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February 2015

4-H Extension Corner: A Strong Vision

Emily Nichols

Emily Nichols joins Alabama’s state 4-H staff as Youth Natural Resources and Environmental Education Specialist.

by Donna Reynolds

Emily Nichols recently joined the Alabama Cooperative Extension System state 4-H staff as 4-H Youth Natural Resources and Environmental Education Specialist.

She will provide leadership to the Natural Resources and Environmental Education program by developing effective collaborations and teamwork encompassing natural resources programs, developing and selecting curriculum, helping to form partnerships, and coordinating all 4-H environmental programs, competitive events and special events. She will also serve as liaison in an advisory capacity to the Alabama 4-H and Youth Development Center.

While this might sound a little overwhelming, Nichols said she is ready for the challenge.

"I am really excited about this opportunity and look forward to getting involved with 4-H and working with Alabama’s young people, Extension staff and 4-H volunteers throughout the state," she said.

"Emily’s background and experience are an important addition to our state 4-H team," said Dr. Paul Brown, associate director for Alabama Extension. "Alabama 4-H gives young people confidence with their peers, experience in their world and a belief in themselves that only comes from hands-on learning opportunities."

Alabama 4-H already has some excellent environmental education programs that reach youth through in-school, after-school and special-interest clubs. These include shooting sports, wildlife habitat judging, forestry judging, ground water festivals, Classroom in the Forest and Forest in the Classroom, Alabama Water Watch, and Skins and Skulls, just to name a few.

"My vision is to focus on strengthening and enhancing the programs we have, by broadening our reach and getting our vision out across the state," Nichols explained.

She also wants to increase 4-H youth participation, especially in those counties with low program activity in natural resources, and provide more opportunities where youth can participate in leadership and community service projects.

One of the goals for 2015 is to have environmental field days in various counties and regions from January through July.

"Our goal is to get the 4-H vision out to the regional agents and help them understand why our environmental programs are so important. We will generate interest and provide training opportunities for them so they can implement the programs in their counties. We will also provide support when we can as they are implementing programs," Nichols added.

Nichols grew up in Alabama and is familiar with Alabama’s abundant natural resources. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Auburn University and upon graduation, went to work with an engineering consulting company as an environmental scientist. While working in that capacity, she earned a professional master’s degree in Environmental Management from Samford University.

After earning her master’s, Nichols joined the Peace Corps and served in The Gambia for just over 2 years. During this time, she worked on a sustainable fisheries project in partnership with the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center, World Wildlife Fund, the Government of The Gambia and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

While there, she lived with a Gambian family in a small coastal village and did everything from report writing to going out to sea with fishermen. She also worked with women oyster harvesters during an oyster research study in the Tanbi Estuary.

Upon her return to Alabama, Nichols became a research associate with the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit with the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences at Auburn University.

"I want to teach youth to live in a changing world and give them experiences they need to not only live in this world but make it better," Nichols said. "4-H programs and activities provide youth with learn-by-doing opportunities, and give them the tools they need to develop a sense of responsibility to others and to their communities. The skills and knowledge they learn will help them better understand and appreciate their environment and be better citizens."

Donna Reynolds is communications editor III-Dept for ACES.

A Solar Solution

A solar-powered pump and storage tanks solved Joy Reznicek’s problem of finding an alternative water source for a large pasture on her cattle ranch.

A watering system powered by solar panels ensures water for the future on Cow Creek Ranch.

by Fay Garner

Pickens County landowner Joy Reznicek owns the 2,400 acre Cow Creek Ranch in Aliceville. When she began having water quantity problems on the ranch, she started looking for a long-term solution for an alternative water source.

"Water is an important resource in a cattle operation," she said. "If you don’t have fresh water, you can’t have cattle."

The ranch has seven artesian wells which are primary water sources for cattle grazing in her pastures. In 2012, one of the artesian wells stopped flowing.

"It was the first time in the history of our ownership of the ranch (1994) that this happened," Reznicek said.

They had to vacate the pastures on that portion of the ranch because there was no other access to safe drinking water.

"I knew we were going to have to address this problem," she said.

Solar panels power a pump to fill a 6,000-gallon water tank and three 500-gallon troughs with clean water for grazing cattle.

In the summer of 2012, Reznicek visited livestock customers in Florida and noticed they had a solar panel and a well in their pasture. After looking at it closely and making photos to take back home, she felt she had found the answer to her water woes. The Florida landowner indicated they had received financial assistance through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program to install the system. She reasoned, if they had it available as a practice in Florida, maybe she could get it in Alabama.

When Reznicek returned home, she called the Pickens County NRCS District Conservationist Terry Williamson and asked about a practice for a solar-powered water system. Williamson was honest and said that as far as he knew there was none on the Alabama EQIP practice list.

Not wanting to let his customer down, after he found it was on the Florida NRCS EQIP practice list, he said, "Let me do some research."

Alabama NRCS had always provided financial assistance through EQIP for wells and watering facilities, but had not offered anything for a solar-powered system. This situation initiated some conversation between the NRCS program staff. It was realized that the practice could be made available to Alabama landowners because it was considered an energy conservation project.

Williamson called Reznicek and said, "I think we are going to be able to get this done."

After the practice was approved for Alabama, meetings were held between Reznicek, Williamson, the technical staff and NRCS engineers to design the practice to meet the needs of the Cow Creek Ranch. NRCS West Team engineers Erika Justiniano-Valez and Randall East were charged with designing the project.

Justiniano-Valez said that the project was new to Alabama NRCS and required a lot of research. The design consisted of matching the site-specific data and requirements such as livestock water needs, well depth, topography and available sun energy to the commonly available solar devices. Justiniano-Valez and East indicated that communication between all parties was key to the success of the project.

Having the local DC on the job daily to check progress was also important. He was able to facilitate small changes in a timely manner to keep the process moving smoothly.

Other team members critical to the success of the project were Assistant State Conservation Engineer Bill Smith and retired Civil Engineer Mac Nelson. They added a routine to an existing spreadsheet program to design the solar components of the watering system. Inputs to the program include available solar energy (based on latitude and time of year); pumping rate requirements (based on number of livestock, well depth and hours of sunshine per day); and water storage requirements (based on projected water needs during cloudy days when solar energy is insufficient to power the pump). The primary outputs of the program are the pump horsepower requirements, number and size of solar panels, and storage tank volume. The storage tank was sized to provide a three-day supply of water to carry the livestock through times when there is not enough sunshine.

The Alabama design had to meet national NRCS standards and specifications as well as the landowner’s needs and expectations.

After the design was approved and the construction contracts were secured, the solar energy system and a water storage tank were installed on the Cow Creek property as a backup for the intermittent artesian well. Three 500-gallon troughs were strategically placed so the well could service about 100+ acres of pastureland. A 6,000-gallon storage tank provides water when weather conditions do not allow enough energy to power the pump.

"Although the well provides necessary water for our pastures, it is bigger than that," Reznicek said. "It gives us opportunities for cross fencing, rotational grazing and extending water to pastures that do not have enough now. It also allows us to consider other pastures that may have potential problems down the road."

Reznicek indicated that she does not expect the water situation to improve over time. The artesian wells located in other remote areas on her farm without access to electricity could also fail.

"I am thinking about the future of our water supply," she added. "As I look around our rural landscape, I see much irrigation on the ground that is bringing the water table down. We have ample rainfall, but there was also ample rainfall when the artesian well stopped flowing. I knew we had to find a long-term solution to the problem."

She said the loss of one artesian well did not break the farm, but it would be an ongoing issue and, maybe down the road, she would have to look at other locations to place solar panels and wells.

Reznicek commented about how Williamson went out of his way to meet her needs, to get everybody on board, and to get everything scheduled. He seems to like these out-of-the-box challenges.

"This is a great pilot project and a solar-powered well is something that will serve a lot of farmers across Alabama very well," Williamson explained.

Reznicek appreciates the help she received from Williamson and the NRCS staff.

"We are lucky to have someone to take an idea we present and expand it, not just on a county level, but also to a state level," she said. "NRCS is always great to work with and they are always willing to push the envelope as far as they can. We appreciate that very much.

"At this moment the well is but a small blip on the radar in relation to the whole ranch. It is a vital piece of the puzzle in making the ranch successful. The solar well has made our whole ranch so much more productive to raise cattle."

According to East, this is the first time a solar well with storage tank has been installed in Alabama using NRCS financial assistance. He and Justiniano-Valez enjoyed being involved in this new and unique project. He indicated the revamped spreadsheet will make it easy to manage and plan other solar-well projects in the future.

Justiniano-Valez was impressed with the landowner’s interest in conservation and her wanting to do things right. She felt that Reznicek’s partnership with NRCS and her willingness to be a pilot project helped make this first solar-well system a success.

Fay Garner is a public affairs specialist with NRCS in Auburn, Ala.

Activity is No Substitute for Reproduction

by Glenn Crumpler

I remember the days when everyone who read the illustration I am about to use would be able to relate to it in a personal way – their memories would be vivid. This practice was much more common back then than going out to eat, and it would not be seen as cruel or inhumane.

I have done this plenty of times myself, but what I most remember are all the times as a child when I watched my Grandmother (Mama Brooks) wring a chicken’s neck to cook for our next meal. She always picked the bird she wanted to butcher and it was almost always one that had stopped reproducing. A hen that would not lay or a rooster that would not breed was good for nothing on the farm, but putting on your dinner plate!

While she got the hot water hot, she would let us young’uns catch the bird. Mama Brooks would then take the chicken by the neck and would fling it around and around in a circle with a quick flicking of her wrist. Within just a split second, the neck would break and she would just drop the bird to the ground because she knew what was going to happen next.

The chicken hit the ground flapping its wings and kicking with both feet like never before. It jumped, flipped, flopped and bounced around uncontrollably like – well, like a chicken with a wrung neck! It is sort of like watching a bucking horse, but in fast forward! Before the commotion was over, the chicken might be 30 or more feet from where she dropped it, even though its life had been terminated before it left her hand. Mama Brooks had done her job of putting the fatal move on the chicken, but, in the dying process, the chicken was more active than it ever was when it was alive. I have never seen a live chicken that could move like one of those that was already dead, but whose body was still in the dying process. It was not reproducing anything, but it sure was active and busy! Though it was dead on the inside, it appeared to be full of life on the outside!

As I look around at so much going on around us in our families, our churches, our courts, our culture, our government, in our media and around the world, I am somehow reminded of this process of watching a chicken whose neck has been wrung. We have so much going on, so many programs, so many activities, so many facilities and possessions, and so much technology to entertain us, but, in the midst of it all, I ponder as to whether this points to the fact that we are living the abundant life God prepared for us and prepared us for or are we in fact dead and just don’t know it yet … all while going through all the motions of a very active and productive life!

Particularly as it pertains to Christian families and to the Church (the Body of Christ), the best way to distinguish between the two is to examine our own lives, our schedules, our activities, our checkbooks and our motives, and then determine if we are actually reproducing as Christ has commanded us to do. Are we bringing the members of our family and others to true faith in Christ and intentionally and strategically living out the will of God before them, working to help them become disciples who know God’s Word and His will so they become true followers of Christ? Or are we just going through the motions – actively and busily going through life and doing church, but not reproducing anything more than family and church members who have not been transformed by their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the in-dwelling power and presence of His Holy Spirit?

As you think about this, let me use another analogy to make the point. This week we conducted breeding soundness evaluations on our herd bulls. These are tests we do each year before we put the bulls in with the cow herd to insure they are fertile, are reproductively and structurally sound, and they can perform their duties of both breeding and impregnating the cow herd – which is their only useful purpose. If they are not adequately equipped and capable of doing their job in the reproductive process, a whole generation of new calves and the entire harvest for that year will be forever lost.

This is the exact situation we find ourselves in this year with our replacement heifers that were "supposed" to have calved this past fall. The bull we had with the heifers is indeed a fine one – one of the best you will see and one we get the most compliments on. His pedigree, growth performance, phenotype – everything about him is just what you would look for in a herd bull.

He spent months with the heifers. From a distance, it looked like he was working very aggressively. He was really busy, seemingly going through the motions of impregnating the heifers. We could not wait to see the calves that would result from the mating of this exceptional bull with these fine heifers. There was just one problem: he was not getting the job done. Despite his busyness and activity, he was not reproducing. He was working hard and it looked like he was going through the motions, but we found out last week that he was not even penetrating the heifers. He would follow them and he would mount them, but he was not breeding them! It all looked good from a distance, but, when the facts were in and when we examined him more closely, he had not done his job and had accomplished nothing he was put in the herd to do.

Now, back to reproduction within Christian homes and churches. It is easy for us to either willingly or unwillingly deceive ourselves and others. For deception to be effective, it must appear to be the real thing (just like a counterfeit bill). This is why we need to ask the Lord to examine our own hearts as individuals and as the Body of Christ, and allow Him to really evaluate the fruit of all our activities, busyness, programs, facilities, budgets and even our motives to see if and what we are actually reproducing.

Unlike the chicken or the bull that were active but failed to reproduce, we are all reproducing and influencing others. Either we are alive in Christ and are giving life to others by leading them to Jesus and helping them become His true disciples, or our works are dead and are breeding death by leading them away from Him. Perhaps even more destructive, we could be teaching them to be counterfeits who think they have life when in reality they are dying and do not know it.

Being active and going through the motions is no substitute for reproduction. Having church is much different from being the Church! Proclaiming Christ and living for Christ are not synonymous! Are you alive in Christ and reproducing or are you just busy?

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

Ag Insight

by Jim Erickson

Net farm income in 2014 predicted down more than 21 percent

United States net farm income - a measure of the sector’s profitability - is forecast to be $96.9 billion in 2014, down over 21 percent from 2013’s estimate of $122.8 billion. Despite the decline, the 2014 figure would be the seventh highest value since 1970 after adjusting for inflation.

Higher production expenses are the main driver of the 2013-14 drop in net farm income as changes in crop and livestock receipts are offsetting. Crop receipts are expected to decrease 12.3 percent in 2014, led by declines in corn and soybean, while livestock returns are forecast to increase by 14 percent, largely due to anticipated record prices for beef cattle and milk.

Total production expenses are forecast to increase 5.7 percent in 2014, extending a 4-year upward trend in those costs.

Net cash income is forecast at $108.2 billion, down more than 19 percent from its 2013 estimate, and is projected to decline less than net farm income primarily because it includes the sale of carryover stocks from 2013.

Bulk commodity prices pull down U.S. ag exports value

Fiscal 2015 U.S. agricultural exports are forecast at $143.5 billion, $9 billion below fiscal 2014, primarily because of the outlook for lower bulk commodity prices.

Grain and feed sales are forecast down 18 percent from fiscal 2014 as lower prices, as well as reduced volume, lower the value of corn and wheat exports. Lower prices also are expected to trim the value of oilseed and product exports 15 percent despite the outlook for larger export volumes.

In contrast, horticultural product exports are forecast to grow 11 percent to $37 billion, making them the largest category of U.S. agricultural exports for the first time. Livestock products are also forecast to grow about 3 percent in fiscal 2015, primarily due to higher meat prices.

Lower prices are expected to reduce the value of exports to China, the largest U.S. agricultural market, by about 7 percent to $24.0 billion. Sales to Canada, the second largest U.S. market, are forecast to hold steady at about $21.8 billion, while sales to Mexico slip about 4 percent to $18.7 billion.

Insurance now available for specialty crops

Greater protection is now available from the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for crops that traditionally have been ineligible for federal crop insurance.

The new options, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, provide greater coverage for losses when natural disasters affect specialty crops such as vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, floriculture, ornamental nursery, aquaculture, turf grass, ginseng, honey, syrup and energy crops.

According to USDA officials, ensuring growers of these crops can adequately protect themselves from factors beyond their control is also critical for consumers who enjoy these products and for communities whose economies depend on them.

Previously, the program offered coverage at 55 percent of the average market price for crop losses that exceed 50 percent of expected production. Producers can now choose higher levels of coverage, up to 65 percent of their expected production at 100 percent of the average market price.

Many rural counties continued to lose jobs in 2014

While the overall U.S. economy is in its sixth year of recovery from the 2007-09 recession, many rural areas have struggled to recover the jobs lost during the downturn.

Urban employment now exceeds pre-recession levels, but rural job numbers remain well below their 2007 peak and have continued to fall over the last year in many areas. Notable clusters of employment decline can be found in the Deep South, Appalachia, the Mountain West and the Pacific Northwest.

Employment in rural America as a whole is less than 2 percent above the employment trough reached during the recession and rose less than 1 percent between mid-2013 and mid-2014.

One example of employment growth, however, was seen in the Northern Plains where new jobs have been generated by rising energy extraction.

Rural counties adjacent to metro areas also have experienced faster-than-average job growth since 2009 after having suffered larger-than-average job losses during the 2007-09 recession.

Food from grocery stores, restaurants totals 12.9 percent of consumer expenditures

Despite higher food-price inflation in recent years, food’s share of U.S. consumer expenditures fell slightly (0.4 percent) over the decade as the budget shares for health care and housing rose.

With a 12.9 percent share, food ranked third behind housing (33.6 percent) and transportation (17.6 percent) in a typical American household’s 2013 expenditures.

Breaking down food spending further, 7.8 percent of expenditures were spent at the grocery store and 5.1 percent at restaurants.

Milk production continues shifting to larger operations

Although recent tallies show there were still nearly 50,000 U.S. dairy farms with fewer than 100 cows, that number represents a large decline from 20 years earlier when there were almost 135,000 small dairy farms.

Over the same period, the number of dairy farms with at least 1,000 cows more than tripled to 1,807 farms.

Movements in farm numbers were mirrored by movements in the share of cow inventories. Farms with fewer than 100 cows accounted for 49 percent of the country’s 9.7 million milk cows in 1992, but just 17 percent of the 9.2 million milk cows in the most recent count.

Meanwhile, farms with at least 1,000 cows now account for 49 percent of all cows, up from 10 percent in 1992.

The shift to larger dairy farms is driven largely by the economics of dairy farming. Average full costs of production (including the annualized cost of capital, imputed cost of unpaid family labor and cash operating expenses) are substantially lower on farms with larger herds.

USDA to release projections for next decade

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to release its "Agricultural Projections to 2024" report on Feb. 11.

The report includes a full discussion of the commodity supply and use projections, as well as projections for global commodity trade, U.S. trade value and farm income.

The projections are based on specific assumptions about macroeconomic conditions, policy, weather and international developments, with no domestic or external shocks to global agricultural markets. The Agricultural Act of 2014 also is assumed to remain in effect through the projection period. Reflecting a composite of model results and judgment-based analyses and prepared during the last quarter of 2014, the projections use as a starting point the short-term projections from the November 2014 "World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates" report.

Anything But an “Ordinary Country Life”

Matt and Tanner Tucker work on a chicken coop for a Mother’s Day gift for Lisa Tucker. The unusual request for a chicken coop was a way for Lisa to start her backyard chicken adventures.

Known as the “Crazy Chicken Lady,” a popular country blogger entertains her readers with a whimsical look at everyday life.

by Carolyn Drinkard

Erma Bombeck once said, "If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it." That’s just what Lisa Tucker does. Tucker writes a popular blog entitled "My Ordinary Country Life" in which she looks at life in a whimsical way, but, for everyone who knows her, life with Lisa is anything but "ordinary."

Even though Tucker may be relatively new to the blogging world, she has a unique gift called "relatability." Tucker details the "funny" about everyday experiences, capturing the moments in an amusing way that anybody can identify with. Her candid, unpretentious words have endeared her to her followers, and their comments reflect this. Many thank her for giving them a big laugh or simply making their day. Others tell about having similar experiences or doing some of the same things Tucker pokes fun at. Her loyal readership continues to expand as more and more people find her. In fact, since starting less than 3 years ago, her posts have received over a million hits from 11 different countries.

Lisa Tucker’s chickens stroll and scratch, watched over by Rod Stewart, the rooster.

