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March 2016

4-H Extension Corner: Showing Great Skills

Group picture of all Skillathon and Quiz Bowl participants.

Alabama 4-H club members excel at state livestock contest.

by Jason Miller

Senior 4-H Club members from Cherokee County recently took home top honors at the Alabama 4-H Skillathon and Quiz Bowl event held at the 4-H Youth and Development Center in Columbiana. Eason Reece, Wesley Rogers, James Isaac Rogers and Autumn Daniell comprised the Cherokee County Skillathon team. They will represent Alabama at the national contest later this year at the International Livestock Expo in Louisville, Ky.

Cherokee County Quiz Bowl team members Taylor Parker, Eason Reece, James Issac Rogers and Wesley Rogers will represent Alabama at the ARKSARBEN Stock Show in Omaha, Neb.

Senior 4-H club members from Cherokee County won first place at the Alabama 4-H Skillathon and Quiz Bowl. The Skillathon team members are (from left) Eason Reece, Wesley Rogers, James Isaac Rogers and Autumn Daniell with Richard Meadows, vice president of Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.

"We are incredibly proud of our senior teams and what they accomplished at this year’s contest," said Danny Miller, Cherokee County coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. "It has been exciting to watch them develop their skills and knowledge through 4-H programs over the years. Each of these young people began their involvement in a county 4-H Home Livestock Project. These team members have stepped up and taken advantage of some of the very best that 4-H has to offer."

Cherokee County 4-H Foundation Agent Mirandi Watson echoed Miller’s sentiments.

"The teams worked very hard and it paid off for them," Watson said. "I hope this will inspire more youth to get involved in 4-H as well."

Senior 4-H Club members from Cherokee County won first place at the Alabama 4-H Skillathon and Quiz Bowl. Richard Meadows, vice president of Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, with the Quiz Bowl team members (from left): Taylor Parker, Eason Reece, James Isaac Rogers and Wesley Rogers.

In addition to senior level competition, there were also junior and intermediate levels. A Pickens County team won the intermediate Skillathon division, while a combined team from Cherokee, Clay and Jackson counties won the intermediate Quiz Bowl. Choctaw County’s Junior Quiz Bowl team won first place and Pickens County’s Junior Skillathon team took top honors in their division.

Jason P’Pool, an Extension specialist for 4-H Youth Animal Science programs, said the Skillathon contest teaches participants the fundamentals of the livestock industry.

"Youth study a wide range of material on the production and management of beef cattle, meat goats, sheep and hogs," said P’Pool. "The event has elements where team members must work individually and also work collectively as a team."

Dr. Lisa Kriese-Anderson, an Extension animal scientist who serves as the Quiz Bowl coordinator, said competition is always fierce.

"In addition to learning a wide range of livestock information to prepare, Quiz Bowl team members develop decision-making, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills," Kriese-Anderson said.

Now in its second year, the Alabama 4-H Skillathon and Quiz Bowl event is steadily expanding with increased participation of individuals and counties. About 75 young people representing more than 10 counties participated in the 2.5 day event.

"Participation at the county level is open to any young person willing to commit the time and effort to learn the material," said Landon Marks, an Extension regional animal science agent.

"You don’t have to own any animals to be on the team. You have to be willing to work and study hard. That’s the key to success in both these contests," Marks added.

Dr. Molly Gregg, Extension assistant director for 4-H, said contests that open the world of agriculture to young people from towns and cities are important.

"Programs and contests that do not require actual animal ownership are an excellent way to expose children, teens and their parents to farming and help them understand where their food comes from," Gregg said. "In addition, these programs teach important life skills young people will be able to use their entire lives."

Both P’Pool and Marks noted that 4-H’s rapidly growing Chick Chain program seems to be a natural feeder for both contests. Marks said many of the junior and intermediate team participants have prior experience with 4-H Chick Chain programs in their counties.

If you are interested in getting involved in the 4-H Skillathon and Quiz Bowl event, contact your county Extension office or visit Alabama Extension at www.aces.edu/4-H-youth/AL4-H/.

Jason Miller is a student writer for the News and Public Affairs of Extension Communications and Marketing.




4th Annual Food Entrepreneur Conference

Presented by Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Farmers usually know all about how to raise their crops and livestock, but when it comes to marketing their product they may be in the dark. They might aspire to sell to bigger retailers such as Walmart or Kroger, for example, but don’t know where to start. And they might want to expand, but know little about business plans and financing.

That’s why the Auburn University Food Systems Institute and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System are sponsoring the fourth annual Food Entrepreneur Conference, designed for people who produce and process the foods that feed Alabamians. The two-day conference is scheduled for April 27-28 in Auburn.

"Auburn University offers a lot of resources for aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses – including farmers, but until now there hasn’t been a central source to get guidance. That is the main reason for the conference," said Pat Curtis, AUFSI director.

Auburn University has assisted hundreds of individuals get through the maze of requirements to sell their food products, and a highlight of the conference is always the talks by successful entrepreneurs who offer "real-life advice" about avoiding the mistakes they made.

One of the sessions this year will deal with Alabama’s new Cottage Food Law, passed in 2013. The law allows for the sale of certain food products deemed non-hazardous from a person’s home, eliminating the cost of a commercial kitchen and the need for selling through a retail outlet or farmer’s market.

Experts from the Small Business Development Center will offer tips about creating business and marketing plans and finding financing. Offering information about their areas of specialty will be meat scientists and experts from the interdisciplinary Aquaculture and Fisheries Business Institute that focuses on solutions for the region’s fisheries-related busi­nesses. A highlight is the small group breakout sessions on the second day, when aspiring entrepreneurs meet with specialists in their area of interest.

Keep up with plans for the fourth annual Food Entrepreneur Conference at the AUFSI (www.aufsi.auburn.com) or the Food Entrepreneur Conference Facebook page.

For more information, contact Jacque Kochak at 334-844-7465 or kochaja@auburn.edu.



A Composed Concentration

With a condensed rut, more does conceive over a shorter period, meaning fawns are also born within a smaller time frame. The influx of new fawns overwhelms predators and fewer fawns are caught, meaning MUCH higher fawn recruitment. (Credit: Guy Sagi)

A balanced herd means a short rut and happy whitetails.

by Todd Amenrud

All of us who follow sound QDM principals know that you want a balanced sex ratio and a balanced age structure for your herd. But few really understand all the reasons why. Most realize that when you have a balanced sex ratio there’s more competition amongst the bucks and that normally means better hunting and better genetics passed along. If you don’t have this balance, you’ve been missing out on intense rut activity. Besides the competition creating an environment where better genetic traits are passed along, the stability offers other big benefits to your herd, ones many managers may not realize.

How many does can a buck breed before becoming seriously depleted? According to Shorty Flees, Wilderness Whitetails in Wisconsin, a whitetail buck can breed about seven does (in the wild) before becoming severely depleted. Shorty and his family grow some of the world’s largest bucks and have paid very close attention to this issue over the years. For good reason, you obviously want to pass the genetics of a giant buck along, but you don’t want to stress the buck so his antler growth suffers. At Wilderness Whitetails, they will limit a breeder buck to procreate with about 10 does (remember this is not in the wild).

"If a buck breeds too many does and becomes rundown, it hurts his antler growth the following year. A younger buck can generally handle breeding about six does before running himself down too much. In the north where winter sets in by the time breeding season ends, bucks become very vulnerable. They cannot build their bodies back up after the rut so they try to maintain until spring. Come spring, Mother Nature diverts nutrients to rebuilding their body first. Until those needs are satisfied, the antlers get robbed of the nutrients needed to grow to their maximum potential. So bucks that come into the spring depleted are playing catch-up rather than reaping the nutritional rewards," Flees said.

