. Gradually mix in sugar and vanilla. Stir in pecans. Bake at 375 degrees until brown, 10-15 minutes.


2-3 chicken breasts, pan seared in a little oil on a griddle
Mix 1 part mayonnaise to 2 parts sour cream
Chopped cilantro and parsley, to taste
1 onion, chopped and sautéed in butter, to taste
8 ounce package cheddar cheese, grated

Mix all the ingredients together and put in covered bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
Spread the mixture on ½ of a floured tortilla. Fold in half and wet the edge so it will stick together. Pan fry in a small amount of cooking oil on a griddle until it is brown on both sides. Serve and enjoy.


½ pound bacon, sliced
½ cup onion, chopped
½ cup green pepper, chopped
12 eggs
1 cup milk
16 ounces frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet, cook the bacon until it is crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spatula or spoon and drain on a paper towel. Crumble the bacon and set it aside. In butter, sauté the onion and green pepper until they are tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Beat eggs and milk in a large bowl. Stir in the hash browns, cheese, salt, pepper, onion, green pepper and bacon. Transfer mixture to a greased 13x9x2 baking dish. Bake uncovered for 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean.


3-4 chicken breasts or tenders
1 box wild rice, cooked
2 cans French style green beans, drained
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup mayonnaise
1 jar pimientos, drained
Onions, sautéed in butter
Sliced water chestnuts, drained
Parmesan cheese, grated
Cheddar cheese, shredded

Mix all except cheeses. Put mixture in a glass casserole and top with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly. Top with cheddar cheese.

Note: This freezes well. Enjoy!!


1½ cups self-rising cornmeal
1 large can of creamed style corn
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon sugar
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
3 green onions, chopped (if you choose to use regular onions, I would sauté’)
1 cup cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a cast iron skillet on the bottom and sides with vegetable oil and heat in the oven while you prepare the cornbread mixture. Mix all the ingredients. Pour into preheated skillet. Bake at for 30 minutes or until done.


1 package Jiffy Cornbread Mix
1 small package frozen chopped broccoli, microwave 5 minutes, drain
2 cups cheese, grated (divided)
¼ cup onion, chopped
1 stick butter, melted
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients except one cup of cheese. Bake for about 40 minutes. Sprinkle top of the cornbread with the remaining cheese and bake until it firm.


1 pound bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, diced and sautéed in margarine
8 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cans chicken broth
2 cans water
Salt and pepper, to taste
32 ounces heavy whipping cream
16 ounces Velveeta, cubed

Fry bacon until crisp, drain and crumble. Keep grease. In a 6-8 qt. stockpot over medium heat, add broth, water, potatoes, onions, bacon and ¼ cup of bacon grease, until mixture blends and potatoes are somewhat tender. Add flour and stir until blended and the mixture has thickened slightly. Add heavy whipping cream and stir. Once potatoes are tender, take out ½ of them and mash with a fork. Add potatoes back to mixture. Stir and add cheese. The soup should have a creamy consistency.

I am looking for cooks of all ages, cooking traditions and skill levels to feature in this column. I want to hear from those in Alabama as well as our out-of-state readers. The simple requirements for being a featured cook are to love to cook (and eat) and to share your story with us. Get those recipes coming! Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view

Farm Fresh Memories

The Flat Rock General Sstore's Custom Critter Care!!! Critters – One and All, Big or Small …

by Joe Potter

It was Monday of comin’ on two in the afternoon as I lined up my pickup for parkin’ ’longside The Flat Rock General Store. I exited my pickup and moved long side The Store; here, as I rounded the front corner, was a crowd of folk assembled. A standin’ in the middle was Slim, Estelle and "Chance" – Estelle’s horse critter.

Seems Chance, a 7-year-old Bashkir Curly rescue horse had come tangled in the barb wire fence and Slim was a doin’ critter doctorin’. Chance is a hypoallergenic horse, for folk with allergies – beautiful horse critters lose their mane and tail yearly come spring. Estelle got Chance three years back at a horse critter adoption farm up in Kentucky.

Here Slim offered to Estelle that after a few critter docterin’s and a hand palm-full of bacon grease to bring the leg hair back for scar coverin’, Chance should be good as normal. He further offered that daily exercise would deter any swellin’ or soreness.