Tucker describes herself as "a Southern gal who is married with two grown sons. I love my Lord, Jesus Christ; I love my family, my animals and life in general. I’m not particularly great at anything, and I may not teach you much, except that loving life is all in how you look at it!"

It’s obvious that Tucker looks at life with a twinkle in her eye! Ordinary moments get a lighthearted twist when she taps her keys. One day, she might be talking about decorating or cleaning or finding ways to get out of work. In her next post, she laments her addiction to "Little Debbie" snacks and shares ways to hide them from her family. Her followers may find her chatting about gardening or canning or making yard art. But her favorite posts are about her beloved chickens, and these hysterical musings have earned her the title of "Thomasville’s Crazy Chicken Lady."

For Lisa Tucker’s birthday, Dinah Pritchett and Susan Harrigan surprised their friend with a “hen” party, including a chicken cake and chicken yard art as a gift.

Tucker proudly admits to being a "chickaholic." In one of her posts, Tucker tells about asking for a chicken coop as a Mother’s Day gift. Now, this might seem rather bizarre to most women, but, for Tucker, it was a carefully calculated way to convince her husband Shannon that she needed some chickens. Thus began the "Chicken Coop Wars," her hilarious accounts of how she convinced her carpentry-impaired husband to build her a chicken coop! Even though Shannon is a master mechanic, he does not like carpentry, but, to fulfill his wife’s Mother’s Day request, he and their two sons Tanner and Matt started on her gift, only to discover that Lisa had very elaborate plans for her brood’s living space, namely an arched doorway with French doors, window boxes, solar lighting, landscaping and much more.

Her plan worked, however, because her husband brought home nine hens (nine being her favorite number). She quickly named each one according to its plumage and personality. The red hen was named Lucy; the Dominiques, Milly and Tilly; the persnickety, older white hen, Aunt Bea; the small, cuddly hen, Nugget; and the three prissy, self-centered black hens, Kim, Kloe and Kourtney Kardashi-HENS. A friend gave her a white frizzled rooster they dubbed "Rod Stewart." The delightful moments with Rod and his girls became "Coopville Diaries," a "soap opera" in which the chickens talk about Tucker herself, among many other delightful topics. One of the most amusing moments is when the flock planned a birthday party for her that definitely went "a fowl." Ironically, a group of Tucker’s human friends had the same idea, as they surprised her by hosting a "hen" party – dressing as chickens, serving a "chicken" cake and gifting Tucker with yard art chickens for her flower beds.

The Tucker family loves the outdoors. Lisa, Shannon, Matt and Tanner Tucker with their dogs, Bucky and Breesy (named after Drew Brees), and Lisa’s favorite chicken, Nugget.

Tucker said she did not know anything about poultry when she first decided to try her hand with backyard chickens, but she read, studied and talked to people who did have experience. Now, she is regularly tagged on the Internet for chicken-related items and advice.

Tucker’s talents aren’t just limited to blogging and raising chickens, however. She is also an aspiring photographer. Some of her work can be seen on "Be Still," her mini blog that includes religious verses and pictures. One of her most poignant tributes about life and death was after her beloved Nugget (the hen) passed away. The comments of her readers tell how her pictures and spiritual reflections have brought peace and comfort to their lives.

Lisa and Shannon operate Tucker ATV. The Tuckers love and enjoy the outdoors and all are avid hunters. Lisa mostly just tags along to be with her family, take pictures and commune with nature, but she enjoys sharing their experiences on her blog. One of her more humorous hunting posts involved a possum that homesteaded in her dog’s food bowl. How she used an oven mitt and a BB gun to remedy the situation is a delightful read.

Gardening and canning are favorites of Lisa Tucker, who writes about her experiences on her popular blog. Lisa admits that she is a chickaholic!

Tucker points out that she is "country to the core." One of her greatest pleasures is riding in her husband’s beat-up old truck with their two dogs in the back heading to "Redneck Island," the family’s favorite sandbar on the Tombigbee River, a place she calls her "little piece of paradise." Here, they may search for cypress knees, splash in the water or sun on the white sand. They also play "redneck golf," a highly "skilled" game of trying to hit golf balls across the river. Barges, other boaters or an occasional alligator may sometimes interrupt their competitions, but never their fun. She recounts their antics in delightful prose, recommending "Redneck Island" for "stress relief."

"My blogging has become a personal diary," she laughed. "I do it because I enjoy it. I meet many people online, especially other bloggers."

She explained that she had become friends with regulars from North Carolina, New England and Canada.

"I hope one day to meet some of the other bloggers that I have chatted with. One day, I plan to catch up with many of the Alabama bloggers who meet in Fairhope on a regular basis," she commented.

Tucker looks at life with a cheerful spirit and a thankful heart and that makes her life seem far from "ordinary."

"I enjoy life, and I love getting comments where someone says, ‘You brightened my day!’" Tucker explained.

Perhaps in encouraging others to laugh at themselves and "just hang in there," Tucker has uncovered the true meaning of happiness. A country girl couldn’t ask for more!

Check out Lisa’s musings on

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.

Are GMO Crops Safe?

by Tony A. Glover

Genetically modified organisms, commonly known as GMO, include both food and non-food crops. They are sometimes referred to as genetically modified crops. GM food crop concerns have increased the interest and growth of both organic and locally grown food, including farmers markets, and this has been a good thing – the more diversity in our food supply and your diet, the better. But in the zeal to promote local and organically grown foods, I’ve noticed many of the reasonable concerns are being crowded out by a lot of hysteria and misinformation.

For someone new to the debate, the first question asked is, "What exactly is a GMO crop?" The simplest answer is that GMO crops contain added or altered genetic information within the desired crop. The purpose of genetically altering the crop is to provide some resistance or tolerance to a pest or pesticide, or to give the plant some advantage or increased efficiency such as lower nutrient or water needs. This is the same sort of thing scientists and even hobbyists have been doing for a very long time by crossbreeding and hybridizing plants. The main difference is the origin of the genetic material that may come from totally unrelated organisms. Scientists are now able to introduce very specific genetic material that would be difficult if not impossible to introduce through traditional breeding methods.

The next question people have is, "Are GMO crops safe for me and my family to consume?" All scientific studies to date have shown GMO crops to be as safe as comparable traditionally bred crops. There is no shortage of misinformation on crop safety based on anecdotal information and opinion, but there is no actual research to back up these opinions.

Another question that often comes up is, "What crops are most often genetically modified?" A number of food crops have been genetically modified, but the vast majority of acreage is planted in corn, soybeans and canola. I recently had a client come to me asking for a source of non-GM wheat seed so he could grow his own since he was under the impression that all bread is made from GM wheat. He was very surprised when I informed him that, although research has been conducted for some time on GM wheat, there is currently no GM wheat being used commercially anywhere.

The majority of fresh fruits and vegetables are not currently GM crops, although there are a few. In general, for consumers concerned about direct consumption of GM crops, they can greatly decrease the odds of consuming them by avoiding highly processed food and oils from the big three crops mentioned and consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables. Even though there is no evidence of harmful effects from consuming GM crops, a diet containing less processed food and more fresh fruits and vegetables is recommended by dieticians and other health professionals. Locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables are even less likely to be GM crops (with the possible exception of some sweet corn) due to the very high cost of seed and the lack of availability of small quantities of GMO seeds. To be completely certain you are not consuming a GM crop, you should either buy a certified organic product or find out what variety the crop is and do some research on that particular crop and variety. Small farmers will generally share the names of the varieties they sell and it is very unlikely small farmers are growing GM vegetables.

Another common question relates to the potential environmental consequences that may come about from growing these crops. These are legitimate concerns the public and scientists both have. Farming in general is disruptive to the surrounding ecosystems under the best circumstance, but this environmental risk must be weighed against the need to produce food in adequate quantities to feed the world’s population. One important related question goes like this, "Is the environmental degradation greater or lesser with GM crops?" This answer could potentially vary from crop to crop, but the current research indicates an overall decrease in pesticide usage with GM crops and the potential for continued reduction of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers is tremendous.

I have heard many arguments against the use of GM crops that ask the question, "Why would we risk people’s health or the health of the environment if we are not 100 percent sure there is no danger?" The answer to this question can be very complicated and has profound moral implications. For instance, the world’s population is expected to increase from slightly more than 7 billion today to 9 billion or more by 2050. In order to feed this additional population, we will need to use every tool at our disposal. One way may be to cut down trees or plow up more prairies and then plant on this more environmentally vulnerable land. Almost no one wants to see this happen. Another option is to use traditional farming methods more efficiently such as applying irrigation water and nutrients based on actual crop needs and metered out using GIS, GPS and remote sensing technology. However, many scientists believe the most sustainable method is a combination of these increased efficiencies and genetic engineering of crops.

The surface has not been scratched on the potential of genetic engineering and has largely focused on making crops resistant to pests or pesticides. Naturally, companies involved need to make a return on their investment through seed cost or the sale of a product needed along with the seed such as Roundup Ready crops that allow farmers to spray their crops with glyphosate to kill weeds while not harming the crop. However, once the technology has progressed more, scientists will likely be able to make crops healthier and even safer to eat or make them tolerate higher temperatures, dryer weather or even need less fertilizer. It may come as a surprise to many, but it is not to the plants’ benefit to be eaten (except for seed dispersal) and they often produce naturally occurring chemical compounds that are not good for us. If scientists can reduce the harmful compounds and increase the beneficial ones, they could improve the healthful qualities. As mentioned earlier, traditional plant breeders have always done these things through the slow process of plant breeding and selection, but genetic engineering will make this task much more precise, less random and much faster.

We have never lived in a risk-free world and there is no such thing as being 100 percent certain something is perfectly safe to humans and the environment. We take risks all the time in the totally unnatural world of food production as well as all other aspects of our life. The systems we have now and have had in the past, including organic systems, are not totally natural and have and had risks associated with them as well. Societies must make choices based on the best research at any given time and make changes as the science becomes more definitive. We also have to balance risk with societal benefits. Having an affordable and plentiful food supply available to an ever-increasing population is worth the risk based on current research.

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

Baskets Are Herbs, Too

by Nadine Johnson

Here’s a suggestion for you gentlemen who are wondering what to give your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day. Consider a basket. Be sure that it is made from a natural material, of course. Baskets come in all sizes and shapes. Also, they can be filled with a variety of goodies such as chocolates, perfumes and even an engagement ring. We women just love baskets!

By now you know that my definition of an herb is "any plant that serves a useful purpose." That puts baskets and basket making in the proper category for this column. Of course, baskets are made from a large number of plants including pine needles, rattan, palmetto, willow and white oak. I’m writing about white oak.

When I was about 5 years old, my Father babysat me one beautiful day. We sat under a big oak tree. I made toad frog houses while he made a white oak split cotton basket. I remember well how he coiled those long white splits in a tub of water to make them pliable before weaving them into the proper size and shape.

Among my treasures there is a white oak basket constructed by Tommy Norris. My "sweetheart" took me on a special trip to make the purchase one long ago day. Tommy was a lifelong resident of "The Norris Settlement" which borders on the Little Oak community in Pike County. (My husband and I were natives of this area, also.) Tommy’s baskets have become collector’s items. Many women will read these words and say, "I have one also."

I have one large well-made basket which was purchased from a young man of the Opp area. If I were going to pick peas for canning, this would be the ideal basket to take to the pea patch. Well, I don’t pick peas any more, but I find many uses for this well-constructed treasure. I do wish the young man had autographed the basket.

About 30 years ago, Richard (my late husband) and I made the acquaintance of James Bogan of Greenville. Bogan is known to many as "The Basket Man." From him, I obtained a small cotton basket that is now being used at my son’s house as a toy container for some of my great-grandchildren. I also purchased a smaller basket that now makes a handy container for cleaning supplies.

I happen to own a low stool that my husband’s grandmother sat on to pick butterbeans in her last days. Bogan replaced its ragged seat with new white oak splits. This treasure will someday go to my younger son’s house.

For those who are interested, I’ll provide information from his business card: Bogan’s Wonderful World of Baskets, 434 W. Commerce Street, Greenville, AL 36037; 334-382-2451; cell, 334-303-7246.

You can also purchase white oak bark in capsule form from a health food shop. I have known a man who was plagued with hemorrhoids. He said that by taking one capsule of white oak bark daily he kept this health situation under control.

(Check with your physician before taking any alternative remedy.)

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

Beekeeping Supplies

by John Sims

Spring is just around the corner and that gets me thinking about garden season. Your local Quality Co-op store now has beekeeping supplies to help you get started in a fun hobby and help pollinate your plants. Bees are very self-sufficient and require more monitoring than intervention. The honey you receive is a sweet reward for your efforts.

10-Frame Beginner Hive Kit

Item #: HIVE10KIT

This kit contains everything a new beekeeper needs to get started in one box!

Featuring the Little Giant 10-frame Langstroth hive with frames and foundation installed;

Gloves, veil, smoker, smoker fuel, bee brush, hive tool and frame feeder; and

Complete instructions and the book "Beekeeping for Dummies" included.

All you need to add is the bees!

The Co-op also has Tyvek coveralls and the supplies in this kit can be purchased separately. They have what you need to help you enjoy beekeeping for yourself.

To find a Co-op store near you, go to

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

Better Colostrum. Better Calves.

by Jackie Nix

As a popular pizza chain states: better ingredients make all the difference. The same can be said for our cattle. We need to give them the proper nutritional building blocks to allow them to perform as desired. As we are heading toward calving season, we need to think about making sure our cows are properly supplemented so they have all the correct components to birth and rear a healthy calf.

A cow’s diet during the last third of her pregnancy is critical not only for calf development, but also for the creation of high-quality colostrum. For first calf heifers, this last trimester is also critical for the development of mammary tissue that will affect her milk production for the rest of her life. To say nutrition is crucial during the last third of pregnancy can’t be overstated!

Ingestion of colostrum (first milk) is necessary for the transfer of passive immunity to the calf. It is vital for calves to receive colostrum within the first 24 hours of life (ideally within 12 hours or less) in order to be able to effectively absorb these protective antibodies. Calves that receive adequate colostrum within the first 24 hours will receive passive immunity benefits for the first three to five weeks of life. Failure of passive immunity transfer occurs in roughly one-third of dairy calves and is also an issue in beef calves, but not as easily documented.

It is well-known that all colostrum is not created equal. Multiple studies have shown differences in overall volume of colostrum as well as concentration of nutrients and antibodies known as immunoglobins. Immunoglobins, specifically IgG, are crucial for subsequent passive immunity. Calves need to receive a minimum amount of IgG to be fully protected. Colostrum containing inadequate concentrations of IgG increases the risk of failure of passive immunity transfer. One key bit of information, though, even if colostrum contains lower concentrations of IgG, calves can receive adequate IgG simply by consuming more. But the catch is they must consume this higher volume of colostrum while the gut still has the ability to absorb the IgG. Immunoglobin transfer across the gut is optimum during the first four hours, but then declines rapidly after 12 hours. Having lowered IgG concentrations increases the risk that calves might not consume adequate IgG within this window of time.

Research has demonstrated that supplementation with key trace minerals (copper, zinc, selenium), particularly organic forms, can positively influence IgG levels in colostrum. This makes perfect sense since these trace minerals are necessary components for the production of immunoglobins in the dam.

Transfer of immunoglobins from blood serum to the mammary glands begins roughly a month prior to calving and peaks a few days prior to birth. For this reason, it is critical for cows, especially first calf heifers, to be on a high plain of nutrition during those last few months of pregnancy.

While your cows and heifers should be on a high-quality mineral supplement throughout their entire pregnancy, it is even more important during the last trimester. Supplementation with organic sources of trace minerals can be particularly beneficial at this time.

In summary, give your calves the best start possible by placing cows and heifers on a high plane of nutrition during the last few months of pregnancy. Use one of the SWEETLIX CopperHead Supplements as an excellent source of high-quality minerals and vitamins necessary for both cow and calf requirements. SWEETLIX CopperHead Supplements are fortified at 150 percent of NRC-recommended levels of copper and zinc and SWEETLIX CopperHead Max Supplements at 250 percent of NRC-recommended levels of copper and zinc. Both include highly available, organic forms of copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt. SWEETLIX offers a wide variety of high-quality supplements that will deliver essential minerals and vitamins to cattle in an ultra-convenient delivery system. Visit or ask for SWEETLIX at your local Quality Co-op to learn more about these products. Also, like us on Facebook to learn more about how SWEETLIX can work for you.

SWEETLIX and CopperHead are registered trademarks of Ridley Block Operations

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. References available upon request.

Biosecurity: Managing the Risks of Biological Hazards

by Dr. Tony Frazier

The term biosecurity was first used in reference to taking precautions to keep laboratory workers and medical personnel protected from the biological hazards they often come in contact with on their jobs. Biological hazards include bacteria, viruses, some disease-causing fungi and an occasional prions. For this article, we will either use the term biological hazards or germs. Biosecurity has now come to refer to protecting life from biological hazards. That may be a little contradictory depending on what perspective you are reading this from. An example is that we kill mosquitoes to protect against the encephalitis viruses they carry and spread. I guess if you are the mosquito you could argue that your life was not protected in that instance. Anyway, you get the point. Therefore, a biosecurity program simply identifies risks then comes up with actions or a plan to minimize the risk. And if infection cannot be prevented, the three "Rs" come into play. I am not referring to reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. (Apparently the three "Rs" in school pretty much disregard the one "s" – spelling). Referring to disease, the three "Rs" are recognition, response and recovery.

A few years ago, our state worked with USDA Veterinary Services to dramatically reduce the incidence of Johne’s disease in cattle. Johne’s disease causes some pretty bad damage to the cow’s gut and results in constant diarrhea and weight loss. Then you have those subclinical cases of Johne’s disease that fly below the radar and cost the producer tons of money by lowering milk production, reproductive efficiency and productivity in general. One of the components of the Johne’s Disease Program was to have your veterinarian do a risk assessment. Johne’s disease does not parachute onto a farm from the sky or anything like that. It arrives on the farm inside an infected cow. And when it gets on a farm, it is very difficult to completely squelch the threat of the disease. So the producer and the veterinarian brainstorm on ways to keep the disease off the farm. What we realized was that the principles of biosecurity applying to Johne’s disease will reduce the risk of many biological threats. I will get back to some specifics about that later.

I don’t know about y’all, but every now and then I will have a message on my answering machine telling me I have been recommended to have a home security system installed free. That’s about where I push the erase button. That is not to say I am against home security systems (and for any potential burglars that may be reading this, I may or may not have a home security system with the 9 mm and .40 cal notwithstanding!). The security systems advertised for homes, along with some good common sense practices, will minimize the chances of a house being burglarized. Practices such as keeping doors and windows locked, keeping entrances well lighted and keeping shrubs near windows and entrance areas trimmed so no one can hide in them can certainly make it difficult for an unwanted intruder to come into your home. And if your security measures are breached then the alarm system facilitates early recognition and response.

A biosecurity plan is not all that different from a home security system. It first uses a risk assessment to identify areas of vulnerability. Then it implements steps to keep germs out. And finally, there is a surveillance component that, in case security is breached by unwanted germs, rapid recognition and response are possible.

We often think of biosecurity to prevent some sort of terrorist attack on animal agriculture or to protect against some foreign animal disease. Those are certainly considerations and good reasons to practice good biosecurity for your herd or flock. It may actually be more important on a day-by-day basis to prevent the everyday BVD in cattle or mycoplasmosis in backyard flocks. From where I sit, I hear about farmers every week who pay a high financial and sometimes a high emotional price because of breaches in biosecurity on the farm. Some diseases, even though they are not regulated, may require depopulation to rid the farm of the disease. Adhering to the principles of biosecurity does not guarantee your farm will remain disease free but it certainly stacks the deck in your favor.