With a balanced herd, the bulk of the breeding takes place over several weeks with a peak that lasts about 10 days. With too many does, the breeding may be spread out over many weeks, what some call a trickle rut. With a balance, you have an intense rut and the chase segment (what most people refer to as the peak of the rut) is extreme and concentrated over a few days of some of the best hunting you can imagine.

With an imbalanced ratio, not all the does will be bred during their first estrus cycle. A doe comes into heat for about 36-48 hours. If there’s not a buck available to breed her because he’s off tending to other does in the herd, she goes without conceiving. She will come into heat 28 days later and, if she’s not bred that time, she’ll come into heat again 28 days after that. So not only is this extremely bad for the bucks in your herd, think about the poor fawns! Rather than being born in May with the other fawns, it is born in June or even July! Do you think it’ll survive?

When the does severely outnumber the bucks, a greater number of young bucks will do some breeding. In this case, it’s possible for inferior genetics to be passed on, but this is also bad for these young bucks. Normally with older, breeding-age bucks around, through months of social interaction the younger bucks know their place and don’t attempt to breed, or at least are much less involved. Without older bucks around, the younger bucks will lose body weight and have a higher likelihood of being injured. The imbalance is bad for all deer!

Why don’t those silly bucks stop by the plot for a quick bite? For some reason, bucks just stop eating for a period of a couple weeks surrounding breeding. They don’t completely stop, but food intake with bucks in captive herds dropped approximately 90 percent during that period! So even if they have plenty of available food it really doesn’t make any difference, their intense need to breed is so extreme it consumes their life. Luckily, the does they’re searching for should be pounding your food plots so they are still a great place to hunt.

There are other reasons to balance your sex ratio. With a shorter rut, more does conceive over a shorter period, meaning fawns are dropped within a shorter time frame as well. This means MUCH higher fawn recruitment. The influx of new fawns means predators are overwhelmed with the amount of prey and fewer fawns are caught. When the rut is drawn out, fawns are born over a longer stretch and predators have a chance to hone in on more newborns.

Achieving the balance can be difficult. It can take several hunting seasons to harvest enough does to make a dent and we may have to battle natural whitetail dispersal.

Dispersal in the whitetail world typically has buck yearlings searching out a home range a fair distance away from where they were born. Some view this as Mother Nature’s way of preventing inbreeding in the herd. But the doe yearling usually takes up a home range right next to and intertwined with her mother. So, if you remove a doe, there’s a 50:50 chance that spot will be replaced by another doe. Aggressive action may be required.

You can make a difference! If you have a sound plan, things will rebound. It may take several years of aggressive doe removal, but it can be done. I’ve seen it accomplished in many states, countless times. And you will not believe the difference in hunting, especially during the rut! Mature bucks are up on their feet during the rut and the chase is intense. Your herd will also be much better off.

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



A Life Well Lived

In 2005, Shane Etheredge wrote a novel about logging. He wanted to preserve the stories he had heard while working in the logging and wood business in Clarke and Wilcox counties. He sent a signed copy to then-President George Bush, who wrote a personal thank-you note to Etheredge.

Shane Etheredge follows his passions.

by Carolyn Drinkard

Shane Etheredge has always loved to work with his hands. In high school, he and his friend, Dan Deas, ran their own junkyard. Many neighbors would give the teens old cars to work on. The two young men would sometimes strip the old cars and sell the parts to make extra money. Other times, they would repair the automobiles and sell them at a profit.

An honor student, Etheredge had his pick of scholarships to any college he desired. Instead, he chose to attend Hobson State Technical School (now Alabama Southern) in Thomasville and study to be a mechanic.

"My high school teachers could not believe that I didn’t want to go to college," Etheredge recalled. "I always told them that the world needs good mechanics as much as we need good doctors and lawyers."

Etheredge made the decision to follow his heart and do the things he loved. When the local Ford dealership offered him a job, he quit trade school and went to work. From there, he moved on to a job with Pine Hill Auto, Truck and Tractor Repair. Here, he would work under Toby Williamson, a man he calls his mentor.

"In the early ’80s, training was not as good as it is now,’ Etheredge explained. "The Internet was not available and self-help books were limited. I wanted to work on all kinds of machines and not limit myself to one area, and this is what I got to do with Toby Williamson."

In 1981, after his uncle died, Etheredge travelled to North Carolina to help his aunt, who had been left with a small farm. This farm was his mother’s birthplace, so he stayed until another family member was able to help.

When he returned to Alabama, he was self-employed for a short stint before taking a job with Luther Spires Chipping. Logging was really booming at that time, so Etheredge stayed busy working on skidders, log trucks, loaders and other logging equipment. The company hauled chips for McMillan Bloedel in Yellow Bluff. Using an old chipper that had burned and one that had been used for spare parts, Etheredge and some of his co-workers built a chipper that could grind a 28-inch tree and chip over 2,000 cords a week. Etheredge stated that this job kept him busy maintaining all the equipment because the parts wore out so rapidly from the continuous wear and tear. Nevertheless, the hands-on experience was exactly what he had wanted.

Shane, right, says Toby Williamson became his mentor, teaching him about all kinds of engines and allowing him the freedom to work on many different projects to learn all he could. “Mr. Toby is a good man who taught me a lot about mechanics, but he taught me more about life!” Shane stated.

In 1996, Etheredge accepted a job with Boise Paper Company, working on heavy equipment. Then, in February 2014, he took a job as Service and Parts Manager with Thomasville Honda-Polaris.

From the early ’80s, Etheredge had always been interested in technology. From its earliest beginnings, he was interested in learning all he could. Now, the advances he has witnessed amaze him.

"We can resist technology for a while," he laughed. "But soon, we all have to embrace it. You can run from it, but it’ll catch up to you.

"My job here at Thomasville Polaris-Honda is a learning curve every day. Even our chainsaws are computerized now. The federal government requires emission standards for both chainsaws and weed eaters. This is a challenge for the manufacturers and for those of us who work on machines."

Etheredge has felt a close kinship with the logging and paper wood industries. Through the years, he had heard thousands of stories told by those who have worked all their lives in this business. Concerned that these stories might be lost, Etheredge wrote a novel in 2005. He called his book, "A Logger’s Dream." The book was loosely based on some of the characters he had met and many of the stories they had shared.

Shane and Judean Etheredge enjoy rescuing and rehabbing animals on their farm in Sunny South. People bring them hurt or abandoned animals, and the couple works to help the animals so they can be released or adopted.

"I wanted to record some of the old stories and show how things have changed through the years," he explained. "The wood products industries are the backbone of our economy in Clarke and Wilcox counties. Now, these industries have been computerized and touched by technology. They don’t even look like they did 20 years ago."

He sent a signed copy of his book to then-President George Bush, who wrote him a personal note. He proudly cherishes that note.

Etheredge never regretted leaving technical school to get hands-on training, but he had secretly wished he had earned some sort of degree. He remedied this by starting a degree program in theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in Camilla, Ga. He quickly earned an associate degree, and then decided to go farther. He has now completed a doctorate in theology. He pastors Bible Baptist Outreach Church in Thomasville, a small church for those who don’t feel comfortable in more traditional worship centers.

Etheredge’s wife, Judean, also earned her doctorate degree in pastoral counseling from ATS. She runs Autumn Olive Outreach, a family counseling service. Her office is located on their farm. She has also written many books.

After reading the book, “Alabama’s Covered Bridges,” Shane and Judean visited all the bridges mentioned in the book. He then came home, designed and built his own covered bridge across a lake on his farm.

The Etheredge farm, located in Sunny South, is a veritable animal haven. Since Judean is a certified wildlife rehabilitator, the couple has taken in hundreds of abused, rejected or sick animals, from Jacob sheep to all kinds of birds and chickens. They currently have eight dogs that had been abandoned and a wild mustang that had once been adopted and then discarded. The animal, now over 28 years old, has lived on their farm for many years and seems like family. The couple love and respect animals and open their hearts to all of God’s creatures.

