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Home > Archives > June 2009

June 2009

56 Years at Work. . . and Still Counting

Charles Thomas in his “office” on a sale day at the Northwest Alabama Stockyards.

Stockyard worker demonstates uncommon versatility and tenacity

By Don Linker

Charles Thomas is a jovial, happy man, a life-long resident of Franklin County and has the distinction of making a career out of a job he started when he was 15 years old. When Charles began working at the Hester Stockyards, he never dreamed he would still be at it 56 years later. Charles has done everything at stockyards but work in the office and be an auctioneer. Now it is a part-time position at Northwest Alabama Stockyards in Russellville that occupies his Mondays where he pens cattle according to who buys them. This is an important part of stockyards’ operations because some of the buyers may purchase different classes of cattle going to various places. Penning them according to the buyer’s number enables them to be loaded out correctly, therefore saving time and money.

Mr. Thomas began working for Mr. H. R. Hester at the Hester Stockyards in 1953, doing whatever needed to be done. The Hester Stockyards was located on Highway 43 just north of Russellville where cattle, hogs and goats were sold on Mondays. Charles worked during the sale on Monday and the rest of the week doing maintenance, cleaning up and lots of riding, which he really enjoyed, because Mr. Hester also bought, sold and traded horses. The stockyard was sold to Jack Clayton, Jimmy King and Duke White with Charles continuing to work for them until Johnny Little and Shorty Anderson bought out Duke White and Jimmy King becoming partners with Jack Clayton. Charles worked full-time for the partners until the early 1970s, when an association of area farmers was formed and bought the stockyards. The association sold shares, voted in a board of directors who hired a manager. The association operated at the old yards for two to three years while a new yard was designed and construction started on purchased land just southeast of Russellville on Highway 243. The first manager for the association was Johnny Little with Clinton Hardin, Bill Kilpatrick, Junior McGuire, Wendel Mitchel and current Manager Jim Martin following. When Junior McGuire retired after 16 years as manger, Charles also retired but was asked to stay on part-time and do the penning on Monday.

How did the grand opening of the Northwest Alabama Stockyards go back in 1977?

"We had 2,500 head on that Monday because area farmers had saved stock for the grand opening. It was a wreck because the gates didn’t have safety chains and gates were popping open all over the yards. We were still sorting the cattle that had gotten mixed up on Friday after the sale."

What changes have you noticed during your years spent at the stockyards?

"The quality of cattle has greatly improved compared to back in the ’50s. Back then the majority of cattle coming to the yards had dairy influence due to the number of dairies in Franklin and surrounding counties. As area dairies declined, better beef cattle were introduced resulting in better quality livestock at the stockyards. We sold a lot of hogs and a few goats back then which is just the opposite of now."

Have you worked anywhere else over the years?

"The only places I have ever worked have been at other stockyards. I worked at Florence Stockyards on Tuesdays for two or three months a few years ago, but then the sales at Northwest began to run over into Tuesday so I had to quit there. I also worked for about a year at Moulton Stockyards for Roland Gargis doing the penning. Then gasoline got so high I couldn’t afford to drive there and back."

What hobbies do you enjoy now you are retired?

"I spend a good bit of time fishing, which I really enjoy. My favorite kind is for crappie, which I also enjoy eating. I don’t cook them, but my cousin does a real good job of preparing my catch."

Charles Thomas is a fun-loving man with a multitude of friends who all wish him the best and hope he has many more years of working at the stockyards. I salute Charles and am really glad our paths crossed. It’s not often you meet someone who has worked his whole life at the same job. I also wish him the best and hope the pen always stays closed after he pens them.

If you do know someone like Charles, congratulate them for their tenacity in their chosen profession.

As always, please shop at your local Quality Co-op where we strive to earn and keep your business. If we don’t have what you’re looking for, we will try to get it for you.

A Father's Perspective, From Flat Rock!!!

It’s All ‘Bout Being There, Giving, Caring, Doing,
Going the Extra Mile; It’s All ‘Bout “Love” And Examplin’

By Joe Potter

Dedicated to:

My Daddy "Pop" C.C., Corbett Calvin Potter, He’s 85…

And My Two Sons, Joseph Heath Potter and Dustin Torrey Potter

First boys, now men, both fathers (Daddys)…

It was Friday in the full day movin’ clear past suppertime and there was a crowd gatherin’ down to The Flat Rock General Store. All The Store regulars includin’ Slim, Essex, Ms. Ida, the widow Cora, my Daddy "Pop" C.C., Farlow, Willerdean, "Truth," Estelle, Bro., S.R., J.R., "Hatch," Heath and Dustin were present. There was bundles of other community and area folk a congergatin’ ’bout the grounds a stakin’ out lawn chair settin’ places.

Harley Hood and friends were offerin’ a musical salute to the nearin’ of Father’s Day, the third week in June. There, along the back wall of The Store, on white butcher paper in red marker were words of specialness from regulars plus other community and area folk t’ward their Daddys. Bro. was a passin’ out flyers ’bout the comin’ June 21st special Father’s Day program down to the Baptist Church. The flyers carried a note ‘bout the importance of Fathers (Daddys) in developin’ a young boy’s or girl’s life. As I finished readin’ Bro.’s flyer, I recalled both the gettin’ and the givin’ of fatherhood and a poem I penciled down for Heath and Dustin some years back.












Followin’ ‘bout 15 plus songs and two curtain calls for Harley Hood and friends, folk tempered down. All those gathered begin to disperse t’ward home for the comin’ news and weather reportin’ from Huntsville. Course, other folk was a thinkin’ of preparin’ for nighttime restin’. Harley Hood noted to me as they were a dismantlin’, for media reportin’ purposes, the crowd was a nearin’ 1,000, all directed t’ward salutin’ the comin’ of Father’s Day from Flat Rock…



Joe Potter is a former vocational agriculture teacher, FFA advisor and retired county agent (Colbert County).

Alabama Hay Fever: Catch It

By John Howle

It’s a rite of passage if you are a youngster on a farm. It can be torture to the tender or great training for the adventurous. It can clog up your head with pollen and dust, but clear your thinking. This is hay-hauling season in Alabama, and if you are one of those who enjoys neat, square stacks of hay in the barn, square bales are for you.

It’s Hip to be Square

There are many times during winter’s feeding when a small number of cattle have to be fed. A sick cow or horse in the barn requires smaller amounts of hay, and the square bales make this type of feeding more efficient. The ability to carry and feed a small amount of hay is a cost-saving technique that can be achieved through the square bales.

Lower Cost in Equipment

Another advantage to small, square bales is the equipment. Typically, four implements are used to create square bales. The older model, smaller equipment can be purchased used for an extra savings. With a sickle bar mower, tedder (hay fluffer), rake and small baler, you can produce hundreds of square bales over the course of a summer with a tractor of no more than 40 horsepower. Since the bales can be loaded by hand, the need for a front-end loader spear or forklift is eliminated. The need for a heavy-duty trailer is eliminated as well. Hay can be hauled from the field in the bed of a pickup, flatbed truck or even a utility trailer. In addition, the danger of handling large, round bales is eliminated.

Another savings method if you are farming on a small scale is a reduction in hay spoilage. Smaller bales can be fed throughout the pasture resulting in less concentrated hoof traffic in feeding areas and less trampled waste of hay. In addition, if you decide to sell some of your square bales, marketing and transportation is sometimes easier when a producer only wants to buy a limited amount of hay.


Small, square bales certainly make the most of your storage space if you have limited room in a typical barn. Many of the older-style barns with hay lofts are much better suited to the storage of small bales. If you plan to store hay in a loft that has been around for a few years, take the time to check the structure for sags, cracked or rotten timbers and roof leaks. It’s much easier to make these repairs with an empty barn than a full one.

Checking for roof leaks is much easier with two people. While one person is on top of the barn with a can of roofing tar, the person underneath the roof can check for leaks with a long pole or broom handle. Simply drive a nail into the end of the pole and remove the head. This device can then be used to point holes out to the person on top for tar coverage.

Even if you have nothing more than a covered pole shed that doesn’t leak, square bales can be stacked from the ground to the top of the structure. For the ground layer, lay the bales on their edge to prevent string rot. The remaining bales can be stacked flat on top of the first layer.

Load ‘Em up

Once the hay has been baled, square bales should quickly be hauled and stored in the dry. To prevent added moisture, it’s best to have the hay hauled into the barn before the dew falls. On a typical, flat structure like a pickup bed, flatbed truck or trailer, stack the hay on the first level all in one direction. On each additional level of hay, stack the bales in the opposite direction. By alternating the direction of the stacked bales, the load is more secure. Finally, to prevent the load from becoming top heavy, the upper layers should be stacked in a pyramid style. The last thing you want to do is restack toppled hay a second time.

Pace Yourself

Hauling square bales of hay is a job of endurance. As teenagers, my cousins as I would get to the hay field and see who could throw up and stack the most hay in the quickest manner. My Grandfather would remind us, "Boys, you’ve got to work like a mule, not a horse." What he meant was we needed to work at a slower, steady pace so we wouldn’t fatigue before the hay was stored.

Since hay-hauling is typically a heat-of-the-summer activity, it’s extremely important to stay hydrated and take a short, cool down break after each load. For the most effective hauling of square bales, you need at least three people. One lucky soul drives the truck, one throws hay onto the truck and the other stacks. When reaching the barn, one throws hay off the truck and the other two stack into the barn or other structure.

When it comes to storing hay forage for winter livestock feeding, square bales may not always be the best choice. It’s sometimes difficult to find regular labor available during the short window of opportunity to haul square bales. In addition, the more labor-intensive method of square baling may make round bales the best option if there are large amounts of hay to be baled.

However, if you have youngsters in your community looking for extra spending money, you’ll be teaching them a valuable work ethic with the hauling of square bales. If it’s your own children or grandchildren, they will quickly understand the value of hard work when they leave the hay field. When it’s hay-hauling time in Alabama, spread the hay fever with a few square bales this summer.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Alabama Receives $6.28M to Battle Cogongrass

By Elishia Ballentine

The Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) has been awarded a $6.28 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant to aid in the battle against cogongrass, a non-native invasive species.

"This grant will be administered by the AFC, working in cooperation with the Alabama Task Force on Cogongrass," said Bill Baisden, Assistant State Forester. "The $6.28 million will allow the task force to organize an effective campaign against cogongrass, one of the world’s most aggressive invasive species."

These funds will be used to suppress and control cogongrass, as well as provide for restoring forestlands and rangelands damaged by this invasive weed. Invasive species affect the health of ecosystems by stressing the naturally-occurring species and competing with them for resources.

At the sixth annual conference of the Alabama Invasive Plant Council in Columbiana last May, the Alabama Farmers Federation was among 22 stakeholders who signed an agreement to help combat cogongrass.

The stakeholders — federal and state agencies as well as private entities — officially entered into a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) to team up in the fight against the non-native invasive plant.

In the announcement made by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a total of 19 projects addressing forest health issues were funded nationwide at over $38 million by the ARRA.

Elishia Ballentine is a writer for Alfa.

America’s Funniest Farm Videos

By Baxter Black, DVM

It’s curious why more cows aren’t featured on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Maybe it’s because we cow guardians always have our hands full of hay forks, reins, twine cutters, squeeze chute handles, syringes or up the back of a cow! And, if the truth were known, you could stand in a pen or pasture full of cattle all day with your video recorder and see nothing more exciting than you would in a day room full of senior citizens after lunch.

See cows are not like monkeys, puppies or bull riders who can always be counted on to show you some kind of bizarre body function, tail pulling or booger-related behavior! And yet, I cannot count the number of stories I’ve been told wherein the dull, cud-chomping, cloven-hoofed grazer has made a fool out of our Supermanic cowboy hero!

In spring, Cowbelt cowmen can see green on the horizon from the top of the windmill. You can hear the tickertape sound of mental calculations dividing bales of hay left in stacks divided by days till the grass arrives.

"It’s gonna be tight," said Bob as he tossed the last two broken bales off the back of the hay wagon into the adoring crowd of cows.

Pete, who was driving the horse-drawn flatbed wagon through the snow, pulled ahead of the cows and looked back. The three cowdogs had jumped on board and were lolling in the lazy morning sun.

"Bob," said Pete, "I believe that brockle-face calf there needs a scour pill."

He stopped the wagon. Bob slipped off the side and approached the calf.

The calf’s mama lowered her head and snorted a warning! In one smooth cowboy move, Bob grabbed a front and hind leg and swung the startled calf onto the wagon bed! The sudden movement spooked the horses! They jumped, knocking Pete over backwards! Bob ran to catch the wagon with the mama cow right behind him! Up on the wagon…first Bob…then the COW!

The dogs rose to full barking mode! The horses picked up speed! Soon a whirlpool of dogs set upon the cow! Our two intrepid cowboys flew off the wagon like bird poop on a windmill fin!

The final scene in this America’s Funniest Farm Video would be of the horses in a crazed run pulling the bouncing, bucking wagon across the bumpy terrain, the cow with legs spread wide trying to keep her balance and the dogs circling her like Geronimo attacking Ward Bond’s wagon train!

Credits would include: Stunt work – Bob and Pete and a cast of thousands.

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,

Are Your Food Plots Getting it Done?

Planting food plots can significantly increase your property’s carrying capacity and improve your hunting. However, the impact probably won’t be what you expect if you don’t also consider herd and habitat management.

By Todd Amenrud

Through outstanding efforts by the Quality Deer Management Association and through word of mouth from successful land managers, planting food plots is one of the hottest topics and fastest growing segments in both the hunting and agricultural industries. Many people have tried to plant food plots or start a management program with limited success. No matter how well you do the job of planting food plots, if you want to see a difference in your hunting you need to practice sound herd management and habitat management in addition to your food plot program.

For there to be a trophy buck, a young buck must be allowed to grow old enough to sport trophy-caliber "head gear." Out of the big three, age, genetics and nutrition, "age" is by far the most important element in the wild. Dead deer don’t grow!

You can take a buck with just average genetics and give him just average nutrition, and, if you let him live past the age of four, he’s going to be what most of us would consider to be a "trophy." You really need good genetics and great nutrition to produce those world-class "monsters," but I’ll "drop the string" on those 130 to 160-inch bucks any time I get the chance, as long as they have reached four or five years old. Heck, if you’ve got a two or three-year-old that is 130 to 160 inches, those are the bucks you most definitely need to let walk because they are going to be your Boone and Crocket entries in a couple years. Restraint is an important part of herd management.

On the properties we manage, we like to stick to harvesting four-year-old bucks or older. In fact, we like them to be five, but sometimes I get an "itchy release finger." Not all the bucks we harvest are going to make Pope & Young (the better majority do), but they are still a challenge to hunt and we consider an adult buck, over the age of four, to be a trophy. Maybe you want to set your sights higher. The point is - you need to set goals/standards and stick to them.

If your property is typical of many throughout the country, you may have an imbalance in your herd by having too many does. If you want to see more, bigger bucks and larger body weights, you may have to thin your doe population out a bit, possibly a lot.

A given piece of land will hold and sustain X amount of deer. Because of the territorial tendencies of whitetail, a large matriarchal society may develop over time. Let’s say a doe has one buck-fawn and one doe-fawn. After the fawns’ entire first year which is spent with the doe, Mother Nature instills an urge in the buck to go seek out a territory a fair distance away from his mother. The doe also helps this by having her own instinct to drive her male offspring away. Studies show they may only move a couple miles, but often they’ll move much further away, sometimes as far as 40 to 50 miles.

They may wander around for some time before selecting a permanent home territory where they will spend the rest of their adult life. Many believe this to be Mother Nature’s way of preventing inbreeding in the herd. The "button bucks" you pass on your property are not the bucks you are shooting four years later. You should hope your neighbors several miles away in every direction are also practicing quality deer management.

On the other hand, the female offspring will usually take up a territory right next to and, most often, intertwined with the doe’s home range. If a number of these does aren’t harvested, over time you get a big doe matriarchal society that just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and those are the animals filling all of those Xs. When a year-old buck disperses from the area where he was born and goes off searching for where he will take root and spend the rest of his life, he could come across your property and may not be able to stay because all of those Xs are filled by that large doe group. To see more and bigger bucks, balancing the ratio is very important.