I do want to briefly go over a few of the principles of biosecurity you should consider that may be helpful when developing your plan. First, limit new additions to the herd or flock. Ideally a closed herd or flock is best. That means if you are not bringing "all in" at the same time, you do not have a closed herd or flock. Obviously, this increases the chances of bringing a new disease into a susceptible group of animals. Therefore, there are two practices very important in minimizing disease risk when new animals are brought in. First, buy from reputable suppliers – those who are aware of and practice good biosecurity themselves. The second practice is quarantine of new additions for some period of time. Usually two weeks is adequate. This is especially important when you are not purchasing from sources whose history you know.

The second principle is to limit access to production areas by visitors. Many of the diseases that concern us are capable of simply hitching a ride on a person’s clothes, shoes, tires or other parts of the vehicle. I know many farms are literally show places the owners are proud of and are happy to take people on the 25 cent tour. While I am not saying to not ever let visitors on the farm, I am saying to be cautious. Take precautions like using foot baths. Keep a visitor’s log so you know who has been on the farm and when. Just be aware that someone could be on a farm in Africa two days ago and on yours tomorrow. Some viruses and bacteria can live on the soles of shoes that long.

A third principle of biosecurity is to limit contact with wildlife completely, or at least as much as possible. It is a fact that wildlife can carry diseases that may not make them sick but can cause huge problems in poultry and livestock. Recently a backyard chicken farm with about 100 birds had a diagnosis of highly pathogenic avian influenza or "bird flu" confirmed by USDA. Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a potentially DEVASTATING disease for the poultry industry. Anyway, the farm had a pond and small marsh frequented by wild ducks and geese. This case of high path AI was diagnosed as a result of heightened awareness of the disease after some wild water fowl in Washington State tested positive to the same strain of avian influenza.

Feed and water contamination is another place diseases may be introduced. It is important that feed is stored in a clean container not accessible to rodents or other vermin. Disease can be spread by opossums, raccoons, rats and even domestic cats that get into livestock or poultry feed. Water, especially sources that become stagnant, can be a good source of germ harborage.

Biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility. It is always easier to make sure the barn door is closed than to try to round up the animals after they have gotten out. I believe it is important for me to remind all of us, including myself, to not let our guards down. Animal agriculture has been a good place to be over the past few years. The folks who study the numbers for a living say that, barring a few outlying catastrophes, things should be good for a while. A disease outbreak could be one of those outliers. Don’t let a lapse in biosecurity cost you and the industry a big loss.

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

Buckaroo Roundup

Clinician Brian Sumrall warms up his horse. (Credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)

Stock horse enthusiasts of all ages gather at the American Stock Horse Association Show.

by Jade Currid

I wish it was the Will James Days when all little boys wanted to be cowboys when they grew up. And I wish it was the days when all you needed was a handshake for a cowboy’s word."

Poignant lyrics from "Will James Days," sung by prominent Western singer/songwriter Adrian Brannan, also known as Adrian Buckaroogirl, and selected as one of the Best 13 Western Songs of All Times by Western Horseman, captures the ambience experienced at the 2014 American Stock Horse Association Regional II Championship Show and accompanying clinics and activities hosted by the Southeast Stock Horse Association at Southern Cross Ranch in Headland December 4-7.

Horsemen and women of all ages and experience levels, a number donning magnificent wild rags and chinks along with other elements of traditional buckaroo gear; young buckaroo queens sporting a dash of bling; and children and dogs comprised a family-friendly atmosphere in which everyone was quick to lend a helping hand or a word of encouragement.

While on horseback, clinician Chance O’Neal visits with stock horse enthusiasts Cheryl Emery, left, and Rhonda Griffin at the American Stock Horse Association Region II Championship Show on December 6, 2014. (Credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)

"These are people who love what they do. They love their horses; they love that they’ve worked hard and they get a chance to come and see everybody and have a good time. It’s really fun to watch people succeed. I love seeing that, you know, like the kid who won first in the reining today. His face lit up. It was so cute," gushed Adrian Brannan, one of the premier musicians featured at the venue’s concert.

Today, I see kids who have a work ethic, kids who aren’t afraid to get dirty, kids who understand that there is value to raising America’s beef, kids who understand that there is value in agriculture and there is value in a lifestyle that gives you just a little bit more than a cubicle in a nine to five job will ever give you, she said of the youth present at the event.

"I want to raise my kids in the way I was raised learning from my daddy in the banding pen," she passionately related. "I want to be passing on traditions and family values down through the generations. I want to give them a future that they can’t buy."

Equestrians from across the Southeast demonstrated the versatility of their stock horses in four events – reining, working cow horse, trail and ranch pleasure – and showcased the fruit of a year’s worth of magnanimous efforts in enhancing the partnership between themselves and their horses at the 2014 American Stock Horse Regional II Championship Show.

Stephen Freeman of Old South Equine walks his horse across a platform during a trail class. (Credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)

Launched in 2008, the American Stock Horse Association fosters well-rounded riders and horses that are able to complete various tasks, whether in a working ranch environment or on a pleasure ride. It also provides affordable education for members to improve their horsemanship in addition to promoting the standard for the measure of a good ranch or stock horse.

Stock horse enthusiasts in Alabama are active in American Stock Horse Association affiliates including not only the Southeast Stock Horse Association but also the Alabama Stock Horse Association, Stock Horse of Dixie in Unadilla, Ga., the Tennessee Stock Horse Association in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and the Stock Horse of Texas Association.

A typical American Stock Horse Association event includes a clinic and a show, with the clinic being held before the show.

Stephen Freeman owns and operates Old South Equine, is a former director of the Alabama Stock Horse Association, serves as a judge committee member and clinician for the American Stock Horse Association, and as the coach for the Auburn University Stock Horse Club. He relayed the importance of holding clinics in conjunction with the shows.

"The clinics introduce people who haven’t shown before to what the events are all about and help those who have shown before improve," he explained.

The clinics held before the Championship featured top clinicians in the horse industry including the first American Quarter Horse Association Ranch Versatility World Champion Chance O’ Neal; the winningest National Reining Cow Horse Association rider of all time Ted Robinson; Brian Sumrall of SHS Cattle Company in Texas, an American Stock Horse Association and Stock Horse of Texas clinician and judge, former president of Stock Horse of Texas, an American Stock Horse Association executive board member, and winner of many American Stock Horse Association, Louisiana Stock Horse Association and Stock Horse of Texas titles; and National Reined Cow Horse Association World Champion and AA Rated Judge Richard Winters.

Freelance writer Jade Currid, left, and Western singer-songwriter Adrian Brannan, also known as Adrian Buckaroogirl, visit before the event’s concert on Saturday night. (Credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)

The accessibility to the instruction of these four great horsemen all in one setting was a golden opportunity for clinic participants.

Sumrall instructed clinic participants on how to efficiently complete a trail course.

In a trail class, competitors and their horses are expected to maneuver a series of obstacles with ease.

This type of event presents challenges that horse and rider may face in an everyday situation or out on the trail.

Sumrall and the participants focused on body control of the horse and how that translates into how the horse would negotiate the obstacles.

The better a horse negotiates those obstacles, the easier it is to have a more comfortable and enjoyable ride and get a job done, he said.

The trail class for the Championship staged circumstances encountered during the cowboy task of branding.

During a daunting portion of the trail course, participants dismounted and ground tied their horses near a roaring fire.

Next, they picked up a branding iron and proceeded to mimic branding a fake bovine before remounting their horses and completing the rest of the course.

"You notice in our trail here one of the things we require is to simulate that working environment by dragging a log or dragging an object – similar to maybe dragging a baby calf or having to rope a yearling or something like that," Sumrall added.

Being able to ground tie a horse is another aspect he worked on with participants.

"I’m kind of a working cowboy," he quipped. "When I drop those reins to go doctor, I need him to kind of stay there."

Well-known equine and Western lifestyle photographer Emily Peak participated in the clinics and scribed for the show.

Peak showed in American Stock Horse Association events for 2 years before competing in the American Quarter Horse Association circuit.

She qualified for the AQHA world show her rookie year and placed an impressive 15th out of 79 riders.

In 2014, she qualified for the AQHA world show in more than one event, but did not compete. However, she did work with the video team at the monumental show.

On the second day of the Championship, she did not ride as she was obligated to take pictures for Troxtel Helmets.

She asked Richard Winters if he could ride her horse that day, and he did.

"That was really cool because at the end of the day, he didn’t have spurs on and I always ride with spurs," she related. "I asked, ‘How was it?’ He replied, ‘He took care of me.’"

If anything, get your spins a little less "sticky," Winters told her.

Fourteen-year-old Madeline Earnest rode her 3-year-old mustang Mighty Mouse in the youth division for all four stock horse events at the Championship.

Madeline won the 2010 Extreme Mustang Makeover Youth and Yearlings Competition in Clemson, S.C., with Mighty Mouse when he was a yearling.

Her mom Tracie McVay of McVay Farms in Pine Mountain, Ga., has competed in a couple of Mustang Makeover competitions and inspired her to work with Mighty Mouse.

They had only had Mighty Mouse for 60 days and gentled him from being a completely wild mustang before the competition.

Madeline picked up Mighty Mouse in Unadilla, Ga.

"He was a wild child, but the first time I saw him in the holding pens he actually ate hay out of my hands, and once me and him finally clicked – I couldn’t get rid of him," she explained.

In addition, McVay rode Mighty Mouse in the first Miss Southeast Stock Horse Pageant that culminated with the 2014 American Stock Horse Championship Show and clinics.

Contestants were evaluated based on their horsemanship, poise and personality, introduction, appearance and knowledge of basic horse information and stock horse association rules.

McVay revealed that competing in stock horse events proved to be an excellent niche for Mighty Mouse.

She related that she prefers riding mustangs because of their intelligence.

In addition to competing in stock horse shows, McVay has ridden in disciplines including Western Pleasure, English, eventing, barrel racing and competitive trail riding.

Other accomplishments McVay has earned while riding Mighty Mouse include winning a saddle for the high point 12 and under division and high point 2-year-old Western Pleasure division at local open shows, qualifying for the AOHA state show in Montgomery, winning the youth division of the trail competition at the 2014 Alabama Horse Council Fair, emerging as the Stock Horse of Dixie Jr. Youth Reserve All Around Champion, the Alabama Stock Horse Association Jr. Youth All Around Champion, and the Southeast Stock Horse Association Jr. Youth Reserve All Around Champion, as well as winning the trail class at the regional show.

She plans on teaching Mighty Mouse to jump in the fall.

Attractions held in conjunction with the Championship included a Frisbee toss, a chili cook-off, a cowboy Santa and a concert featuring Kyle Wilson in addition to Adrian Buckaroogirl.

Joy Brigham coordinated the Championship, clinics, concert and related endeavors.

There were over 250 show entries and around 80 clinic participants.

"There are no words. Joy is fabulous, and she does an amazing job. She brings people together and makes sure everyone has a good time," said Kristen Freeman of Old South Equine.

Brigham has advocated and raised funds for the American Cancer Society through equine events.

She and Sumrall have collaborated on a number of events in the region, and their current focus is planning the 2015 Heritage Days Classic in Liberty, Texas.

Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.

Cattlemen Convene

from the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

Cattlemen, cattlewomen and youth from across the state will gather in Huntsville on Friday and Saturday February 20-21 for the Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show. The convention will be held at the Von Braun Center with the adjacent Embassy Suites Hotel serving as headquarters. This is the 72ndannual Alabama Cattlemen’s Associationmeeting. A very informative program is planned as well as ample time scheduled for fellowship and fun.

"This past year has been a record setting year for the cattle industry," stated ACA president Woody Clark, "and everyone is looking forward to what lies ahead in 2015.

"Anyone interested in the cattle business should attend the convention to hear the experts talk about price outlook and government involvement in 2015."

Duane Lenz, senior analyst from CattleFax in Denver, will discuss the cattle price outlook for 2015 and beyond. Colin Woodall, vice president for Government Affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, will provide a behind-the-scenes look at what we can expect from the federal government for the next 2 years. Season Solorio, executive director of Issues and Reputation Management with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, will describe how checkoff dollars have been successful in maintaining consumer confidence in beef.

Dr. Gary Lemme, director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, will discuss how the 2015-2020 Ag and Forestry Strategic Plan that focuses on increasing productivity and profitability will benefit cattle producers. In addition, there will be other informative speakers in the five Zoetis Cattlemen’s College sessions.

A convention highlight is the large Trade Show featuring over 50 vendors with the latest in cattle equipment, supplies and information. This year a special program has been planned for youth ages 9 and above on Saturday. A complete schedule, list of speakers and registration form can be found on Room registrations should be made soon as space is limited in the headquarters hotel. Mark your calendar now and plan to join us in Huntsville.

Coffee Can Contents Can be a Lifesaver

Items that can save you on a stranded night are: lighter, three emergency candles, hand warmers, knit stocking cap, emergency space blanket, food bars, water, duct tape and some extra cash.

by John Howle

"The Tea Party is simply a loose description of local activism driven by Americans who want smaller government and more self-reliance. That sounds like what the Founding Fathers had in mind, does it not?" Bill O’Reilly

The Founding Fathers were an odd sort. Here was a group of men willing to stand on basic, godly principles – even risking their lives if the fledgling nation of America failed to successfully break away from the British. Most of these men are also referred to as the "framers of the constitution." Each man faced hanging for treason if caught and tried.

John Hancock signed with a huge signature, and people of the time said he thought highly of himself. Hancock said he signed it large so King George III would not need spectacles to see his signature. He was one of the few patriots who had a direct bounty placed on his head by King George, and he was the man the British were looking for in Lexington in April 1775 when Paul Revere and friends rode through sounding the alarm.

After Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson had the biggest hand in writing, Hancock urged all the men to hang together or support each other. Ben Franklin answered with, "Yes, or we shall assuredly all hang separately." Ben Franklin not only signed the Declaration of Independence, he also invented bifocals, an innovative stove and the lightning rod that saved many homes from being destroyed by fire due to lightning strikes. He was also an avid writer known mostly for publishing "Poor Richard’s Almanac."

Thomas Jefferson had the British after him as well. Benedict Arnold led the British after Jefferson, but, before that, Jefferson had his slaves hide the silver on the property of his home at Monticello. Oddly, both Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Today’s press loves to demonize the Tea Party. Ironically, the Founding Fathers took special interest in maintaining a free and independent press that would hold the government accountable to its actions. The tenets of today’s Tea Party such as smaller government and individual self-reliance would have been considered the middle of the road in the country 30 years ago. Now, they are portrayed as radicals. But then again, I guess the Founding Fathers were considered radical by those who enjoyed living under total control of the British Throne.

This February, feel free to enjoy the freedoms fought so hard for by the Founding Fathers and troops. You might even appreciate that warm, Ben Franklin stove, or being able to read this magazine with some modern day bifocals.

Survival in a Coffee Can

A coffee can has many uses, but one of the most important may be in your vehicle. Even though we live in the Deep South, we’ve witnessed weather conditions cold enough to freeze folks to death. Remember the ice/snow storm of 1993? Even 2 years ago saw many people stranded on the sides of the interstate in the snow from Birmingham to Atlanta. Once a vehicle runs out of gas, the heater goes out as well. Having a coffee can full of survival supplies just might save your life.

The following are a few items that can help if you have to spend a cold night in your vehicle: Three candles, disposable Bic lighter, strike anywhere matches stored in a match safe, hand/body warmers, couple of food bars, couple of bottles of water, an emergency space blanket, duct tape wrapped around a pencil to save space, and first aid items such as band-aids, alcohol pads, pain reliever and gauze.

How are the Items in the Survival Can Used?

Starting in order, the three candles will be used for an all night heat source. Simply light one of the candles, tip it at an angle allowing wax to collect in the bottom of the can. Once the inside bottom of the can has hot wax in it, set the three candles in the base of the can into the hot wax. This will keep them upright while they burn. It is quite surprising how much heat can be generated with this simple trick.

The hand warmers are self-explanatory. Today, there are warmers with an adhesive back that can be stuck to clothing under coats or onto socks inside of boots.

Duct tape has many uses from stopping leaks in canoes and tents to attaching a lantern handle to a tree limb. The food bars are necessary to keep up energy levels, especially during extreme cold. If necessary, the can itself can be used to melt snow for drinking or boiling water to purify. The shiny bottom of the coffee can makes an ideal signaling device.

Cold Weather Coyotes

February is an ideal time to control the predator population on your farm. Deer season is over, and turkey season is a month away. While you are feeding the cows this winter, keep a rifle handy. Often the coyotes will come into the edges of fields offering a shot late in the evening. They will often come into fields looking for rats and field mice as well as cow manure for the folic acid it provides much like a tame dog will chew grass.

Farmers and ranchers have always displayed an independent spirit. This February, remember the founding fathers by being thankful for your independent spirit.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Congratulations to the Winners

During the latter part of fall 2014, Quality Co-ops held a contest for a $500 shopping spree at the winner’s local Co-op. The participants filled out an online form to be eligible for the drawing held December 12. Only one entry was allowed per email and contestants had to be 18+ to enter. There were about 550 entries to the contest and three shopping sprees were rewarded.

The winners were:

Ryan Williams, right, manager of Quality Co-op, in Greenville with winner Daniel Autrey.

(From left) Samantha Sykes, employee of Farmers Co-op in Live Oak, with Evie Pitts, Robbie Pitts, winner, Isaac Pitts and Teresa Weber, Co-op employee.
Brandon Bledsoe, left, manager of Opp’s Co-op, with winner Kenneth Barlow.

Controlling Feral Swine

by Matt Brock

Uttering the words "feral swine" among a crowd will generate a variety of responses. Among landowners and farmers, it could quite possibly result in outrage due to the damage feral hogs do to crops and fields. Spanish explorers introduced pigs about 500 years ago. The spread of feral pigs in the early years can be traced back to free-range livestock practices. Those wishing to introduce the non-native nuisance for hunting or sport purposes now often spread them by intentionally, but illegally, transporting and releasing them. The result of this practice can be very harmful at best and catastrophic on some levels. Feral swine can adapt to changing and brutal environmental extremes, which allows them to make their home almost anywhere on the planet. Once established, they compete with native wildlife species for limited resources and destroy agricultural crops, fields and sensitive areas that may contain rare or endangered plants and animals.

Research from Alabama A&M indicates approximately 85 percent of a feral swine’s diet is plant matter, while 15 percent is some type of insect, small mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian. Of significant importance to wildlife biologists was the presence of turkey poult embryos in the stomachs of several hogs sampled.

Feral hogs are likely here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we have lost the battle. They can be controlled to manageable levels, but it takes a comprehensive approach using as many methods as possible. There is no shortage of information available to aid landowners in this effort, but knowing who to contact and where to look can be a problem.

Trapping is the most successful method of removing feral hogs. Anywhere hogs frequent can be a potential trap site. Look for large wallows – depressions containing water – where hogs like to visit. There are usually a few trees nearby where mud is caked onto the bark. Rooting damage will be visible near field borders, agricultural crops and roadside rights of way. One of the most effective trapping methods has been researched by several universities including Auburn University. That method includes the use of corral-style traps that can capture an entire sounder, or social unit, of hogs. The sounder usually contains one or more adult sows (females) and their offspring. Occasional boars travel with sounders, especially if one of the females is ready to breed. These sounders average between 10-20 hogs. The design of the corral trap is simple. Six and a half-foot steel T posts are driven into the ground at 3- to 4-foot intervals, usually in a circular or oval shape. A trap door is installed on one side to allow hogs to enter the trap. Livestock panels, made of thick gauge wire, are secured to the T posts all the way to the trap door. Many door designs are available, but the most practical and successful is the drop-style door. The door is the only part of the trap that should be constructed ahead of time. Once installed, the door is attached to a rope and pulley that has a root stick on the other end to be placed near the rear of the trap. The root stick can be hinged on two pieces of rebar driven into the ground.