Even though Etheredge is self-taught in many areas, he loves a challenge because he always wants to learn something new. He is especially interested in solar and other alternative energy sources. In fact, his home is partially solar-powered. He has built his own gasifier engine because he feels there will be a time when this source of energy will be needed again. He installed a wood boiler to heat his home and his wife’s greenhouse and office.

When Etheredge first moved to his farm, he planted a grove of pine trees. After these trees were ready to harvest, he cut them to build two cabins, one for his wife and one for himself. He chinked the logs with mortar, hauled stones from Washington County to build both fireplaces and laid down flooring, retrieved from an old home he had bought and torn down. Judean now uses her log cabin as a writer’s sanctuary. Etheredge has decorated the walls of his cabin with family memorabilia such as his grandfather’s old banjo and numerous saws. He uses his cabin for reflection and study.

The Etheredges also bought and restored an old sharecropper home, called the Holliman Home. The home had been built around 1850, and Judean’s great-grandparents had once lived in it. The home had an unusual interior fireplace that was shared in three rooms. To move the house, Etheredge had to take down the fireplace, move the house and then rebuild the fireplace using the original bricks.

Many things can spark Etheredge’s curiosity. For example, after reading the book, "Alabama’s Covered Bridges," by Tom and Dess Sangster, Etheredge was so inspired that he and Judean travelled to see each bridge. After this, he designed and built his own covered bridge across the lake on his farm. He used trees that had been struck by lightning. He prepared the boards with a band sawmill he had constructed. Etheredge called his bridge Lightning Bridge. Ironically, a few years later, this bridge was struck by lightning, starting a small fire. Since there was only minimal damage, he quickly repaired the bridge. Later, he wrote the Sangsters telling them how much their book had inspired him and including a picture of his own Lightning Bridge.

The Etheredges are also amateur archeologists. They go on digs with the University of South Alabama Archeology students at Old St. Stephens, located in Washington County. St. Stephens was the location of the first capital of Alabama. The couple has been working on a spot that was once the Globe Hotel. They have unearthed Spanish reals, nails, pottery, old bottles and other treasures. Etheredge once found a spoon with a manufacturer’s name on it. Curious, he went online and traced the name to a company in England operated in the 1850s. All the finds from St. Stephens are carefully catalogued and taken to a museum, located on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.

Etheredge still spends time tinkering with old cars. A few years ago, he built a Model A Street Rod and installed a computerized fuel injection engine in it. He once drove the vehicle daily, but, now, he and Judean take it for pleasure rides through the back roads of rural Clarke and Wilcox counties.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."

Shane Etheredge has definitely "lived well." At a very young age, he had the courage to follow his heart and the conviction to do what he loved. And in doing that, he has made a difference and found true happiness!

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



A Walk in the Woods and Wild Hog for the Table

Understanding the skills and dangers of hunting is something you can learn from listening to more experienced hunters, but living it is just as important.

by Christy Kirk

One of Cason’s favorite activities at the hunting camp is to scout. Being the first person to spot a big buck, a pack of wild hogs or sometimes even just a large squirrel brings a look of excitement to his face. He takes his mission quite seriously and sometimes goes off alone to "check the powerlines" for deer. After a few of these solo trips, he soon realized that by the time he returned to camp, the critter or critters were gone before he could bring any of us back to the site.

Recently, the four of us were at the camp for a few days and Cason asked me to go scouting with him. It reminded me of when Jason and I first got married and he would take me on "nature walks" through the woods and bottoms. At almost 6 years old, Cason is already starting his own tradition of being a nature guide in a very calm, yet informative manner.

As we start towards the first path, he begins telling me what we will be looking for as we walk. Deer tracks and scrapes, hog tracks and hangouts, and, of course, snakes because of all the rain and warmer weather. Every few feet, Cason stops to point out a sign that something wild has been right where we are standing. In the short distance from the beginning of the trail to the clearing, at least half a dozen tracks are accounted for and size estimations are calculated for each creature.

We crunch leaves and tromp through or jump over muddy puddles, surely scaring away any animals that might exist nearby. I am pretty sure that Cason knows the fun is not always in the finding. I can tell, besides just spending time together, Cason likes being able to educate me and share what he has learned about hunting from his Daddy and Pop.

Just past an enormous fallen tree, we get to the clearing that opens up into the green field. Cason wants to go further, but I remind him about the fresh hog tracks and that we only have a little BB gun with us. He quickly agrees to retreat.

A few days after this outing, Jason came home with three huge wild hogs that made me glad Cason and I had not run into them while we were alone. The three hogs were sows weighing about 185 pounds each. Although running into the three of them would have ruined our nature walk, these hogs would provide a lot of food for the family.

From one of these wild hogs, you can get about 65-75 pounds of meat, roughly 35-40 percent of the body weight. Every part of the hog meat is used for something. There are ribs – of course, the back strap becomes pork chops, and Jason makes sausage patties and links from what is left.

Even though the sows are tenderer than a boar hog, the meat is still drier than a non-feral hog. So, to make wild hog sausage, you will need to add 10 percent fat. Your local grocery store butcher can provide pork trimmings for about 50 cents a pound. Grind the wild hog meat and then mix in the fat. Depending on which type of sausage you are making, you will grind accordingly. For patties, grind the meat finer. For links, a little chunkier is okay.

For both sausages, Jason uses Leggs Old Plantation Pork Seasoning for flavor. One pack seasons 25 pounds of pork. The seasoning is really good, but, since we like a medium heat and stronger flavor, he also adds fresh sage, red pepper and cayenne pepper to the mixture for that extra kick.

Our nature walks may not bring our next meal, but they are important parts of Rolley Len’s and Cason’s learning experiences. Understanding the skills and dangers of hunting is something you can learn from listening to more experienced hunters, but living it is just as important.

Pork Patties

2 pounds fresh pork

1 cup bread crumbs

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons onion, chopped

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 eggs, well beaten

1 Tablespoon pork fat

Wipe meat with a cold, damp cloth. Chop into very fine pieces. Mix with breadcrumbs, salt, onion, pepper and eggs. Form into patties. Melt the pork fat and fry patties on both sides over high heat until well done, about 15 minutes.

Pork Chops with Candied Sweet Potatoes

6 pork chops

6 boiled sweet potatoes

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 Tablespoon flour

Pat chops dry with a cold, damp cloth. Broil or fry at high heat until well browned on both sides. Place in a greased baking pan. Peel potatoes and cut in halves, lengthwise. Place in pan with pork chops. Sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper. Cover bottom of the pan with a little water. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently. Thicken pan liquor with flour and mix to a smooth paste with cold water to make gravy.

Pork Chop Casserole

8 small potatoes

2 Tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine

3 cups milk

8 pork chops, ¾-inch thick

Preheat oven to 350°. Wash and peel the potatoes. Slice into thin pieces. Place a layer of potatoes in a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with flour, salt and pepper. Add dots of butter on top. Repeat layers until all potatoes are used. Pour milk over top. Lay pork chops on top. Bake until potatoes are tender and pork is cooked through, about 1¼ hours.

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




Ag Insight

by Jim Erickson

Wetland mitigation banking program launched

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the establishment of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetland Mitigation Banking Program under provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill. Through the program, NRCS will provide $9 million to help states, local governments or other qualified partners develop wetland mitigation banks to restore, create or enhance wetland ecosystems and broaden the conservation options available to farmers and ranchers so they can maintain eligibility for other USDA programs.

Wetland mitigation banking is a market-based approach that involves restoring, creating or enhancing wetlands in one place to compensate for unavoidable impacts to wetlands elsewhere. Wetland mitigation banking is commonly used to compensate for wetland impacts from development, but can also be used to offset impacts from agriculture.