Make sure things don’t go too far. Since most state wildlife agencies take a knee-jerk reaction to things and because in some areas where they (the government) thought they needed to exterminate wild deer because they found CWD in a captive animal, the problem of "too many does" has turned into "where have all the deer gone?" Hunters who were used to seeing 10 or more animals per hunt are now seeing very few. Through most of the whitetail’s range this is not a problem. However, since some state agencies have taken a hasty reaction to certain management issues like CWD and, as unfortunate as it may be, most state wildlife agency’s policies are determined by politics or emotions rather than the best interests of the animals, there are areas in the country where things have gone too far. I get e-mails and calls from pockets of the country wondering where all of their deer have gone. Do not rely upon state agencies to manage your herd for you, take it upon yourself! If you believe your total deer numbers are too low, then you don’t want an aggressive doe harvest. By the way, in my opinion, Missouri has the best state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the country. It is set up in their State Constitution that wildlife decisions will not be made by politicians. Also, let me add that I believe most DNR agents do a terrific job with the limited resources they are given. Despite that, it is not their job to micro-manage your property. That job is up to you.

One should strive for a happy-medium. An equalized buck-to-doe ratio and a balanced age structure is what we try to achieve. Through studies of archeological sites and Native American burial spots, it is known a natural balance would be close to 50:50. It is unbelievable how great hunting can be when you come close to this balance. The rut is much more pronounced! Things you’ve only heard about or seen on the Outdoor Channel start to happen. Hunting tactics like calling, rattling, using scent and decoying really start to work like they should.

Knowing your sex ratio and age structure is important so you know how to implement a plan. Maybe you have a low deer density and you want to increase numbers. Maybe you have the typical imbalance in the sex ratio. Finding this out through the use of scouting-camera surveys or extensive observation is very important.

If you feel all you ever see are does in your hunting area, I suggest targeting a few of the older, more dominant does in that herd. You can recognize these deer in several ways. Their bodies are filled out more than younger does, they’ll usually have longer noses and just look older, and you can see they act dominant around the other deer. Also, they will almost always, in areas with at least normal nutrition available, have two or more fawns. Depending on how severe your imbalance is, you may need to go after them with a vengeance and it may take several years to correct.

Besides the "trigger finger management," you also need to back that up with sound habitat management. If you offer more food but don’t have the "housing" and natural browse, your impact will probably not be what you expect. Through planting various plants, trees and shrubs, and through woods work (getting busy with the chainsaw), you can create excellent bedding habitat.

One of the simplest ways to create the edge cover and diversity whitetail will love, is with a chainsaw. You’ve probably heard the old saying, "a chainsaw is a whitetail’s best friend." It is true. Wherever you can allow the sunlight to hit the forest floor you permit increased stem density which equals both more food and cover.

My point to this piece is: even though food plots will be a significant benefit to your hunting area and can dramatically increase your property’s carrying capacity, if you want to see a noticeable difference, you need to back it up with sound herd management and habitat management practices. If you want to be informed about managing your herd, the best book I’ve read on the subject is Deer Management 101 "Manage Your Way To Better Hunting" by Dr. Grant Woods, Bryan Kinkel and Robert Bennett. It gives you well-researched, proven tactics for managing your whitetail herd.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.

Blount Co. Couple Transform Hayden Town Buildings into Living and Work Spaces

Duncan and Patsy McKinnon outside their home. The building was previously used as the old Hayden Masonic Lodge and later served as a church.

By Suzy Lowry Geno

Ask Duncan McKinnon how he likes the rural lifestyle and he might just hand you a collection of photographs he’s taken of his adopted county.

There’s a CSX train rumbling through the Hayden tunnel and other Blount scenes as varied as a nearby farmhouse, a rusted pickup ready for restoration in Cleveland, a toothy-smiling Nubian goat, a giant billboard of a rat advertising a ride at the Blount County Fair and more—things you might pass every day and not notice unless you are really LOOKING.

If you’re lucky, he and his wife Patsy Blake might just give you a tour of their spacious 2,800-square-foot, two-story home that once was Hayden’s Masonic Lodge!

And, if you’re even more fortunate, you might get to smell the sawdust and see pieces of maple and poplar come to life in intricate reproduction furniture in Duncan’s next door workshop, situated in the old Hayden Post Office building.

While they both literally live and work INSIDE history, that’s still not the main reason Duncan and Patsy love Blount County.

Duncan with the beginnings of a massive bed leg in his workshop in the old Hayden Post Office building.

"It’s the people," Patsy explained. "You just couldn’t ask for better neighbors."

"It’s without a doubt their generosity and kindness," she noted, wondering at the wide variety of food they received from their next door neighbor’s bountiful garden all last summer.

Then Duncan added, "Then during a storm the tin roof on our little shed was blowing off. Our neighbor got a ladder and screwed the roof down. Never said a word. You don’t find people like that often in the city."

Another time Duncan had unknowingly left a portfolio of photos outside and the wind blew them everywhere. He found them all later neatly stacked beneath a rock along their fence, where another neighbor had safely collected them.

And the couple always sees the beauty of the area, a beauty they fear too many local residents don’t see because they’re just too "used" to it.

"We may be looking through rose-colored glasses," Duncan explained "But the sunsets. The scenery. You just don’t get any prettier."

Rose-colored glasses or not, Duncan and Patsy are passionate people.

Duncan noted the main passions in his life are his photography, woodworking and Patsy!

Duncan held a variety of interesting and intriguing jobs before beginning to work with his dad in his 30s.

Patsy McKinnon and some of her vivid paintings.

His father, Joe McKinnon, was a well-known interior decorator in the Birmingham area. He regularly had furniture frames made to which he could upholster variously designed fabrics to better fit houses he was outfitting.

One day about 35 years ago, a couch and chair came back so badly built Duncan told his dad, "I could do better than that!"

His dad took him up on the idea, buying him a Craftsman Radial Saw which he still has in his shop!

"I started out doing those simple frames and then began to do more complicated items," Duncan recalled. "I must have inherited some of my grandfather’s talents. He was my mother’s father, Ulric Shaw, a carpenter."

Duncan McKinnon displays some of the intricate inlays he used in building an ornate bed.

Wherever the basis for his knowledge came from, Duncan has woodworking talent that only is born to a man! One bed he crafted required intricate overlay designs and took him more than a month—working diligently and carefully every day—- to build for a decorator.

"About 90 percent is designer work," he explained.

He can take a photograph, or a drawing he makes from a client or designer’s suggestions, and then craft a beautiful wooden masterpiece that will be an heirloom for generations.

There are chests, tables, benches, dining chairs and so much more. If you see it or can dream it, there’s a good chance Duncan can built it!

Likewise Patsy sits in the front well-lit corner of their home-lodge with an array of acrylic paints scattered around her. There are many canvases of bungalow-style homes from the 1950s and 1960s Avondale Mills and Southside areas of Birmingham.

She began drawing and painting while still a child and sold a few along the way as she raised three children.

But she didn’t begin painting seriously until a few years ago. Now she paints from photographs, things she sees or on commission.

The depth of her paintings can fool your mind. Small children often come toward her paintings with their hands outstretched trying to play in the shadows which are actually painted on the canvases!

She’s a master of large-canvas paintings, selling them up to four by six feet, but tiny paintings are also detailed.

Then there’s the McKinnon home, where they moved about six years ago. Who would have envisioned the old Hayden Masonic Lodge, which later even served as a church, as being a showplace home?

Old carpet which had been glued to the upstairs floors was painstakingly removed by Patsy and the beautiful oak floors refinished. There’s original bead-board ceiling all across the loft as well. Windows have chains and lean outward, each original to the more-than-90-year-old building.

Patsy at work in her rural, well-lit studio in the old Hayden Masonic Hall which is now her home.

Doing much of the work themselves has been time-consuming but the end result is well worth it.

Downstairs is still a work in progress as well. A bank of old post office boxes did not come from the next door post office –workshop, instead from the old Empire Post Office which contains the box previously rented by Patsy’s own parents!

Duncan and Patsy hope their paintings and photography can help introduce them to others in the Blount area.

He began shooting photos when he was just a kid using his old Brownie camera. He now shoots with Nikon D300 or a Nikon D70 as the couple explores the county’s highways and byways.

They hope their paintings and photos (and even the woodworking!) can "convey the message we really are surrounded by so many beautiful things," Duncan explained. "Sometimes we just have to open our eyes to see it!"

(Duncan’s photography can be viewed
and ordered at

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.

Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program Helps Katie’s Dream Come True

Katie Stagliano’s cabbage grew to be 40 pounds! She donated it to the Tri County Family Ministries to help feed the hungry.

This story begins with Bonnie Plants, the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in the nation. Bonnie is a huge player in the gardening industry. They have 61 growing stations around the U.S. and are available at "big box" stores nationwide and in 3,700 independent stores.

Bonnie is more than just a plant company. Their "Cabbage Program" is a nine-year-old endeavor—Bonnie delivers O.S. Cabbage plants to third grade school children, in an effort to engage them in the benefits and joys of gardening. Some of the cabbages they deliver to school children grow to more than 40 pounds, seemingly bigger than the children themselves.

Calvin Bodiford Has Discovered Widespread Venues for His Home-Grown Music Talents

Above, Calvin Bodiford doesn’t play professionally anymore. He just joins “loose groups.” He recently played at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama in Troy with his lifelong friend and steel guitar player, Roy Gibson, and guitarist and friend, A.C. King, foreground. Below, Roy Gibson, foreground, and Calvin Bodiford, center, went to school together in Crenshaw County, hunted and fished together, and learned to play music together. They’ve been playing music together for more than 60 years and still loving every lick they hit.

By Jaine Treadwell

Calvin Bodiford grew up without a radio in the house.

He’s thankful for that.

A radio just might have kept him for enjoying one of the truly great joys of his life — playing music.

Bodiford was born in 1932 in rural Crenshaw County in Southeast Alabama.

Like most folks back then, his family had what they needed to get by, but none of the luxuries of life. A radio would have been a luxury.

"I got interested in playing music because we didn’t have a radio," Bodiford said, with a chuckle. "Nobody in my family played music, so I didn’t inherit my love of music. But there was this band of boys who would wander around the neighborhood playing country music. They’d sit on different porches, play music and sing for people. I fell in love with pickin’ and singin’ at an early age."

When Bodiford was about 10 years old, he wanted his own guitar. But, with money being tight, he knew he would have to earn the dollars he needed. So, he began to comb the neighborhood selling garden seeds.

One of Calvin Bodiford’s favorite tunes is “The Tennessee Waltz.” When he struck up the tune, A.C. King put down his guitar and asked his favorite girl — and wife, Nell, to dance.

"I guess my daddy felt sorry for me because he broke down and bought me a guitar—a Gene Autry guitar from Sears and Roebuck," Bodiford said. "I started to learn to play and I didn’t know any better than to like it."

The guitar was a ‘finger killer.’ At first the blisters came. Then the bleeding.

"I could have quit then, but like I said, I liked it so I kept playing until the bleeding stopped and the calluses came, and I never thought about stopping again," Bodiford said. "I learned to play from a song book that had guitar chords in it and from watching others. Soon I got the hang of it and I was hooked. Roy Gibson and I grew up together and went to school together.

"We hunted, fished and played music together and together we made music fun."

As a young teenager, Bodiford learned to play the fiddle and "got good enough" to play for square dances in Brantley on Saturday nights.

When Calvin Bodiford was a little boy he stood on the porches of his neighbors’ houses and listened to a band of boys playing country music. Today, little boys are standing on porches listening to Bodiford and his friends play. His hope is they will be inspired to keep the tradition of country, bluegrass and Southern gospel music alive for generations to come.

Before he was really dry-behind-the-ears yet, Bodiford and a "whole group" of his friends joined the military together.

"Money was hard to come by and we’d heard we could join the army together and stay together as entertainers," Bodiford said. "That sounded like a good idea so, in 1950, five of us joined up for that specific purpose and were assigned to Fort Rucker. But we had to go through basic training first. We went on a few maneuvers to Texas and North Carolina, and put on shows there."

Bodiford said there were about 150 "army entertainers" and they played all kinds of music.

"We had an orchestra and played classical music as well as marches," he said. "We put on Broadway shows like South Pacific. I heard ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ so much until I was tired of it and never wanted to hear it again."

Bodiford admitted he also danced in a chorus line and that was a big stretch for a boy from the red clay fields of Southeast Alabama.

"I wasn’t too bad at it," Bodiford said laughing.

Just as they went into the army together, the five entertainer friends got "separated" together.

"I came home in 1953 and went to work playing music in Montgomery," Bodiford said. "We’d play social dances or beer joints — just any place where we could set-up, play and they’d give us a little money. We had a band called the Moonshiners that was kind of patterned after Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys. This feller, John Blackwell, was the front man but we operated like a democracy…if we didn’t want to do something, we didn’t."

Bodiford also played with Shorty Sullivan and his Green Valley Boys, and they brought WBAM in Montgomery on the air in 1953.

"We were the first group to play on WBAM and played the Saturday Morning Jamboree," Bodiford said. "The radio station had talent shows all around and we played backup to the singers. Once a year, they had a big show in Montgomery."

At the same time, Bodiford was attending business college in Montgomery. In 1953, he had gotten married to the love of his life, Alma, and knew he wanted a better life for them than he could give playing music. So, when it looked like he might starve to death playing music, he went back to spend time with his "Uncle Sam."

That was in 1956 and he "wound up" playing a little Western Swing, fiddle music and steel guitar. Then, in 1958, he left for Korea.

"One day in the Armed Forces paper, I saw an advertisement where this group of service men needed a guitar player," Bodiford said. "I went, auditioned and started that night. We played two jobs on Saturday, one on Sunday and one every other night of the week. We were called the Country Gentlemen and played at the NCO and Officers Club. I was making more money playing than I was in the Army."

When Bodiford came back stateside, he was assigned as a personnel clerk at Fort Rucker and was kept so busy he didn’t have time to play music.

He retired from the Army on April 1, 1973, and started playing "a little" again. But he found another outlet for his music—- teaching.

"People wanted me to teach them or their children how to play instruments," Bodiford explained. "So, I started teaching and just played with loose groups, nothing professional."

Not one for idle time, Bodiford went to work with the state as a tax auditor— "quite a life for a redneck," he said, laughing.

Once again "retired," Bodiford continued teaching and playing with loose groups. He taught acoustic instruments at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama until last year. Now, he’s content playing with one of his favorite groups, the Lighthouse String Ensemble, working in his garden, being with Alma and enjoying a leisurely life at home in Brantley.

"Playing with the Lighthouse String Ensemble is a real honor," he said. "They are great musicians and singer and one of the best bluegrass/Southern Gospel bands anywhere around. I’ll stay with them until they throw me out.

"Alma and I are happy and content, and I count myself very fortunate that music has been a big part of my life and that I’ve been able to play it and enjoy it for so many years."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Can You Freeze These Foods?

By Angela Treadaway

I get calls regularly on whether certain items can be frozen or not, and for how long?

Can you freeze fresh meats in supermarket wrappings?

Unless you’ll use the frozen meat or poultry in a month or two, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adding a second wrapping for long-term storage. Overwrap with airtight heavy-duty freezer foil, freezer paper or place the package inside a freezer bag.

While it’s safe to freeze fresh meat or poultry in its supermarket wrapping, this type of wrap is permeable to air. Overwrapping the package helps maintain quality and prevent "freezer burn."

Foods with freezer burn are safe to eat though they may be dry in spots. Freezer burn causes grayish-brown leathery spots because air reaches the surface of the food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking. Discard heavily freezer-burned foods for quality reasons.

Can you freeze milk?

While pasteurized milk can be frozen, it may separate or be slightly grainy when thawed. Frozen milk works best for cooking, but you may find it’s still okay for drinking.

Freeze milk in plastic freezer containers or special freezer-proof glass jars. Leave some extra space at the top since milk expands during freezing. If packaged in a wide-mouth container, leave one-half-inch head space for pints and one inch for quarts. If packaged in a narrow-mouth container (like jars), leave one and one-half-inch head space for either pints or quarts.

Plan to use frozen milk within a month. Thaw milk in the refrigerator. Stir well before using.

Can you freeze cheese?

Hard or semi-hard cheese can be frozen if cut in one-half to one-pound blocks. Wrap in plastic wrap and then put in freezer bags. After freezing, cheese may become crumbly and mealy, but, it will retain its flavor. It works best for cooking. Plan to use frozen cheese within four to six months. Thaw cheese in the refrigerator. Use soon after thawing.

The cheeses that freeze best are brick, Camembert, cheddar, Edam, mozzarella, Muenster, Parmesan, provolone, Romano and Swiss. Blue cheeses are more prone to becoming crumbly, but they’ll still taste good. Cream cheese and cottage cheese do not freeze well; however, if they are mixed into foods like casseroles they do.

Can you freeze eggs?

Eggs can be frozen, but not in the shell. It’s best to freeze eggs in small quantities so you can thaw only what you need. An easy way to do this is to put them in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer container and label. As with any frozen food, it is best to thaw eggs in the refrigerator and use them as soon as they are thawed. Only use thawed eggs in dishes that will be thoroughly cooked.