To be successful using this type of trap, there are a few key requirements. The openings in the livestock panels must be no larger than 4 inches. This prevents the escape of young hogs. In addition, it is best to use at least a 5-foot panel. Hogs have been known to climb out of traps lower than 5 feet.

Once a trap has been constructed, pre-baiting can begin. During pre-baiting, the trap door should be secured to remain open at all times. Hogs will eat anything, but seem to prefer fermented shelled corn or sweet potatoes covered in molasses. Corn can easily be fermented in an enclosed 5-gallon bucket. Fill the bucket no more than half-full of shelled corn, adding water until it is three-quarters full. Add a small packet of yeast and place a lid over the bucket for several days. The result is such a foul-smelling concoction that most other animals choose to let the hogs dine with little competition.

If an entire sounder removal is desired, and it should be, the use of a trail camera is necessary. The cameras are invaluable for indicating when all members of the sounder have decided to enter the trap. Most sounders, not previously trapped or harassed, will enter the trap in less than one week of pre-baiting. Other sounders have taken several weeks to gain the confidence needed to enter a trap. Use the camera to your advantage.

Once the entire sounder is used to entering the trap, it is time to set the trigger. Place the root stick, attached to the door by parachute cord or some other strong rope material, to the center or back of the trap approximately 6-8 inches above ground on two pieces of rebar driven into the ground at a slight angle. Place a small amount of bait under the root stick to attract a hog to that area. Once the root stick is struck, the drop-style door falls and the hogs are trapped inside. If the hogs have been visiting on a predictable schedule, you can set the trap a couple of hours before they usually arrive. It is best to check the trap as soon as possible, but without running the hogs away from the trap site if they have yet to enter. Hogs are very intelligent, and are seemingly able to reason well enough to find a way out of a trap that isn’t constructed well. If there are any weak areas or loose ends, they will escape if left unattended for too long. Larger hogs should be dispatched first. It is important to use a weapon capable of quick, clean kills to minimize suffering and to prevent damage to the trap. Remember, it is not legal to relocate hogs off the property on which they are trapped.

There are several other trap designs that can be used, although this particular trap has proven successful for trapping entire sounders. Other trap designs include the box and cage-style traps. Although they are effective, they are more useful at removing single hogs or small groups. They are usually small enough to transport in the bed of a pickup truck or small trailer, and can be moved around easily. The corral-style traps can be permanent or simply removed and relocated. If they are relocated, they must be disassembled and rebuilt in the new location.

More detailed instructions on trapping are found in the publication "A Landowner’s Guide for Wild Hog Management: Practical Methods for Wild Pig Control." Download a copy at For a small fee, you can also order a hard copy via the website.

Shooting hogs is another useful method of control. In Alabama, permits are required by landowners to conduct night-shooting operations on private lands. Contact a Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries district office for a permit. Night-shooting efforts are effective with semi-automatic rifles and night-vision or forward-looking infrared optics. The most effective sites are those with high hog usage and can be frequently visited throughout the evening hours by spotters and shooters. Once hogs are located, the shooters stalk to an effective range and target as many hogs as possible. A group with one spotter and two coordinated shooters can remove more than a dozen hogs per evening. This is an effective tool to use on trap-shy hogs or on a previously trapped area. Shooting can also be used in conjunction with trapping efforts to improve removal rates.

For more information on identifying hog damage or sign, contact the Alabama Cooperative Extension System or a district Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries office. The district office numbers are listed in the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest or at

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

Matt Brock is a wildlife biologist with the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Corn Time

Cost of Production and Returns: Meat Goats versus Hair Sheep

by Robert Spencer, Max Runge and Robert Page

This is a follow-up article from a few months ago that introduced the concept of raising hair sheep. The intent of this article is to highlight costs of production and potential returns regarding raising meat goat versus hair sheep. The numbers and calculations are based on a typical commercial operation. This information should help you make better-informed decisions based on what may be appropriate for each situation. Comparisons are made using the Alabama Meat Goat Enterprise Budget developed by Auburn University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology that can be found at

Livestock enterprise budgets are designed to assist in estimating the potential costs and returns for various livestock enterprises. They are practical estimators and not absolutes. Prices and costs are based on the best estimates available when the budget was developed. Because of the wide variety of alternative inputs, locations and production systems, situations will vary from farm to farm. There are a multitude of enterprise budgets to be found.

For the sake of time and space, we will assume items such as capital investments, fixed costs and herd information are basically the same for both species. Therefore, our focus compares gross receipts, variable costs, income above variable costs and net returns to risks and management. To include entire sets of tables would take up too much space. See the following comparisons, table and discussion that follow.

Herd Information – Includes the number and average weight of does and bucks in the operation. It also has the number of kids that are marketed (sold) and average weight of kids sold. There are certain rates such as conception, kidding/lambing and mortality.

In this situation we will assume the goat and sheep farmer both have: 50 does/ewes, two bucks/rams and 69 kids/lambs for sale at 80 pounds. Each herd will have 10 percent mortality for young and conception rates are equal.

Gross Revenues – This is the amount the producer receives from the sale of the market/breeding kids and any cull animals sold.

For this situation we will assume year-round market prices for kids are $2/lb. and market price for lambs is $1.65/lb. Same number of bucks/rams and does/ewes culled and sold at equal prices. We are assuming four trips to markets per year at 100 miles round-trip. Subtotals for gross revenues: goats, $11,687.30; sheep, $9,761.74; price differences were the primary factor.

Variable Cost – These are out-of-pocket costs associated with producing the animals. Some of the costs include hay, feed, pasture costs (fertilizer, lime, seed, etc.), medicine, marketing costs, transportation, etc. Land rent and labor are also included. It is assumed labor will be provided by the producer.

Initially some things started out equal: consumption rate for hay and mineral, and cost of hay, pasture and mineral. Then situations started to vary: (1) months on hay – goats, five; sheep, four; (2) months on concentrate – goats, eight; sheep, six; (3) feed prices – goats, $26/100 wt.; sheep, $22/100 wt.; and (4) health costs for worming – goats, six times/yr.; sheep, four times. Vaccination costs were equal.

All this is based on the assumptions sheep are more likely to graze while goats are more likely to require extra hay and feed; nutrient requirements for sheep are slightly less than goats, and protein is one of the most expensive ingredients in feed; and goats tend to require more frequent worming than sheep so worming costs are slightly less for sheep. Variable cost subtotals: goats, -$11,278.57, sheep, -$8,155.55; difference of $3,123.02.

Income Above Variable Costs – This is gross receipts minus total variable cost. This measurement allows the producer to determine if revenues covered out-of-pocket costs. Goats – $408.73, sheep – $1,606.19; a difference in favor of sheep is $1,197.36.

Fixed Costs – These costs are incurred whether you produce or not. These include depreciation, interest, insurance, property taxes, etc. These costs may be difficult to allocate to a specific enterprise. Some of the fixed costs do not require a payment such as depreciation, but the assets depreciated must be replaced. Fixed cost includes a charge for land and general farm overhead. Even if the land is owned, there is a cost involved. This cost may be the opportunity to rent the land or just the property taxes.

There was one minor variation here. All in all, things were the same: housing and fencing costs, equipment and supplies, land and general overhead. However, with less worming required, the labor costs for sheep were also slightly less.

Net Returns to Risks and Management – If the figure is positive, the producer will be rewarded for his management efforts and the entrepreneurial risk he has taken, and considered profitable. This is the figure that management should use to make decisions and compare alternatives.

This is where the big difference shows up, but negative is negative: Goats -2,640.42 and sheep -$1,349.27 with a difference $1,291.15.

In compiling this information, here are some comments. Enterprise budgets and numbers will vary from source to source. In many situations, costs of production (variable and fixed) are very similar. However, when it comes to requirements for feed and hay, nutrients and worming frequencies, the overall cost of production for hair sheep tends to be lower. Feed and hay costs can be greatly reduced for either species by insuring year-round availability of quality forages. Some producers may feel it is easier to raise hair sheep than goats, and marketing opportunities will vary. The reality in this situation is, without significant improvements in strategies, neither venture is profitable.

Robert Spencer, Max Runge and Robert Page are all with Alabama Cooperative Extension System.



February Lawn and Garden Checklist


  • Plant potatoes, onions, lettuce and spinach.
  • This year plan to grow at least one new vegetable or vegetable variety that you’ve never grown before; it may end up being the tastiest thing in the garden! Go to for ideas.
  • Dormant asparagus crowns without any green shoots should be planted in beds enriched with organic matter such as compost, manure or shredded leaves.
  • Now is an excellent time to transplant mature or established trees and shrubs while they are dormant.
  • It is also an excellent time to select and plant container-grown roses to fill in those bare spots in your rose garden.
  • Plant dahlia tubers in late February and early March.
  • It is not too early to begin planting and/or dividing established perennials.
  • Start perennials from seed.


  • It is not too late to do a soil sample! The sooner the sample is submitted, the better.
  • Apply a light application of fertilizer to established pansy plantings. As a rule of thumb, use one-half pound of ammonium sulfate per 100 square feet of bed area.
  • Feed hardy palms late this month. Use a product labeled specifically for palm trees. It should contain manganese, iron and potassium. Some products also contain systemic insecticides.
  • Fertilize camellias and azaleas. Refresh the mulch layer around azaleas to protect their shallow root systems from drying out.
  • Feed cool-season lawns, but not warm-season grasses.
  • Fertilize fruit trees as soon as possible after the ground thaws, but before blooming.
  • Don’t fertilize newly planted trees or shrubs until after they have started to grow … and then only very lightly the first year.
  • As the new green foliage of spring-blooming bulbs poke up in the garden, it is time to fertilize. These plants are dormant during the summer months when most fertilizer applications are made. An application of 10-10-10, or any general fertilizer, provides these plants with the nutrients they need to increase in size to provide more flowers next spring.
  • Apply half of the fertilizer recommended for grapes late this month; apply the other half soon after fruit sets.
  • Feed houseplants with liquid of soluble fertilizer according to manufacturer’s directions when signs of growth appear.


  • Give shrubs a late-winter shape up. Prune branches to reduce height or direct growth. Thin the twiggy growth from the interior of shrubs. Prune spring-blooming shrubs after flowering.
  • Many trees can be pruned now. Wait to prune spring-flowering trees until after they flower.
  • Prune fruit trees and grapes in late February after the worst of the winter cold has passed, but before spring growth begins. For fruit trees, contact the cooperative Extension office to learn how to prune to enhance fruit yield.
  • Prune bush roses during February or early March. Use good shears that will make clean cuts. Remove dead, dying and weak canes. Leave four to eight healthy canes, and remove approximately one-half of the top growth and height of the plant.
  • Prune liriope (monkey grass) before new growth appears. Use a lawn mower or string trimmer to make quick work of this task. With the mower, adjust the height to remove old growth and use the grass-catcher attachment to eliminate raking.
  • If overwintered coleus has become leggy and gangly-looking, clip off the ends to take cuttings and root them to produce short, stocky plants for planting in the spring.
  • Hanging baskets of philodendrons, piggyback plants or pothos may have leaves clustered at the ends of their stems. Cut them all the way back to the rim of the pot. During the new growth they will trail back down the sides of the pot. Use the trimmings to root new plants.
  • Take cuttings from indoor, overwintered geraniums to root.


  • Believe it or not, if you have a warm-season lawn you might need a little water this month. If there is an extended dry period during the winter (four or more weeks), adding 1 inch of water (on a warm day, of course) will help the soil retain heat and may help prevent injury to cold-sensitive grasses.
  • Water newly planted trees, shrubs, vines and roses at planting, keeping the soil moist but not excessively wet.
  • Water containerized plants only when needed and not by the calendar.
  • Irrigate winter annuals and dry soil areas as needed.
  • If a freeze is forecast, well-watered roots are less susceptible to freeze damage.
  • Lightly water forced bulbs to keep potting mix moist.


  • I know it sounds mighty early, but some of the extended-protection broadcast fire ant treatments require a two-week period after 2 inches of irrigation to begin protecting your lawn. Applying those products from now until the end of the month will have them active and ready for the ants by the time they begin to "pop up."
  • Spray horticultural oil on tree fruits and other landscape plants prone to disease and insect attack. Apply before leaves appear and when temperatures will not dip to freezing within four hours of spraying. The oil simply covers the tree and suffocates the insects, and it also helps inhibit sporulation of some diseases.
  • Weeds will be readily apparent in dormant, warm-season lawns. Dig or spot-spray offenders with an herbicide that won’t kill grass.
  • Check junipers and other narrow-leaf evergreens for bagworm pouches. The insect eggs overwinter in the pouch, and start the cycle again by emerging in the spring to begin feeding on the foliage. Hand removal of the pouches is the best way of reducing the potential damage next spring.
  • It may seem early to begin controlling summer weeds, but crabgrass and other warm-season weed seeds begin to germinate as soil temperatures rise. By applying pre-emergent or preventative herbicides mid- to late-February, these weeds are killed as they emerge. Wait too late and these products are no longer effective.
  • Spray for fire blight on pears, apples and fruiting quince.
  • Watch for aphids, scale insects and mites on forced bulbs and houseplants. Insecticidal soap is usually enough to knock them out.


  • Make flower and vegetable garden plans now before the rush of spring planting. Time spent in armchair gardening before the fireplace will pay off in improved plant selection.
  • Use a gardening journal to help plan the color and landscaping of your garden and yard. It is easier to erase than to move plants.
  • Branches of forsythia, pussy willow, quince, spirea and dogwood can be forced for indoor bloom. Make long, slanted cuts when collecting the branches and place the stems in a vase of water. Change the water every four days. They should bloom in about three weeks.
  • Check all five growing factors if your houseplants are not growing well. Light, temperature, nutrients, moisture and humidity must be favorable to provide good growth.
  • Check any vegetables, bulbs, tubers and corms you have in storage. Dispose of any showing signs of shriveling or rotting.
  • Don’t remove mulch from perennials too early. A couple of warm days in a row may make you think spring is here, but … it’s not!
  • For longest vase life, gather daffodil blooms for bouquets just as buds start to show color.
  • If you’ve been feeding birds, continue to do so. Birds become reliant on certain food supplies in the fall, so if that supply disappears they can go hungry.
  • Late February is a good time to air layer such houseplants as dracaena, dieffenbachia and rubber plant, especially if they have grown too tall and leggy.
  • Now is an excellent time to start some of those garden hammer-and-nail projects you’ve been wanting to do – window boxes, planters, bird houses, arbors, sheds, cold frames, etc.
  • Order perennial plants and bulbs now for cut flowers this summer.
  • Order gladiolus corms now for planting later in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Locate in full sun in well-drained soil. When they arrive, stagger planting dates for a longer bloom season.
  • It is a good time to organize your work area and supplies in preparation for work later in the month and following months.
  • When soil can be worked, turn under last fall’s cover crops. Never work wet soil – this will cause it to become hard, compacted and unproductive.
  • Solarize (process of covering with clear plastic in order to smother existing weeds) freshly tilled beds.
  • Add compost and top-dressing mulch to all unhealthy soil areas.
  • Turn the compost pile regularly.
  • Change oil in your mower and sharpen blades for cleaner cut. (Improves health of grass.)
  • Calibrate your spreader to insure proper disbursement.
  • Continue to clean up any remaining leaves, frozen plants, debris, etc. (including those in the water garden).
  • Install a water garden when the ground can be worked.
  • Check the tender aquatic plants overwintered indoors. Make sure they are still covered with water.
  • Gardening equipment/tools, gardening books, subscriptions to a gardening magazine, potted plants, trees, shrubs or cut flowers make excellent, non-fattening, Valentine gifts!

Food Plotting in February

Leave at least a 30-foot wide border at the field edge when bushhogging to provide cover for wildlife and nesting areas for turkeys.

by John Howle

February certainly feels like down time when it comes to wildlife. The rush of deer season is over, and turkey hunting doesn’t start until March. February is, however, an ideal time to get a head start on your food plots.

Sweeten the Soil

Most plots planted in wooded areas in Alabama will be deficient in lime. In forested areas where no cultivation has taken place in years, it’s not uncommon for a soil analysis to call for three tons of lime per acre. Bulk lime is much cheaper than pelletized, but bulk lime requires a large spreader truck or trailer to put it out. It would certainly be worth your time to widen access roads through the woods to accommodate the spreader truck. All lime products and spreading implements can be available through your local Quality Co-op.

The only true way to know exactly what your soil will need is through a soil test. Take multiple samples from each plot, mix the dirt in a clean bucket, and put the soil into the boxes to be analyzed at the lab. This can be done for the cost of a bag of fertilizer.

Another extremely important factor in knowing how much lime, fertilizer and seeds to order is knowing how large your plots are. Many smartphone applications are available that allow the user to walk the perimeter of the property, marking points and doing a calculation. In the absence of technology and an intuitive eye, you can visualize a football field. A football field without the end zones is approximately one acre.

Oats are a great companion crop with clover because it grows tall enough to provide security and cover for wildlife and it provides high-quality forage.

Prepare the Plot

If you can catch a few dry days in February, the plot can be plowed to allow for seeding and fertilizer. This is an ideal time to apply the lime to allow it to be plowed into the soil. It may take a few months for the lime to fully neutralize the soil.

During the dead of winter, the freezing and thawing of the soil will help work the seed into the ground making ideal seed to soil contact. When seeds such as white or red clover are sown in February, when the spring rains and warming sun do appear, the seeds can have a head start over the weeds. This is important because if the forage grows before the weeds, many of the weeds will be crowded out.

Select the Seeds

Your local Co-op is your best resource for high-quality seeds whether it is strictly wildlife packaged seed or seed combinations you select yourself. If you will be planting in February, an ideal choice in Alabama is either white or red clover. Both varieties have good germination rates and, if managed properly, will provide forage for quite a while.

Timing for Turkeys

Planting in February allows the land manager a chance to prepare for spring’s flocks of turkeys. Sometimes, the best things you can plant for turkeys in February are plots of clover. Once the sun begins to warm the forest floor, clover grows with thick coverage providing not only high-quality forage but also ideal bugging areas for turkeys searching for insects.

When turkeys hatch their clutch of eggs, the young poult’s diet consists 90 percent of insects for the first six months of life. These clover plots provide the greenery forage for adults and easy travel and insect holding areas for the young turkeys. These plots should provide wildlife forage well into the end of May until the rest of the woodland food sources are growing readily.

Remember to leave the edges of the food plot unmowed, and don’t worry about these outside edges growing up in briars and brush. This can be one of the best wildlife management tools for providing ideal nesting sites for hens. This process is called feathering. You simply leave the edges of your food plots or pastures unmowed and untended. This leaves a natural, protective border for wildlife.

Companion Crops

If you plan to plant a companion crop with clover, oats are one of the best choices. They provide plenty of high-quality greenery forage, abundant energy in the seed heads, and the oats grow tall enough to provide secure travel corridors for deer and turkeys. It’s not uncommon to see foraging areas become bedding areas when oats are planted with clover. Once deer feel comfortable traveling through the food plots, you may find flattened areas where deer are bedding in your food plots.

Monitor Mowing Times

When it comes time to mow your food plots or pastures, timing is critical when wildlife is a priority. According to Luke Lewis, National Wild Turkey Federation Biologist, it’s a good idea to create more nesting and escape cover for the turkeys.

"Do not mow field edges, but leave 30 feet of unmowed area during May and early June for about six weeks to keep from destroying nests," Lewis said. "Also, don’t let cattle, sheep or horses overgraze fields in early spring from April to June so hens can have more nesting areas."

This February, get a head start on your food plots and habitat enhancement. Your property will benefit greatly from your cold weather efforts.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Gold Rush in Selma

Mike Hancock of Selma gives a thumbs up for his barbecue restaurant’s most famous wall attraction.

Hancock’s Country Barbecue’s secret sauce dates to the 1840s.

by Alvin Benn

Success stories often have unusual beginnings, but one in Selma is particularly inspiring because of a 12-year-old boy and his paper route.