NRCS is seeking applications from eligible third parties to develop wetland mitigation banks or modify existing banks to better serve agricultural producers. These third parties include federally recognized Indian tribes, state and local units of government, for-profit entities and nongovernmental organizations.

The maximum award provided through this announcement is up to $1 million. This funding may be used to cover administrative and technical costs, but may not be used to purchase an easement or any other interest in land.

Partners will develop, operate and manage the wetlands mitigation banks with technical oversight from NRCS and will market mitigation credits to farmers and ranchers. Credits must be made available to producers within two years after the agreement is signed.

USDA is now accepting project proposals for the program. Proposals are due to NRCS before 5 p.m. (Eastern time) March 28. The announcement and associated forms can be found at www.grants.gov.

Pork output grows despite decline in breeding herd

U.S. annual pork production has grown by more than 63 percent since 1990 and in 2015 reached an all-time record of more than 24.3 billion pounds.

Over the same period, the size of the U.S. hog breeding herd declined by more than 13 percent, reflecting strong productivity increases in hog production. Technical innovation in breeding and genetic research have combined to yield larger numbers of piglets per sow: U.S. average litter rates grew from fewer than eight pigs per litter in 1990 to more than 10 today.

At the same time, improvements in nutrition and barn management practices, together with heavier slaughter weights, have allowed the hog industry to reduce the size of its breeding herd while expanding production of pork.

Ag productivity has risen dramatically

Recently updated figures reveal U.S. farm sector output grew by 170 percent from 1948 to 2013 with about the same level of farm-input use over the period, meaning the positive growth in farm sector production was substantially due to productivity increases.

While aggregate-input use in agriculture has been relatively stable over time, the composition of agricultural inputs has shifted. Between 1948 and 2013, labor use declined 78 percent and land use in agriculture dropped 26 percent, while the use of intermediate goods (such as energy, agricultural chemicals, purchased services and seed/feed) and capital (farm machinery and buildings) expanded.

Long-term agricultural productivity is fueled by innovations in animal/crop genetics, chemicals, equipment and farm organization resulting from public and private research and development.

In the chart, agricultural total factor productivity is the difference between the aggregate total output of crop/livestock commodities and the combined use of land, labor, capital and material inputs employed in farm production.

Chicken rules the roost in meat consumption

Whether it’s due to the popular television commercials in which cows urge us to eat more "chickn" or more simple economic factors, chicken still rules the roost as far as U.S. meat consumption is concerned.

According to USDA’s Economic Research Service figures from 2013, the most recent year for which complete data are available, 57.7 pounds of chicken per person on a boneless, edible basis were available for Americans to eat, compared to 53.6 pounds of beef and 43.4 pounds of pork.

From 1909 to the early 1940s, chicken availability had been around 10 pounds per person a year, while yearly per-person beef and pork availability had ranged from 30 to 50 pounds. Chicken began its upward climb in the ’40s as innovations in breeding, mass production and processing made the product more plentiful, affordable and convenient for the dining-out market and for cooking at home.

By ’96, chicken had overtaken pork as the second-most-consumed meat and, in 2010, chicken overtook beef for the No. 1 spot. Beef availability rose during the second half of the last century, peaking at 88.8 pounds per capita in 1976. Pork availability that had fallen in 2010 and 2011 was up in 2012 and again in 2013.

U.S. ag exports, positive trade balance decline in 2015

In fiscal year 2015 (Oct. 1-Sept. 30), the value of U.S. agricultural exports fell by 8.3 percent while imports grew by 4.5 percent, cutting the trade balance to $25.7 billion.

The forecast for FY 2016 is for this pattern to continue. Lower exports and higher imports are expected to push the agricultural trade surplus below $10 billion for the first time since 2006. Lower commodity prices account for some of the decline in the value of exports, but a stronger U.S. dollar also plays a role.

The value of U.S. agricultural exports and imports increased yearly from FY 2009 through FY 2014, when the agricultural trade balance reached an all-time high of $43.1 billion.

Unlike 2009 when both exports and imports fell due to the global recession, in 2015 and 2016 imports are growing at the same time that exports are falling, reflecting the greater purchasing power of the U.S. dollar in international markets and the reduced purchasing power of foreign currencies to buy U.S. goods.

StrikeForce efforts expanding

A recent expansion of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative means that 970 counties, parishes, boroughs and census areas in Alabama and two dozen other states are now eligible for "intensive care" through the program.

Launched in 2010, more than 1,500 StrikeForce partnerships already have helped USDA support nearly 190,000 projects and have yielded investments of $23.5 billion in high-poverty locations in rural America.

Some 85 percent of the nation’s persistent poverty counties currently are in rural areas.

USDA’s StrikeForce focuses on partnerships with community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities, faith-based and other groups to help challenged communities shape a future based on local assets and regional strengths.

USDA identifies census tracts with over 20 percent poverty to pinpoint sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA personnel work with state and local officials to increase awareness of the agency’s programs and help build participation through community outreach and technical assistance.




ALEA’s Agricultural and Rural Crime Unit Investigating North Alabama Calf Slaughtering


Press Release from the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

Special agents with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Agricultural and Rural Crime Unit, in conjunction with Tennessee Agriculture Investigators and Lauderdale County’s Sherriff’s Office, are investigating a series of slaughtered calves being left on Lauderdale County roadsides.

In each case, the calves appeared to have been processed for food purposes and the remains left behind. Similar occurrences have taken place in Pickens County as well as in Tennessee.

"Our ARCU agents specialize in agricultural and rural crimes, and work closely with local law enforcement throughout the state," Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier said. "Agriculture is a leading industry in Alabama and is an essential part of Alabama’s economy, so we take these crimes very seriously. ARCU is tasked with investigating crimes related to livestock and farm equipment theft and destruction, and they have been very successful."

In light of these unfortunate occurrences, the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association urges state cattlemen and cattlewomen to remember the Cattle Theft Reward program that awards $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone stealing or destroying cattle on ACA member property. The ACA also offers tips to its members who help deflect cattle rustling on Alabama farms. These tips include tattooing and branding cattle for the purpose of identification instead of relying solely on ear tagging, ensuring the brand used is registered with the Stockyards & Brands Division of the Department of Agriculture and keeping detailed records on the type, description and number of cattle in each location.

Anyone with information regarding these incidents is encouraged to call the SBI crime tip line at 1-855-75CRIME.



Avian Influenza Found in Indiana

by Dr. Tony Frazier

At the risk of being asked to change the title of this column to "Dr. Frazier’s Monthly Bird Flu Update," I am going to give you another avian influenza or bird flu update. It was back in 2005 when highly pathogenic avian influenza was hitting various areas in Asia and one of the top nightly news stories was how there was a good possibility somewhere between 5 million and 150 million people would die from that particular virus because it had been proven to infect humans with over half the known cases resulting in death. It was predicted by many that this virus would mutate so it could pass from human to human, not just chickens to humans. And because it had proven fatal and because a vaccine had not been developed to protect humans yet, it made sense to many recognized experts that it would be the apocalypse.

You may not have noticed that bird flu as a news headline quietly went away and really didn’t resurface until last year when highly pathogenic avian influenza hit the United States resulting in the loss or depopulation of around 48 million commercial turkeys and table egg layer chickens. The outbreak last year largely resulted in a significant rise in egg prices. This year, on January 15, right at the end of a grow-out, a commercial turkey farm in DuBois County, Ind., was confirmed to have the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus identified as H7N8.