Whole Eggs: To freeze whole eggs or yolks, crack them into a bowl and gently stir to break up the yolk somewhat. Try not to incorporate air into the eggs. Label the container with the date and the number of eggs. They can be kept frozen for a year, and should be thawed in the refrigerator the day before you use.

Egg Yolks: To inhibit yolks from getting lumpy during storage, add a little salt or sugar according to how you want to use the eggs, then stir gently not adding air. Once again, you can freeze in ice cube trays or small containers, then repackage and label the container with the date. Use up extra egg yolks in recipes like sauces, custards, yellow cakes, scrambled eggs and cooked puddings.

Egg Whites: Raw egg whites do not suffer from freezing (cooked egg whites are very rubbery). No salt or sugar is needed. Break and separate the eggs one at a time, making sure no yolk gets into the whites. Pour into trays and freeze until firm then repackage and label the container with the date. Use up extra egg whites in boiled frostings (i.e., 7-minute frosting), meringue cookies, angel food cake, white cakes or meringue for pies.

For more information on food safety, food preservation or food preparation call Angela Treadaway, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety/Preservation and Preparation, at (205) 410-3696.

Cattle Producers Find Freeze Branding More Tamper-Proof and “Cooler” Experience for Cattle

As part of the preparation for freeze branding, Jamie McConnell clips away hair at the branding sight.

By Kellie Henderson

The American cowboy branding his livestock with ropes flying, brands in a blazing fire and a stream of smoke rising as hot iron leaves its mark on a range animal is an essential part of the story of the Old West. But some modern cattle producers are turning to a method of branding their animals that’s much cooler.

Developed during the late 1960s, freeze branding is the practice of applying super-cooled branding irons to livestock as a way of creating a permanent mark of identification.

"Where a hot brand kills the hair follicle, freeze branding damages the hair follicle, causing the hair to grow back white rather than not grow back at all," said Perry Mobley, Director of the Alabama Farmers Federation Beef Division.

The individual animal identification freeze brands given to the cows at Sunshine Farms are easy to read at greater distances than ear tag information.

Thefts in recent months have forced cattle producers across the country to realize rustling is not just a myth of the Old West, leading many to consider how they can improve the security of their herds.

"I wish more people would consider branding their cattle. An animal’s brand can be altered by criminals, but it’s difficult to do and even more so with a freeze brand. Branding is the most time-proven method of animal identification, and it is a legally recognized form of proof-of-ownership," said Mobley.

Sunshine Farms near Clanton has been freeze branding its cattle with both a farm brand and individual animal identification for years, and cattle manager Jamie McConnell said he’s always freeze branded cattle.

"Sunshine was freeze branding before I came to work here five years ago, but I did freeze branding on my cattle before I came here," said McConnell.

As part of the preparation for freeze branding, Jamie McConnell clips away hair at the branding sight.

"It really creates a sharp, easy-to-read brand on dark-colored cattle," McConnell added, making freeze brands a perfect fit for Sunshine Farms Angus, Simmental and Sim-Angus herds.

Freeze branding irons are cooled with either liquid nitrogen or a combination of alcohol and dry ice. While dry ice has a temperature of 90 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit, liquid nitrogen is even more frigid at 240 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit, and both substances should be handled carefully as injury can occur if either comes in contact with skin.

Gloves are a must to protect against the extreme cold of liquid nitrogen as Jamie McConnell, left, ensures all branding irons are completely submerged inside the cooler. Ckecof Garcia, right, looks on.

Sunshine Farms uses liquid nitrogen, and McConnell and Ckecof Garcia pour the nitrogen from its holding tank into an old five-gallon cooler, place the needed irons in the mixture and cover with a heavy blanket. For the initial cooling, irons need to be submerged for 15 to 20 minutes then cooled again between each use.

Once the cow is secured in the chute, the area on the animal to be branded should be clipped smooth, and in the case of Sunshine Farms, cows are given a farm brand on the right hip and an individual identification brand on the left hip.

After the clipped area is brushed or wiped to remove any loose hair or other debris, McConnell drenches the clipped area with 92 percent alcohol to aid in temperature transfer between the iron and the skin to ensure better branding.

Immediately following the alcohol drench, McConnell removes the farm brand from the coolant, carefully aligns and firmly applies it to the prepped area. A gentle rocking motion from side to side and top to bottom helps ensure all areas of the brand come in full contact with the animal’s hide.

Jamie McConnell applies a high concentration alcohol to the clipped area just before applying the cooled branding iron.

Timing is difficult to estimate because many variables can effect the time needed to establish a good brand. The particular coolant used, the temperature and humidity, and the type and age of cattle can all effect branding times.

"Cattle with less hair, like longhorns, seem to take less (contact) time," said McConnell.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System recommends contact time of 35 to 60 seconds for beef cattle. Insufficient branding times can result in spotty or only partially white brands. A brand applied for too much time can kill the hair follicles, resulting in a brand more similar to a traditional hot brand. Extending the contact time in this way is recommended to kill hair follicles on lighter haired animals. Careful record-keeping of branding times can help individuals determine what length of time works best for a given herd.

Jamie McConnell applies the Sunshine Farms brand to the heifer’s right hip.

One aspect of freeze branding any cattle producer should note is the increased time a freeze brand will take to appear as compared to traditional hot branding. Immediately after freeze branding, a slight indentation of the brand can be seen, followed by a slight swelling for several days.

"In a few weeks, the skin will peel away, and new white hair growth should start. The brands show up faster if cows are branded as they get ready to grow a new coat," said McConnell.

On the left hip, Sunshine Farms follows breed guidelines for individual identification branding including the use of a letter and number system to indicate the year the cow was born. This requires the use of multiple brands, something taking a little more time and attention, but creates an individual identification that can easily be seen from a much greater distance than an ear tag.

Any farm brands must be registered with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, although registration is not needed in the case of branding for individual animal identification.

The last digit of the individual identification brand is applied. Notice the slight indentations where the remaining brand will appear.

"Not only must the brand itself be registered, but also the location for the brand. If someone registers a farm brand for the left hip, then applies that brand to the right rib, it is not a legal brand," cautioned Mobley.

Mobley added smaller producers are sometimes less likely to brand than those working with larger operations, but Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks reminds cattle owners branding is an inexpensive way to protect cattle in any size operation.

"There are more than 1,700 brands registered with the Department of Agriculture and Industries," said Commissioner Ron Sparks.

"The number tends to decrease each year, but it is still one of the most cost effective ways to help protect your cattle. Brand registration costs anywhere from $20 for a basic initial brand up to $48 for eight characters. To register a brand, just call the Department or go online to our website and print out an application. Our staff will check the database and register your brand. Registrations come up every three years," added Sparks.

For more information on brand registration, contact Michelle Landon at (334) 240-7263. The website address is

To learn more about freeze branding, contact your local Cooperative Extension Office or visit the agency online at

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

Cody Prescott, 2009 Tie Down Roping Champion for Second Time in a Row

Cody Prescott, a junior at Southern Arkansas University (SAU) in Magnolia, AR, won the Tie Down Roping Championship for the Ozark Region in college rodeo for the second year in a row. The Ozark Region consists of teams from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.

He received a saddle, a belt buckle and a trip to the National College Finals in Casper, WY, in June. This will be his third trip to the National Finals in as many years as he has been in college rodeo.

At Region, Cody won first place in Tie Down, fourth place in Team Roping and third place in the All-Around Cowboy competition. At Nationals, he will compete in team roping and tie down roping with the top ropers from all over the United States and Canada.

His rodeo team from SAU won five of the ten first places in the region. The girl’s team also won first place in the competition.

Cody’s plans are to compete at rodeos at the pro level after Nationals and then return to SAU in the fall for his senior year.

Cody’s parents are Jeff and Marsha Prescott of Jay, FL, (formally of Selma, AL), and his grandparents are Billy and Sandra Reed of Selma and Pat Prescott of Selma.

Before entering college rodeo, Cody roped with the Alabama Junior Rodeo Association and the Alabama High School Rodeo Association, where he was a top roper, and he attended the Nationals High School finals all four years.

Cow Pokes

Cullman Farmers Co-op Grand Opening Introduces New Store to Holly Pond

Folks from in and around Holly Pond were offered great bargains and an excellent grilled hamburger lunch complete with homemade desserts at the Grand Opening of Cullman Farmers Co-op on Friday, May 15 and 16. The new store is located on Highway 278 East (256-796-5337) and has anything you might need for your farm, lawn or garden.

Dutchman’s Pipe and the Swallowtails

By Kenn Alan

Dutchman’s Pipe and The Swallowtails sounds like a 1960s doo-wop band, doesn’t it? Maybe so, but in nature, these plants and bugs make beautiful music together!

A couple of Battus philenor with voracious appetites and a pretty cool display of colors on their backs as well.

Dutchman’s pipe, (Aristolochia elegans {Synonym: Aristolochia littoralis}) is actually a deciduous vine occurring in the wild and hardy in zones 9-11. It is the primary source of food for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly larvae (Battus philenor).

The Dutchman’s pipe is considered to be somewhat invasive by promoters of attempted perfection of landscapes and non-native plants. But, if kept manicured and controlled, it will make a beautiful addition to your garden.

Though the Dutchman’s pipe may seem plain and monochromatic to the average sightseer, it makes for a beautiful show with occasional blooms during the spring, summer and early fall. It is usually cultivated for its foliage, but the blooms are quite spectacular as well.

Make this plant a must for your butterfly garden as it is a major food source for lots of species of butterfly and moth caterpillars.

Next month we’ll take a look at other garden delights that can be planted to attract colorful creatures and help Mother Nature feed her little ones.

E-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">
if you want further information on Aristolochia or Battus.

Friend me at and go to to listen live and access the new podcasts coming soon!

I hope you will all tune in each Saturday from 8-10 a.m. for Home Grown Tomatoes. If you are not in the local coverage area, then tune in on the Internet by going to and follow the links to listen live!


Feeding Facts

By Jimmy Hughes

It’s hard to believe the year is about half over, and we are in the process of finishing up with what I hope was a very productive first hay cutting. Lower fertilizer cost and an optimistic future cattle market gives those of us in the cattle business reason to be positive this summer and fall. Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s (AFC) Feed Department has introduced three new products for you to implement into your operation this summer and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce those products.

The first two products are part of our low moisture product line of STIMU-LYX®. For those of you who are not familiar with STIMU-LYX® Low Moisture Blocks, I will provide you with some background information. The low-moisture process was developed over 30 years ago to offer livestock owners a superior supplementation product for cattle grazing standing or harvested forages. This process removes over 96 percent of the moisture from the product, leaving the producer with 100 percent nutrition. It is highly palatable utilizing the highest quality ingredients to provide protein and energy along with minerals, vitamins and improved fiber digestion. All STIMU-LYX® products come in a 200-pound, non-returnable plastic tub and are proven to be highly-palatable, controlled-intake and low in cost on a per-head per-day basis.

STIMU-LYX® Fly Relief/IGR is designed for cattle to not only provide protein, minerals and vitamins but also to provide S-methoprene insect growth regulator (IGR) for control of horn flies. The economic impact flies have on the cattle industry each year is in the billions of dollars; therefore it is very important to utilize any method possible to help reduce fly pressure in your herd. S-methoprene IGR fed continuously through the horn fly season will help prevent horn fly emergence from manure of treated cattle. The fact the product works is based upon it being passed through the cow and into the manure leading to another huge advantage of using STIMU-LYX® Fly Relief Tubs. Research has shown over 90 percent of cattle will consume daily from a low-moisture block while less than 60 percent of cattle will consume dry minerals. The higher the number of cows consuming the product, the more effective it will be in reducing the fly population. This product also contains 19 percent protein, five percent fat and the optimum level of minerals and vitamins to meet the cow’s daily requirements. While most producers do not supplement grass, let me encourage you to also consider this block as a way to improve the nutritional plane of your cattle as grass matures in the summer and fall heat. This product will pick up where forage stops and will also encourage cattle to eat mature forage they normally would ignore.

STIMU-LYX® Mineralizer Tub is another new product. This tub is designed for producers who want to provide a highly-palatable mineral and vitamin supplement to their cattle during the spring, summer and early fall. It is highly palatable; cattle will visit and consume the product on a daily basis. Research has proven how important minerals and vitamins are for reproduction, immunity and overall performance. The consumption of this product should average eight ounces per day making it a low cost mineral and vitamin supplement. It also contains added protein to help meet the requirements of cattle as forages mature. Through the use of this product, your cattle should see improved reproductive performance, better body condition and improved health.

The final product we have recently introduced ties in directly with last month’s article on deer nutrition. AFC is very pleased to offer Antler King Deer Feed through your local Co-op. Antler King’s reputation in the deer supplement business is second to none and we are very pleased to be affiliated with them in providing the highest quality nutritional supplement for those who want to supplement deer for improved antler development and growth. Antler King is an 18 percent protein product containing ingredients like sunflower meal, corn, soybean meal and alfalfa. This feed contains high levels of calcium, phosphorus and zinc for optimum antler growth. In addition, it contains yeast for fiber utilization and chelated minerals for increased absorption and utilization of trace minerals. While the use of this product will not guarantee you a buck for the wall, it will offer a better opportunity to find a buck able to meet its full genetic potential because of adequate nutrition.

I hope one or all of these products can meet some of the nutritional needs of your animals. We feel each of them offer numerous benefits at a cost that is reasonable for the performance of the product. We continually look and research new products we think can be of benefit to producers in this state.

If we can help you in any manner, or if there is a product you would like for us to consider, please feel free to contact me.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If you would like to contact him, please feel free to call at (256) 9477-7886 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> I look forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.

Foals Require Early Protection from Common Equine Diseases

By Dr. Frederick Harper

We want our children to be healthy, so we provide them good nutrition, exercise and proper immunization against diseases. Much the same is true of foals. Foal owners need to immunize their foals against common diseases.

Foals are born without any natural immunity to diseases. But they quickly acquire passive immunity from their dams. Mares concentrate immunoglobulins in their colostrum (first milk) which contains antibodies against diseases. The newborn foal can absorb these rather large protein molecules for a short time after birth. So, it is critical they nurse soon and frequently after foaling. And, their dams have adequate, high­quality colostrum.

How can this be accomplished? First, immunize broodmares against common equine diseases 30 days before foaling. Also, for a month prior to foaling, house broodmares where they will foal. Both procedures allow the broodmare to produce antibodies for the diseases they are vaccinated for and those in the environment where they are housed. They will pass these antibodies to their foals through their colostrum. This process provides temporary immunity to the foal against these diseases.

In a few months, the foal’s immune system becomes functional. It will produce its own antibodies against diseases. For the body to know which antibodies to produce, it is necessary to immunize the foal against these diseases.

Most vaccinations require two initial injections. The second injection is given four weeks after the first dose. Normally, foals are not vaccinated until they are three months of age or older. Since most foals are born in late March to May, many are three months of age in early summer. Foals born earlier than this can be immunized whenever they are three months of age.

Foals are normally vaccinated for tetanus, and Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis. In the past, they were also vaccinated for influenza. It is now recommended to not immunize foals for influenza if their dams were vaccinated 30 days prior to foaling. Wait until they are eight months old before vaccinating them the first time for influenza. They are given three injections with the first at eight months, the second at nine months and the third at ten months of age.

Some farms also immunize for rhinopneumonitis, a respiratory problem noted in foals in the fall. It requires two injections. The first can be given at three months of age with the second a month later.

Some owners also immunize foals for rabies and botulism.

You should discuss all vaccination programs with your veterinarian, to determine if it is advisable to vaccinate foals for rabies or botulism in your area.

It is recommended the second dose of any vaccine precede weaning by at least two weeks. Foals born early and weaned at four months of age should be vaccinated early enough to meet this criteria.

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

As a boy, I often listened to my Dad’s stories of when he was a child and very, very poor. Dad grew up in Northwest Florida during the depression on a small family farm. His grandparents raised him and taught him many things, some of which I had enough sense to absorb when he passed them on to me.

Dad would tell us of Christmas time when, if he was lucky, he would get a candy bar in addition to his orange and apple. He told us of stretching that rare candy bar into June if the kerosene refrigerator didn’t run out of fuel. Upon graduation from high school, Dad decided to make the Navy his life. He went into basic training weighing around 110 pounds soaking wet. When he graduated six to eight weeks later, he tipped the scales at a whopping 170 pounds.

When asked in later years how in the world he was able to gain weight under such rigorous conditions, he merely explained that while in the military, he was able to sleep until five o’clock in the morning. Then, he went on, all they did was wake up, clean up and march to breakfast. After a gut-busting meal, they exercised a little, marched some more, ran a few miles and then marched to the mid-day meal.