Mike Hancock’s determination to save every penny he could eventually led to a barbecue business ranked among the most popular in Alabama.

After spending 20 years working for Progressive Farmer magazine in Birmingham, Ed Hancock wanted to change career directions and needed a down payment to get started in a chicken restaurant.

Mike provided his dad with $750 from his paper route earnings. It enabled the Hancocks to head for Selma in 1965, where chicken eventually turned to barbecue and a sauce dating back to the Gold Rush days in California.

Hancock’s Country Barbecue has become so famous that it’s been included in a new book about the best of the best in Bama – mentioned along with legendary businesses such as Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Tuscaloosa and Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur.

Mike removes a large Boston butt from the cooker at Hancock’s Country Bar-B-Que.

"Hard work is the reason for our success," said Mike during an interview at his restaurant just outside the Selma city limits. "I can still remember peeling hundreds of pounds of potatoes when we got started in the chicken business."

A city boy who fell in love with the country, Mike found a way to relax after school and family business chores were done for the day. That’s when he and his buddies headed for the great outdoors.

"My granddaddy taught me how to hunt and fish," he said. "I soon found out that I was living in heaven, a real paradise in this part of Alabama. I still can’t wait to get out in the woods."

The secret to most successful food-and-beverage related businesses often is a recipe locked away in a safe. Think Col. Sanders and Coke. Some of the ingredients of Hancock’s Country Barbecue Sauce are listed on labels attached to unique little plastic containers.

Those ingredients include cider vinegar, catsup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, lemon, spices, celery seeds and ground red pepper. The combination, amounts and TLC make the recipe unique and a closely guarded secret.

Credit for the sauce goes to John Jacob "Jake" Hancock, Mike’s great-great-great grandfather "sometime in the 1840s," according to the label.

Deborah Hancock holds two containers of their Selma restaurant’s popular barbecue sauce – the recipe dating back to the Gold Rush days in California.

During the Gold Rush in California, he had an old barn called "Jake’s Eating Place" where he barbecued pork and beef using the recipe that became famous for its unique flavor.

"We’ve had the recipe analyzed at Auburn University where the calorie count was high because of the sugar," Mike said. "We weren’t all that surprised. One of the best things about our sauce is its lengthy shelf life due to the vinegar."

He also found butter added to the original recipe "seemed to come to the top" so he took it out and added more spices.

"We use a couple different spices that people don’t normally use," he said with a sly smile before adding: "Everybody asks what they are and I tell’em they can find out if they want to buy the place so I can retire."

Retirement may not be that far away for Mike and Deborah Hancock who have created a successful business and family partnership they want to see continue.

Richard Carter chops onions at Hancock’s Country Bar-B-Que – selected as one of the best in Alabama.

Daughters Emily and Erin are expected to keep it going once retirement dreams become a reality for their parents. Until then, Mike and Deborah hover over the business and loyal customers who fill the restaurant.

"We’d probably take a few million and then reserve the rights to distribute what we produce including our own special slaw," said Mike, whose sense of humor has kept him going through tough times dating back to the start of the business decades ago.

Deborah is the guiding force keeping the restaurant running smoothly – from supervision of the staff to paying the bills, the taxes and everything else related to the operation.

"Some people think what we do is easy, but I set them straight right away," she said. "It takes a lot more than just making the barbecue. That’s where hard work comes in."

Deborah is a business disciplinarian who won’t put up with customers who might let loose with a naughty word or act up in other ways. She lets them know they are expected to behave properly in her restaurant.

"See that sign up there," she’ll say, pointing to one that says "Be Nice Or Leave" and she’s not kidding. It’s rare when a customer is "asked" to leave because most of those who frequent Hancock’s Country Barbecue are "nice."

Former Orrville Mayor Gene McHugh, left, enjoys lunch with Mike Hancock, owner of the Selma restaurant bearing his family’s name.

The ambiance surrounding customers in their booths reflects country living with mounted deer heads, a red fox named Terry positioned next to a rattlesnake not far from the restaurant’s calling card – the head of a 200-pound boar topped by a dark-colored derby.

"Some people seem scared when they see it for the first time, but they can’t get enough of it and come back," said Mike. "A friend was going through a divorce and his soon-to-be ex-wife let him know the first thing she wanted out of the house was that boar."

The porker was plugged in the Plantersville area north of Selma and then mounted. Mike got it about 15 years ago when the shooter’s wife got her wish and the boar wound up on a wall of Hancock’s Country Bar-B-Que.

Singer Hank Williams Jr., star major league baseball pitcher Jake Peavy and NASCAR great Bobby Allison are among many notables who drop by for lunch whenever they’re in town.

The restaurant’s best customer and biggest supporter was the late Kathryn Tucker Windham who lived in Selma and often brought friends to Hancock’s to taste the barbecue.

In addition to barbecued beef and pork, the Hancocks also operated a successful catfish business for a decade before an electrical fire destroyed it a few years ago.

Mac’s Fish Camp was located deep in the country near Alabama’s first state capital at Cahawba, about 10 miles from the barbecue restaurant, but it didn’t deter customers from driving there to have catfish for dinner or supper.

Now, about that $750 down payment provided by Mike for his dad to get started in the restaurant business – Ed never forgot his son’s love and generosity.

A motorcycle was a reciprocating gift and Mike couldn’t wait to hop on board for a ride into the country. Other bikes were bought in the years that followed.

"My friends and I would grab our shotguns and off we’d go," said Mike, 62, who often thinks back to the "good old days."

New memories are developing for Mike because of his family restaurant’s selection as one of best barbecue businesses in Alabama.

Alabama Travel and Tourism Director Lee Sentell said more than 300 barbecue operations attract customers around the state and those outlined in "Alabama Barbecue," a new book about a delicious subject, have reason to beam and brag.

"After several years of focusing on food in general, we decided that what people most like to talk about after football is barbecue and which restaurant is the best," said Sentell.

For that reason, he said barbecue is the culinary topic for 2015 with more than 75 restaurants profiled in the book.

"From what we understand, a survey has determined that Alabama has a higher ratio of barbecue restaurants than any other state in the country," said Sentell.

That being said, it’s unlikely any one of the restaurants profiled in the new book can claim they are the best without the others stepping forward to stay the same thing.

That certainly would include Hancock’s Bar-B-Que in Selma, where a special Gold Rush sauce has had customers lined up for more than four decades.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Grandma’s Visiting

The oil painting pictured above is one of 31 works by Grandma Moses on exhibit at the Huntsville Museum of Art.

Works by Grandma Moses are currently on display at the Huntsville Museum of Art.

by Maureen Drost

Grandma Moses. Her name is part of your common vocabulary if you grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. To all who know her work, she is a sure reminder that our lives can dramatically change at any moment whether we’re 5 or 75. When her folk art was discovered by a gallery in New York, she was 80 years old. She continued to paint until she died at age 101.

From now through March 1, visitors can see 31 of her works at the Huntsville Museum of Art. The museum, Galerie St. Etienne, that discovered her is co-curator of the exhibition.

Interestingly, one of the many financial sponsors is listed only as "An Anonymous Grandma."

During the Revolutionary War, the “Checkered House” served as a general’s house and field hospital.

One of the self-taught folk artist’s most recognized oil paintings portrays the harvest of maple syrup in New England. Grandma Moses painted "Sugaring Off" in 1945. She describes this arduous, time-consuming season through the vivid greens of the spouts on the sugar maples, the brilliant white in the snow-laden ground, the large black pot over a wood fire where the sap is boiled to make syrup, and a variety of bright hues in the farm animals and the dress of the adults and children. About 40 gallons of sap are necessary to make one gallon of syrup.

"Haying Time," done in 1959, bears similar bright colors to "Sugaring Off" in the renditions of the farm workers, the houses and barns, and the livestock.

Much like a patchwork quilt, each section of the "The Battle of Bennington" tells the story of this historic fight in Vermont through the advance of soldiers on both sides bearing American or British flags, a campground, soldiers carrying the wounded and cannon scenes. During this key Revolutionary War battle, American colonists fought the British and Hessians, and the colonists won handily despite being much outnumbered. This set the stage for their major victory at Saratoga, N.Y., the turning point of the war.

The 1942 oil that Grandma Moses rendered of her childhood home in Greenwich, N.Y., shows off its slate-colored barns and its small white farmhouse. The painting is signed in large letters across the bottom in the artist’s own hand.

According to HMA officials, "Grandma Moses’ rustic landscapes with sturdy farm buildings, rolling hills and small, simply rendered figures evoke a world that existed primarily in her imagination."

According to, Anna Mary Robertson was born on a farm in New York in 1860 and began working for hire for another farmer at 12. She wed Thomas Salmon Moses at 27, living the farm life and rearing five children. Following her husband’s death in 1927, she turned to oil painting in the 1930s. The artist had stopped doing embroidery because of arthritis in her hands.

She sold her work at the county fair for a number of years when collector Louis Caldor passed through on a trip and purchased everything she had on display. Her paintings, at his recommendation, were placed on exhibit at a major New York museum, and her rise to fame began. She would go on to be featured on the covers of Lifeand Time magazines, in early TV and in movies, and served as the focus of books and millions of greeting cards.

This month, Jane Kallir, co-director of Galerie St. Etienne, will deliver a gallery talk Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. Kallir is one of the leading authorities on the work of Grandma Moses. March 1 at 1 p.m. a trained museum docent will lead a guided tour of the 31 paintings.

An upcoming exhibit in March at the Huntsville Museum of Art should also interest readers of AFC Cooperative Farming News. John James Audubon’s prints, a collection of his North America quadrupeds, four-legged animals, will be on display starting March 22.

Twenty-five original prints from his 150 hand-colored folio drawings are being loaned by a major private collector, said HMA officials. When he began this collection, Audubon had already drawn international fame with his best-known "Birds of North America."

The Huntsville Museum of Art is in downtown Huntsville at 300 Church St. Through April 26, another special exhibition is open at the Museum, “Rembrandt, Rubens, Gainsborough and the Golden Age of Painting in Europe.” Special admission during this exhibition is $12 for adult, non-members; $10 for military, students (age 12 and up), teachers, and seniors (60+) with a valid ID; $5 for children age 6−11; and $8 per person for groups of 10 or more. Museum members and children 5 and under are admitted FREE.

For more details on all exhibitions and the museum’s 2015 schedule, go to

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer from Huntsville.

Guineas … My Latest Love on the Homestead

Their distinctive feathers are favorites by many who use them for tying fishing lures.

by Suzy Lowry Geno

"That has to be the most annoying noise I’ve ever heard," my niece Jeanne Wood said as she sat in my yard with my grown kids.

I sat there puzzled for just a minute.

There were roosters crowing, chickens cackling, goats baaaaing, cats meowing, dogs bouncing and barking ... ahhhh ... she had to be referring to the guineas!

Just like practically everything else on my homestead, I seldom notice any of the noises unless the animals are sounding some sort of alarm. But the guineas are "alarmed" at just about everything!

My journey with the guineas began in late spring. I’d heard adult guineas are bad to roam and I’d seen that myself.

When my son Nathan bought his first home on the outskirts of the small town of Altoona, a male and a female guinea were included in the bargain (because nobody could catch them). He fed them and kept water outside for them, but it seemed they just cruised through their home base when they had nothing else to do.

When Nathan bought a house here on the farm about 7 years later, at least one of those guineas was still roaming Altoona!

I wanted guineas that would STAY here on the farm and provide some semblance of insect and snake control.

My research in Mother Earth News, Backwoods Home, Backyard Poultry and on the Internet suggested that if they were raised from small chicks they MIGHT be less apt to roam.

But I didn’t want as many as most hatcheries sold in their minimum order (although they can be ordered through your local Quality Co-op when they are selling chicks in the spring).

I discovered on Facebook a woman in the Moody/Odenville area who had guineas for sale. She graciously delivered the 10 little peepers to me because she wanted to see my farm’s little general store.

I had thought they were going to be a little bigger. Although they were fully feathered, they were still too small to go in the isolation room in my chicken sheds. So, of course, they spent their first three weeks here in a giant washing machine box under a heat lamp on my back porch. (If I had a dollar for every critter raised in boxes on that back porch, I’d be sitting pretty!)

The first night they chattered so weirdly that Nathan and his wife Kim said all the way to their house they sounded like mini-car alarms! But after a few nights they quieted some.

I then kept them in the isolation room in the chicken sheds (a large area where they could see the other chickens come and go, but where no other birds could peck whoever is currently in the room).

After three more weeks, one morning I cautiously opened the door to allow them to free range in the large fenced area on that side of the shed. After a little apprehension, they sauntered out and then chattered at everything that moved.

By the next week, I was allowing them free range of the entire farm!

The first couple of nights most of them went back inside their room for me to safely shut them in each night.

But, by the end of that first week, all 10 of them were roosting each night in the tall pear tree that stands above my front goat pen. (That’s where the hatched-on-the-farm roosters and a couple of game chickens also roost.)

They are generally safe there and they’ve roosted there every night since!

They are great alarms! Evidently they can hear or sense coyotes coming through about five minutes before I hear the yipping and yapping, so I have time to grab whichever flashlight currently has a good battery and slip on some shoes before the coyotes race through the pasture.

Guineas are known to be great at insect control, especially ticks; they are often brought in to areas plagued by Lyme disease, I really hoped they would help with snake control since I’ve had a major problem with snakes, especially in the bunny barn, the past 4 years.

There are mixed ideas about guineas and snakes from the "experts." Some say young guinea keets will just gather around a snake, sounding the alarm with a special kind of chattering. Others say older guineas will kill even large snakes, and there are some pretty graphic videos on the Internet to prove that.

I’m not certain if they are the reason but I do know I have not seen a single snake since the guineas began free ranging!

Probably the biggest expert on these weird fowl that likely originated in Africa is Jeannette Ferguson. She bought guineas about two decades ago, to rid her garden of Japanese beetles and grasshoppers, because she wanted beautiful flowers to enter in her area’s garden club competitions. Evidently they worked for her because she’s since won more than 100 prizes for her lovely flowers! And she also noticed the side benefit of finding fewer ticks now - even though she lives in an area prone to tick infestations. (And, guess what, they are said to LOVE to eat fire ants!!!)

Since Ferguson had trouble finding information on guineas when she first began researching them, she wrote her own book, "Gardening with Guineas," that is available on her popular website

You are supposed to be able to tell males from females by the wattles on their necks and their different way of chattering their call that sounds something like "buckwheat, buckwheat." But I haven’t been able to tell the difference in any of mine.

They still travel mainly in a pack. If you see one, you’ll see all of them. There was one slightly smaller one that was always bringing up the rear and I surmised she might be a female. But, as they’ve grown older now, they’re all about the same size.

Guinea eggs are edible and some folks love them. Usually they don’t start laying until the next spring after they are hatched. They don’t make very good mothers (too busy chattering and nosing into whatever is going on all around them), so if you want to hatch out some yourself you either need to gather the eggs and hatch them in an incubator or under a brooding regular chicken. But like everything else there are exceptions to that rule and one of my friends had a guinea mother hen who hatched out her own brood last spring!

So if you don’t mind their noise (and you don’t have close neighbors who might object!), I’d recommend my new noisy friends to every homestead!

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

How's Your Garden?

Mason bees will nest in small hollow tubes such as these made especially to encourage their presence in a garden.

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

A House for Mason Bees

When I saw this mason bee house at Callaway Gardens last winter, it struck me as a great idea for providing shelter for this hardworking native bee. Mason bees, smaller than a honeybee with metallic blue or blue-black bodies, get their name from their habit of sealing off the cells in their nest with mud.

In the wild, these solitary bees nest in natural cavities such as insect holes and hollow stems, but they will also lay their eggs in artificial nesting cavities such as wooden blocks with holes drilled in them, paper straws and cardboard tubes such as the ones in this purchased house. You can buy a mason bee house like this one or fashion your own. The point is to encourage their presence in your garden, especially if you grow fruit or vegetables that need pollination. These are great all-weather bees for the garden as they will also work on cool or rainy days when many other bees don’t.

Meyer Lemon Makes a Good Potted Plant

Small citrus trees are often featured in garden centers this time of year because they are either in bloom, fruiting or both. One that is a favorite of cooks is the Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri), a very large, thin-skinned lemon thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange. Consequently, the juice is not as acidic and has a unique flavor prized for salad dressing and drinks. Meyer also does fine indoors in winter, so you can grow it outdoors during the warm months and bring inside for winter. Its giant, oversized lemons yield a lot of juice.

To grow lemons or any citrus, start with a large pot, at least 18 inches in diameter. Use a top-quality potting soil and a fertilizer that includes all the micronutrients. Keep the plants watered and protect from freezes, and you’ll have a beautiful small tree that will last for years if you repot it every year or two. For best flavor, the plants need full sun when outside during the growing season. Indoors, find them the brightest spot possible.

Planting Peas

It seems early, but February is the month to plant green pea seeds. The pea seeds will germinate in the cold soil of early spring, although it may take a month or so. That is why you plant now, so that the pea seeds will be in place to take advantage of warm spells that may speed their germination. Because pea plants fizzle out quickly in warm weather, the young plants can tolerate light freezes. In fact, a little damage to the shoots can actually encourage secondary shoots to grow so you end up with more pods. Drainage is very important to keep the pea seeds from rotting in the cool soil, so make sure to plant in a spot that drains well. Plant seeds about an inch deep.

When do I prune?

One of the most frequent questions I get from friends and neighbors is, "When do I prune?" Often it’s because plants have outgrown the spaces they are in. For that, there is a solution: don’t prune, but replace. Choose a plant that won’t grow above the windowsill, wider than the planting bed, taller than the power lines, etc. Shearing and topping often ruin the natural form of a plant and just become repetitive tasks. Imagine how else you could spend that time. So, before spring arrives, rethink that spot and what you might put there that won’t outgrow the space.

Controlling Wild Garlic

Trees with beautiful bark, like this sycamore, can add a nice touch to your winter landscape.

Are tufts of dark green wild onion and wild garlic poking up in your flowerbeds or through your lawn? If so, now is the time to dig them up while they are clearly visible. Later, they often get mowed down or covered up by other plants so the clump just gets bigger and stronger for the next year. Each clump arises from small bulbs deep in the ground, so use a long weeding tool such as a soil knife to pry the plant and the bulbs out of the ground.

Bark Up the Right Tree

Winter is often an under appreciated time for trees, but, if you choose trees with beautiful winter bark, this is the season they show off. A few natives with pretty bark include River birch (flaky), sycamore (white), American beech (smooth and gray) and white oak (white and flaky). These are large trees; so they are not for small suburban lots but for larger lots where they can be appreciated from afar. Smaller ones for urban landscapes include crape myrtle (smooth and sinewy), cherry (silvery and striated), redbark Japanese maple (smooth and red), hawthorn (mottled) and Chinese elm (mottled). It just so happens that winter is a perfect time to plant all of these deciduous trees! Their tops are dormant, but their roots will grow. A few of these trees will exhibit their showy bark while young, but for most it takes a few years and they just get better with age.

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

Pals: Committing to a Greener Community

Over 500 Robert E. Lee Elementary School students are motivated to begin their Clean Campus program.

by Jamie Mitchell

The Alabama PALS Clean Campus Program is thrilled to be partnering with Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Satsuma for the first time. The administration and staff from Robert E. Lee are very motivated to begin their Clean Campus initiative.

Assistant Principal Brenda Sharp coordinated my visit to the school and even had me come in a day early so I could attend the Board of Education meeting the night prior to my meeting with the students. The Board of Education heard all about Alabama PALS and the Clean Campus Program, and they were very supportive of the new campaign. They are excited for the students to participate in our poster competition this spring and scrapbook competition in the fall.