Bro. questioned Slim as to who was mindin’ The Store as several community and area Flat Rock folk was a comin’ and goin’ doin’ personal store shoppin’ duties and responsibilities. Seems Essex was handlin’ store proprietorship duties.

Slim is/has been The Store’s custom critter care go-to person for years. J.R. questioned Slim about the bacon grease use and recollected on the time they had to use some on his pig Arnold. Here Bro. offered ’bout the time Slim treated Noah, Brother Ernest Wayne’s bull. There’s "Truth"’s spotted fawn Moose he found from an ATV ride down in Wolf Springs bottom, Slim doctored a broken leg. Farlow’s Holstein calf Butter Milk Slim treated for some serious milk scours. "Hatch"’s raccoon Bandit Slim treated for some right-side eyesight loss. Course, the assembled store regular’s recollection of Slim’s over time custom critter care list grows longer and more longer. Ole Yeller, Mr. Bailey’s Lab dog; Spot, Pete’s App horse; Spot, the Dalmatian puppy; and many, many more.

Now as time turned on near four in the late afternoon, folk attempted on disassemblin’ t’ward late day duties and obligations. Estelle and "Truth" trailer loaded Chance and drove pure-arrow west lookin’ at Mississippi and their horse stables.

Here I moved inside the old, double-front doors of The Store and howdied at Essex, Ms. Ida and the widow Cora. Then I retreated for my pickup and some near-dark time horse and dog feedin’ duties.

As I drove off from The Store, I comenest to recollect on several past critters through my growin’ up years on our C.C. Potter Family Farm. My first recollected dog was Shep, a cur; then there was Lassie, a Collie; and our only dog durin’ my teenage years was Sandy, a German Shepherd that lived for many years. Bill was my first deer hound. Honey was my first horse and Sparky was my spirited saddle horse geldin’. Lightening, my show horse, was a Tennessee Walking Horse. Lucky and Festus were my rescue horses. Wow, the critter list is pure too long to pencil down in full at this time; that is another "Farm Fresh Memories" story.

Like Slim, I should have been a DVM, as a pure Southern farm boy I have pulled lots of calves, birthed a world of pigs and treated a passel of other critters. ’Course, there is always a need for the professional practicin’ DVM such as Drs. Spillers, Jacobs, Britton, Davis, Harris and many, many more. Thank you all!!! Now –


Today, the current critters at Potters Mud Creek Farm is Maggie, a German Short Haired Pointer; Hershey, a Chocolate Lab; Smokey, our 13-year-old Saddle Horse gelding; Flika, a Golden Palomino Tennessee Walking Horse; and Ginger, a tobiano Spotted Saddle Horse.

Joe Potter, Potter's Mud Creek Farm is located at 5840 County Road 339 (County Line Road), Russellville, near "Our" Flat Rock, in Lawrence County; email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

In the News

Three Days of Fancy Fowl, Folklife Artists and Live Music

Ninth annual Alabama Chicken and Egg Festival Set for April 12-14, 2013

In 2012, the Alabama Chicken and Egg Festival spread its wings and expanded to a three day event adding a sanctioned poultry show and attracting over 18,000 visitors and hundreds of exotic chickens to the town of Moulton. North Alabama’s wildly popular spring festival returns to Moulton in 2013 bringing with it a Top 20 Event in the Southeast recognition and three days of family fun centered on agriculture and arts.

Set for April 12-14, 2013, the Alabama Chicken and Egg Festival recently received accolades from the Southeast Tourism Society when it was selected a Top 20 Event for the month of April. The Southeast Tourism Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and development of tourism for its 12 member states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

"This marks the ninth year for what has become one of the top events in the South," said Vicki Morese, event coordinator for the Alabama Chicken and Egg Festival. "Where else can you hear over a dozen bands, learn about chickens and farm life, and participate in family-friendly activities centered on arts and agriculture with only a $5 daily admission tag?"

Hundreds of fancy fowls from across the United States are expected to take part in the poultry show where a Grand Champion title is on the line. Sanctioned by the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association and sponsored by Cackle Hatchery from Missouri, the ACEF Poultry Show is open to all bantam and large fowl. During the competition, festival goers will have the opportunity to talk with exhibitors and learn about exotic show chickens. The Poultry Show will take place on all three days in the A.W. Todd Coliseum at the Lions Club Fairgrounds.