The strain H7N8 was a bit of a surprise because it was a different strain than those responsible for the loss of the 48 million birds in 2015. In fact, as a result of testing and surveillance in the area of the positive turkey farm, nine other farms were found to have the H7N8 virus. The good thing, I suppose, is that the other nine farms that were positive had the low pathogenic form of the virus. There is a huge difference between low and highly pathogenic avian influenza virus. The positive birds for the low pathogenic form of the virus were not even sick. The importance of finding these positive farms and depopulating them is that the virus sometimes mutates and goes from being a low to a highly pathogenic virus. That means going from having a virus and not being sick to having a virus that can potentially kill 90-100 percent of the flock.

Surveillance began immediately after the virus was confirmed on the commercial turkey farm. The response began with testing of all poultry in a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) radius of the initial or index farm. After that area test was completed, the surveillance area was expanded by another 10 kilometers.

As I write this column, there have been no new positive cases since January 17. It is very impressive and also very essential that the surveillance be conducted quickly, as it was in this case. That is not to say other cases may flare up as time goes on. It is important because the ability to find positive farms and depopulate exposed birds dramatically lessens the chance of spread of the virus, at least from poultry farms.

The reservoir for the virus, as always, is wild water fowl. The wild birds serve as source of avian influenza virus. While we cannot necessarily control where these birds travel or where they distribute their feces, we can practice strict biosecurity to minimize any spread of virus from wild water fowl to commercial or even backyard poultry. It requires constant vigilance as well as rapid recognition and response if backyard or commercial poultry become sick.

Referring back to the Indiana response, it required more than just the State of Indiana and federal agriculture workers in that state. There were USDA and veterinary services employees from around the country sent to the area to assist in the surveillance and depopulation of the exposed birds. In fact, at least one USDA veterinarian from Alabama was involved. It is very intense work and requires a high degree of coordination.

Here in Alabama, we would do much the same as Indiana. It would not take long to exhaust the resources and personnel we have in Alabama. If we ever have a positive highly pathogenic avian influenza confirmation, we would reach out to our colleagues from other states as well as federal veterinary services personnel from other states. I have spoken with some of the state veterinarians who went through the fire in their states during the 2014-2015 outbreaks. Even in small, less-concentrated poultry states such as South Dakota, it did not take long to overwhelm the resources they had to deal with responding to the disease in their state.

There are a few other issues worth noting that are just a bonus for being a reader of my column in the Cooperative Farming News. First, it is important to know that there has been no spread of the H7N8 virus from birds to humans. While having the highly pathogenic virus in birds is certainly bad enough, when avian influenza viruses have been known to spread to humans, there definitely is another layer of concern we have to deal with. As I was doing a little research for this column, I found there is a strain of the avian influenza virus, the H7N9 strain, that has mostly been in China and surrounding countries and has caused over 600 people to become ill and over 200 of those have died.

Another point worth making is that, while properly handling and cooking poultry makes it safe for human consumption, the pre-harvest testing done by commercial poultry companies makes it virtually impossible for infected poultry to make it into the food chain. I can remember a survey taken several years ago that stated that a large number of people would not eat poultry products if we had "bird flu" in the United States. I can tell you that our poultry and poultry products offered for human consumption pose no threat because of avian influenza.

Finally, I doubt it needs to even be addressed, but poultry is huge business in Alabama. As the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association homepage states, "Poultry in Alabama generates $15 billion in revenue each year. It accounts for an astounding 65.6 percent of annual farming revenues and employs more than 86,000 workers on farms, processing plants and allied industries."

I can assure you, if you live in Alabama, the poultry industry affects you either directly or indirectly. We are doing all we can to keep the industry healthy. Please report any unusually high mortality rates of poultry or unusually sick poultry to my office.

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



Biosecurity Management:

Important Tips For Your Small Ruminants

by Robert Spencer

Anyone owning livestock has experienced bringing new animals onto their farm and should have been following biosecurity protocol. There is always the expectation that things will be okay and no health problems will occur. The reality is most health problems are brought onto the farm by new animals or sick animals that are not isolated. The following information shares some ideas that can be implemented as preventative or controlled management.

Documentation

  • A record-keeping system needs to be established in physical and/or electronic form. This will track everything from livestock inventory, housing locations, identification (ear tags), health issues and treatments, grazing paddocks, recommended medicines and dosages, etc.

Individual Identification

  • Both scrapie and individual ear tags should be used on goats and sheep, whether adult, young or newborn. These ear tag numbers can be entered into the log and used for tracking, unique identification, reproduction planning, health, etc.

Biosecurity

  • As new animals or returning livestock are brought onto the farm, they should be isolated from the herd for 30 days or more until they are confirmed as healthy. Before being released into isolation area, each animal should receive:
  • Initial application of ear tags and scrapie tags and documenting each animal’s ear tag number, and health treatment should be entered in an information log of some type, i.e. notebook and/or computer.
  • Initial evaluation of individual body condition and FAMACHA scores.
  • Fecal-egg samples should be gathered and evaluated for pre- and post-treatment fecal-egg analysis.
  • Hooves cleaned, trimmed (if needed) and treated for foot rot or scald as a precautionary measure.
  • Worming and appropriate vaccinations (at least CD&T) given.
  • Isolation of Sick Animals – any animals that appear or are obviously sick need to be isolated away from herd for at least one to two weeks until they have received appropriate treatment and fully recovered.
  • Documentation of animal id, health issues, treatment and results should be entered into same aforementioned log.

Maintenance

  • A scheduled review of animals should take place on a frequent basis and issues addressed with appropriate care for each situation with animal id documented.
  • Scheduled random sampling for fecal-egg counts should be conducted and relevant treatment and identification logged. Spring through fall may warrant doing fecal-egg analysis biweekly or more often. If an animal appears emaciated, extremely lethargic or has scours, a fecal-egg count is mandatory.
Left to right, basic treatments to keep on farm are iodine for treating navel cords of newborn small ruminants, powder and liquid insecticide for external parasites, and antiseptic for treating cuts or wounds, foot rot or scald. Tools for use on small ruminants: hoof brush/pick for cleaning out hooves, syringe and needle for injections, drench syringe for oral medicines, wax crayon for marking animals, hoof trimmers, another syringe and needle, elastrator bands and elastrator pliers.

Nutrition

  • While grazing of quality forages is the ideal practice for livestock production, the supplemental use of hay and grain-based feeds may be appropriate from time to time.
  • Recognition of individual body-condition scores and stages of production (lactating, developing animals and maintenance animals) will determine need for any additional forms of nutrition.
  • BCS of 1 or 2 will warrant additional nutrition; 3, while questionable, will be up to the discretion of livestock manager. If an animal’s BCS is 5, a dietary reduction plan needs to be implemented.
  • Very young and young (anything less than one year) animals need access to a well-stocked creep feeder.
  • Ongoing access to fresh water and minerals (loose or block form) for all animals is an important aspect of nutrition and maintaining healthy animals.

Reproduction

  • A reproduction plan should be put in place that utilizes quality breeding stock, rotation of herd sires, culling for poor performers or animals lacking good conformation, and appropriate seasonal breeding.
  • The reproduction plan will consider availability of quality forages, extremely cold seasons, age of animals, grow-out rates, ideal marketing seasons and weights, and other factors as determined relevant.

Grazing/Browsing Practices

  • Development of paddocks with quality forages is pertinent to production quality of animals.
  • Keep your stocking rate low unless you are able to do intensive rotational grazing.
  • Do not overgraze your pastures!
  • Development of grazing paddocks and utilization of rotational grazing is essential to forage management and quality, reduction in problems with gastro-intestinal parasites and efficient utilization of natural resources.

Emergency contact information

  • Keep contact names and phone numbers for your preferred veterinarian and professional consultant available.

The previous information on biosecurity and basic management should offer ideas whether a person is new to goat and sheep production or a seasoned producer. Had I followed some of the recommendations, my headaches would have been much less over time.