The next day, over 500 students from first to fifth grades heard the message about keeping Alabama litter-free! The students got a chance to hear about how to take simple steps to make a big difference. From taking a shorter shower to picking up at the park, each student agreed that they would do their part to make their community more "green"! Shelley Kennedy, a first grade teacher, has taken on the task of beginning a recycling program and a new schedule for campus clean-up dates. At the end of my visit, each student received an Alabama PALS pencil made from recycled newspapers.

If a school near you would like to join the Clean Campus Program, have them give me a call at 334-263-7737.

Jamie Mitchell is the PALS State Clean Campus Coordinator.

Peanut People

Predator Trapping: A Valuable Wildlife Management Tool

For some species like coyotes, man is the only predator.

by Corky Pugh

Recent surveys by the National Deer Alliance and others reflect a high level of concern on the part of deer hunters about the adverse effects of excess predator numbers on deer populations. A high percentage of hunters surveyed felt that coyotes and other predators adversely affected the quality of their hunting experience.

For example, in one recent NDA poll, 81 percent of deer hunters surveyed believed that something needs to be done to control coyote populations. In the same poll, 46 percent felt that they did not have the time or skill to do it.

While not all hunters and deer managers would agree, many support the role of predator trapping as part of an overall deer management program. Trapping alone is not a magic bullet to improve deer or other wildlife conditions. However, as one part of an overall wildlife management program including habitat improvements and harvest strategies, trapping can play an important role.

The M. W. Smith Foundation recently provided funding for a three-day intensive nuisance wildlife trapping workshop in Monroe County with the vision of promoting the use of trapping as a viable means of diminishing the adverse impacts of excess predator numbers, while helping to educate new trappers. Given the right training, new trappers can make a difference on their own land and through providing trapping services for those who don’t have the time or inclination to tackle it themselves.

More adaptable trappers have found there is a good livelihood to be made in nuisance animal trapping. Where furs or pelts were once the primary source of income for multitudes of trappers, now the money is in nuisance animal removal.

Steve Phillips of West Alabama Wildlife Nuisance Control is among the growing number of trappers who have made the transition to the new role of trapping.

Anti-hunters and animal rights extremists attacked trapping with a vengeance in the past, painting the practice as barbaric and cruel. At the same time, slick public relations campaigns waged war on the fur market, resulting in prices plummeting.

What had once been a good way for a person who didn’t mind working hard to make a decent living became financially very difficult. Because of the resultant lack of trapping, fur-bearer populations exploded.

Fortunately, negative opinions of trapping are decreasing. According to the authors of "The Sportsman’s Voice: Hunting and Fishing in America," "One reason for this may be the increasing abundance of wildlife in suburban and urban areas, which sometimes results in people experiencing property damage or other problems from wildlife around their homes. It is also possible that members of the public have become increasingly aware of problems with nuisance wildlife that followed statewide bans on trapping. Finally, it may be that the volume of anti-trapping information disseminated by animal protectionist organizations has decreased in recent years, as these organizations have broadened their objectives and have pursued new areas of interest (anti-fishing campaigns, for example)."

The adverse effects of predators on ground-nesting birds are well established. The primary nest predators on turkey and quail are raccoons, opossums and free-ranging canines such as coyotes. There is a growing body of research on the effects of coyotes on deer.

Much is changing about the understanding of the role of predators. The mantra, "Predators follow prey" is still as valid as ever. Where there are abundant prey species such as rats, mice, rabbits and deer, there will be abundant predators such as coyotes.

Predators play a useful role in the natural world by removing sick, injured or otherwise weakened animals. A once-valid argument held that coyotes help to maintain deer numbers within carrying capacity. However, more contemporary thinking is that, unchecked, coyotes may have a detrimental effect on deer populations.

Without trapping and other legal, regulated means of removal, predator populations can expand exponentially. For some species such as coyotes, man is the only predator.

While some research has suggested that removal of coyotes only results in higher reproductive rates, there is growing interest in the use of trapping as an added element in overall, comprehensive wildlife management.

The November Monroe County trapping workshop, limited to 25 participants, was led by Mike Sievering, Supervising Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. Richard Tharp and Chris Jaworowski, also Division Biologists; Jerry Fiest with USDA Wildlife Services; and a number of excellent mentors from the Alabama Trappers and Predator Control Association added their expertise to provide an intensive, hands-on learning experience for the participants.

At "graduation," participants received a starter supply of traps, through the generosity of the M. W. Smith Foundation and the Hunting Heritage Foundation.

Sievering, a seasoned, career employee of the Division, is deeply committed to ensuring that the trapping tradition remains strong, and has been responsible for numerous adult and youth trapping seminars across the state. With graduate and undergraduate degrees in Wildlife Management from the University of Eastern Kentucky and prior experience in Wyoming with the Bureau of Land Management, he brings a lifetime of practical knowledge about trapping. With retirement from the Division eminent and recent election as President of the Alabama Trappers and Predator Control Association, he plans to continue to conduct workshops. A workshop similar to the Monroe County event is planned by the Hunting Heritage Foundation for early 2015 in another southwest Alabama county.

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

Shelf Life of Canned Goods

by Brandon Jahner and Brian A. Nummer

Canned foods in this article refer to foods canned in liquid. Dry pack canned goods are not included. Canned foods are safe alternatives to fresh and frozen foods, and help meet dietary needs and avoid preservatives. Proper storage can greatly increase the shelf life and quality of canned foods.

Quality and Purchase. Canned foods can either be purchased commercially or home canned. Home-canned foods should be canned using research-tested recipes and processes like those found in the USDA Complete Guide to Canningorin Extension publications. Use only the best quality foods to can at home. Home-canning processes can never improve the quality of foods. Commercially canned foods are superior to home canned for food storage. Commercial canners can closely control quality and safety to produce the best product. Commercially canned foods for storage can be purchased at grocery stores and similar outlets. Avoid budget resellers (e.g. scratch and dent sales, dollar stores, etc.). Purchase canned foods in either cans or jars. Avoid rusted, dented, scratched or bulging cans.

Packaging. Foods are commercially canned in glass jars with lids, metal cans or special metal-Mylar-type pouches. All of these materials are suitable for food storage. Home canners should only can in mason-style canning jars with two piece metal lids as recommended by the USDA Complete Guide to Canning. Home canning in metal cans or metal-Mylar-type pouches requires special knowledge and equipment. Improper processing of home-canned foods could lead to Clostridium botulinum food poisoning.

Storage Conditions. Carefully label all home-canned or commercially canned food containers. We recommend labeling purchase date (month and year) on can lid with marker. Store all canned food in cool, dark, dry space away from furnaces, pipes and places where temperatures change like un-insulated attics. Do not allow sealed cans or glass jars to freeze. Freezing changes food textures, and leads to rust, bursting cans and broken seals that may let in harmful bacteria. Always store metal cans off of the floor, especially bare concrete. Moisture can wick up to cans and encourage rusting.

Nutrition and Allergies. Canned foods maintain mineral content for entire shelf life. Vitamins A and C will decrease rapidly after fruits and vegetables are picked and cooked. Vitamins are lost during heating processes; however, once canned, vitamins A and C loss slows to 5-20 percent per year. Other vitamins remain close to fresh food levels. Salt or sugar are not necessary for safe canning and only added for flavoring. Be sure to label canned goods with ingredients when canning mixed foods like sauces.

Shelf Life. As a general rule, unopened home-canned foods have a shelf life of 1 year and should be used before 2 years. Commercially canned foods should retain their best quality until the expiration code date on the can. This date is usually 2-5 years from the manufacture date. High acid foods usually have a shorter shelf life than low acid foods. For emergency storage, commercially canned foods in metal or jars will remain safe to consume as long as the seal has not been broken. (That is not to say the quality will be retained for that long.) Foods "canned" in metal-Mylar-type pouches will also have a best-if-used-by date on them. The longest shelf life tested of this type of packaging has been 8-10 years (personal communication U.S. Military MREs). Therefore, storage for longer than 10 years is not recommended.

Use from Storage. Always use first-in, first-out, meaning use your oldest cans first. Before opening, discard any badly dented, bulging, rusty or leaky cans or jars that have broken seals. Open cans or jars to view and smell contents. When opening, discard any can that spurts. Discard contents (do not taste) if there is a strange odor or appearance.

If there is no strange appearance or odor, taste a sample. For added safety, in the case of older canned foods, you may wish to boil the food for 10 minutes before tasting. Discard if there is an off-flavor. High-acid foods may leach metal or metallic flavors from cans if food is stored in open cans; remove unused portions and store covered in the refrigerator. Low-acid foods should be heated to 165 degrees or boiled for 5-10 minutes before eating. Once opened, canned foods may last between a day and a week depending on the food.

Storing Cooking Essentials

Some essentials are needed to cook with the main food staples in long term food storage. These mostly are used to make breads from stored grains. The bread-making essentials include salt, baking powder, baking soda and yeast. Some people also store vital wheat gluten and a product called bread enhancer.

Quality and Purchase. Purchase plain iodized salt, canned baking powder, boxed baking soda and yeast in foil-lined sachets. Baking powder should be the double-acting version. It will have two acid salts to cause dough to rise immediately, then again when heated.

Packaging. Store baking powder in its original sealed can. Store salt, baking soda and yeast packets in their original containers placed inside another stronger packaging. Mylar-type bags work well for this use. Seal food packages inside bags using oxygen absorbers. Salt can be poured into a canning jar and sealed with oxygen absorbers. Yeast sachets can be placed into canning jars and sealed without oxygen absorbers. Most yeast is packaged in nitrogen-flushed Mylar-type sachets that are free of oxygen and moisture.

Storage Conditions. Moisture can rapidly deteriorate all of these cooking essentials. Salt will cake; baking powder and baking soda will react and chemically change with moisture; and yeast will lose viability. Temperature extremes will have less of a negative impact compared to moisture. These food items can freeze without harm. Excessive heat may lead to deterioration.

Nutrition and Allergies. These cooking essentials are primarily used as a flavoring or leavening agent. They contribute very few calories or nutritional content. Salt will obviously contribute sodium to the diet. There are no major allergies associated with these foods. Some people are concerned by the use of aluminum salts in baking powders. Many brands are now available that do not use aluminum salts.

Shelf life. Iodized salt and baking powder have an indefinite shelf life when kept free of moisture and contamination. Baking powder has a best-if-used-by date of 18-24 months. A BYU study examined the leavening power of baking powders stored for up to 29 years in their original cans. All samples successfully leavened biscuits and demonstrated carbon dioxide evolution in lab experiments. Yeast in nitrogen-flushed foil packaging has a best-if-used-by date of approximately 1 year. However, the viability of the yeast will last much longer than that provided it remains sealed and is stored in a cool to cold place.

Use from storage. Once opened, store all of these foods away from moisture. Salt and baking soda can absorb odors from the storage area, even through the packaging. They will still remain acceptable for use for several years. Once opened, baking powder will last for approximately six months. To test opened baking powder, mix one teaspoon in one-third cup warm water. If bubbles form, there is activity left in the baking powder. To test dried yeast activity, add one teaspoon sugar to one-quarter cup warm water (~100 degrees). Stir in one envelope yeast (2.25 teaspoons) and let stand 10 minutes. If the yeast foams to the half cup mark, it is active.

Brandon Jahner is a B.Y.U. intern and Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D., is a USU Food Safety Extension Specialist. Original printed by Extension Newsletters from Utah Extension September 2008.

Six Decades Strong

Frances Dahlke has worked as a bookkeeper since she “retired” from the manager’s job in 1996. She marks 54 years with Alabama Farmers Cooperative on Feb. 1, 2015. She will have 60 years of serving Alabama farmers in June.

Frances Dahlke shows no sign of slowing down.

by Susie Sims

What do you consider to be long-term employment? 20 years? 30? These days, it seems like 10 or 15 years fit the bill – though not for Frances Dahlke. Feb. 1, 2015, marks 54 years with Quality Co-ops for Dahlke. Summer will mark six decades of her serving Alabama farmers.

Dahlke began her career in agribusiness quite accidently. Shortly after graduating from high school in 1955, she was trying to figure out what she wanted to do with herself. Her father told her that Carl Ellard at the Farmers Exchange in Cullman needed her to work a few days to help with inventory. She recalled that every night she would ask him if he needed her to come back the next day.

He finally said, "You keep coming back until I tell you not to."

And thus, her career was born.

A bookkeeper by trade, Dahlke, 78, has taken on various roles during her tenure. Most notably, she has served as the manager of three separate Co-op stores. She began her Co-op career as a bookkeeper at Walker Farmers Co-op in Jasper in 1961. The assistant manager title soon followed. When the manager retired in 1974, Dahlke stepped in to fill the void.

She recalled she was apprehensive about the managing role, but t;he Co-op sweetened the deal with an option that she could return to her "old job" if things didn’t work out. Work out they did, for Dahlke received the E.P. Garrett Award or Manager of the Year in 1978.

Besides the Jasper store, Dahlke has also managed Cullman Farmers Co-op, now in Holly Pond, and Marshall Farmers Co-op in Arab. She "retired" in 1996, but found she needed something to occupy her time.

"I couldn’t stand having nothing to do," she said. "I had to come back."

She currently works part time as bookkeeper for the Holly Pond store. According to her, she has no plans to retire again anytime soon. She plans all of her errands and activities for her off days.

This self-proclaimed "mother hen" has raised dozens of Co-op boys over the years. Dahlke said that all young men need mothering if they are going to turn out all right. Her "boys" typically range in age from 20 to 60. They are all respectful of her and know not to cross the line.

Being in agribusiness is not easy for women, but Dahlke can hold her own when helping producers find the right product for their needs. She has earned the respect of co-workers and customers alike. When she answers the phone with the familiar "Cullman Farmers Co-op," callers know they will have their questions answered quickly and accurately.

Many things have drastically changed in the 60 years since Dahlke started working at the Farmers Exchange. She said the biggest difference is obviously computers. When she began records were kept on ledgers and hand tickets were written for every order. Now all the inventory and records are stored electronically. Some computer programs have been easier to learn than others. She expecially sees the benefit over hand tickets when you need to access old files.

Remembering the days of hand tickets, Dahlke said that when the auditor would come in July he would stay about a week.

"He would check your purchases, expenses, sales and all that," Dahlke said. "I was always scared to death he was going to find something."

Not likely, as she is meticulous and quite thorough in her work.

Dahlke called to mind when feed and fertilizer came in 100-pound bags. Farmers would ask for their orders to either be in cotton bags or print bags all alike so their wives could use the bags for fabric. Most of the time, the sacks were used to make men’s shirts or ladies’ dresses. Quilts and sheets were also common. The sheets were rough and always had a seam down the middle.

Besides the lack of technology, there were no forklifts in those days and all the trucks had to be loaded and unloaded by hand. It took a lot of manpower to run a supply store.

Dahlke noted that she has served under every CEO of AFC since it began: E.P. Garrett, John Matthews, John Anderson, Tommy Paulk, Roger Pangle and current CEO Rivers Myers.

In her spare time, Dahlke likes to travel with her sister. They recently went to Nevada with the whole family. She has been to Italy twice and would love to go to Ireland.

In 1984, she took a farm tour around Europe through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The tour included stops at local farms in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Germany and Holland.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "My ol’ lady sure drug me over the coals for being driven in so late last night. Maybe I shouldn’t have introduced her to the deputy as ‘my ol’ lady.’"

Why would a person drag someone across coals?!

To drag or haul somebody over the coals means to speak angrily of or to someone because they have done something wrong or to reprimand severely or to talk about unpleasant things from the past that other people would prefer not to talk about.

The earliest example given is from 1565: "S. Augustine, that knewe best how to fetche an heretike ouer the coles."

The idiom is taken from the practice of Medieval European Catholic Church authorities dragging or raking dissidents over coals as a form of torture. If people suspected you were practicing witchcraft or that you didn’t believe in things the church said, you were accused of being a heretic and dragged over red-hot coals of a slow fire. If you survived the ordeal, you were declared guilty and hanged. If you didn’t, whoops! Sorry!

Stampeding into Garrett Coliseum

SLE Rodeo and Livestock Week brings top-rated Frontier Rodeo Company to Montgomery.

Bone-jarring rodeo action will stampede to the Garrett Coliseum March 19-21 at the 52ndannual SLE Rodeo and Livestock Week.

"We are thrilled to bringone of the top rodeo producers in the country, Frontier Rodeo Company from Winnie,Texas, to Montgomery,"stated Thomas Ellis, president of the Southeastern Livestock Exposition. "This year’s event featuring award-winning stock and top cowboys and cowgirls should be one of the best rodeos in the Southeast."

Frontier Rodeo Company was selected to take 16 top bucking stock to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this past December and won the "Saddle Bronc Bucking Horse of the Year" as well as "Bareback Bronc of the Year."Fans will get a treat seeing some of rodeo’s top stock and cowboys compete for over $50,000 added money thanks to the sponsorship of the Windcreek Hospitality. Don Gay, eight-time world champion bull rider, will be on hand to provide color commentary and one of rodeo’s top specialty acts, Tim Lepard and Team Ghost Riders will entertain the crowd.

The four PRCA rodeo performances will be held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. One hour before each performance, young cowboys and cowgirls can get down in the arena to have fun in the "Stick Horse Rodeo."

Ticket information is available online at www.slerodeo.comand through Ticketmaster. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 1-888- 2RODE02.

Alsoduring the week, the Junior Beef Expo will host 200 youth from over 41 counties to compete in the State Steer Show, the Alabama Heifer Show and the State Showmanship contest.

The SLE Rodeo and Livestock Week offer fun for all ages!

Thanks for Your Service

Co-op employees were honored for their years of service at their annual Christmas party.

50 years – Carolyn Parker, CAS 40 years – Marcelle Childers, FF&H

30 years – John Maxwell, Feed Mill

20 years – James Callahan, Feed
15 years – (From left) Montez Brown, payroll; Rhonda Herring, FF&H; Susan Smith, FF&H; Patrick Hood, Feed; and Michael Martin, Grain10 years – (From left) Chuck Cobb, Feed Mill; John England, Feed; Angela Walker, CAS; Donna Soloman, Purchasing; Ginny Harbin, FF&H; Mark McLemore, Feed; not pictured: Kelly Kidd, FF&H; and Paula Worthey, Grain 5 years – (From left) Susana Salcido, payroll; Benjamin Waple, FF&H; Rex Thornton, Feed; and Cheryl Cornman, CAS

The Co-op Pantry

We are so very fortunate to have as our cook of the month Kimberly E. Ramsey, director of the Women’s Leadership Division for Alabama Farmers Federation! Kim took time out of a very busy schedule to share her story and recipes with us. I have already tried two of the recipes and they are just wonderful!

Kim shared the following with us.

"I am a Huntsville native and when I was a teenager my family moved to northeast Cullman County where my Momma grew up along with my Daddy growing up in nearby Morgan County. I have lived in Montgomery for the past 10 years and I guess you could say I have progressively moved south over the years to be closer to the beach. HA!

"I have been fortunate over the years to be surrounded by wonderful cooks growing up and through my career. Both of my grandmothers were fabulous cooks along with several aunts who took after them. I had dedicated Home Economics teachers in high, undergraduate and graduate schools, and am blessed to know so many talented cooks statewide through my many years as an Extension agent and now as the Women’s Leadership Director with Alabama Farmers Federation.

"I took as many Home Economics classes as allowed at Fairview High School back in the day and that is where I developed a love for all things related to Home Ec, now referred to as Family and Consumer Sciences. Doris Patterson and Pat Floyd were the reason I majored in Home Economics at UNA and Montevallo. The two of them instilled a desire in me to not only cook, sew and run a household but to be able to do so many things that make people feel good – that is why I love the two of them so much! It was not about us in class but about doing for others, and anyone who knows the two of them knows this to be true.