Just like chickens, music is a key ingredient in the festival’s popularity. Three stages will boast live music ranging from some of Moulton’s favorites to the sounds of Muscle Shoals. The "Down on the Farm" area features a bluegrass music stage and, along with the toe-tapping music, there will be agricultural displays, the Stovall-Marks Insurance Southern Folk Life Artists, and activities focusing on a sustainable lifestyle and folk skills dating back to the pioneer days such as farriers, basket makers, quilters and more.

Festival goers can also take part in the many egg-citing contests in hopes of receiving one of the great prizes or simply a good laugh. For those guests with an appetite, the eating contests will satisfy any craving for hard-boiled eggs and chicken wings. During the 2012 festival, the champion of the hard-boiled egg eating contest ate 19 eggs while the winner of the chicken wing eating contest chewed away 32 wings in the allotted time. Egg Roulette is an opportunity for local, well-known personalities to raise money for a local charity. Two contestants are provided with six eggs, of which five are hard-boiled and one is raw. At the sound of a whistle, contestants immediately select an egg and smash it to their forehead. The loser of the game is the first person to walk away with egg on his face. The winner advances in the single bracket tournament for a chance at winning $500 for his designated charity.

Admission to the festival is $5 daily and children 5 and under are admitted free. All activities are held at the Lions Club Fairgrounds in Moulton. For more information, visit or follow the event on Facebook, @alabamacef and

Homeplace & Community

Town Goes Nuts For Peanuts

The peanut outside of Tupper Lightfoot Memorial Library in downtown Brundidge is the work of Arthur Smith of Birmingham

Brundidge Artists Take Pride in the Fun, Odd and Unique

by Jaine Treadwell

A giant rooster made from automobile bumpers welcomes motorists traveling north to Brundidge. A large metal sculpture titled "The Strider from Chernobyl" welcomes those going south and right slap-dab in the middle of town is a large wooden peanut sculpture cased in lighted housing.

That’s a rather odd combination of things.

But it was that odd combination that inspired and motivated Chris Rich and his wife Sarah Dismukes to hop on board with a little oddity of their own.

This giant rooster is made from automobile bumpers and welcomes motorists traveling north to Brundidge and is the work of Larry Godwin of Brundidge.

The couple owns and operates studio 116 in downtown Brundidge. The studio features a gallery for area artists, offers a variety of arts and crafts classes for all ages and showcases local performing artists a couple of times a month.

Those who attend the coffee shop-type performances leave in disbelief that a venue like that could be in a usually sleepy little South Alabama town.

Tori Lee Averett grew up in Brundidge, but, when she and her Georgia-based Mayview Road Band performed at studio 116, she couldn’t believe that anything like that existed.

"In Atlanta or Birmingham, yes, but Brundidge, Alabama? Wow! This is incredible," Averett said. "What a great place and what tremendous opportunities studio 116 provides for artists and performers and for the community. What a great thing Chris and Sarah are doing for Brundidge, Pike County and the entire area."

Rich is an associate professor of theater at Troy University and Dismukes is an associate professor of art and design. Not only do they have tremendous talent to go along with their creative juices, they are also great appreciators of oddities.

As citizens of Brundidge and owners of a downtown art studio, they kind of take pride in the rooster, the Strider and the wooden peanut.

"Growing up in north Florida, I was very familiar with the Peanut Festival in Dothan, but it was not until Sarah and I moved to Brundidge that we experienced the Peanut Butter Festival," Rich said. "We then realized the connection between the wood-carved peanut, the Peanut Butter Festival and the proud history Brundidge has in the peanut butter industry and the role the peanut has played in the local economy."

Chris Rich “drops” the peanut disco mirror from the roof of studio 116 during the last seconds of 2012.

With their curiosity satisfied, Rich and Dismukes could have gone about their art-related business and not given much more thought to the peanut. But it didn’t happen that way.

Brundidge is the home of Alabama’s Official Folklife Play, "Come Home, It’s Suppertime." The setting of the play is "back during Hard Times" and centers around the folkways of the Great Depression including, of course, the little odd-shaped nut, the peanut.