I don’t know what they did after lunch, but he was excited when they finished, off they went to the mess hall to eat yet again. Dad said he was amazed he got three meals a day, had no chores to do, no cows to milk, no fields to plow, no sugarcane to cut and no peanuts to haul to the stationary combine in the field. He stated that in basic training all they asked him to do was to walk/march and not only did they have a big slab of concrete to walk on, they gave him a pair of shoes as well.

They told him if he wore them out, they’d give him another pair. He said he looked all over that Navy base and never found a mule or a breaking plow.

Dad always told us they didn’t hunt for fun when he was a kid; they hunted for food.

With that in mind, my family better be thankful I’m not the sole source of food for our house. I’ve got to think that if I were a "sustenance hunter" I would be better at it. When you depend on what you can catch for something to eat, one of two things has got to happen: you have either got to get really good at killing deer and turkey or you had better learn how to eat anything you can catch, kill and eat. I’ve said before, I would imagine an empty belly makes your aim a little better and you just a little sneakier in the woods. I also would imagine an empty stomach makes your palate a little less sensitive.

For proof I give you the house cat, Felis catus or Felis catus domestica. I have seen cats that will only eat the most sophisticated gourmet cat food. I have also seen cats that will eat anything that doesn’t eat them first. It’s all a question of situation. The pampered pet has got the time and luxury to refuse to eat something that doesn’t taste really, really good.

The old farm cat that has been without food more times than it has had something to eat isn’t choosy. The citified house cat sometimes thinks it shouldn’t even have to get up to go to the food bowl; it should be brought to it. The farm cat is willing to wait hours for the chance to snag a rodent, snake, bug or lizard and will fight tooth and claw to kill it and then eat it. While the royal feline will eat as much as it can and leave some food in the bowl, the farm cat eats every morsel including the tail because it might be a while before such a feast comes by again.

We laugh at the Clampetts when they talk of ‘Possum Pie, fried gizzard, stewed gopher and such, but we wouldn’t laugh if we were really hungry.

Many of us love to go out into the field to hunt and fish. I heard or read a statement the other day stating they preferred catch and fillet over catch and release. We love to think about how good all that meat tastes, and it makes us feel better when we consume what we harvest. I enjoy watching people eat some venison or some turkey I managed to bring home and then hear them comment on how good it tastes.

I think to myself, not only did I kill it, I drug or carried it from the woods, cleaned, butchered and, in some cases, cooked it. It is very satisfying to know people are enjoying what you worked so hard to put on the table. But I remind them they had better be thankful everything they ate was not dependent on me to bring home and put on the table. If this were the case, we would all have smaller waist lines, be less finicky about what we ate and probably wouldn’t need to throw away much food as all would be eaten not knowing when the next meal would come.

We watch hundreds of hours of videos with people pursuing only "trophy class" animals. Thousands of words are written on the same subject. I remember reading many books about the Plains Indians and their way of life. I always found it interesting the real prize on a buffalo hunt was a big fat cow, not a big, old, mature trophy class bull. I would suspect they only killed bulls to keep the bulls from killing them.

I often compare myself and Dad to those cats I talked about.

There wasn’t much Dad wouldn’t eat, as a matter of fact the only things I remember he flat-out stated he wouldn’t eat were chitlins and kidneys. There was a lot he didn’t like, but he would still eat it (remember meatloaf, Mom?). When he was 17, he weighed 110 pounds. I weighed that much when I was in the sixth grade. I have hunted and fished for many years, but have never had to depend on what I killed for my only source of food. I gardened because he made me do it. There a more than just a few things I won’t eat like liver, squash, butterbeans, sweet potatoes and Brussells sprouts to begin the list.

Although dad worked the pants off of us, we never had to get up at three in the morning and do chores before school and then hit the fields plowing when we got home. We played till dark. He worked till dark. We worried about what toys we were going to find Christmas morning; he hoped he would find a candy bar on Christmas morning.

The list can go on and on and most times I feel really bad about the way Dad and his contemporaries had it when they were young. Before Dad passed away in ’87, I told him it was too bad he had it that way and I wished I could go back and fix it so he could have had things the way he made them for us. Dad would not have any of that. He told me that was what he was working for all those years, even though we weren’t even thought of yet, he hadn’t even met Mom or even knew she existed.

At the ripe old age of 17 or 18, he had his future children on his mind as he looked for that mule on the Navy base and prayed he’d never find it.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

Rocket City Bugs Will Fire Up the Kids

Giant insects like this mantis, made of natural materials, will be on display at the Huntsville Botanical Garden through July 13.

Don’t miss the giant insects on display at the Huntsville Botanical Garden now through July 13. I saw them during the Master Gardeners conference in April and was thrilled the exhibit would be running long enough to tell you about it. Artist David Rogers creates the gigantic sculptures from natural materials like trees, twigs, green cut saplings, dry branches and other native forest materials. Artists and woodworkers will appreciate this. The exhibit includes three 25-foot long gigantic ants crawling through a meadow, an 18-foot tall praying mantis, a 17-foot long red cedar dragonfly, a 7-foot long assassin bug and other gargantuan insects. To add to the fun, the garden staff has added their own topiaries including ladybugs, crickets, snails, dragonflies and bees. Combine this exhibit with the great children’s garden and the butterfly house, and you’ve got a great summer outing with the kids.

With a little work, galvanized stock tanks can be transformed into large planters or even water gardens.

Galvanized Stock Tanks Make Big Planters

Big planters are expensive. If you want a really big one, you just about have to build it yourself. However, there is a nice, industrial-look alternative within budget and easy to get—a galvanized stock tank. To turn it into a planter, drill some drainage holes in the bottom. These were photographed on the deck of a young couple in Eugene, Oregon, who not only used two tanks as planters, but also made a large water garden from an even bigger round one. These planters contain bamboo, which is a nice way to grow this plant without having it take over.

Million Bells Turns to Thousand Bells in Summer

A popular plant marketed by Proven Winners the past few springs is Million Bells (Callibrachoa); it looks like a tiny petunia. It’s nice in hanging baskets or planters where it can cascade over the side. However, our heat and humidity can be hard on this plant, so if yours starts looking thin or haggard soon, give it a trim and keep it alive with occasional watering during dry weather. Continue cutting back any dead stems through summer. In late summer when the nights begin to cool down, you’ll see it bounce back to life. Give it a little liquid fertilizer and another trim, if needed, and it will reward you with lots of flowers through fall. In the warmest parts of the state, Million Bells makes it through winter, like a pansy, to bloom prolifically in early spring.

Now Is the Time to Learn Hydrangeas

Now is the time to start learning about hydrangeas, which begin to bloom as the weather warms.

As soon as the weather is dependably warm, hydrangeas start to bloom, beginning with the popular blue and pink French hydrangeas and ending with Tardiva, a cultivar of Pee Gee (Hydrangea paniculata) that blooms in August. If you like hydrangeas, now is the time to look and learn, because there are more types than most of us know. A good place to start is at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover. The garden is open year-round, but don’t miss a summer visit to see its greatest collection. Do you know about climbing hydrangea? It is a vine that climbs walls and fences, clinging to surfaces with holdfasts like ivy, but not as aggressive. It is best adapted to cooler parts of the state. How about Limelight hydrangea? A white hydrangea whose blooms start as lime green. There is also a big assortment of lacecap types, the old-fashioned types with flat flower heads with an open center. This month our native oakleaf hydrangeas are at their summer peak, which is followed by great fall color and beautiful flaking winter bark. Oakleaf never has a bad day. We take this plant for granted here because it’s in the woods and widely-planted, too, but elsewhere it is a special treat. In fact, the Snowflake variety has won several prestigious awards including recognition by the Royal Horticultural Society in England. So add a few hydrangeas to your shopping list, and if you don’t want to plant in the heat of summer, make a note for fall, the ideal time to plant.

Plant large pots of colorful flowers to add instant color to your beds and planters.

Instant Color Is Possible in Summer

If you’re hosting a get together at home and looking for a way to spruce your garden or planters almost instantly, look for big pots of color. When the weather gets hot, nurserymen often bring in full size annuals and perennials growing in large pots. These will be in full bloom. Once planted, they’ll look like they’ve been in place for a while. Another shortcut is to buy begonias, impatiens, lantana and other flowers in hanging baskets that are big and full. Simply take them out of the basket to plant in your beds or pots.

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

Humble Heart Farm Discovers Its Successful Niche

Isaac Spell and one of his buddies.

By Keith Johnson

Small farms have long been an object of derision by big agriculture complex, and most of the policies of USDA have been the main culprit in the demise of the small farm in America.

In this seemingly hostile environment, how can the small family farm hope to turn a profit and support the family running it? Leslie and Paul Spell are trying to do it by bypassing the commodity markets, over which farmers have no control, and going straight to the consumer with an exceptional value-added niche-product.

After the Spells purchased their farm, they began to look into sheep but had difficulty finding good ewes. One day they were at the Lincoln County, Tennessee, fair and were introduced to a man with a goat dairy. They asked if he would consider selling them a couple of nannies for them to use to supply their family with milk.

Leslie Spell with one of the farm’s Great Pyrenees guard dogs.

The man told them yes, but he would rather just sell them his whole herd and all of his equipment, since he wished to retire. He made the Spells such a good price on everything they soon found themselves milking 100 goats with the man helping them until they could handle it on their own. It was a very steep and difficult learning curve.

They began by selling all of the milk to another goat cheese business but soon began experimenting with making cheese themselves.

Leslie now has several delicious flavors, which I forced myself to taste. (I know, I is a tough job, but someone has to do it.) I would rate Humble Heart Farm cheeses over the ones from high-end stores, and they are a lot more reasonably priced.

Isaac Spell enjoys helping check the herd.

I got a bit of an education on the cheese-making process which stimulated an interest when I got home to learn more. It is a fascinating process with an even more fascinating history.

No one knows for sure how we figured out how to make cheese, but legend has it an unknown Arab was carrying milk on a journey using a calf’s stomach as a bag. When he arrived, the rennet (an enzyme found in the stomach of mammals) had turned the milk into cheese curds and whey. This began mankind’s long journey of discovery into just what delicious products could be made from milk and rennet.

The great advantage for individuals in an era before refrigeration was that cheese allowed the preservation of a high-value product like milk for a much longer period of time.

Leslie said the flavor of cheese varied according the feed the goats ate and even the soil where the grass grew would impart a different flavor.

Isaac moves the portable fence to allow the goats access to fresh grass.

That is why cheese from one part of France is celebrated for the flavor it produces. The French consider this a very good thing which gives a wonderful variety to our choices of cheese.

Contrast that attitude to the industrial-food model which detests anything not produced consistently. Variety produced by geography, soil, culture, etc. are abhorred by the industrial-model. The local food movement celebrates and exalts the nuances of taste created by locale while the fast food mindset is bland uniformity.

To reach their local customers, the Spells go to the new Madison City Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and the farmer’s market on Redstone Arsenal during the week. Their cheeses are also available at a couple of local stores, but they are in need of a larger venue to market all of their products.

This goat at Humble Heart Farm is patiently waiting to be milked.

Running the dairy and making the cheese involves a huge amount of work, so the Spells have a two-month period in December and January when the nannies are not producing milk. That gives everyone a chance to rest, travel and visit family.

Seasonal dairying is a big trend now because the grueling pace of life on a dairy at full production is so taxing on the people who work in the business. This is another point at which the independent dairy breaks with the industrial-model requiring a continuous and steady flow of milk to keep its factories going. The enormous capital investment of milk processing equipment requires a constant flow of milk to justify its expense. In the industrial-model, the needs of the machinery take precedence over the needs of the people.

The Spells have emphasized simplicity and flexibility at their dairy. They demonstrate excellent business acumen and realize keeping capital costs at a minimum is a must. Much of their milking equipment is used equipment from cattle dairies adapted to work with goats.

Paul Spell adjusts the equipment at Humble Heart Farm.

Leslie emphasized this is more than just a business. She hopes to turn it into an educational experience for school children.

"I want to help kids get outside and see what the natural world is like," Leslie explained.

She has the gift of a natural teacher and should be very successful with an agritourism project.

Paul seems to be an innovator with the ability to make things work -— a much needed talent on any farm.

Their eight-year-old son Isaac certainly knows about farm life. He is a delightful little fellow who is very eager to show visitors around the farm. He can explain the idiosyncrasies of each goat’s personality or even how to cure a nanny of kidney stones. The Spells home-school Isaac, who is learning all about business as well as the dairying process. His number one job is taking care of the bottle babies.

The Spells are well aware of how difficult it is to make a go of a small dairy, but they are determined to do it. Leslie said this is a ministry as much as a business and by learning about the natural world one can see God’s handiwork all around us.

Their delicious products can be purchased directly from them at their farmer’s markets, by calling (256) 777-9268 or e-mailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Keith Johnson is a freelance writer from Morgan County.

Is New Extension Program “For The Birds”?

Jerry Chenault is building a nest box for one of our most popular native songbirds, the Eastern Bluebird, as part of a STAR program.

By Jerry A. Chenault

"Friday afternoons are for the birds!" That’s what retired Morgan County Extension Agent Harry Houston used to say when asked about his Friday afternoon plans. Harry really was an exemplary Extension agent; but this quote (which he used quite often) reminds me of a new program being promoted by the S.T.A.R. project of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. But is it really "for the birds"?

The STAR project is a branch of the Urban Affairs & New Nontraditional Programs division, and its team members are working to help Alabama’s citizens. "STAR" actually stands for "Saving Towns Thru Asset Revitalization"...and we begin saving towns by helping the town’s people! We know Alabama’s people are some of the most hefty, most un-healthy and are probably just as stressed out as other citizens of our country. Most of our people spend too much time indoors, too much time watching television and way too little time being physically active outdoors in nature. By the way, working in nature isn’t exactly the answer either.

"The cutting-edge in research shows many of our citizens exhibit what is now known in the literature as ‘nature deficit disorder’," said STAR project coordinator Marilyn S. Johnson. "Our program focuses on the human dimensions of urban forestry, and what we are doing with STAR is extending university research to our residents – to help them to live healthier, more serene lives through inter-generational activities in nature."

What it all boils down to is people in today’s world live in a fast-paced, noisy environment with too many stimulants, too much concrete, too little physical activity, too little nutrients, too much sugar and fat, and too little of the peace and serenity that comes from being involved with plants, greenery and nature. We’re trying to do something about that through educational programming.

Part of that programming includes building nest boxes for one of our most popular native songbirds, the Eastern Bluebird. These birds could sure use our help in not only finding appropriate housing, but also in maintaining that housing. You see, the Eastern Bluebird will not use a nest box that is dirty or been used by another bird; therefore, their boxes must be monitored and cleaned out during the summer after the young birds leave. This allows re-nesting to occur.

The nest materials of the last brood of the summer should be left in the box to provide better insulation for birds who take shelter in the box on cold winter nights. In February of the following year, the box should be cleaned out and repaired for the new nesting season.

One of the reasons the Eastern Bluebird is so dearly loved is because of their brilliant blue color and their delightful songs. Besides that, bluebirds eat lots of insects! But how, other than reducing insect populations, can helping bluebirds help us? Remember – I asked, is it really for the birds?

Actually, helping the bluebirds is a win/win situation. Just ask Urban Regional Extension Agent Roosevelt Robinson in Mobile. Roosevelt is a STAR team member who has coordinated the construction, mounting and on-going weekly monitoring of over 100 bluebird houses in his "Songbird Recovery Project" for that area.

What Roosevelt knows is observing and listening to native songbirds gives humans hours of pleasure...and exercise...and the whole process helps to make up for all those hours we spend dealing with cars in traffic, noise, hectic schedules, concrete, crowds, stress, etc.

The real question is – who gets the most benefit, us or the birds? You decide.

Jerry A. Chenault is with the Urban R.E.A., New & Nontraditional Programs.

Landowners Statewide Face Near Impossible Task Controlling Feral Hogs Requires Multi-Faceted Approach

By Chris Jaworowski

The feral hog (Sus scrofa) is a non-native species in Alabama first introduced by Spanish explorers centuries ago. Isolated populations of hogs have inhabited the Tombigbee River drainage in Southwest Alabama since these first introductions. Distribution of feral hog populations was limited to only a few counties in Alabama until the early 1980s. Twenty-eight years later, feral hogs are found in almost every county in the state.