"I do enjoy cooking, and I would say that over the years I have developed a true love for baking. I regularly read cookbooks, visit the ‘Southern Plate’ website of fellow UNA graduate Christy Jordan, watch Trisha Yearwood’s ‘Trisha’s Southern Kitchen,’ Ree Drummond’s ‘The Pioneer Woman’ and Kimberly Schlapman’s ‘Simply Southern’ of the award winning music group Little Big Town. All of these ladies have such wonderful ideas when it comes to preparing good, down-home dishes that are easy and I have experienced to be pleasing to the taste buds. I encourage readers to check out their cookbooks and shows.

"I have also developed a liking for using the grill the past few years. When my husband Larry and I married a few years ago, we didn’t even own a grill. Not long after we married, we bought a grill … don’t tell him, but I think I am a better griller than he is. Well, at least I think that is why I have the responsibility of doing most of the grilling now. HA!

"Anyway, I have co-workers who have grilled for years and some of them own Green Eggs, so I am always anxious to hear what they have been cooking, smoking and grilling to see if it is something I might like to try.

"For those who may try them, I do hope the included recipes prove to be some of your favorites. They are my go-to and feel-good compilations I have used for many years for meals and as well as ‘grazing’ foods for a crowd. HA! Enjoy everyone!"

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


2 (16-ounce) cans crushed
pine apple, drained
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
¾ cup Town house or Ritz crackers, crushed
1 stick butter, melted

Place pineapple in 9x13 casserole dish. Mix sugar and flour; sprinkle over pineapple. Add cheese. Sprinkle cracker crumbs over cheese. Drizzle with butter. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.


1½ cups self-rising cornmeal
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cream style corn
½ cup oil
2 Tablespoons onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons bell pepper, chopped
¼ cup pimento or roasted red peppers, chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Mix all ingredients except cheese. Pour ½ of mixture into very hot greased 10-inch iron skillet. Sprinkle cheese on top, and pour remaining mixture on top of cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until done in the middle, as ovens vary.


4½ cups Rice Chex
4½ cups Corn Chex
3 cups Cheez-It Crackers
1 cup Tiny Twist pretzels
1 cup peanuts or mixed nuts

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1½ teaspoons Seasoning Salt
¾ teaspoon onion powder
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder

In a large bowl with lid, combine all non-seasoning ingredients. In separate bowl, combine seasonings. Stir and pour over Chex mixture. Place lid on bowl and toss until well coated. Pour mixture into 9x13 pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 250° for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Once Chex Mix has cooked, put onto paper towels to let cool then store in airtight container.

Note from Mary: This is absolutely delicious!!!


1 (11-ounce) box mini Club crackers
1 (13-ounce) box Cheez-it crackers
1¾ cups canola oil
1 (1.5-ounce package or
2 Tablespoons) dry ranch salad dressing mix
1-1½ Tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes

Place crackers in a large airtight container. In a separate bowl, combine remainder of ingredients and pour over crackers. Seal container tightly and flip several times over a 15 minute period. Ingredients will be absorbed by crackers and will remain fresh for an extended period in an airtight container with no refrigeration.

Note from Mary: These are positively addictive!


1 box Duncan Hines Lemon
Supreme Cake Mix
1 stick butter, melted
3 eggs, divided
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 pound confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine cake mix, butter and 1 egg until combined. Press mixture into bottom of greased 9x13 baking dish. Mix cream cheese, 2 eggs and confectioner’s sugar. Spread over cake mixture. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Cool completely and cut into squares.


2 cups sugar
6 lemons

In gallon pitcher, pour sugar. Roll, slice and squeeze lemons into pitcher. Place sliced lemons in pitcher and fill with water. Stir and chill lemonade for a least 1 hour before serving. Do not leave lemons in lemonade overnight as this will make it bitter.

Note: This was my Grandmama Nancy Earwood's recipe. It is delicious!

All 2014 cooks please email or snail mail me your addresses so we can get your copy of “Southern And Then Some More” in the mail to you. My email is and my snail mail address is AFC, Attn: Mary Delph, PO Box 2227, Decatur, AL 35609. For my 2015 cooks, you will also receive a free copy of the cookbook and your recipes will go on file for our next one! My year is filling up fast, so if you want to be a cook of the month and get a free cookbook, get in touch with me soon!

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!

The FFA Sentinel: A Tradition in Music

Members of the Red Bay String Band: (from left, front) Layne Raper, Jodi Shotts, Megan Shotts, Eliza Williams, (back) Kamyrn Patterson, Kyle Fuller, Terry Hardin Jr., Tanner Cash and Luke Stanford.

by Jarod Massey

The Red Bay FFA Chapter will soon complete its 77th year. The original charter paper dated April 26, 1938, is still on display in the classroom for all the Red Bay agriscience students to see. From the beginning, one thing that seems to have played a big role in Red Bay’s chapter has been their participation in the String Band Career Development Event. The first Red Bay String Band dates back to that charter year of 1938. While not much is known about how this first string band came about or where they performed, there is no doubt that throughout its history the string band has given its members opportunities they could not have ever imagined.

If you come to the Red Bay High School auditorium on any Monday or Thursday night, you will most likely find about 10 Red Bay FFA members working vigorously on their music to get ready for their next performance or competition. From cattleman’s banquets to National FFA Convention, the Red Bay FFA String Band travels to perform wherever they are invited and enjoys getting ready for their next opportunity to compete.

Members of the 2000 Red Bay FFA String Band pose with members of the 1938 Red Bay FFA String Band.

Alabama FFA and the National FFA Organization offer its members opportunities to compete musically at district, state and national levels. Alabama is the only state to still hold Quartet and String Band Career Development Events (contests) each year. Each spring, the Red Bay FFA String Band gets their best three songs ready and travels to Wallace State Community College in Hanceville to compete at the district level in hopes of placing in the top two and moving on to the state contest in June at the Alabama State FFA Convention. This past year, Red Bay placed second at the district event and continued on to place third at the state event.

While there is not a national String Band CDE, FFA now offers its members an opportunity to compete musically at the national level. In 2013, the FFA decided to take its National Talent program and put it in a competition format to allow students from all over the country to submit application videos in hopes of getting invited to serve as National Talent and compete at the national level. This past July, the Red Bay FFA String Band submitted its audition video and found out in August that they had been invited to compete in the National Talent competition. The national level is a lot different than the state level because in the national competition you are not only competing against string bands but you also compete against all other talent participants. There are vocal soloists, instrumentalists and others doing things such as lasso or even yo-yo tricks, and everyone is competing for the title of National FFA Talent winner.

Sending in the audition video and getting invited to compete is only the beginning of the journey. After arriving at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., on Monday afternoon, the Red Bay FFA String Band had to audition for the National Talent directors the next morning. This was Round One of the competition. There were around 50 FFA members in the competition and they had been selected from about 150 audition videos submitted. After Round One, 15 acts were chosen to move on to Round Two and the Red Bay String Band was still in the competition. This round took place on Thursday night and was on the main stage of the convention. Also, this round was broadcast live to the nation on the RFD TV channel. There were three judges for Round Two and they chose three acts that would be moving on to the final round. Unfortunately, the Red Bay FFA String Band’s run at National Talent winner would end in the Second Round. However, to place in the top 15 at the national level is a great accomplishment.

Competing at the national level is just one aspect of getting selected as National Talent. Not only did the Red Bay String Band get to compete during the first two rounds of the competition, they also got to perform three other shows while they were in Louisville at the National FFA Convention. These shows were generally 45 minutes to an hour and were at different places around the convention. There were no judges for these performances and this allowed the band to just enjoy getting to perform for thousands of FFA members who were attending the convention.

For the past 77 years, members of the Red Bay FFA Chapter have enjoyed getting to perform in the string band and, hopefully, they will continue this tradition for many more years.

Jarod Massey is the Agriscience teacher at Red Bay High School in Franklin County and the advisor for the Red Bay High School FFA.

The Pack Rat of Pike County

John P. Johnston doesn’t mind being called a pack rat. Here he is with some of his favorite bottles.

by Jaine Treadwell

When someone refers to John P. Johnston as a pack rat, he’s much obliged.

The compliment is always appreciated.

Johnston’s status as a pack rat is superseded only by his reputation as the undisputed authority on the history of his hometown of Brundidge in rural Pike County.

Any time anybody anywhere wants to know anything about the history of the Brundidge community, Johnston is the go-to source.

But Johnston’s knowledge of the past is not limited to genealogy. He also has a passion for digging up the past, one scoop after the other.

Johnson is a bottle collector and has been for several decades. His collection is extensive.

He, laughingly, said his collection is housed in there, up there, under there, behind there, over yonder and in the shrub bushes around the house.

His wife Dianne, in a more serious tone, said, if her husband died, she would call the garbage truck first and then the undertaker.

Clockwise from top left, any bottle that was bottled in Brundidge is a treasure as are the rare cola bottles that had wire and rubber gasket stoppers. It is very rare to find an old bottle with the paper label still attached such as this medicine bottle with the paper label from Smith-Sellers Company in Banks. This bottle from Hayner Distilling Co. is rare because it has four distillers listed on the front embossing – Dayton, St. Louis, Atlanta and St. Paul. You just won’t find many of those around.

But, there are a few bottles she would probably want to keep.

Some of the bottles Johnston has collected are rather rare and some are extremely rare. And, what makes them even more valuable to Johnston is that most of them were collected in and around his hometown and are physical evidence of the town’s history. And every single bottle has a story.

Johnston taught history in the Barbour County School System. His love of history was contagious. He inspired and motivated his students; they learned to appreciate history and they shared his interest in anything old. It was an old bottle a student found and brought Johnston that spurred his interest in bottle collecting.

"A student came in one day and said, ‘Mr. J., I found this old bottle in the hog pen and thought you might want it,’" Johnston said. "It was an old medicine bottle and I bought it for $10, about twice what it was worth. That’s one of the few bottles I ever bought. I dug for the rest."

That bought bottle was the beginning of Johnston’s interest in bottle collecting. But he was already a pack rat of sorts. As a youngster of about 10, he was allowed to "look around" in the projection room of Brundidge Theater and a lobby card that had been stuffed back caught his eye.

"It was a lobby card for Tom Mix and the Lone Star Ranger," he said.

Even at a young age, Johnston realized he had a find. The lobby card dated back to 1923, the age of silent movies. It continues to be one of his most prized finds and was the first in a growing collection of lobby cards and one-sheets.

His collection of trade tokens began by happenstance. Walking along one day, Johnston just happened to spy a coin, but, when he unearthed it, he had found it was a trade token with the name John J. Munn, Brundidge.

The cobalt blue 1852 John Ryan Columbus, Ga., was a rare find because not many of those bottles were bottled in Columbus.

"The John J. Munn trade coin was not even listed in the trade books," he said. "As far as I know, it’s the only one ever found."

Johnston also found two Tallmadge Munn General Merchandise trade coins for the store in Tennille that featured a soda fountain. Those trade coins are also rare. However, trade coins were not to be Johnston’s area of interest.

A Brundidge lady, who was 86 at the time, took the Brundidge pack rat a bottle she had dug up while digging for fish bait. It was from the old Brundidge Bottling Works and dated back to around 1916.

She led Johnston to the site of an old garbage dump that was prime digging ground for a bottle collector.Just the thought of the possibilities the dump held excited Johnston.

"I went to the landowner and asked permission to dig in the dump. He said that was the ‘stupidest’ thing he’d ever heard of, but gave me permission anyway."

With the first shovel load of dirt, Johnston was hooked.

As the local historian, Johnston is often sought by those seeking historical information of any kind. One young man knocked on his door asking to see his "over here over yonder" bottle collection. The two men became fast friends and were bottle buddies for almost 25 years before discovering by chance that they were cousins.

"I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of friends through bottle hunting," Johnston said. "Over the years, I’ve enjoyed attending bottle shows and sitting around chewing the fat. A lot of friendships were made that way."

Johnston, who retired from teaching "a long time ago," said laughingly that he’s too old, his back’s too weak and his legs are too stiff to dig for bottles anymore. But he surrounds himself with his treasures and finds great pleasure in sharing bottle stories with others. Stories, not tales.

"I’m not a fisherman," he said, laughing.

Johnston has dug holes, big and small, in Pike and several surrounding counties. He’s dug up snakes and yellow jackets’ nests, and once got into a life-threatening situation looking for a honey hole, a hole that pays dividends.

"Three things about bottle hunting: You always ask permission, you take a first aid kit and never dig alone," he said.

But, Johnston often didn’t heed his own advice and went bottle hunting alone.

"I was digging in a gully and had dug as far into the side of the bank as I could go," he said. "So, I slid my feet in the hole and kept digging. The bank caved in on me up to my shoulders and covered my shovel. If my hands had not been free where I could dig down to my shovel so I could dig myself out … well, I don’t know what the outcome would have been."

But, for Johnston, the rewards were always worth the risks. His collection includes bottles he wouldn’t trade for the world and bottles that there’s not enough money around to entice him to let go of them.

A medicine bottle with the paper label from Smith and Sellers Drug Company in Banks in Pike County and a PPP Prickly Ash Poke Root Potash bottle that contained a great blood purifier are among his favorites.

Any bottle that was bottled in Brundidge is a treasure as are the rare cola bottles that had wire and rubber gasket stoppers.

"The wire stuck out the top of the bottle after it popped the rubber gasket that sealed it," Johnston said. "The FDA put a stop to those bottle stoppers because you drank the cola over the wire that was exposed and roaches and water bugs had probably crawled over them."

Johnston said many different things affect the value of collectible bottles.

"This bottle from Hayner Distilling Co. is rare because it has four distillers listed on the front embossing – Dayton, St. Louis, Atlanta and St. Paul. You just won’t find many of those around."

Johnston also has an affinity for his Dr. S. A. Weaver Canker and Salt Rheum Syrup and Dr. McLean’s Cordial Strength and Blood Purifier bottles.

"Quack medicine," he said, laughing. "There was a lot of that around back then and people took the stuff and I guess they believed it worked."

His cobalt blue 1852 John Ryan Columbus, Ga., was a rare find because not many of those bottles were bottled in Columbus.

And the Stockport teardrop or torpedo bottle is one of the most unusual bottles in his extensive collection.

"Bottles with the teardrop shape can’t stand, of course, and have to lay on the side," Johnston said. "I found the teardrop bottle by accident right here in Brundidge."

Johnston was coming home from work and was wearing a white shirt and tie but he didn’t hesitate to jump down in the hole to collect the teardrop bottle.

"The city was digging a water line on Main Street and I yelled and asked the man who was operating the machine if he’d seen any bottles and he pointed down in the hole," Johnston said. "I couldn’t believe what I’d found."

One bottle Johnston had given up on finding was a G. P. Thompson, proprietor, Crown Bottling Works in Clayton. The find was a last ditch dig on the spot where he was standing.

"We were leaving the dig site and I said I probably would never find that bottle, but I decided to make one last dig and about 2 feet down I found it," he said. "That’s what’s so exciting about bottle hunting. You never know what you’ll find. Most of the time you won’t find anything, but, then, you’ll find a bottle that just tickles you to death."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Try Me, A Rodeo Story

by Baxter Black, DVM

When Marvin Garrett nodded his head, no one knew that eight seconds later the Thomas and Mack Arena would be covered with goose bumps.

Marvin drew "Try Me" in the fourth round at the National Finals Rodeo 1989. He marked her out and hung the steel to’er like the rods on a Union Pacific driver! "Try Me" jumped the track! She slid, slipped and rolled around inside her skin! She punched holes in the arena dirt!

Somewhere in the last two seconds Marvin reached his limit. Everything in his firebox … experience, intuition, talent and training were at full throttle and blowin’ blue smoke! It was then, over the din of 15,000 rabid fans, Marvin reached down inside himself, I heard him whisper, "Yer mine …."

The hair stood up on the back of my neck. The buckin’ horse went down! From where I sat 60 rows up it looked like Marvin’s shoulders actually hit the ground! His legs pistoned! The horse exploded! She climbed out of that hold with Marvin stuck to’er like a remora on a shark’s belly.

I don’t believe you could’a cut Marvin loose with an acetylene torch.

The whistle blew. The crowd went wild! Marvin tipped his hat. But, if you’d touched him at that moment, it would’a been like layin’ your hand on an electric motor. He was hummin’!

Marvin had ridden "Try Me" with all he had left … will. Will, want to, gumption, grit, whatever it is that allows housewives to lift cars off babies and Samsons to pull down temples.

The crowd waited nervously for the score to be posted. We were nervous because of a loose brick in the façade of rodeo rules that says: hard to ride horses don’t always score the best. Most of us in the arena that night would have been disgruntled, but not surprised, if Marvin’s ride had scored out of the money. Style often counts more than difficulty.

But rodeo is not like making a centerpiece out of angel hair and glitter. We’re talkin’ about a horse that can buck you off and a cowboy who claims she can’t. That’s how rodeo began and that night at the National Finals the judges didn’t forget it.

Marvin and his pardner "Try Me" scored an 82 … good for top money in the go round. They deserved it.

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,

What a Farmer Does

The outside temperatures have been so cold I had to bring my small citrus trees inside. These are Calamondin oranges. They pretty much continue producing throughout the year.

by Herb T. Farmer

It’s another year and there are new fires to fight on the frontier.

Early January’s cold temperatures kicked my butt again this year and I took the month off from writing. I hope you will all forgive me for my absence.

A few weeks ago I went into town to buy a battery for my old truck. Any time I venture to the big city, I always make a point to stop by my buddy’s garage to pick his brain about a project I’m working on or just to grab a quick cup of coffee and play a game of checkers by his wood stove.

On this occasion, my friend was knee deep in carburetor rebuilds because a fellow in the next town over had just bought a bunch of 1960s and 70s military trucks and buses through an auction house. He had them shipped in on flatbed from all over the country and plans to sell some and give some to his grandkids and keep a bus for himself to turn into an RV.

I stood around with my coffee and carefully watched my buddy take apart, inspect and clean a couple of them while he explained what he was doing and why.

Now, I’m not going to name names or anything like that because some of you might know the place I’m talking about. I’ll just say that he has been in business for over 40 years. It started off as a full service gas station with four pumps and a kerosene tank. When the gasoline market went crazy back in the early 70s, and all those self-service stations started popping up, he took out the pumps and moved them around back then hired another mechanic.

"Mechanics," he said, "… come and go. They come here with a little knowledge, I teach ‘em a few new things and they leave to become shade-tree entrepreneurs. Take Leldon for example."

He pointed to a young fellow who was wrestling with the radiator hoses on an old Saab while listening to every word we spoke.

"I hired him the day before Thanksgiving and he’ll probably leave me as soon as the weather warms up," he added.

Leldon (not his real name, but it’s an odd one still) spoke up and said in a laughing tone, "Naw, you know I love it here. I’ll be by your side from now on. You’ll learn to love me like one of your own kids."

They joked back and forth for a bit then my buddy said, "See my friend Herb here? He’s a farmer, and you know what that means?"

"He grows stuff!" Leldon snapped.

They were talking about professions and jobs before I got there. Then my buddy started explaining, "Yeah, but he’s an ‘everything’ man and that’s more than just a plant grower."

Leldon: "You mean, he’s a jack of all trades?"

"That’s one way to put it," my buddy said. "Herb, here is more like a Renaissance man."

Then he turned his eye toward me and said, "Tell him what you really do."

So, this is a rough selection of the things I told them. First of all, I said that I grow stuff.

I’m a soil scientist, in that when there’s a problem with the soil, I have to use my resources to find out the remedy. The remedy is usually some type of nutrient, so I become a chemist and nutritionist.

I am an entomologist, dendrologist, biologist, mycologist and botanist.

In addition to all that, I’m a plumber, vehicle mechanic, small engines mechanic, solar engineer, HVAC technician, ditch digger, logger, electrician, home builder, roofer, painter, framer, interior designer, artist, cook (NOT chef, but cook), food designer, photographer, marketing specialist, computer system builder, website designer, Information Technology specialist, engraver and I can even set tombstones the proper way.

"You must have gone to school for a long time," Leldon said, standing there with his mouth open.