The play is performed at the We Piddle Around Theater, which was a WPA project of 1940. Rich’s expertise in the theater quickly became an asset for the local folks who piddled around in the arts. He and his wife became more involved in the peanut-proud community.

So, when the couple was planning a New Year’s Eve party at studio 116, it was understandable their thoughts might drift toward something rather odd, something nutty … something peanutty.

"The idea was the have a disco dance on New Year’s Eve," Rich said. "We have a friend, Ed Leach, who is a DJ with a lot of vinyls, so we decided to have a 1970s’ dance party. To have a disco, we had to have a mirror ball so we could have a ‘Times Square’ drop on a very small scale.

"When we were mulling over what kind of mirror ball, we thought about how the Brundidge economy has bounced in relation to the peanut. So, why not a peanut mirror ball?"

Top left, “The Strider from Chernobyl” can be seen by travelers headed south into Brundidge and is the work of Ronald Godwin of Brundidge. Above, Chris Rich used a 4x2x2-foot block of Styrofoam for the body of the peanut disco mirror. Right, he then covered it with cheesecloth and glue to be able to attach individually cut pieces of mirror. It took four door mirrors to cover the peanut.

There might have been such a thing as a peanut mirror ball and there might have even been a peanut mirror ball drop on New Year’s Eve … somewhere. But, Rich and Dismukes thought it was a novel idea. An odd idea.

"We thought a peanut mirror ball might be odd enough it would attract some interest and perhaps be the beginning of a New Year’s tradition in Brundidge," Rich said.

Ideas are good only if legs are put to them.

Rich had the talent and the skills necessary to put legs to the idea of a reflective peanut.

He purchased a 4x2x2-foot block of Styrofoam and, with a small chainsaw, Rich carved the shape of an Alabama "runner" peanut. Then, he covered the Styrofoam peanut with cheesecloth and glue to form a strengthening shell and let it harden before putting on the finishing touches.

"It took four door mirrors to cover the Styrofoam peanut," Rich said. "Each piece had to be hand cut and placed. When it was finished, it was an odd and interesting disco ball."

The four-foot high disco peanut mirror ball was the center of attractions on New Year’s Eve in downtown Brundidge. As the clock ticked away the old year, the dancers left the dance floor to join those who had gathered outside to witness the town’s inaugural New Year’s Eve Peanut Drop.

As the crowd counted down the final seconds of "this great little spectacle," the peanut disco mirror slowly "dropped" from the roof of studio 116. It was flooded in lights as Old Father Time gave over to the New Year 2013. With the cheers, a new Brundidge peanut tradition was born.

"Everyone seemed to enjoy being in on something fun and unique," Rich said. "I think the kids were in awe of what they were seeing and maybe some of the adults. It was a fun evening and new way to celebrate the coming of a New Year."

The peanut mirror ball is spotlighted in the window of studio 116. A motor keeps the peanut ball spinning and pedestrians can’t pass the studio without stopping to make sure they are actually seeing what they are seeing.

"We’ll soon hide away the peanut mirror ball to keep the mystic until next New Year’s Eve and, hopefully, we’ll have an even bigger ‘drop,’" Rich said. "The peanut mirror ball gives us a sense of history and a new way to look at how the area survived after the boll weevil."

Rich and Dismukes invite you to visit studio 116 while you are in Brundidge. It is located at 116 South Main Street.

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Farm & Field

Webinar Series 2013

The adult stage of the Bermudagrass stem maggot, Atherigona reversura. (Photo by S. Carlson, University of Georgia)

Biology and Management of Bermudagrass Stem Maggot

Bermudagrass stem maggot has been found across much of the Southeast. First identified in Georgia in 2010, Bermudagrass stem maggot is a pest cattle and forage producers need to learn how to manage. A webinar, "Biology and Management of Bermudagrass Stem Maggot," will be held at 10 a.m. CST on Wednesday, February 6. This webinar is an excellent opportunity for cattle and forage producers to get an update on the Bermudagrass stem maggot.

Drs. William Hudson and Dennis Hancock from the University of Georgia will discuss the status of this new invasive pest and provide research-based information on what is known about its biology and management. Questions for the speakers can be submitted during the webinar via email and will be answered during the webinar.