Due to high reproductive rates, omnivorous diets, a lack of natural predators, and illegal trapping, transport and release, the feral hog has become one of the state’s largest nuisance animal problems. Landowners and managers across the state are now being faced with an almost impossible task – getting rid of feral hogs. Control techniques include hunting, trapping, hunting with dogs and techniques requiring landowners to apply for a Wildlife Damage Permit. Feral hog populations will not be controlled by using a single technique; however, a multi-faceted approach to control efforts utilizing several techniques combined with cooperation from neighboring landowners can affect feral hog populations and decrease the negative impacts of this non-native species.

Hunting is an important part of any feral hog control program. They are considered a game animal in Alabama with no closed season and no bag limits. This means on private land, hunters can legally hunt hogs every day of the year with no harvest restrictions. Hogs can be stalk hunted by moving slowly through areas with choice foods like acorns or agricultural crops, or stand-hunted along trails leading to food sources or bedding areas.

Feral hogs have a great sense of smell, but relatively poor eyesight, which can help hunters get within shooting range. Hog hunting popularity is growing across the nation with many hunters willing to pay for the chance at harvesting a trophy hog with big tusks or even meat hogs for table-fare. Though hunting can be effective, especially during seasons with choice agricultural crops, feral hogs have the uncanny ability to detect hunting pressure and retreat to the most impenetrable thickets or swamps where few hunters care to venture. Hunting feral hogs can affect populations, but will not eliminate this growing problem alone.

Trapping of feral hogs is perhaps the most cost-effective way to eliminate large numbers of feral hogs from a given property. Hog traps can vary from box-type traps with angle-iron frames and cattle or horse panels for sides to corral-type portable traps built with t-posts wired to cattle or horse panels. Doors for traps are usually one of three types: a guillotine-style falling door, a swinging door with heavy duty springs attached or what is called a "root door," hinged at the top and built out of a single sheet of ¼-inch aluminum or similar material. Construction costs vary from about $120 to well over $500, depending on current steel prices and size. Numerous trap designs are available free online or can be obtained by contacting your local District Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) office.

Pre-baiting of traps is an essential part of any hog-trapping program. Pre-baiting entails the building and baiting of your traps, and then tying the door open to allow free access by hogs both into and out of the trap. Pre-baiting decreases trap shyness and increases the chance of catching multiple hogs the first night the trap is set. Simply continue to bait and check your trap until you have evidence of multiple hogs entering your trap and eating the bait. Baits can be experimented with, as hogs will eat relatively anything. Keep in mind a hog finds food by their sense of smell rather than their eyesight. Probably the most common bait used is whole kernel corn, which can be sweetened with pure molasses or syrup to add a sweet, attractive scent. Several commercial baits are also available at local Co-ops or online.

When selecting a trap design, remember swinging door and root door traps are multiple catch traps meaning that more hogs can enter the trap even after the door has closed. Falling door traps do not have this ability, but are usually the cheapest to build and easiest to set up in remote areas. Once the traps are pre-baited and set, you will need to check traps daily, re-bait as necessary and plan a BBQ.

Hunting with dogs is perhaps the most controversial control method. Many feel hog dog hunters are the reason hog populations are spreading at such alarming rates. Hunting hogs with dogs can be very effective; however, be aware of anyone wanting to bring out hogs alive. Require all hogs be euthanized at the catch site to ensure the hogs will not be transported and illegally released elsewhere in the state. Hunting with dogs can be a beneficial tool for the land manager, but should only be attempted with trained dogs and handlers due to the aggressive nature of bayed hogs.

Wildlife Damage Permits are available to those individuals experiencing damage to property by feral hogs. Contact your local Conservation Enforcement Officer or local WFF district office for information regarding this permit. The request will be investigated by an officer and after verifying the damage to the property, the officer can provide a permit to hunt hogs at night with a rifle and spotlight or hunt by the aid of bait. The use of bait will not be permitted during and in areas open to deer or turkey hunting during their respective seasons and may be revoked at any time by any Conservation Enforcement Officer. A copy of this permit must be in possession when utilizing these techniques to control feral hogs. Hunting hogs at night is difficult and is usually most effective in pastures or agricultural crop fields where damage is occurring. Hunting over bait can be expensive and lead to many hours spent watching a bait pile only to have the hogs devour the bait during the nighttime hours while you are at home asleep. Combining these two methods has been proven more successful. Be aware, hunting hogs at night and over bait is not legal without first obtaining the Wildlife Damage Permit.

State and federal laws and regulations govern the movement of feral swine in the United States. In Alabama, feral swine are considered a game animal at any time they are hunted. Once reduced to personal possession of a landowner or agent by trapping or live-catching, feral swine are no longer considered a game animal. In Alabama, it is unlawful to transport feral swine alive beyond the boundaries of the property from which they are taken without a permit from the local conservation officer, and it is also unlawful to release feral swine into any area of the state, except that they may be released onto the property from which they were originally taken. For more information regarding laws and regulations pertaining to feral swine, contact your local WFF district office.

Feral hog control in Alabama is a time-consuming and sometimes expensive proposition. Landowners and managers need to look at all control methods available and employ as many as possible to increase the success of their control programs. By utilizing another method when one method slows down, Alabama landowners and managers can assist in decreasing the negative impacts of the feral hog on native wildlife species, wildlife habitats and agricultural operations across this state.

For more information on feral hog control efforts, contact Area Wildlife Biologist Chris Jaworowski at 154 Battlefield Rd., Lowndesboro, AL 36752 or contact your local Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District Office.

New Shooting Preserve Features Farm-Style Hunting

Robert Bullard is pleased with the performance of the state-of-the-art, programmable, remote-controlled ATLAS target throwers in the seven nearby traps.

Robert Bullard Targets Ecomomical Fun for the Family

By Suzy Lowry Geno

Robert Bullard has never thought of himself as a "politician" and neither do most of the constituents he represents in Blount County.

They generally think of him as a person just like themselves, but one who’s willing to speak up and give them a voice in matters concerning their families and much of their everyday lives.

Everybody may not always agree with him (and some certainly don’t!), but they always know where he stands, he often jokes!

Robert doesn’t have a lot of time now to shoot clays himself, but it’s still a great sense of enjoyment heralding back to the hunting days of his youth.

Robert owned a roofing company all his adult life and he’d likely still be climbing into the hot Alabama sun if a back injury and subsequent surgery hadn’t sidelined him a little more than a decade ago.

He then turned to public service and is now serving his third, and what he said will be his last, term on the Blount County Commission representing District 2.

So what will he do after his term ends in about three years?

If you drive on Alabama 79 about four miles north of the small community of Brooksville, and just south of the Blount-Marshall County line, you’ll see a sign directing you to the Big Springs Hunting Preserve and Sporting Clays.

But when you turn onto Vaughn Road and then turn through the Preserve’s metal gate, don’t be expecting plush digs and fancy amenities.

Robert’s "retirement plan" is just like his life in politics, and basically his life in general: the preserve, hunting areas and sporting clay houses feature state-of-the-art technologies not available anywhere in the area while not taking away from the lush beauty of the valley and surrounding wildlife-filled mountains.

Robert Bullard in the larger, 80 x 16 ft, of the current two shooting houses at Big Springs Hunting Preserve and Sporting Clays. Concrete sidewalks connect the current two shooting houses making the area completely wheelchair accessible.

"We want to keep it simple, have farm-style hunting here," Robert explained. "We want to keep the costs down where just about anybody can come for a morning or afternoon of shooting, or to stay for two days of hunting. We don’t want it to cost somebody a fortune to come and enjoy themselves. We want this to be as nice as we can make it, but it’s not a country club."

"I plan to limit the number of hunters on any given day," Robert explained.

Robert bought 210 acres of what is known in the area as "the old Hubble Farm," and he’s leased enough adjacent land to bring the total to just over 400 acres.

He started hunting himself as a young boy of 12 in the same area, shooting squirrels, rabbits and birds which his family often ate for supper.

Now he knows most folks enjoy hunting just for the sport, and there are a lot of folks who just enjoy shooting as a sport in itself.

He and his wife, Sandra, personally built the current two shooting houses. The main house is 80 x 16 feet and the smaller house, connected by a concrete sidewalk, is 40 x 12 feet.

Pointing out the railings, Robert explained, "Sandra and I cut out every one of those spindles in our barn at home."

The five-stand controller has seven traps (25 shot) giving several different types of presentations.

His son, Randy, who mans the clays on Sundays, noted, "We were able to install the most advanced five-stand controller on the market today and we can accurately simulate anything as diverse as incoming waterfowl, flushed high pheasant or a lifting flurry of quail, as well as simulating popular games like Make or Break."

Robert is especially proud of the state-of-the art ATLAS target throwers, with all the machines commercial grade.

"It’s all programmable and can be started with just one push of a button," he explained.

There are solar panels on each box to make certain the batteries are charged and ready for each day’s shooters.

The two covered stands have ceiling fans for the hottest of summer days with everything completely wheelchair accessible.

Although the Preserve and Clays have only been officially open since April first of this year, Robert hosted turkey shoots during the late winter and that’s when several visitors got a good taste of the plentiful wildlife.

"We were just shooting away and there were deer contentedly grazing in the field right over by the mountain. There was one big buck with a rack out to here," he emphasized. "Everybody just went crazy."

While there will be quail and pheasant hunting allowed in season, only bow hunting will be allowed for the deer.

There’s a fully furnished, modern apartment in the barn, including everything hunters will need for an overnight stay including stove, refrigerator and even a dishwasher!

Big Springs is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until dusk, Sundays from 9 a.m. until dusk and other times by appointment. And Robert is continuing his plans. A 300 to 400-yard rifle range for target shooting is nearing completion and a pistol range will follow next.

The parking area will be expanded and a small refreshment/clubhouse/bathroom area will follow.

There’s talk of several possible tournaments; plans are in the works for the Blount 4-H Shooting Sports Club (begun this year) to shoot there in the future, both men’s and women’s safety courses may be offered, and other special events will be upcoming.

"We’re fully licensed by the state and we’re fully insured," Robert explained. "All the business decisions are pretty much handled. Now we’re getting into the fun part.

"We’ve already met people from all over the state and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with them. Chuck Cranford, who won the National Sporting Clays events for two years, has visited to shoot."

Robert and Sandra live about five miles from the Preserve. Robert runs about 150 head of Red Angus and Angus, and sells about a thousand rolls of hay each year, in addition to other farming-type pursuits.

He credits those at Blount County Farmers Co-op in Oneonta not only for helping him with his agricultural needs but also answering many questions he’s had about caring for the pastures and fields around the Preserve.

Robert admitted having a hunting preserve may seem an odd sort of "retirement plan" to some, but he’s enjoying planning for the future.

"If I make a little money along the way, that will just be a bonus," he laughed.

For information on the Big Springs Hunting Preserve and Sporting Clays, you may call (205) 466-3145 or travel to the Preserve on Vaughn Road just off Alabama 79 about four miles north of its intersection with U.S. 278.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.

Peanut People

Prevention is the Main Approach to Managing Carpenter Bees

By David Hubbard

QUESTION: When we go out on our deck we are being attacked by what looks like bumble bees. My neighbor says he thinks these are called carpenter bees. Is he right? Do these bees cause damage? Are they dangerous? Help!

RESPONSE: Our phones have been ringing continuously this spring and your question is high on the list of most-asked-about problems. Your neighbor is right about these being carpenter bees rather than bumble bees. Bumble bees make large nests which are normally in the ground. And bumble bees are ferocious when bothered.

On the other hand, carpenter bees build nests in wood, creating galleries that can weaken structures. However, they rarely cause severe damage. People may be frightened by carpenter bees because of their large size, their similarity to bumble bees and their annoying noise.

Most carpenter bees are large and robust insects resembling bumble bees. They are usually about one-inch long and colored a metallic blue-black with green or purplish reflections. They differ from bumble bees in that their abdomen is shiny with fringes of hairs on some segments. Males of some species are lighter colored, ranging into golden or buff hues.

Female carpenter bees bore into sound wood or sometimes into decaying wood to make nests. Nests usually consist of tunnels ½-inch in diameter and six to ten inches deep partitioned into several chambers, each containing an egg and a supply of food (pollen). Carpenter bees may use old tunnels for their nests, which they sometimes enlarge. Several bees may use a common entry hole connecting to different tunnels. Over a period of time, tunnels may extend as far as ten feet into wood timbers. Tunnels are vacated after the brood’s larval and pupal stages complete their development. Development from egg to adult may take about three months. Carpenter bees overwinter as adults, often in old tunnels, and there is only one generation a year.

Carpenter bees cause damage to wooden structures by boring into timbers and siding to prepare nests. The nests weaken structural wood and leave unsightly holes and stains on building surfaces. Sound, un-decayed wood without paint or bark is usually selected for nests. Carpenter bees also frequently attack dead wood on trees or lumber from Southern yellow pine, white pine, California redwood, cedar, Douglas fir, cypress, mimosa, mulberry, ash and pecan trees. They avoid most harder woods. The presence of carpenter bees around buildings and wooden structures can be annoying or even frightening; however, males cannot sting and females rarely attack.

Prevention is the main approach to managing carpenter bees. If possible, susceptible exterior parts of a building should be constructed out of hardwoods not normally attacked by the bees for nests. On all buildings, fill depressions and cracks in wood surfaces so they are less attractive. Paint or varnish exposed surfaces regularly to reduce weathering. Fill unoccupied holes with steel wool and caulk to prevent their reuse. Wait until after bees have emerged before filling the tunnels. Once filled, paint or varnish the repaired surfaces. Protect rough areas, like ends of timbers, with wire screening or metal flashing.

Carpenter bees are generally considered beneficial insects because they help pollinate various crop and non-crop plants. Under most conditions they can be successfully controlled using the preventive measures described above.

If infestation is high or risk of damage is great, insecticides may be used to augment other methods of control. To do this, treat active nests (those containing eggs, larvae or pupae) with liquid or dust formulations of insecticides or desiccant dusts. Liquid formulations containing permethrin and cyfluthrin, and dusts containing boric acid are currently labeled for use against carpenter bees. Desiccant dusts are inert dusts combined with absorptive powders (diatomaceous earth or boric acid) that destroy insects by abrading their protective outer body cover, causing them to dry out. Desiccant dusts are low in toxicity to people and animals, and do not lose their effectiveness over time, so long as they do not get wet. Avoid inhaling these materials, however, because they can cause serious lung irritation.

After the brood is killed, repair holes with steel wool and wood filler, then repaint or varnish the repaired surfaces.

Good luck in controlling your carpenter bees!

David Hubbard is a Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Pricing for goat brood stock requires careful consideration

This buck has an overall nice confirmation that will make him a good future herd sire. (Photo courtesy of Edie Grover Wildwind Farm)

By Robert Spencer

Buying a goat as a replacement brood animal should be looked upon as an investment rather than an acquisition. This article offers some suggestions that may serve you during the shopping process. A while back during a conversation on buying goats, I heard the expression "Can’t Eat the Paperwork." It took me a minute to figure out what the person was talking about, but then I recalled the earlier part of the conversation. What brought about this statement was a conversation regarding registered goats, the occasional over-valued goat and how all goats have the potential to become meat animals. We were talking about the prices people ask for goats versus the quality of each animal. After years of observing the goat industry, it continues to amaze me how meat goat prices can range from less than $100 per animal to show-quality bloodlines in the thousands of dollars. There has even been an occasional goat sold for 20 or 30 thousand dollars (that’s right, $20,000 to $30,000 plus for one goat). The rhetorical question is "does a 10 thousand dollar goat taste any better than a one hundred dollar goat?" Keep in mind this article will be talking about brood stock or herd sires.

Nice kids, above, come from a nice herd sire, right. (Photo courtesy of Sand Mountain Research & Extension Center)

Which brings me to my first point, genetics can be fickle. I have seen people put value in a specific herd/farm name or a specific herd sire because of their success in the show circuit without taking the time to evaluate the quality of offspring or siblings. Sometimes genetics on
one farm do not work out on another farm; there are too many variables. What we fail to realize is the amount of culling that probably took place to get a few good animals. It would be my estimate only the top ten percent "make the cut." When buying a potential herd sire or brood doe and you have the opportunity to visit the farm, there are some general suggestions to follow.

(1) Never buy sight-unseen because of the sales pitch, no matter how good it sounds.

(2) Ask the seller to show you some of siblings, relatives or offspring (if the animal is a known producer), that will allow you to evaluate the "gene pool."

(3) Take a look at the registration papers of the animal or its parents; see if you recognize names on the pedigree or if any of the ancestors are ennobled.

(4) Ask questions till you feel comfortable making a decision to buy or not to buy.

(5) Go with your "gut feeling"! Often our first impression holds true. When we over analyze, a decision may get distorted.

(6) There are no guarantees because a premium price is paid for an animal. "Let the buyer beware" as the old saying goes.