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



Bonnie Plants Enhances Customers’ Gardening Experience Through Formalized Partnership with ScottsMiracle-Gro


Bonnie Plants, the largest U.S. national grower and supplier of quality vegetable and herb plants for consumers, recently announced a strategic, formalized partnership with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, the world’s leading marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products.

Together, the companies will make consumers’ gardening experience easier and even more successful by bringing together two top, trusted, well-known gardening brands and combining efforts, resources and expertise within the live-goods and plant-care products categories. As part of the agreement, ScottsMiracle-Gro will have a minority stake in the Bonnie Plants business and will provide exclusive marketing, and research and development services to the edible-gardening initiatives of the company.

"As leaders in our respective live-goods and consumer-products categories, our companies have enjoyed a longstanding history together and the Bonnie Plants family welcomes this opportunity to formalize our deep-rooted relationship with ScottsMiracle-Gro," said Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants. "This investment allows us to enhance and grow our business by combining ScottsMiracle-Gro’s marketing and R&D expertise with our expertise in plant production through our national greenhouse operations and widespread retail distribution."

The companies will work together to improve and support gardeners’ retail shopping experience by providing more complete and comprehensive garden-to-table initiatives. ScottsMiracle-Gro will also leverage its R&D expertise to help innovate with the goal to offer vegetable and herb plants with quicker and more plentiful harvests.

"Our relationship with Bonnie dates back decades when we worked together on marketing programs that helped propel the Miracle-Gro business," said Jim Hagedorn. "There is no finer brand in the live-goods category than Bonnie and the benefits from this partnership for both sides are obvious and significant. We look forward to working with the Bonnie team to drive the gardening category to new heights."

Bonnie Plants, a wholly owned subsidiary of Alabama Farmers Cooperative, will continue to operate as an independent organization led by Stan Cope. A management committee with representatives from both organizations will oversee any joint business operations. The deal is expected to close in late February 2016, provided that certain conditions are met including AFC membership approvals. AFC was advised by Rabobank, a long-term, trusted advisor to the Cooperative.

About Bonnie Plants

Headquartered in Union Springs, Bonnie Plants is the largest and only national supplier and producer of vegetables and herbs in the United States. Bonnie grows more than 250 varieties of quality vegetables and herb plants for gardeners across the country with 72 growing stations serving the 48 contiguous states. Established in 1918 by Bonnie and Livingston Paulk, the company has remained in touch with its roots and is led by their grandson, Stan Cope. Bonnie Plants, available at every Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowes and 4,700 independent garden centers in the 48 contiguous states, provides their plants in biodegradable, plant-able pots, preventing transplant shock and saving more than 100 million plastic pots from landfills each year. For more information, please visit www.bonnieplants.com.

About Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Inc.

Founded in 1936, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Inc. is an agricultural cooperative providing Alabama farmers a full range of agricultural supplies and services. Based in Decatur, AFC has 37 member associations, including approximately 90 retail locations and 2,300+ employees. All facilities operated by AFC are governed by local, farmer-owned cooperatives. Each member Co-op shares in the financial proceeds from AFC operations and benefits from the research and marketing services of the entire Co-op system. AFC has grown to become one of the largest farmer-owned, agriculture-related businesses in the Southeast.

About ScottsMiracle-Gro

With approximately $3 billion in worldwide sales, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is the world’s largest marketer of branded consumer products for lawn and garden care. The Company’s brands are the most recognized in the industry. In the United States, the Company’s Scotts, Miracle-Gro and Ortho brands are market leading in their categories, as is the consumer Roundup brand, marketed in North America and most of Europe exclusively by Scotts. In the United States, we operate Scotts LawnService, the second largest residential lawn care service business. In Europe, the Company’s brands include Weedol, Pathclear, Evergreen, Levington, Miracle-Gro, KB, Fertiligène and Substral. For additional information, visit us at www.scottsmiraclegro.com.



Corn Time





Cowpokes





Doe Herd and Ewe Flocks Management

Winter - Kidding and Lambing Season

by Maria Lenira Leite-Browning, DVM

Animal-nutrient requirements and voluntary-feed intake increases during the winter since does and ewes may be in mid-to-late gestation, kidding or lambing phase. Therefore, producers are advised to implement the following herd management practices. Provide winter supplementation. Assess feed options in advance to ensure that animals receive adequate protein, energy and mineral supplements. It is wise to consider feed costs, availability, ease of handling and storage, animal acceptance and nutrient contents. Producers may encounter problems if they wait until winter begins to secure hay and other nutritional resources.

It’s important to secure enough good-quality hay to provide supplemental forage until spring pastures are able to support the breeding herd. Hay should be tested for quality to determine if additional supplementation is needed. However, you should avoid overfeeding non-pregnant or early pregnant females since overfeeding could lead to metabolic disorders, reproductive failures and higher feed costs. Grouping does or ewes by pregnancy status will help you better manage nutritional resources.

You can also reduce your feed bill by culling open and non-productive ewes and does and other excess animals. In addition, be sure to monitor the body condition of the animals to make sure they are in good condition during parturition. Supplement feed as body condition warrants.

  • Make sure the herd has a fresh and thawed water supply during freezing temperatures. As temperatures rise, check to see whether there are any busted water lines with the potential to deplete drinking-water supplies or flood animal-grazing and resting areas.
  • Provide adequate shelter to protect animals from precipitation and wind-chill (especially goats) to minimize the impact on nutrient requirements and to reduce the risk of hypothermia, weakness, and death in newborn kids and lambs.

Caring for Pregnant Ewes and Does

Daily observation of animals and keeping good records are management practices that will help producers have a successful lambing and kidding season. If breeding is conducted on a year-round basis or uncontrolled, keeping records on breeding and expected lambing and kidding dates will be more challenging.

Third Month of Pregnancy

  • Group does and ewes based on pregnancy status.
  • Check females for body condition score. On a scale from 1-5, provide supplemental feeding if doe/ewes are at 2.5 or lower.
  • Check for worm burden by recording FAMACHA scores and/or conducting fecal egg counts. Use the FAMACHA-scoring method to treat does and ewes with higher parasites burden. Use caution when selecting a dewormer for treating pregnant ewes and does.

Fourth Month of Pregnancy

  • Vaccinate ewes and does with CD&T and pneumonia.
  • Check herd/flock at regular intervals three times a day.
  • Determine if kidding will take place on pasture, in isolation pens or in barns. Winter parturition may require added shelter space to prevent newborn mortality due to hypothermia.

Lambing/Kidding

  • Watch for signs of parturition such as vaginal swelling, vaginal discharge and milk letdown.
  • Observe behavioral changes such as isolation from the flock or herd, repeated getting up and down, apparent discomfort and restlessness, and the presence of a water bag indicating that delivery time is near.
  • Assist and intervene in case of dystocia (difficult delivery). Problems may arise mainly due to abnormal presentation of the fetus, two fetuses being presented simultaneously, large birth weights, small or poor condition of the dam, uterine inertia, incomplete cervical dilation or cervico-vaginal prolapse.
  • Check to see if ewes or does are nursing and caring for newborn animals after delivery.
  • Check for placental expulsion that can be retained up to 12 hours post-partum. In case of placental retention, give prostaglandin injection to induce expulsion.
  • Keep ewes and does in a ventilated facility with dry bedding at all times to avoid pneumonia, mastitis, lameness and other infections. Make sure there is no umbilical infection or diarrhea as a result of E. coli or Salmonella bacteria.