Bermudagrass stem maggot feeds on Bermudagrass stems, resulting in the death of the leaves above the feeding site. (Photo by Henry Dorough, Alabama Cooperative Extension System)

Bermudagrass stem maggot damage affects the last one to three leaves on a pseudostem.

The webinar will be recorded so it can be viewed at any time after Feb. 6. Information on how to connect to the live stream can be found at Bookmark this page now so you can check back for connection information.

This webinar is brought to you by the Forage Focus program of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For more information on Bermudagrass stem maggot, see the following link to an article written by Hancock in 2012:

Our Outdoor Heritage

Wildlife Conservation Retrospective

The vast fish and wildlife resources Alabamians enjoy are not here by chance. (Courtesy of Phil Savage)

by Corky Pugh

A glimpse of the past brings appreciation of the wildlife abundance of the present day, a product of public policy unique in its model of self-supported funding. This user-funded model, based on hunting and fishing licenses, continues to pay for wildlife conservation today.

According to Mark Duda of Virginia-based Responsive Management, "The vast fish and wildlife resources Americans enjoy are not here by chance. The conservation and sportsmen communities supported the imposition of an excise tax on firearms and ammunition that, along with the dedicated revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, would be used exclusively by state wildlife agencies to professionally manage wildlife populations."

An article published in the June 1933 Alabama Game and Fish News offered a quarter-century perspective on the license-based funding model. In the article, titled "Department Founded on Faith in Future," Judge Charles E. McCall wrote:

When the Legislature of Alabama assembled in 1907, Gov. W. D. Jelks, in his message to that body, recommended the passage of a comprehensive Game and Fish Law. He stated that no real protection could be secured short of a provision arranging for game wardens and that the law should be broad enough to embrace in its protective features other birds than game birds, and to prevent the extinction of game as well as the songbirds of the State.

Henry B. Steagall was the author of the bill installing the State Game and Fisheries Department, creating the office of the State Commissioner of Game and Fisheries, providing for employment of game wardens, and creating a fund known as the Game and Fish Protective Fund.

The Steagall Bill became a law on its approval by the Governor on Feb. 19, 1907. The Act provided that the salary and all expenses of the Department were to be paid from the Game and Fish Protective Fund and expenditures were limited to the receipts of that fund. While temporary liberty was allowed under the law to use from the public printing fund an amount sufficient to pay for departmental blanks, it was stipulated in the Act that expenditures for such purposes should be refunded from the first collections of the Department.

It began with nothing — provisions not even being made for postage. Founded on faith and an unshaken belief in the possibilities of future accomplishments, it began its steady travel toward its present achievements.

The receipts of the Department for the first fiscal year amounted to only $884.68 and the expenditures for the same period were $862.58. From its beginning it has been self-supporting, being maintained by receipts from licenses paid by the sportsmen of the State and possibly the operations of no Department have met with better and more ready cooperation.

If only Judge McCall had known the truth of his words about the possibilities of future accomplishments. Since the early beginnings of the wildlife conservation movement, hunters have paid for work by state wildlife agencies to secure abundant and healthy wildlife populations enjoyed by all of society.

The user-funded model established by states for hunters and anglers to pay for protection of fish and wildlife resources was expanded by Congress in 1937 with the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, allocating three-to-one matching monies derived from federal excise taxes paid at the manufacturers’ level on hunting arms and ammunition to state wildlife agencies. Law enforcement protection alone was less than effective and, with new funding, states were able to apply a growing body of scientific knowledge for biologically sound management of wildlife populations and habitats.

Again in 1950, Congress further expanded the highly successful funding model with the passage of the Dingell-Johnson Sportfish Restoration Act, allocating similar matching monies collected from manufacturers of fishing tackle to the states for fisheries work. The 1984 Wallop-Breaux Act expanded Sportfish Restoration funding to include federal motorboat fuel tax.

Every hunting license or fishing license purchased is important in helping to pay for management and protection of fish and wildlife resources. There are no general tax dollars that pay for the work of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division in Alabama.