However, if you are at a sale barn and planning to buy a goat, your options may be somewhat limited. You may not be able to talk with the seller, look at the registration papers or have the opportunity to mull over a purchase. You pretty much have to go with your gut feeling and go quickly before someone else snatches up the perceived bargain.

The good news is there are some bargains to be had at a sale barn. When at a production sale or sale barn, you generally do have time to shop around, evaluate the animals for sale and talk with the sellers. Also, at a production sale you may have access to a sales catalog with the pedigrees and other information. Sometimes much of the details are posted on a website specific to the sale. All this allows for a more informed decision.

Probably the most important investment to consider is buying a herd sire because he can easily be 50 percent of your herd genetics. Deciding on a buck can be the most important decision on the future genetics of your herd. A single doe will provide offspring and if she and/or the kids do not meet your expectations they can easily be culled. But, a buck will likely be used to service many does and there are no "do-overs" after kidding time. So, be more selective about your herd sire.

Something else to do in many of these situations is take a friend along for an objective opinion. A friend is likely to be unbiased, look out for your best interest and point out things you might overlook during a shopping frenzy. For the price of lunch or dinner, you get some good company and input from a trusted friend. When shopping for replacement animals, look for those that meet confirmation and can be expected to bring improvements to the offspring of animals already on your farm. After all, this is a long-term investment that can affect the quality of your herd for years to come, or it can set your herd back!

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.

RFD-TV’s Max Armstrong Appears at Snead Equipment Open House

Pictured at Snead Equipment’s Open House Event in Snead are (L-R) Grace Smith, AFC communications specialist; Max Armstrong, host of This Week in AgriBusiness on RFD-TV; Joe Criswell, Snead Equipment Sales and Service; and Jim Allen, AFC public relations director.

On May 1, Max Armstrong made a special appearance courtesy of McCormick International USA at Snead Equipment’s Open House Event at the dealership in Snead.

Max Armstrong is one of the most widely recognized and highly regarded agriculture journalists in America. His broadcasts have been seen and heard by millions of farmers, ranchers and consumers for more than 30 years.

He is co-founder and co-host of This Week in AgriBusiness, one of the shows on the popular RFD-TV satellite channel carried on DirecTV, DISH Network and numerous cable networks.

From studios in Chicago, Max’s recognizable voice is heard daily with his agriculture and business news broadcasts on legendary radio powerhouse WGN. His Tribune Radio Network program Farming America is carried on a network of radio stations in every region of the country.

In pursuit of the news of agriculture, Max has originated broadcasts from every state in the United States and at least 30 nations. His work has earned dozens of honors from agriculture groups, trade associations and professional organizations.

A graduate of Purdue University, Max is proud of his Indiana roots, having grown up on a farm near the town of Owensville in Southwestern Indiana. He has maintained close ties with agriculture and proudly displays at parades, fairs and festivals the 1953 Farmall Super H tractor on which he learned to drive as a boy.

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "You know I was just playin’ checkers with Merle the other day and now he’s up and kicked the bucket! I can’t believe he’s dead."

Why would one kick a bucket when he died? This is a phrase used to say someone is dead or has died.

One theory as to why the phrase originated is from the notion people committing suicide hanged themselves by standing on a bucket with a noose around their neck and then kicked the bucket away. Unfortunately, ‘kicking the bucket’ does not normally refer to death by suicide. Indeed, the person who kicks the bucket usually does so quite unwillingly.

In a similar vein, the phrase is said to have come from the act of a not-so-self-inflicted hanging; when a criminal was hung, particularly where there were no formal gallows, a rope would be placed around his neck and put over the bow of a tree. The criminal would be stood upon a bucket. The executioner, soldier or other appointed person would then "kick the bucket" from under the feet of the villain causing him to drop.

Another explanation is given by a Roman Catholic Bishop, The Right Reverend Abbot Horne, "After death, when a body had been laid out and the holy-water bucket was brought from the church and put at the feet of the corpse. When friends came to pray they would sprinkle the body with holy water."

It is easy to see how such a saying as "kicking the bucket" would come about.

The most probable explanation is from the 17th century: when slaughtering a pig, you often tied its back legs to a wooden beam (in French buquet). As the animal died it kicked the buquet. Makes for a good story, anyway.

State Ag Commissioner Has Eyes Set on the Future

Ron Sparks, currently running for governor of Alabama, is the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Industry.

By Alvin Benn

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks probably pinches himself at times when he thinks about how far he’s come since his boyhood days when he’d collect empty soft drink bottles to make what he could for himself and his family.

He did a lot more than that in Ft. Payne where he learned the value of hard work and responsibility at an early age.

Now that he’s nearing the end of his second term as Alabama’s top farmer, Sparks has his eyes set on the state’s most important political position.

He wants to be governor and he’s convinced he can win, not only the Democratic nomination next summer but beat the Republican nominee in the general election.

"I’m the only guy in the running right now who has won two statewide elections," said Sparks, during a recent interview with AFC Cooperative Farming News. "I’m willing to work across the aisles with Republicans as well as Democrats."

Ron Sparks, right, with Teddy Gentry, left, and Charlie Daniels.

Prospective candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination have been dropping out of the running since first indicating they were interested, leaving Sparks and U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, as possible opponents in next year’s primary election.

The two men both have had humble beginnings, but it ends there. Davis, who grew up in Montgomery, went to Harvard University, returned to Alabama to practice law and now is midway through his third term in Congress after two unsuccessful attempts.

Sparks rose to prominence without an Ivy League education, but showed he had what it took to win local elections before taking over as Agriculture Commissioner in 2003. He easily won re-election, capturing all but five of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Relating to everyday Alabamians is what Sparks likes to talk about because he feels he’s walked in the same shoes as so many people with challenging starts in life.

"We never had much money and had to work hard to get what we did have," he said. "My mother, grandmother and I all worked at hosiery mills in Ft. Payne. Now that industry is almost gone in DeKalb County."

Trade agreements with foreign countries have devastated many once-successful U.S. businesses, according to Sparks, who cited the hosiery industry as a good example.

"Years ago, there were over 6,000 sock jobs in my little town," he recalled. "Now it’s down to about 1,500 jobs. My grandmother paired socks for 43 years. My mother worked at a hosiery mill for 30 years. Those jobs are disappearing fast because we’re sending too many of them overseas."

Sparks, 56, has spent the past seven years focusing his attention on agricultural issues, but is mindful, should he become governor, he’ll have to broaden his political horizons considerably.

That’s one reason he has been traveling the world in search of business for Alabama farmers, meeting with foreign officials on other matters and keeping an eye out for the next big thing in his political life.

Not long after his interview with AFC Cooperative Farming News, he and a group of Alabama industrialists boarded a jet for a trip to Mexico "where there are a lot of opportunities for us."

In the years since Sparks made his first visit to Cuba, Alabama has received millions of dollars in agricultural orders. He believes that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

His most recent trip included a visit with former Mexican President Vicente Fox and other leading Mexican officials. He’s also beaten a steady path to Cuba, bringing the Communist nation onto friendly turf in Alabama with agreements benefitting both.

Jerome Gray, one of Sparks’ top aides, often points to the Cuban connection as an indication "he’s got what it takes to be governor of Alabama."

"Not many would have done what the commissioner has done," said Gray, former field coordinator for the Alabama Democratic Conference and now a deputy commissioner of agriculture. "He’s opened other markets for our goods and has been traveling to Africa and Asia to expand his trade efforts. He is a visionary."

Sparks likes to point to many of his success stories, ranging from food safety efforts to child nutrition programs across Alabama.

"The Department of Agriculture touches so many lives," he said. "Alabama is now known nationally on issues we deal with daily, especially when it comes to food safety."

He has made it clear to food producers in other states that if they use methods in conflict with the way Alabama wants it done "we don’t want it."

"We were among the first few states in the country that started looking at child nutrition programs," he said. "We went from an ‘F’ to a ‘B-minus’ in less than two years."

Then, there were improvements to the diagnostic laboratories in Alabama. He said it had gotten so bad "they had to catch water in trash bags when it rained. Now, we have three state-of-the-art lab facilities."

Sparks said farmers represent an indispensable segment of American life and, as such, should be honored for what they do on a daily basis.

He makes it a habit of shaking the hands of U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan when he sees them at airports where he’s arriving or departing—thanking them for what they have done for our country.

"We also need to stick out our hands to our farmers for producing the safest, most economical food supply in the world," he said. "I have tremendous respect for farmers. I never miss an important meeting of the Farmers Cooperative."

He counts Alabama Farmers Cooperative President Tommy Paulk as a good friend and lauds him for "his outstanding leadership" in working with farming Co-ops around the state.

When asked about Sparks’s campaign, Paulk stated, "In his two terms as Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, Ron Sparks has demonstrated tremendous courage in consistently taking the high ground on the many issues that have come before him. He is a man of great integrity who puts the citizens of Alabama first in every decision he makes. His progressive vision for Alabama and his unrelenting straight talk, rare commodities in today’s politics, promise to bring a breath of fresh air to the governor’s race in 2010."

Sparks is a perpetual motion machine, someone who gets by on little sleep as he moves from one farm-related event to another.

"When most people are going home at 5 o’clock, I’m going to work on my second job and that means traveling to a meeting or speaking somewhere in the state at night," he said. "It’s been a joy for me to serve as agriculture commissioner and when I walk away from this job, it will be with a smile."

Being elected governor would mean formulating a platform touching on just about every aspect of life in the state. He said he is working hard to prepare for that and will have more details about what he hopes to do "when I become governor."

"My priorities will be education and the economy," he said. "For one thing, I’m very concerned about the high drop-out rate of students and I’ll do something about it when I’m elected."

Sparks favors raising the drop-out age from the present 16 to 18, as well as implementing programs to provide vocational training for those not planning on going to college.

"It’s absolutely crazy to continue to let young men and women quit school at 16," he said. "What are they going to do on the streets of Alabama without the skills to take care of their family? I want to see them enrolled in a vocational school to learn a trade."

Sparks said teaching some kind of skills for directionless young Alabamians will help in a multitude of ways, including a drop in the number of prisoners in the state.

He said about 80 percent or more of those incarcerated in Alabama’s prisons are high school drop-outs—costing taxpayers about $14,000 a year for their upkeep "when we’re only spending $4,000 a year to educate our children."

"The more people we can put into the workplace and watch them move into a positive direction, the more the number of inmates will drop," he said.

Sparks enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard after graduating from Ft. Payne High School and received commendations during his four years in the service, spending much of it in search-and-rescue operations.

Later, he graduated from Northeast Alabama Community College and, at the age of 24 in 1978, became the youngest county commissioner ever elected in the state when he won a spot on the DeKalb County Commission—defeating the incumbent.

His ascendancy up the political ladder continued through the ensuing two decades leading to an appointment as assistant commissioner of agriculture in 1999. In that position, he ran day-to-day operations of the department.

The fact Sparks now is serving as president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture is testimony of the confidence colleagues across the country have in him.

"Alabama is not a big agricultural state when compared to others around the country and his national position speaks volumes about him," said Gray. "What he’s done in Alabama has made him well-known throughout America."

Running for agriculture commissioner is expensive, but not nearly as costly as seeking the governorship and Sparks, who is a proud grandfather, is well aware he’ll need much more than moral support to get the job.

"It could cost more than $5 million," he said. "But, I’ve campaigned for less. I’m willing to work 15 to 20 hours a day if that’s what I need to do. The way you get elected is to meet people, to understand their pain."

As a boy, he got pennies for each empty Coke bottle he returned to the store. He said it and other menial jobs he’s had through the years taught him a valuable lesson in life.

"You’ve got to work hard to succeed," he said. "I think I’ve shown I can do just that."

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Summer, Learning, and Fun

4-H summer camp can provide kids with a whole new way of looking at the world.

By Amy Payne Burgess

There is a famous song about "summertime, when the living is easy." In 4-H, those lyrics should be "summertime, when the programs are lively!" Every Alabama community and every county Cooperative Extension System office has exciting 4-H youth development activities taking place throughout the summer months. It’s time for day camps on topics like pet care and art; kids are traveling to the 4-H Center for memorable summer experiences; and many clubs find service opportunities, building community gardens or providing puppet shows at Senior Centers. It’s a great time to be in Alabama 4-H!

Each community 4-H program offers different activities. Many counties have groups going to 4-H summer camp throughout the month of June, though individual kids are also welcome. Alongside the traditional short-term camps, this year we have added two week-long camps, one focusing on Science and Technology and the other with a High Adventure theme. Although it’s a little late to plan for this summer, your kids can already begin looking forward to next summer or to school trips to the 4-H Coosa River Science School.

Kids in St. Clair County will stay on track through summer 4-H GPS training.

In Alabama, we firmly believe "4-H is where you live." That is certainly true when you look at county 4-H programs. For example, Marshall County 4-H always has something going on. Kids in the county can take part in day camps that will help young people build new skills – while having fun. They can be part of "hands-on, minds-on" 4-H programs on cooking and sport fishing. And in July, Guntersville’s Rotary Park will be the site of a very special "Junior Master Gardener" camp. These three-day events fill up kids’ mornings and provide tremendous learning experiences for much less than the cost of childcare.

To the southwest, in St. Clair County, young people will have just as much fun through the summer’s "4-H Clover Classroom." Kids can bring along a favorite adult and learn the practical and rewarding skills of canning and food preservation. Or they can go high-tech and learn about Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Archery, sport-fishing and other programs will round out the summer of fun. And what school-age boy (or girl!) would want to miss out on the joys of vermiculture – worm farming! Talk about "knowing their audience"!

Through the Co-op-supported Junior Master Gardener program, many Alabama 4-H kids will participate in 4-H summer service activities.

In nearby Dekalb County, 4-H has one clear summer mission — to have fun while learning! This strong 4-H program will make kids better photographers, advance their skills in cooking, gardening and woodworking and provide great summer day camps in music, dance and theater. They will also show off their talent through fund-raisers for the American Red Cross. More than one adult has said to me: "4-H has lots more opportunities than when I was a kid." That’s because kids today are really different.

I would encourage you to check with your county 4-H office to find out what kind of good stuff is going on in your community. More than that, if you have a skill or resource that can aid positive 4-H youth development, get involved! If you have too many vegetables in your garden or a catfish pond, let kids harvest squash for the food bank or learn to fish. If you have a riding stable, start a 4-H horse club. If you are good at photography, baking or some other kid-friendly hobby or profession, share your enthusiasm. Since the dawn of time, young people have complained about having nothing to do – so help 4-H nip that in the bud!

In this column, we always like to talk about childhood and parenting. That’s part of our 4-H mandate to share university-based research. Summer is a wonderful time to celebrate family life and childhood. I would encourage you to make special opportunities to do things as a family. Memorable moments don’t require trips to expensive resorts; they also come from picnics and Little League baseball games. And remember learning is not like a merry-go-round you can step off and on. It is important to make learning an on-going part of your child’s summer.

"Fun" reading will help sharpen academic skills, and there are also new abilities to learn during the summer: digital photography, gardening or fishing. And make travel a learning opportunity for the whole family. All of us who have traveled with adolescents know they may complain the whole way, but they will talk about the experience for years to come. Whether you visit historic Mobile, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Space Museum or hike Mount Cheaha, there is much to be learned – and YOUR attitude toward learning has an impact on your children’s appreciation of knowledge. If you curl up with a book, your child will curl up with a book. If you hike, your child will hike.

Even if you are staying close to home, find good stuff to do with your children. Let them take responsibility for some new task like making supper or painting a bookcase. Sure, it may not be perfect, but allow them to relish the learning experience.

We have the saying "If it isn’t fun, it isn’t 4-H!" That is actually a pretty good attitude to life. If summer isn’t fun, if learning isn’t fun, if gardening or taking care of pets isn’t fun…we are all missing out on something important in life.

Amy Payne Burgess is an 4-H Regional Extension Agent for DeKalb, Marshall, and Cherokee Counties.

Talladega Co. Exchange Hammers its Pecan-Cracking Record

Although cracking a record-shattering 90,000 pounds of pecan required weeks of hard work, the crew at Talladega County Exchange didn’t lose their sense of humor. Store employee Joe Cameron (left) presents AFC field man Mitchell Cooper (right) a “Certificate of Achievement” recognizing his completion of the store’s illusive Pecan Cracking Program.

2009’s Bumper Crop Results in 90,000 lbs. of Shelled Nuts

By Grace Smith

The friendly employees of Talladega County Exchange are keeping their customers all cracked up…well, their pecans at least.

It’s not every year pecan growers have the bumper crop they saw this year. But according to Justin Brown, Talladega County Exchange employee, about every three years pecan orchards will be overflowing with the oval-shaped nut. Last year the store cracked 11,760 pounds of pecans, a considerable amount considering the lack of rainfall. But this year’s abounding supply of nuts and ample rainfall, along with the assurance of quality service from friendly employees, the crew at Talladega County Exchange cracked more than eight times what they did last year —over 90,000 pounds!