"Every day of my life. In fact, I’m in school today," I said.

My buddy spoke up and said, "That’s right. He’s learning about carburetors right now."

"If you do all that, then how do you get the time to farm?"Leldon laughed, turning to my buddy. "If he learns all our tricks then how can you expect to make any money off him?"

"First of all, all that which I named is farming. If my tractor breaks, I have to fix it. If my computer gets out of date, I have to build another one. If bugs are eating my chili peppers, I have to figure the best way to stop them," I said. "When you’re a farmer, there’s not enough money to hire all the ancillary work done. You have to learn how to do it yourself."

Then my friend said, "Yeah. Herb hasn’t spent more than a hundred dollars with me in over 25 years. But, I sure have enjoyed some fine tomatoes, squash and collards over the years."

I looked over at Leldon, who was still struggling with a radiator hose and said, "Are you replacing that hose?"

He said, "Yeah."

I walked over and looked to make sure he had completely loosened the clamp, took out my Buck pocket knife and cut a little slit from the edge of the hose, lifted the edges, twisted it and took the hose off.

We all had a good laugh then it was time for me to go home.

I think I’ll have some turkey soup tonight. I always buy up a bunch of turkeys during the holiday season because that’s when the prices are best. I roasted my sixth one of the season the other night and still have six more left in the freezer.

Make soup or just broth from your boiled turkey carcass. Refrigerate the broth overnight and skim the fat before freezing or making soup.

The soup is one of the best parts of the whole turkey experience. Want the recipe?

Roast your brined turkey according to your favorite method. Separate the legs, wings and thighs. Slice the breasts. Store for sandwiches. There will still be lots of meat attached to the skeleton.

Place the skeleton, skin, neck and other bones in an 8 to 10-quart stock pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a high simmer and cook for about 45 minutes.

Strain the liquid into a clean pot, cover and refrigerate. Place the bones back into the stockpot and refrigerate.

The next day, bring the broth to a boil and add chopped onions, sliced carrots, chopped pac choi, minced garlic and a bag of frozen, sliced okra.

Prepare two dry cups of cooked rice. Add a half cup of your broth to the water, if you like.

Pick all of the meat from the turkey bones, being careful to remove any gristle and otherwise rubbery parts.

Once the carrots are fork tender, add the turkey meat and cooked rice to the pot. Add your favorite seasoned salt, salt and black pepper to taste. For a little kick, add some hot chilis.

Enjoy! I do this with every turkey I roast.

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

Thanks for reading!

For more information, email me at I’ll answer your questions and I enjoy the emails!

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

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

What Is a Cull Buck?

Both complete horns showing the difference in growth.

by Chuck Sykes

I have heard hunters say countless times, "I took this one out of the herd so he wouldn’t pass on his genes. He was a cull buck." Really?

As the Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, I try to keep the focus of these articles on policy, regulation changes and programs of WFF. Typically, I’m trying to defend a change due to widespread misconceptions or misinformation. But, every once in a while, it is nice to go back to plain old wildlife biology. So, this month I am going to again attempt to debunk misconceptions and misinformation concerning "cull" bucks.

Let’s face it, in Alabama, most outdoorsmen are experts on two things: college football and deer management. I fall into one of those categories myself because I second guess the Auburn coaching staff on most Saturday afternoons. Unfortunately, just because I played football in high school and watch it quite a bit on the weekends does not qualify me to coach on Saturdays in the SEC. Contrary to what some may believe, I am highly qualified to talk about deer management.

I was eating lunch with a friend this week and the conversation turned to "cull" bucks. He stated that one of his hunting buddies had already successfully filled his three-buck limit and completely filled up his harvest record. When I asked if he killed any "good ones," the reply was, "Nope, only three culls." Really??? "Yep, he needed to get them out of the gene pool." Even though I knew how the conversation would end up, I had to ask one simple question: "How did he know they were culls?"

Just after I asked that question, I flagged the waiter down and requested a refill on the water and a few more tortilla chips because I knew this was going to take a while. The standard answer to that question is, "Well, you know that buck had four points on one side and a bunch of junk on the other." Ok, so he had four good points on one side and a long spike with a few little stickers on the other? "Yep, that’s it. He had to go. Don’t need him breeding."

Close up of the bases of antlers with pedicular damage to the left one. This type of damage can lead to malformed horns.

I’m not trying to pick on my friend. I’ve had this conversation countless times with consulting clients as well as hunting companions. It is not a complex issue if one really thinks about it. First, taking one buck out of a deer herd is not going to alter the genetics of that herd. It’s scientifically and genetically impossible. That leads to the second misconception held by many hunters: "It sure will change the genetics … that buck could have bred 10 or 15 does this year." Again, this has been scientifically proven to be incorrect. Numerous studies have proven that bucks of all ages will participate in the breeding process to some degree, but many bucks, regardless of age, do not actively participate in the rut and do not successfully breed each and every year. The ones that are active and successful breeders may only sire one to three fawns per year. This isn’t a pasture full of cows with a single bull doing all the breeding. The mating ritual of white-tailed deer doesn’t lend itself to one male breeding a high number of females.

I have matured throughout life as a hunter, land manager and wildlife biologist. Old habits, ideas and practices must change in order to stay current. As hunters, we pursue wildlife that has to adapt to current conditions or die. In most cases, we don’t follow suit. We want to continue to do the same things and get better or different results each year. It just doesn’t work that way. Enough of the philosophy, let’s get back to scientific facts.

I have been observing bucks in Alabama since I was a kid and I have killed enough of the so-called "culls" to fill the bed of a large pick-up truck. However, I also have learned, through my personal research and the research of academic institutions, that I was completely wrong. The odds of a buck with one "good" side and one "bad" side being the result of poor genetics are virtually zero. The vast majority of antler malformations or abnormalities are due to an injury to the pedicle, the growing antler during velvet, or the body. As a result, shooting a 3-year-old buck with five points on one side and a spike on the other under the guise of improving the quality of the deer herd is foolish. You can see some of the latest deer research on pedicle injuries from the Auburn University Deer Lab in a digital newsletter found at,%20I....

The best approach to manage your property for improved deer quality is actually pretty simple. Shoot for proper numbers (population size), a good sex ratio (antlered bucks to adult does) and age (more adult bucks).

The first step should be to keep the deer herd within the carrying capacity of the habitat. Each property can support a limited number of deer before the habitat and deer quality begins to degrade. It is important to keep good records on age, body weights and overall physical condition of all deer you harvested from the property to make sure you are maintaining the herd below carrying capacity.

You should keep in mind there is a definite tradeoff between deer quality and deer quantity when it comes to population density. When all other things are equal, deer in lower density populations typically are in better condition (i.e., body weights, antler size) than deer in higher density herds, but deer sightings on an average day of hunting are usually higher in higher density herds. Is a 10-pound increase in body weight or a quarter-inch increase in antler circumference worth the tradeoffs in decreased deer sightings and unhappy hunters? This is a question all deer managers must answer for themselves. In most scenarios, you should strive for a happy medium.

Next, try to keep the adult sex ratio balanced. An un-hunted, naturally functioning deer herd typically has slightly more adult does than antlered bucks. For most unfenced, free-range properties, this near 1:1 ratio is probably an unrealistic goal. A more realistic and practical goal may be to manage for one antlered buck for every three adult does. You will be doing pretty well if you can maintain this adult ratio year after year. Having a slightly higher adult doe to antlered buck ratio will not come without some tradeoffs (e.g., less intense rutting activity, prolonged breeding cycle), but hunters typically see a few more deer in a day of hunting in this scenario.

Finally, try to shoot bucks based on age rather than antler size if you want a quality buck population. I prefer not to shoot any buck younger than 3 years old, regardless of antler size. Of course, kids and first timers get a pass on most restrictions. Hunters should not get caught up in shooting a buck because he meets some arbitrary size limit such as having 8 or 10 antler points. In many cases, these harvest guidelines damage the overall quality of the herd because the "best" (largest antlered) of the younger age classes are being harvested and are not allowed to mature and express their potential.

Deer management is a constantly evolving subject. Managers should be ready to apply the latest research and techniques in their management activities and should avoid falling into the trap of complacency. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!

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

What’s the Deal With Local Beef?

Dr. Christy Bratcher, Auburn University, is working to decide just how safe local beef is compared to commercially produced beef to help provide a safe, local beef product at a lower cost.

by Michelle Buffkin

Locavore: a person interested in eating food that is locally produced and not moved long distances to market. Locavore was the Oxford American Dictionary 2007 word of the year; from then on, the agriculture industry has seen exponential growth in the local food market. There are numerous reasons a person might choose to be a locavore - one being the belief that food is fresher and safer when produced and consumed locally.

One Auburn University professor is conducting research to test this theory. Dr. Christy Bratcher is working to decide just how safe local beef is compared to commercially produced beef. Her team also plans on using this research to prepare material to help local farmers and processors make their beef even safer.

Her reasoning behind the research is simple: she wants to help raise the level of food security. Food security is defined as having an adequate supply of food for everybody.

"If we are providing consumers with what they want and at the right price, then we are helping provide a secure food supply to the people that do not have access. If we can help our local producers create a higher profit margin and allow them to charge less, then the product would be available cheaper to those who cannot afford expensive local meat. If we do not have a safe food, we cannot have a secure food," she explained.

That last statement is a powerful one, and one that resonates strongly with the people of Alabama. Alabama Possible states that there are nearly 900,000 Alabamians, 300,000 of which are children, living in poverty. Bratcher hopes her research will begin to help fix this problem, not only in Alabama but also across the nation and world.

Bratcher is not working on fixing the problem of food safety in local beef alone; she has a team of professionals including experts in food safety, rural sociology, ag economics, supply chain management, microbiology, Water Watch and Extension. They first began their research by asking themselves and consumers, "What is local beef?" The USDA defines local as a 400-mile radius. Bratcher wanted to see if consumers thought similarly about the definition of local and was a little surprised by the overall answer received.

"What we have come to understand is that what people conceive as local beef as going to a local grocery store and picking up the meat. Somewhere they can see the butcher. It does not matter if the meat came in a box that was shipped from Nebraska," she discovered.

She went on to discuss how the consumer’s belief and perception of local might affect the future of beef production.

"It makes me think that maybe we need to go back to the smaller, local meat markets. A lot of those have been put out of business because of regulations, and that makes me believe this topic is something worth investigating: how to make local beef just as safe as the larger scale processed beef," she said.

This is what Bratcher’s current research project is centered around: making local beef safer, more affordable and, therefore, more attainable by the general public.

The first part of Bratcher’s food safety research has consisted of visiting farms and swabbing for bacteria. To collect a sufficient amount of data, the team swabbed bedding, feed sources, cattle hides, water troughs and collected feces samples. Bratcher said this has produced no new (to the cattle industry) data.

"Where you have livestock, you have higher levels of generic E. coli," she explained.

Bratcher said that this research has proven how well trained Alabama cattle producers are.

"So far we have not found any large variations of E. coli concentrations depending on the farm size. Number of cattle, size of farm, grain fed … there is no difference in the levels of pathogenic E. coli in environmental sampling. We are proving that our cattle operators, whether small or large, grass or grain, know what they are doing," she observed.

Bratcher’s results are producing the expected answers about the amount of bacteria and that is good news for the cattle industry in Alabama.

"I think this goes to prove that just because cattle are fed a certain source or have more contemporaries in the pasture, does not increase or decrease food safety risk," she summarized.

This data proves the popular argument about local beef being safer is not entirely true. It is equally as safe as the beef produced commercially from the production standpoint.

The second part of Bratcher’s research, the swabbing of local processing plants, is still underway. Once those results are in, she will use all of the data to better teach college students, Extension personnel and farmers how to more safely produce and process local beef so it can be more attainable by everyone, including those in need.

Bratcher explained that her team plans on taking their consumer survey about local beef to a larger group of people to make sure we are giving consumers what they want. They will also analyze all of the data from the farms and processing facilities, along with testing samples from large processing facilities. After analyzing and tying all of this data together, ag economists will help find best economical practices for local producers, and they will use this information to provide training through the Extension personnel. Through all of this research and work, Bratcher hopes to help local Alabama cattle farmers produce beef at a lower cost so consumers can afford a safe, local beef product.

Michelle Bufkin is is a freelance writer from Auburn.

What’s Your Niche?

by Stephen Donaldson

Most of my writings have focused on larger scale beef production. While much emphasis is placed on larger producers, smaller producers have a tremendous impact on agriculture in Alabama. Lately, there is much renewed interest in smaller, more diversified farming that incorporates both old and new production practices. Organizations such as the Southern Foodways Alliance have begun trying to incorporate both old production practices and heritage cooking methods. Heritage lines of cattle, hogs and chickens are being cultivated to further authenticate the foods of our past. These niche production systems attempt to take us back to yesteryear and the production style and foods of our great-grandparents. These production methods are much less efficient, but highly sustainable.

As I just stated, the efficiency of these animals isn’t equal to the efficiency of modern lines of livestock and poultry. Still, our goal is to have them perform as well as their genetics allow. Feeding of these heritage lines isn’t much different than we would feed modern genetics. The nutrient requirements of heritage lines aren’t vastly different than those of the efficient modern animal. In fact, much of the poorer efficiency comes simply from the small farm or heritage livestock being in harsher environmental conditions than those of livestock in modern production systems.

Modern production systems allow animals to be grown in more controlled environments. Temperature swings, rain and wind do not impact them. They are kept in an environment that allows them to maximize growth and efficiency.

On the other hand, most animals and poultry grown on small farms and in heritage production systems are more exposed to the elements. Weather has the greatest impact on them. Cold or hot weather requires them to use more of their consumed nutrients to regulate and maintain their body temperature. If you add rain into the equation, it escalates the requirements even further. If we consider the environmental swings that most small producers encounter, it is apparent they have a much more difficult time maximizing the growth and efficiency of their animals.

Because of the size of these operations, most of their feed comes in the form of 50-pound bags. While this is seen as a disadvantage much of the time, it has several distinct advantages. The flexibility to change rations on the fly is invaluable. By hand-blending various feeds and feedstuffs, producers can supply the animals with exactly what they need for changing conditions. In times when there needs to be more fat added due to hot conditions and decreased intakes, producers can supplement animals with either dry or liquid added fat. If a hog producer needs to add protein to a lactating sow to help with milk production, this can be accomplished by adding a protein concentrate.

Feeding with feed supplied in bags also allows producers to keep feeds formulated for specific classes of livestock on hand in smaller amounts with less capital investment. Feeds also are fresher and more palatable to livestock. This helps feed intake remain constant, keeping animals on feed and prone to fewer problems.

For smaller producers to maximize the production of their livestock and poultry, they must feed each class the specific nutrients required for optimum production. Producers should find a base feed and work from it to design feeds for each class of livestock. For instance, when feeding hogs, use the 12% Finisher Feed as a base and add 40% Swine Concentrate to increase the protein for small pigs or lactating sows.

The same principles work when feeding poultry. If you need a grower feed, but keep layer feed on hand, simply add a protein source such as soybean meal to increase protein for growing birds. If eggshell quality becomes an issue, add limestone or oyster shell to improve shell quality.

These simple principles work with all species of livestock and with all classes within the different species. It’s easy to see the flexibility offered to small producers to specifically feed their livestock. An even more interesting aspect of feeding from bags is the ability to use exotic ingredients to further customize your livestock. Farmers can tailor make their own product in these niche markets – ones that can be utilized for selling their livestock or for personal preference and use.

This is exciting because we are able to preserve our ancestors’ ways of raising livestock and producing food. While new methods and technology have advanced our civilization, it’s still pleasing to know that we can produce feed and food the same as our grandparents. Before you speak and say that their ways were much harder and required more work, think about that Sunday dinner spread or those holiday meals of your childhood, it just might be worth the extra trouble.

Your local Quality Co-op can help you design your own niche program, just give us a call.

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

Wild Hog Hunt Test of Strength, Endurance and Perservenance

by Christy Kirk

It was only late afternoon, but the rain clouds covering the sky made it seem like dusk. The four of us were headed to two different deer stands. Jason and Rolley Len were going to the walnut tree stand, and Cason and I were going to sit in Mr. Stanley’s stand. As we crossed the small field by the hunting camp, Jason looked through the clearing on the left that leads to the green field.

"Look there," he said as he pointed toward the horizon.

Where the bright-green grass met the darkness of the trees, there were about 20 hogs scattered throughout the field. The deer stands would have to wait.

Jason parked his four-wheeler and Rolley Len’s 50 behind the trees near the opening to the green field. From there, we all crouched close to the ground and made our way closer to the open field of foraging hogs. Across the rough grass we went like baby ducks following their mother all in a row. Jason led the way with Cason next, then Rolley Len and me.

We waddled low until we reached the slight slope of the hill before the green field. The incline allowed us some cover and a little relief from the squatting. I huddled low in the curve with Rolley Len and Cason as Jason crept up to the crest. He balled up his jacket for support and propped up for the shot.

From where we were, the hogs looked massive even from a distance.

The kids kept whispering, "What if they turn around and come get us?"

I couldn’t lie and say wild hogs would never do that, but I also didn’t want to tell them the truth - Daddy would start shooting and we would run like the wind.

The break at the base of the hill didn’t last long enough. After a few minutes, a blast of bright orange and a puff of smoke broke the air. The hogs ran fast to the left into the woods. We all jumped up and ran after them. As you are running to chase a hog, you might ask yourself why. Well, even if your first goal was a doe nanny, if you see 20 hogs in an open field you take a shot and go for it. Sometimes you have to accept what food source is available rather than what is preferred, even if it becomes harder work to make and track the kill.

There are people who believe that hunting requires no physical prowess or ability. Some people think hunting is simply getting dropped off at a site, sitting, waiting, shooting and then dropping off their kill for someone else to dress. Sometimes it is like that; however, most times, hunting is actually a sport and not just because of the accuracy required but also the strength, endurance, perseverance and discipline needed to be successful.

Jason wants to make sure Rolley Len and Cason have these skills so that one day they will be able to bring us our next meal from the wild side themselves. When they go hunting with their daddy, he makes sure they carry their own guns, walk rather than being carried and take care of their own hunting gear. By the time we had tromped through the green field looking for blood and footprints to track the hogs, the kids had already walked almost a half-mile. It’s good to know Rolley Len and Cason are already building their stamina that will help them be successful hunters for years to come.

Here is an easy wild hog rib recipe with some inexpensive side dishes that would go well with pork.

Wild hog ribs

Wild Hog Ribs

Let your smoker heat to 200-220°. Season the ribs generously with salt, pepper and garlic. Place the ribs onto the rack in the smoker and let cook. Cook, then wrap them in tinfoil. Place them back on the rack.

Perfect sides for spicy wild hog ribs or hindquarters:

White Beans & Kale

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 cups chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces (about 6 cups) kale, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and chili powder to oil. Cook while stirring for about 8 minutes, or until onions are clear. Add chicken broth and tomatoes to pot. Cook and let reduce, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes. Add beans and kale and mix together. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook about 7 minutes, or until kale is tender. Add a little water if it looks like it is drying out before the kale becomes tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Red Beans and Rice

¼ cup bacon drippings
1 large white or purple onion, chopped (reserve some for garnish)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bunches green onions, chopped
1 pound dried red beans (white or black can also be used)
1 hambone with meat, or 2 extra thick slices slab bacon
½ teaspoon hot sauce, or more to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot, heat bacon drippings and sauté about 1 cup of onions until clear. Add green pepper and sauté for 3 minutes while stirring so they don’t stick. Add garlic and green onions and sauté 3 minutes. Add dry beans and hambone (or bacon) and mix. Cover with water until the water level is 3 inches from the top of the beans. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper.

Lower heat and cover pot. Cook for approximately 2 hours, then check for tenderness and flavor. Add more seasoning if needed. Serve over rice and garnish with reserved onions.

For black beans: try adding sour cream or cheese.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas

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