For more information about this phenomenal wildlife restoration success story, go to

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

The Hunting Heritage Foundation is an Alabama non-profit organization established in 2011. To see what HHF stands for, go to the website at You can write to us at P. O. Box 242064, Montgomery, AL 36124, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Youth Matters

“Homes for Worms”

Regional 4-H Agent Amber Dunn spoke with fifth graders at Ridgecrest Elementary School about composting.

by Amber Dunn

As you may have noticed, today’s youth don’t always exhibit great interest in agriculture - or anything outdoors. A recent project at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Phenix City demonstrated kids still love to play in the dirt! In fact, those students garden year-round at their school. The kids’ love for the outdoors really struck me during a visit with fifth graders.

I am relatively new to my job and region. One of the advantages of being new is meeting people who make learning magical. On my first visit to Ridgecrest, it became apparent that every teacher and administrator there is dedicated to helping children grow and achieve. My primary contact, Vivian Doresky, a special education teacher, gave me a tour of the school’s new wildlife-theme gardens and vegetable gardens she planned. She explained that the students are given responsibilities for the garden. Older students help younger students, students take turns caring for plants, and the garden’s vegetables are donated to a local soup kitchen.

Dunn leads the students in the fine art of paper shredding to create bedding for the worm bins.

The students found that shredding bedding is fun!

We discussed how 4-H could help immerse the students even more in earth sciences. 4-H’s Junior Master Gardener program would be a good fit. JMG is one of 4-H’s most successful programs: from soil and water to food preparation, JMG covers gardening from one end of the shovel to the other! As you may know, 4-H is learning-by-doing; so, we put JMG into action! Since November’s learning theme at the school was recycling, we used a JMG composting project called "vermi-composting" – worm bins – with the fifth grade.

Plastic storage bins were obtained to hold the worms and compost. Drainage and aeration holes were drilled, and the worms were ordered. Newspapers were acquired, and the kids let ‘er rip! No, literally! Newspapers were ripped into narrow strips by 150 kids. They soaked the paper and added it to the drilled bins, and added dirt. Now it was time for the new inhabitants to be introduced to their domiciles! But who would do the honors?

Each class created a composting bin and will feed their worms each week.

Surprise! Nearly every child begged to put the worms into the bins! Because of time constraints, only a few students were allowed to add worms, but they all become familiar with their little squiggly friends. One student said that it was "exciting because it was the first time I’ve ever done it!" Another said, "It was nasty and fun at the same time!" Yet another child told me she "liked putting the worms and dirt in and feeding them." The amazed giggles of happiness are a testament to children’s enjoyment of agriculture.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there! Each class created a composting bin to care for during the year. Each week, students volunteer to collect materials to feed the worms. Doresky tells me there is great debate among the students over who gets to feed the worms each week. The compost the fifth grade creates during the school year is donated to the third grade for their own gardening activities.

In this way, our original project becomes a service opportunity. Despite all the fun we had, probably my most poignant memory came during a subsequent 4-H leadership activity the 5th Grade Science Club did.

With the holidays getting near, it seemed only fitting to remember those who might not be able to celebrate with their own families. So in the spirit of the season, our 4-H clubs in Barbour and Russell counties decided to sponsor military personnel who are deployed overseas. I sent a letter about 4-H and why my 4-Hers wanted to write. I also included an Ecobot (a small robot made from a toothbrush head from an earlier 4-H project).

Left, after the bins were created, the students begged to be chosen to introduce the red wiggler worms to their new homes. Right, the teachers also enjoyed meeting the new composting friends.

One pack of construction paper and several boxes of markers later, the homemade Christmas cards were ready for the kids’ heartfelt messages. Knowing the children might need help starting letters, I suggested they talk about 4-H projects with the soldiers (after wishing them a "Merry Christmas," of course). The kids did an amazing job and we ended up with about 35 cards from Ridgecrest alone. Of course, I previewed the cards before I put them in the mail. I had to laugh. In more than one card, the 4-Hers wrote they created "homes for worms!" Somewhere in Afghanistan, I bet there are a few confused soldiers puzzled why anyone would make homes for worms – but probably very glad the kids cared enough to make the cards!

So if you ever start wondering if children today care as much about the Earth as you did when you were small, just remember 4-Hers from Ridgecrest Elementary School in Russell County. They still love to make "homes for worms!" I hope this story lightens your heart and brings a smile to your face as much as it did mine. And if you know anyone with children who are interested in 4-H, please call your Alabama Cooperative Extension Office!

Amber Dunn is a Regional 4-H agent for Russell and Barbour counties.

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