Although pecan-cracking is a small entity of Talladega County Exchange’s business, according to Brown it can make a big difference in the slowdown of winter.

"Business naturally slows down in the winter and those pecans help keep the lights on," he jokingly remarked.

Not only do they help keep the lights on, but Brown added it’s great for attracting "walk-ins" and bringing in new clients.

"People waiting for their pecans to be cracked enjoy walking around the store and finding other items they may need," he said. "We hope word-of-mouth from this year’s pecan-cracking will bring in new clients not only for next year’s shelling season, but also for their year-round needs and services."

People came from all over the Talladega area and from as far as Birmingham, Piedmont and even Dothan to have their pecans cracked, and the employees believe it was the assurance of a quality job that attracted clients.

"I think people came to the store because they knew we really cared about the quality of the service we were providing," Brown said. "We knew we had a reputation to uphold and our crew worked together to make sure our customers were satisfied."

"You mess up somebody’s pecans, they’re going to talk bad about you," he amusingly added. "We did very little advertising for our shelling service, so word-of-mouth was essential to our success…we were careful to provide each customer with a quality job."

With all those pecans to be cracked, it truly required a group effort to meet this year’s record-breaking pecan shelling. The warehouse at Talladega doubled as the shelling facility and according to the store employees, with four shelling machines constantly running, it was a "mad house." There was so much work to be done that when store manager Bill Jones had to be out, he turned to the strong back and willing spirit of AFC district fieldman Mitchell Cooper to help out.

"At first we asked Bill what we’d done wrong to have Mitchell come out here," store employee Cindy Alexander jokingly said. "But he did such a great job and we were glad he was here to help us."

Despite the overwhelming work to be done, the crew at Talladega didn’t miss an opportunity to find humor in their new-found routine and they decided the newly recruited Cooper needed to be properly trained before he began shelling. Stanley Blackburn, store employee, spent countless, back-breaking hours teaching Cooper the proper cracking technique before he turned him loose on a machine.

The crew hyped his "training" up to being something quite painstaking when in actuality it simply required putting the nuts into the machines and flipping a switch.

"We told Mitchell he had to be trained before he could help, so Stanly showed him how to put the pecans into the machines and flip the switch," Alexander said. "At the end of the day we gave him a ‘Certificate of Achievement’ recognizing his completion of our Pecan Cracking Program."

Although the employees of Talladega County Exchange were able to find fun in their overwhelming pecan-cracking requirements, it did require many long, cold, noisy hours and many gracious customers recognized the crews’ plight and rewarded their hard work.

"One freezing, cold day a lady brought just a few pounds of pecans to be cracked. She saw us working so hard and felt sorry for us, so she brought us ice cream," store employee Joe Cameron said. "Some people even left pecan pies for us when they dropped off their pecans. There were several customers who really appreciated what we were doing."

Brown said this year’s pecan-cracking season has left him hopeful for another successful season next year.

"Next year we hope to crack at least the same poundage as this year, maintain our quality of service and hopefully acquire some new clients," he said.

Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.

The Co-op Pantry

"I don’t cook very often anymore, but when I do cook, I do a pretty good job," said Joyce Smith of Jackson County.

"Nobody’s here except me on a regular basis, and it’s just easier to go out than cook for one person," she said.

A retired school librarian, Joyce enjoys her time at home with her Tennessee Walking Horses and what she referred to as her collection of stray dogs.

"They all had nowhere else to be and ended up here," she explained.

On those occasions when Joyce does have others around her table, she prepares fairly uncomplicated, good old-country food.

"My mother cooked a lot, and I always sort of knew how to cook from being in the kitchen with her," Joyce added, and she now enjoys visits from her granddaughter Elise when the two of them can cook together.

"We made apple pies together last Thanksgiving. That’s the first time she’s really gotten into helping me cook," she said.

Other than family visits, Joyce also cooks for her friends when they get together. In fact, regular readers of the Cooperative Farming News may remember March’s Farm Fresh Memories column by Joyce’s friend Joe Potter about "The Meatloaf Fairy."

"I can cook, but I’d rather eat her cooking," Joe said.

"He’s crazy about that meatloaf," Joyce added.

According to Joe, he agreed with Joyce that basic, country-comfort food is hard to beat.

"We both like things that are simple, and when it comes to cooking for others, the more the merrier," added Joe.

Retired from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Joe said he is a country boy through and through and enjoys nothing more than promoting agriculture.

"I am very proud of my rural Southern heritage and to be from Hatton in Lawrence County," he said.

The recipes Joyce and Joe share with Co-op Pantry readers reflect their love of classically Southern food, offer cool salads and other tasty vegetable-sides perfect for this time of year when backyard gardens and farmer’s markets are in overdrive.

"Parmesan Baked Tomatoes are delicious and easy," said Joe.

"And microwave okra tastes like boiled okra, but isn’t slimy," he added.

Joyce’s recipes for Sour Cream Cornbread and Chicken That Makes Its Own Gravy are quintessentially Southern staples worthy of Sunday dinner, even if they are simple enough for weeknight supper.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

Broccoli–Cauliflower Salad

Dressing: 1 package ranch dressing mix
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup Wesson oil
3 packs Sweet & Low

Salad: 1 bunch broccoli
1 head cauliflower
2 bunches green onions
½ cup celery

Stir together all dressing ingredients and set aside. Chop all vegetables and place in a salad bowl. Pour dressing over mixture and refrigerate overnight.

Shelbyville Corn Casserole

1 bag frozen shoe peg corn
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed

Cook corn as directed. Combine all ingredients, except butter and crackers, and place in casserole dish. Top with crackers and butter. Bake at 350o for 20-25 minutes.

Oven Swiss Steak

¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds cube steak
1 (16 oz) can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Garlic, powder, onion powder, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350o. Mix flour and salt, pound into meat. Brown meat in small amount of hot vegetable oil. Place meat in 9 by 13 baking dish. Blend remaining flour with drippings in skillet. Brown to make gravy. Add tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and other spices. Cook until mixture boils. Pour mixture over meat. Cover and bake at 350o for 30 to 45 minutes.

Easy Snicker Doodles

½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 box yellow cake mix
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375o. Mix sugar and cinnamon; set aside

In a bowl, mix together cake mix, vanilla, oil and eggs until dough is formed. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and cool.

Sour Cream Cornbread

Melt 1 stick of butter in a skillet or pan.
Combine: 1½ cups cornmeal
2 eggs
1 (8 oz) container sour cream
1 (8 ¾ oz) can cream corn

Pour into buttered pan and bake at 450o until brown.

Chicken That Makes Its Own Gravy

Batter a fryer or chicken breasts as to fry. Melt a stick of butter in a baking dish. Place chicken in pan. Bake uncovered at 425o for 30 minutes. Turn and bake 15-20 minutes on other side. Remove from oven; reduce temperature to 325o.

Combine: 1 (10 oz) can mushroom soup
1 soup can of milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Pour over chicken. Cover; return to oven and bake for 1 hour.

Pineapple Casserole

1 large can chunk pineapple, juice reserved
¼ cup Velveeta cheese, grated
½ cup sugar
¼ cup flour

Mix together cheese, sugar and flour. Grease 8 by 8 baking dish. Place pineapple chunks in bottom of dish and top with cheese mixture. Pour juice over top. Bake at 350o for 45-50 minutes.

Parmesan Baked Tomatoes

4 medium tomatoes, sliced in thirds
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Canola oil spray
Hormel or Oscar Meyer Real Bacon Bits

Preheat oven to 450o.

Place tomatoes on a baking sheet. Top with Parmesan, salt and pepper. Spray with oil and bake until tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle tomatoes with bacon bits and bake for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.

Scalloped Tomatoes

2 cups cooked tomatoes
2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup soft bread cubes
Salt and pepper
Buttered bread crumbs

Fill a buttered baking dish with alternate layers of well-seasoned cooked tomatoes, butter and bread cubes. Cover with buttered bread crumbs. Bake at 350o for 35 minutes.

Swiss Vegetable Medley

1 (16 oz) package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 (10.75 oz) can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1 cup sour cream
1 (6 oz) can French-fried onions
Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350o. Set aside ¼ cup cheese and ¼ cup onions.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine thawed vegetables, mushroom soup, remaining cheese, sour cream, remaining onions and pepper. Pour ingredients into a 2 quart casserole dish.

Bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle reserved cheese and onions on top of casserole. Bake 5 minutes more or until cheese has melted.

Microwave Okra

10 (3-4 inch) pods fresh okra
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons butter

Place butter in a small baking dish and melt. Save half of melted butter. Place okra in baking dish. Drizzle remaining melted butter over okra. Add salt and pepper. Microwave 3-5 minutes.

Excellent quick, easy summer side dish.

Microwave Fried Corn

6 ears fresh corn
6 teaspoons butter
½ cup milk or water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Remove shucks and silks from corn. Wash thoroughly. With a sharp knife, cut off about half of each kernel. Next, use the knife to scrape out all the remaining juice and pulp. Add milk, salt and pepper. Stir well. Place in a greased casserole dish. Microwave for approximately 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

Note: 1 ear of corn makes about 1 serving.

Joe’s Shrimp & Grits

1 cup quick grits, uncooked
3 cups water
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 teaspoons minced garlic

Bring water, cream, butter and salt to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and stir in grits. Cook, stirring constantly, 7 to 8 minutes or until mixture is smooth. Blend in cheese and garlic. Cook 1 to 2 minutes more or until cheese melts.

1 pound medium shrimp, cooked
¼ cup butter, melted
1 (8 oz) package fresh sliced mushrooms
8 slices bacon

Cut slices of bacon into 1-inch strips and microwave until ¾ cooked. In a skillet, sauté mushrooms in butter. Add bacon and shrimp. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp is heated. Dish up garlic cheese grits. Smother with sautéed shrimp, mushrooms and bacon.Makes about 4 servings.

The FFA Sentinel

By Philip Paramore

Richard Lester Jones, Jr., of Carrollton won the National Prepared Public Speaking Contest at the 14th National FFA Convention in October 1941 at Kansas City, Missouri. According to the November 1941 issue of The Alabama Future Farmer magazine, "...when Jones started in the public speaking contest four years ago, he was not able to express himself at all. Realizing his handicap, he strived hard to overcome it, and he kept entering the contest each year with his eye on the state prize. By hard work, persistence and true determination, he surpassed his dream by winning the State, Tri-State, Southern Regional and National Contests." This was the first time an Alabama FFA member won the title of National FFA Public Speaker.

Jones was the oldest of six children. His mother had a nick name for each of her children and his was Red. He graduated from Carrolton High School (Pickens County) the year he won and was the valedictorian of his class. Upon graduating from high school, he enrolled in the University of Alabama (UA), where he remained until he joined the Army in January 1943. He served three years in the infantry during World War II.

Upon completion of his military duty, he continued his studies at UA where he obtained a law degree in 1949. He practiced law at Aliceville with his uncle, State Senator Albert Davis, until December 1950 when he was recalled into the Army. He served as an infantry officer till October 1952. He also served in the Active Army Reserve and was the Staff Judge Advocate of the 121st U.S. Army Reserve Command.

Jones later moved to Birmingham where he continued to practice law. He was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in 1972 and was re-elected in 1978 and 1984, where he served as an Alabama Supreme Court Justice. He and his wife, Jean, had three children. He died on April 22, 1996.

Ed Morgan, wrote an article about Jones, which appeared in the Sunday, August 4, 1996, Tuscaloosa News. Morgan wrote, "‘Just call me Red,’ is what he would say on being introduced to someone. Red came to enter the University in 1941. When the dean of students wanted to know how he expected to make it financially, as he only had $50, Red replied he was hoping that the dean could get him on with the work crew at the University. Further, he said he would soon have $300. The dean wanted to know how he expected to come with a sum like that. Red explained that he belonged to an organization called Future Farmers of America, and they were awarding that sum to the winner for the best speech at the National Convention. Red said, ‘I’m going to win that money.’ And he did." Below is a copy of Jones’ winning speech.

The Soil: A National Heritage

The good earth is our greatest heritage and resource. How have we taken care of it?

Today we are being forced to defend both our natural resources and our American way of life. Martial airs are being played and we are singing "God Bless America." Congress is appropriating unnumbered billions of dollars for this emergency. Let us meet this world crisis like men and may it soon be over. While it is necessary to defend our American way of life, it is also necessary to defend our American means of making a living.

God has blessed America. No nation of the world can boast of a larger or richer possession of natural resources than our own. And, of all these gifts of nature, the soil is the most indispensable. From it we get our living and most of our wealth. It is the foundation of most of our welfare and prosperity. The supply of soil may seem inexhaustible; but it is not.

A proud horse owner, thoughtlessly leaving his stable doors unlocked, awoke in the early morning to discover his most highly prized horse had been stolen. He laid awake many nights, thinking about how careless he had been. America has been like this by its soil. After a comparatively short time, America has awakened to find a great part of her soil lost. These losses are the direct result of the process of soil erosion which in turn is the result of the improper management and misuse of our land. This problem of land use has been and is today one of the most important problems that could possibly face this nation.

The history of different nations shows us that when the people use the land wisely, the nation grows and prospers; but, on the other hand, where the land is misused and wasted, the nation begins to decay. China, through the misuse of its soil, has produced the most spectacular land damage in the world. The failure to recognize the value of its soil resources resulted in poverty and poor economical conditions for the Roman Empire and played a large part in its collapse. On the other hand, France, Germany and other countries of Western Europe which have been following a positive program of land improvement have the world’s most stable agriculture and the least soil erosion.

A new nation on virgin soil seldom troubles itself with this problem of land use. Our own American attitude shows no exception of this rule. When the pilgrims landed on the shores of New England, they found a continent covered with virgin forests and grass. Under this protective covering, the rate of soil removal was exceedingly slow. This was Mother Nature’s plan of conservation.

Acknowledging the fact that Mother Nature has, beyond all doubt, played her part by the soil, then upon whom do we lay the blame for our soil’s destruction? By rights we can blame only man – man and his selfish motives in handling the soil.

Most of our trouble with land use today is due to the lack of land policy during the early settlement of our country. The land policy consisted merely of disposing of the public domain as speedily as possible. This was natural, for the primary need then was to subdue a forest. This is where erosion began in America. Man tried to change the plan of Mother Nature. Forests were slashed down and vegetation destroyed by overplowing and overgrazing. The removal of the forests made flood more acute and added to farm distress. On overplowed slopes, the fertile soil soon slipped away; and, when the grass covering was gone, the range land was soon ruined. On dry areas where the land was left unprotected, the dust storms took their toll.

Soil depletion can be regarded as the first and biggest factor in our national farm problem. In a country of about two billion acres of land, erosion has already seriously damaged 280 million acres. About 50 million acres are unfit for cultivation. Wind and water remove about three billion tons of soil from our land each year. About 730 million tons of fertile soil are carried into the Gulf of Mexico annually by the Mississippi River alone. All told, more than half of all the land we have has been affected in some degree. With the country as a whole under cultivation less than a hundred years, we have lost 14 percent of our land and put another 35 percent on the move. The United States has wasted its soil resources faster than any nation or race that ever attempted to practice agriculture on an extensive scale.

Soil destruction lead to abandoned farms and run-down communities. When the soil goes, near-by towns feel harmful effects too. Thousands of families have become agricultural wanderers. Other thousands remain on cropped-out land in extreme poverty. Almost without exception, farm people on severely eroded land are ill-clad, ill-fed and ill-housed. As long as this destruction of the soil continues, we cannot hope to achieve a truly sound and lasting national prosperity in this nation. In one way or another – through increased taxes, higher cost of living or impoverishment of basic resources – erosion is hitting us all; and the total damage is not less than $840 million every year.

The solution of this problem calls for national effort. The solution will be difficult. This is not a problem of only today; it is a problem of the future. "It is the first principle of political science that the state has immortal life. All wise plans must be based upon the hypothesis of national existence. Obligations of the present generation to those generations of the future cannot be precisely defined, but every step forward in civilization means an increased regard for the interest of the future."

Only in the last decade has this problem been brought to the attention of the people. Research and educational projects carried out by the United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service and State Colleges of Agriculture have provided the scientific facts to be used in soil erosion control and efficient land use.

However, education, research and planning alone are not enough. Because the farmer has such a large share of the conservation job, it is only fair the rest of the nation help him. The government is helping him through legislation. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) has become a vital part of the erosion control program. To conserve our soil and provide greater comfort and security for the millions living on American farms is part of a definite plan. By helping those on the land, the AAA program helps those in the towns.