Newborn Care

  • Enhance lamb and kid survivability by preventing starvation and hypothermia.
  • Determine if ewes or does are providing colostrum to newborn. Kids and lambs born outside in cold conditions will quickly succumb to hypothermia, starvation and death if they do not adequately suckle within the first 12 hours of life. Colostrum is an early source of immunity and stimulates intestinal motility for the passage of the meconium (first feces) of the newborn. Provide artificial colostrum and milk replacer as an alternative if dam does not provide adequate colostrum or milk. When using a feeding milk replacer follow manufacturer recommendations and be aware of product concentrations and dilution to avoid diarrhea. Prevent lamb or kid choking, pneumonia or death that could occur when liquids flow in the wrong direction down the trachea and into the lungs. These events can be avoided by regulating the size of the holes of the nipples. Bottle and nipples must be sterilized to prevent bacterial gastrointestinal infections.
  • Disinfect umbilical cord or navel cord within 12 hours after birth by dipping the cord in an iodine solution. Pinch and clip the umbilical cord to about one inch if it is too long.
  • Ear tag, weigh and record sex of lamb/kidding soon after birth.
  • In a herd with a history of white muscle diseases, inject 1/2 cc of Bo-Se (selenium, vitamin E) once to lambs and kids at birth. Repeat the dosage 3-4 weeks later. Commercial mineral feed mixes can also provide adequate levels of selenium and vitamin E. Provide minerals to pregnant ewes and does to prevent selenium/vitamin E deficiency and white muscle disease among lambs and kids.
  • Pneumonia can also lower newborn survivability. Signs of pneumonia include a temperature over 104 degrees, nasal discharge, rapid and difficult breathing, and a wet cough. Watch for poor barn or facility ventilation and damp bedding. Try to keep lambs and kids in dry bedding. Producers should consult with local veterinarians to assess local disease risks when developing a winter herd health management plan.

Maria Lenira Leite-Browning, DVM, is an Extension animal scientist at Alabama A&M University.



Earl




Heritage of Hope

Gee’s Bend Quilts are on exhibit in Decatur.

by Maureen Drost

The highly acclaimed Gee’s Bend quilts are now on exhibit for the people of Decatur to see.

It’s become a "destination tourism" event, said Kathryn Silvestri, marketing/exhibits coordinator for the Carnegie Visual Arts Center on Church Street. As of late January, the registration book showed visitors from as far away as San Francisco and Montana.

"Reaction has been very positive," she said.

Twenty-eight pieces including quilts, pillows, potholders and quilt squares are on loan from members of the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collective through Saturday, March 5.

Teacher and arts specialist Beth Young has worked with Decatur city school youngsters on a mural related to the quilting theme. Four of the Gee’s Bend quilters – Mary Ann Pettway, China Pettway, Lucy Witherspoon and Gloria Hopkins – spent a week in the city, and the local library sponsored a project called the River City Read to encourage children and adults to read the award-winning novel "Returning to Gee’s Bend."

Decatur area quilters have even encouraged people to sew their own 9-by-9-inch squares to further the sense of community. The response was so great that three or four quilts, Young said, may be pieced together by the time all the squares come in.

View from one gallery into another at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center shows a few of the brightly colored quilts made by the women of Gee’s Bend. The Carnegie Center, opened in April 2003 after an $800,000 restoration, was originally the Carnegie Library. (All credits: The Carnegie Center)

"One or two of these quilts will be revealed when the Gee’s Bend quilters come to Decatur," she said.

All these events are a citywide collaboration between Young and other representatives including Kim Mitchell, director of the Carnegie Visual Arts Center; David Breland, head of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission; John Allison, Morgan County Archives; Jennifer Bunnell, Alabama Center for the Arts; historians Peggy Towns and Wilhelm Ragland; Stephanie Cates and Rhonda Boland, public relations coordinators for the Decatur Library; local artist Frances Tate; and Tammy Clark, another teacher and art specialist for the Decatur City Schools.

Young conceived the "Heritage of Hope" project. These quilters teach a message of "taking what life gives you and making the most of it."

Indeed, one quilt hanging in the Carnegie Center is composed of pieces from old work clothes – overalls and blue jeans.

“Rope With Steps” quilt by Craytree Pettway. Living in poverty, the women of Gee’s Bend in south Alabama have put together their quilts using what they had such as old blue jeans and overalls and scraps of clothing.

Living in a very poor county, the women used what they had on hand to sew and piece quilts together. Besides work clothes, sections of worn blankets were often chosen or scraps of dresses they had worn.

Their tiny Gee’s Bend community, nestled inside a bend of the Alabama River southwest of Selma, lay connected for decades to the outside world by only one road. Even that link remained unpaved until the late 1960s. Discovered by an art historian, the women and their quilts began their first nationwide tour more than 10 years ago. With American, African-American and Amish influences, the Gee’s Bend quilts have been compared to modern abstract artists like Henri Matisse and Paul Klee.

Other events in the Decatur collaboration included a visit by "Leaving Gee’s Bend" author Irene Latham to some of the schools, a student art contest at the Decatur public library and the quilters attending church in Hillsboro at Canaan Missionary Baptist.

The quilters spent a busy week in Decatur, interacting with students in city schools for three days, holding a workshop with Decatur area quilters and attending a reception where they sang with the Decatur Youth Enrichment Center choir.

"Their message of hope," Young said, "reaches to all (segments) of the community."

The Carnegie Visual Arts Center is located at 207 Church St. NE in Decatur. It’s open daily except Sunday and Monday. The center was home to the city’s Carnegie Library, one of thousands funded across the country by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. To find more information on this exhibit, go to their website, www.carnegiearts.org, or call 256-341-0562.

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer who lives in Huntsville. She was a career journalist for The Decatur Daily and The Huntsville Times.



How's Your Garden?

Sweetshrub flowers may smell like Juicy Fruit gum.

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Sweetshrub Earns Its Name

Sweetshrub may be an old-fashioned, almost-forgotten shrub, but this native whose flowers may smell like Juicy Fruit gum merits a spot on a medium to large property. The deep-maroon blooms that appear in the spring are to be appreciated from up close because of their color or fragrance. At its best, the fragrance of sweetshrub is noticeable long before the beautiful, but low-key blooms, are and, thankfully, the blossoms last a long time. In the fall, it has a pretty golden-yellow color before the leaves drop. An adaptable shrub that grows 8-10 feet tall, it is often found in shady, wooded areas growing with an open form so its unusual blooms are more visible. Interestingly, not all sweetshrubs have an equally strong fragrance. A good time to buy one is when they are in bloom so you can sniff before you buy. The hybrid varieties such as Hartlage Wine (Calycanthus x raulstonii Hartlage Wine) have the largest, most showy flowers, but aren’t generally as fragrant as the native one (Calycanthus floridus). To find a sweetshrub, ask at nurseries carrying native and old-fashioned shrubs.

Strawberries Are Getting Easier

Years ago, about the only way to buy a strawberry plant was bare-rooted. Today, plants are grown in containers and come to us with vigorous tops and well-developed roots. Many even include a few blooms and fruit. Look for Bonnie Plants strawberries at your local Quality Co-op. When handling young plants, never plant them deeper than they are growing in their container. The crown, where the stems arise, is extremely sensitive to being buried and will rot if below the soil line. Plant, water and fertilize these nicely developed transplants regularly and you will have a nice crop of strawberries early this summer.

Planning to locate roses against the wall of the house or on a free-standing garden wall? Try to choose an east-facing wall, if you have the option. That way the plants will get enough sun in the morning, but are safe from the searing, direct afternoon sun and heat of walls facing west or south. They will be a lot happier and less likely to have trouble with mites. Also, put some distance between your rose and an air-conditioning compressor whose blowing air can damage blooms and dry the plants. If you set the root ball of the plant a couple of feet away from the wall of your house, it will be out from under the eaves enough to get good rainfall, too.

Steps Aside

Fill spaces between stepping stones with creeping Jenny.