The AAA program protects the farmer’s soil and income through acreage allotment. It pays for building terraces, planting winter legumes, contour furrowing of pasture and range land, and strip cropping as soil building practices. It contributes to better living by encouraging farmers to grow more food for home use. It provides parity payments and crop loans. We hear much today about regimentation in totalitarian nations. This form of regimentation has not and should not come to America. I am not a "Red," but I believe we should mobilize the American farmers and resources of the government in combating the misuse of our land.

Although the government can and is playing a great part in the solution of this problem, I still believe small farm organizations and individuals can play the greatest part in solving the soil problem. The soil conservation districts are organizations set up for the purpose of the soil defense.

This organization is set up by small groups of farmers and it embodies the spirit of community enterprise, 435 districts covering some 271 million acres having already been organized. But the greatest responsibility of soil conservation still lies upon the shoulder of the individual farmer.

Fellow Future Farmers, we are the pioneers of the new frontier of soil conservation. We have learned how to defend our land; we have the skill and the labor to do the job. All we need is the will to put the work on the land.

Then are we, as American citizens, going to sit idly by and see our land misused and wasted due to the lack of proper planning and utilization? Certainly the answer will be "No." Now is the time to act, act to bring the question of proper use to the consciousness of every true-blooded American citizen. Then we shall preserve our soil, the greatest of our national heritage and a vital part of national defense.

Philip Paramore is an Education Specialist with the Alabama Department of Education.

Try Fried Cardoons for an Interesting Treat

By H. T. Farmer

Lately I have been experimenting with foods I have tasted when dining at folks’ homes in other countries. I have always taken pride in growing most of the non-meat products I eat. One such food easily grown here in Alabama is cardoon (Cynara cardunculus).

Cardoons are in the Aster family (Asteraceae) and bear a strong resemblance to thistle in the sense they have purple flowers, native finches enjoy the seeds and, if left uncontrolled, can be invasive. Much like its cousins, artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes, cardoons have a culinary value more staple than unique.

The plants can grow up to eight feet tall, but can be kept trimmed considerably shorter by harvesting the stalks as needed for dinner.

I harvest the stalks and keep them in a pitcher of water in the refrigerator along with the celery. In fact, the best way to prepare the stalks for cooking is to treat them like celery. Remove the leaves and stems, then use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin. I then like to soak my cardoons in a flat container of water with a little salt.

Cut the cardoon stalks into two to four inch pieces then soak for 30 to 40 minutes in a buttermilk and egg pre-batter dip. When they are ready to cook, roll the soaked cardoons into a flour mixture with your favorite seasonings.

Fry the cardoons in a light vegetable oil at 370° until golden brown and the cardoon can be easily pierced with a sharp knife.

Cardoons are a great source of dietary fiber and carbohydrates. They also have considerable amounts of potassium, magnesium and phosphorous; vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and C; calcium, iron and zinc. All of that with protein practically makes cardoon its own food group!

Try your fried cardoons with your favorite sour cream dressing or plain yogurt with lime juice. I’m sure your friends and family will enjoy this dish and they’ll brag about it for years too! (Unless they find their own cardoons to cook.)

Caution: Be careful with the spines on the leaves and stems as they can be rather pokey.

E-mail me if you have any questions about cardoons or where to buy the herbs or seeds to grow your own.

Thanks for reading!

If you have any questions about other uses for cardoons, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">
and I’ll tell you all I know. As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.

Urban Youth Farm Day Teaches City Kids to Appreciate Rural Life

Radar, the Appaloosa, is a major attraction with the children.

By Keith Johnson

If every day of school were as much fun as the Urban Youth Farm Day, kids would cry when schools were closed for snow days. I also seriously doubt whether the kids could learn in a week at school what they learned in a day at this event.

Urban Youth Farm Day was held this year at Alabama A&M’s Winifred Thomas Research Station in Madison County and was organized by Sylvia Oates and Wanda Pharris.

They put together an unusually interesting group of volunteers who taught the kids from local city schools about everything from horses to composting with earthworms.

Kids listen as volunteers explain what is involved in agriculture.

Judie Schultz was quite a celebrity since she was appearing with the wildly popular Radar, a beautiful Appaloosa horse.

Radar has to be an unusually calm fellow, because for hours he tolerated and even seemed to enjoy being touched, rubbed, talked to, patted and jostled by hordes of excited children. Even ear-piercing screams from delighted fans did nothing to disturb his laid-back but alert personality.

Mrs. Schultz, who is quite knowledgeable about horses, trains children in riding and caring for horses. She said she and Radar look forward to these kinds of events.

At another stand, the kids were being educated on the history of a universally-despised invader from Brazil. When I was in elementary school, I had never even seen the scourge aptly called fire ants, but they are a fact of life in Alabama today.

Students are informed of the many, many uses of corn.

Just past this booth, Allen Hodge was discussing another stinging insect we are concerned might be disappearing from the country. The amazing and essential honey bee, students learned, is also an import from another continent; but, in this case, one that farmers are working furiously to try and keep from dying out.

Students tried hard to find the queen bee in a portable hive as Hodges explained honey was only the second most important product of these beneficial creatures. Agriculture is heavily dependent on the bees for pollination, and their declining population is a cause of near panic among vegetable and fruit growers. Their loss would cost the country billions in lower crop yields.

It is interesting how these two imported insects are seen in such different ways by farmers. One is a complete villain while the other is so essential. Unfortunately, the bad guy is thriving while the hero is in big trouble from mysterious forces not fully understood by scientists. This was a good lesson in the fact we need to be very careful what we allow to come into the country.

Robert Spencer demonstrates the proper way to milk a goat.

Meanwhile at another booth, Marguerite McClintock and Neeva Beasley were showing students the world of vermicomposting. In other words, they were discussing earthworms and their uses. These two women explained to the children how earthworms were the work horses of the subterranean world and were responsible for turning decaying organic matter into rich soil for plants to grow in.

The ladies had a large pile of earthworm compost behind them that had a lot of adult gardeners drooling as they imagined the black gold spread on their own soils. Earthworm compost is impossible to beat as a soil additive.

Though some of the city kids were "grossed out" by the worms, I think they came away with a deeper understanding of their role in the world of food production. If there is any invertebrate more essential to agriculture than the honey bee, it would have to be earthworms. Organic farmers in particular could not function without these valuable creatures.

McClintock emphasized how earthworms took something that was a problem like garbage and turned it into the gardener’s best friend. The kids were strongly encouraged to go out and build their own worm bins and create compost out of their family’s garbage.

Margaret Mazikowski from New Market has a micro-dairy and talked to the students about where milk comes from. She is actually now bottling on her farm and selling the milk directly to customers.

Leslie Spell brought one of her nanny goats from her Humble Heart Farm. This was a big hit as the children got to see the goat milked. She turns her milk from 150 goats into several delicious types of cheese which the children could sample.

Nearly 400 students attended the event and I would say Oates and Pharris have done an outstanding job of putting together an excellent program staffed by a talented group of volunteers.

Mrs. Oakes explained urban and suburban children are so far removed from the farm they have no concept of what it takes to produce food. She and the others involved felt like something needed to be done to rectify the situation. Urban Youth Farm Day is definitely a step in the right direction.

Sylvia Oates and Wanda Pharris may be contacted at (256) 532-1577, ext 16.

Keith Johnson is a freelance writer from Morgan County.

Want More Rabbits?

By Randy Liles

Cottontail rabbits are found throughout most of Alabama and are considered one of the easiest mammals to manage. Two keys to successful cottontail management are habitat diversity and interspersion. Interspersion is the mixing of habitat types key to successful cottontail populations.

The rabbit is primarily known as an "edge" species. An edge species prefers the area where two or more different habitat types meet. The area where a field and forest meet creates a habitat edge. Cottontails are extremely edge-dependent animals. Because of this, several small areas or patches of food and cover are much more beneficial than one large area containing food and cover. Multiple small areas provide more edge than one large area. When adequate amounts of quality food and cover exist, cottontail populations are very successful.

Areas providing adequate cover may include brushy fencerows, thickets, hayfields, wetland edges, young pine stands, thinned mature pine stands and ditch banks. The existence (or lack) of good cover may be the greatest single factor affecting rabbit populations. Good cover provides escape areas from predators, areas to feed and nest, and protection from severe weather, especially in the winter.

Brush piles are effective in providing good cover. In addition to providing excellent escape cover, brush piles provide thermal protection during cold weather. Constructing brush piles is relatively simple. The best brush piles are usually about five feet high, 15 feet wide and have more than one entrance and exit. Plastic pipe (not more than six inches in diameter) provides an excellent entrance and exit. Large logs, stumps or large stones can be used to construct the base. Each additional layer (up to three or four layers) consist of brush and branches creating a tangled pile on the top. Brush piles constructed according to recommendations may last up to 10 years.

Just as important as proper construction is placement. Brush piles should be located close to hedgerows, windbreaks, brushy thickets or areas where additional brushy cover is nearby. Additional cover can be provided by a process known as "live-topping" trees. This is the practice of cutting a tree trunk on a 30 degree angle about three-quarters of way through and leaning the tree to the ground. Because the tree is not cut all the way through, the branches may provide green cover for several years. "Live-topping" a tree next to a brush pile is even better.

Cottontails are herbivores, meaning their diet consists of vegetation. Succulent growth of leaves, stems, plant shoots and flowers are the preferred food of rabbits. As one would expect, food sources (goldenrod, wheat, clover, legumes, soybeans, garden crops, etc.) during the spring and summer months is usually not a limiting factor to rabbit populations. However, with the approach of winter and the disappearance of the rabbit’s preferred food sources, their diets change to the bark and twigs of plant species like poison ivy, sassafras, maple, dogwood, sumac and apple. If adequate food sources are not available, quarter-acre wildlife openings can be planted. There should be at least one opening for every two to five acres. These openings can be planted in clovers, alfalfa, peas, rye, wheat or a mixture of annuals.

Keep in mind a cottontail spends its entire life within an area no larger than 10 acres. Providing adequate cover and food is essential to a successful rabbit population. Remember, the diversity of both cover and food is the real key to having more rabbits. For more information contact Randy Liles, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, 4101 Hwy. 21 N., Jacksonville, AL 36265.

Randy Liles is a Supervising Wildlife Biologist with Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

White Clover, A Most Logical Legume

By Dr. Don Ball

High input costs and low prices for livestock and livestock products have greatly increased. Interest has grown in using forage legumes due to their ability to biologically fix nitrogen and improve forage quality, and to possibly increase forage yield and extend the grazing season. In many Alabama pastures, white clover is the most logical legume to plant. Though best adapted to heavy soils like in the Black Belt, Piedmont or Tennessee Valley, it can be grown on low-lying sites with good moisture availability in other parts of the state, especially in North and Central Alabama. As with most clovers, it does best on fertile soil having a pH of 6.0 or above.

White clover is most commonly grown as a companion species to tall fescue, orchardgrass or dallisgrass. It is sometimes grown with bermudagrass or bahiagrass, but these grasses are quite competitive and usually quickly crowd-out white clover unless they are kept grazed closely and little or no nitrogen is applied to the grass.

"Ladino" types are the highest yielding white clover varieties. "Intermediate" white clovers are generally less productive yield-wise, but are more aggressive and tend to persist better, which makes them particularly useful in areas marginal for growing white clover. Recently some new intermediate white clover varieties have become commercially available that were selected for even greater persistence, which has slightly expanded the area of adaptation of white clover. There is also a "wild" or "small" type of white clover in some areas, but seed is not available due to low productivity. "White Dutch" is an inexact term that may be applied to the intermediate and/or the wild white types.

White clover seed is extremely small and only three or four pounds of seed are recommended per acre. Great care and precision must be used during planting if the seed are to be evenly distributed. Most white clover seed commercially available has been pre-inoculated with white clover inoculant, but if not, seed should be inoculated just prior to planting. The seed can be broadcast over the soil surface with good results. If drilled, great care should be taken to not place the seed more than one-quarter inch deep. Firming the soil with a cultipacker is an important step when planting white clover on a prepared seedbed. White clover is most commonly planted in autumn in Alabama, but treatment with an insecticide may be needed if there is a high cricket population present.

Late winter plantings also may be successful, particularly in North Alabama. Whether planted in spring or fall, success is unlikely if the clover is planted into a thick, vigorous perennial grass sod. In order to obtain a clover stand in a thick sod the grass should be severely suppressed by either strip-spraying an herbicide or by tillage. If there is only a thin stand of grass present, it may be possible to obtain a white clover stand by closely grazing the grass and broadcasting clover seed, especially if a drag harrow or similar tool is used to scratch the soil or if a high animal stocking rate is used to "trample in" the seed.

White clover has been around for a long time and is a forage crop with many desirable

characteristics. It is a legume, does not require nitrogen fertilization, is a true perennial, produces forage of very high quality, is a good yielder, is widely-adapted and quite tolerant of grazing. Given its ability to lower fertilizer costs while improving forage quality and animal performance on pasture, we need to use this valuable legume to a much greater extent, especially as long as we face major economic challenges in livestock production.

Don Ball is an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with Auburn University.

“All Along the Watch Tower”

State Labs Remain Vigilent for Signs of Swine Flu Virus

By Dr. Tony Frazier

"There must be some kind of way out of here

Said the joker to the thief…………"

You may be familiar with the old Bob Dylan song, All Along the Watch Tower, made famous by Jimi Hendrix. In the final verse, the singer advises the listener to "Beware." This column is certainly not meant to critique songs, but if I were to use this song’s lyrics to discuss swine influenza, I would advise the readers to "Be Aware!"

I write this column about a month before you read it. So if you will think back about a month ago now, you will remember every headline, every newscast and even many conversations began with the subject of swine influenza. By the time you read this, I suspect we will have a pretty good idea of whether the swine influenza event was just a blip on the radar screen…or if it was indeed the apocalypse. My prediction is it will have landed somewhere in the middle; but if I could predict accurately, I would have bet the farm on Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby.

The swine flu outbreak that began in Mexico and spilled out into other parts of the world reminds us of how closely the health of our animal population can be related to the health of the human population. Swine flu, however, is nothing new. It was first isolated in the United States in 1930. To those outside the swine industry, it may come as a surprise that swine have a flu season much like people do. It usually runs from late fall to early spring. In fact, many species have an influenza virus specific to that species. Horse owners routinely vaccinate against equine influenza. We have, in the recent past, been very vigilant about avian influenza. The influenza strains have even been isolated in seals and whales. The influenza virus, for the most part, does not commonly jump species.

On rare occasions, the swine flu has jumped to humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports about one case of swine flu in humans every year or two. One source reported from December 2005 to February 2009, 12 cases of swine flu were documented in people. These cases are usually people who work closely with and come in close contact with swine. It’s not a huge deal I suppose, unless it’s you who gets sick. The big issue comes when that influenza virus adapts to the point it can spread from person-to-person. Humans have no immunity to the new virus and it has the potential to spread rapidly through the human population.

Please focus on the word "potential." The wild card of any virus crossing species is no one knows early-on how virulent or how contagious it will be. It appears, at least at the point of this writing (about 10-12 days into the event), the virus is not terribly contagious or virulent. As of May 4th, at noon there had been 279 confirmed human cases in the United States with only one death. That is a low mortality rate.

A significant and justifiable concern in the swine industry is the fear of pork and pork products becoming associated with this virus. There are attempts to refer to the virus as something other than swine flu. To this point, the media still refer to the virus as swine flu. Even so, there is no reason to shy away from eating pork. According to the CDC, there is little chance humans can become infected from eating pork. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service states normal cooking temperatures will inactivate the virus. (I would think normal cooking temperatures would kill the virus, but either way, it’s equivalent to cutting the green wire on those bombs on the movies…or is it the red wire?) Additionally, if a pig should arrive sick at a harvest facility, it will be condemned as not fit for human consumption.

Alabama is not considered to be a large pork-producing state, but we do have several large farms. Those involved in the swine industry in our state have taken precautions like vaccinating against influenza to minimize any risk of influenza in our herds. The swine industry has taken it on the chin for no good reason. It seems the farther our society drifts from our agricultural roots, people often react without good reason.

Our laboratory system is always up and running to assist the industry in protecting the animal population which in turn helps protect the human population. In Alabama, our state veterinary diagnostic laboratory system works with and communicates well with our state Department of Public Health on issues that could affect humans. Our field personnel ride herd on the health of animal agriculture across the state. And our meat inspection personnel are always on the lookout for diseased animals. I suppose you could say we are "all along the watch tower."

Now if you will excuse me, my sausage biscuit is getting cold. Could somebody please pass me the mustard?

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