The area between and to the sides of stepping stones can sometimes be hard to deal with. You can always fill in with gravel, crushed brick or other fine material, but only if there is no wash and you don’t mind a little of the material making its way onto the stones. Another option is grass, but Southern lawn grasses such as zoysia, Bermuda, centipede or St. Augustine need regular weed-eating to keep the grass from overtaking the stones. Another option is to find a small-leaved plant that will grow to fill in the space. In this case, creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia "Aurea") creates a mat of golden foliage. Like a lawn grass, it may also need trimming at the edges, but is usually a little easier to keep back than a dense grass. You can usually find creeping Jenny in nurseries in 4-inch pots or sometimes smaller to plant close together so it quickly fills in to make a ground cover. It’s a brilliant color, too, and a nice contrast to other plants surrounding it. Be prepared to pull runners that creep into other beds, or let them go and see if you like the golden floor in that bed, too!

Vegetable Transplants Available Now

An assortment of vegetable transplants from Bonnie Plants is available at your local Quality Co-op now. These items arrive at the approximate planting time, so be on the lookout as you prepare your spring and summer garden. Remember to water the biodegradable pots thoroughly so they are a dark-brown color and moist when you plant. This will help them break down more quickly and make sure the roots grow through.

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



It’s Time to Spring Into Action

"It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first." ~ Ronald Reagan

Well, it’s an election year and things can get nasty. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to turn off the news and turn on an episode of "Andy Griffith" while spin masters are busy creating political narratives often devoid of all those pesky facts.

Ronald Reagan, whether you agreed with his politics or not, was possibly one of the last, great American statesmen. Regardless of what the issue was, you still felt like he had a deep love for America and an optimism that could get us through any difficulty. One of his quotes sums up why he was so optimistic about America: "We are never defeated unless we give up on God."

Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, kicked off the Decision America Tour in January with plans to visit all 50 states for prayer rallies challenging Christians to pray for the country and take a stand for their faith. At each stop, Graham holds a prayer rally calling on Americans to boldly live out their faith and help turn the country back to God.

Graham will ask Christians to pray for the country, vote for people who hold biblical values and run for office at every level.

"Can you imagine the changes we would see if Christians started getting elected to every school board in the nation?" Graham said. "God hears the prayers of his people, so I’m calling on people of faith in every state to pray fervently for America and our leaders."

For more information, visit www.billygraham.org.

Avoid overgrazing early in the season when plants are growing from root reserves instead of photosynthesis.

First Rate Forage

This time of year we begin to see the pasture forage come out of winter hibernation and take off – especially if you have drilled or planted ryegrass. Avoid the temptation to turn the cows out on this fresh, lush forage as soon as it appears. For one, this grass is still growing on its root reserves more than photosynthesis for energy, and the more mature plant leaves haven’t grown enough to support long-term growth into the season.

Also, if you have feed reserves such as hay, feed this as long as possible to give the spring grazing a head start. A grazing stick can help determine when it’s time to graze. You basically want height of at least six inches of forage growth with species such as ryegrass or oats before turning cows out to graze. If you have enough feed reserves, you might want to consider flash grazing in the new growth areas until the plants are well-established. Avoid overgrazing the early spring growth.

For perennial grasses such as fescue, clover is a great companion crop. This reduces your fertilizer bill because the nodules on the clover roots fix their own nitrogen. This nitrogen is available in an organic form that is readily available to the companion plants as well. A good mixture of clover in pastures is considered as having 30 percent of the stand in clover.

The Sweet Smell of Spring

Chicken litter may not smell sweet, but, when applied on pastures, sweet success can be seen in spring forage growth when the plants are rapidly absorbing any nutrients available to them. Nitrogen, the nutrient allowing grass to grow green and grow fast, averages a little over 60 pounds per ton in chicken litter from broiler operations. The big three nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as well as trace minerals such as calcium and magnesium are found in each load.

The only way to know for sure how many nutrients are in chicken litter you are receiving is through a manure nutrient analysis. It is also important to get a soil sample analysis completed every three years to know exactly what your pastures need. Incorporating applications of chicken litter in addition to your regular commercial fertilizer applications can give your spring forage a head start and keep the plants growing through the season.

I shot this mature gobbler with a Nikon camera on a high ridge on our property. Gobblers most often travel uphill to your calling.

Spring Gobblers

I can’t let March pass by without mentioning one of my favorite thrills of farm life – turkey hunting. Speaking of manure in the pasture, a great way to locate a male bird or gobbler on your property is by his droppings. A gobbler will produce J-shaped droppings, which are easily identified. Look for these in areas where the birds have been scratching around for acorns left behind or roosting sites.

Pastures joining wooded areas are ideal locations for finding flocks of turkeys on your property. Cleared mountaintops are great areas to set up for calling toms. Get on the highest elevation of your property to locate and call gobblers into range.

This spring, take plenty of time to offer up prayers for our country, and, if you are a Christian concerned about the direction of the country, don’t just vote, consider running for local offices and school boards. Finally, attend a prayer rally in your area. Prayer will always trump politics any day.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.



Live Like You Are Dying

by Glenn Crumpler

As I write this, there is an awful lot on my mind. I just recently returned from a full month in the Middle East where we are working with refugees from various war-torn countries. While I was there, as I did in my previous trips to this region, I visited and listened to the horrific stories of many families as they shared what happened to them that caused them to flee, what they endured on the journey and the struggles they are facing now in their refugee status. They also shared about the family and friends they lost along the way.

Soon after I returned home, I received a phone call from the wife of a dear friend who was suddenly taken ill and was afraid he had cancer. They wanted me to come pray with them when I got home. Two weeks ago, I preached his funeral and now am helping his family sort through all his "hidden treasures" of unfinished projects. He lived just 15 days after being diagnosed.

Two days ago, I received another phone call from the son of another dear friend who had found out while I was overseas that he had pancreatic cancer. His son called to tell me the doctors had just told them the most recent blood tests showed he now also has leukemia, and, short of a miracle, does not have long to live. The next day I visited this friend in the hospital where he is receiving very aggressive treatments to try to give him more time. Yesterday, I helped his son go through his dad’s cattle to figure out what needed to be done until they found out if the treatments would be effective.

I am also currently keeping tabs on the daughter of some other close friends who was recently diagnosed and is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Their daughter is only 29. She is the same age as and is a good friend of my own daughter.

Another friend contacted me and asked for prayer for a 21-month-old boy who was recently admitted to the hospital for pneumonia, just to be diagnosed with stage 4 lung and liver cancer. I can only imagine the fear and anguish his parents are dealing with.

You must be wondering why I am bringing up all these gloom and doom stories. Well, that brings me back to what I have been thinking about – and if handled correctly will actually help us all avoid a lot of regret and gloom and doom in the future.

When I reflect on the stories of most every refugee I visited, the discussions I had with those here at home who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses, and especially those who are at risk of losing their children (whether it be to kidnapping or death), there is one thing they all have in common: they all just want to live!!

I have met with numerous refugee families in their homes (tents or one-room structures) and at end of our conversations, I always ask them, "What are your dreams and how can I tell your story?" So far, after three trips, without exception, their first response has unanimously been: "We just want to live!" They have great needs. They live in great uncertainty and danger, but, ultimately, they just want to live and they want their wives and children to be safe and to have a reasonable hope that they will be safe, alive and together tomorrow, without being overwhelmed by terror.

When I visit with those here at home who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses or situations, I hear the same sentiments. Their thoughts are no longer focused on their jobs, their hobbies, their money, their cows, buying that next 40 acres or even how clean their house is. Their only desire is to live so they can spend more time with the ones they love and so they can spend the rest of their life doing the things that are the most important!

I have found throughout the years that most everyone who has to come face-to-face with their mortality have things that are not where they want to leave them, especially relationships. There are words that have gone unsaid and there are spoken words that need to be forgiven. There are always things they wanted to do with their families and closest friends that they never got around to. There are also beautiful sunsets, sunrises, full moons, oceans, mountains, and walks through the woods and pastures they have for so long taken for granted that they now want the opportunity to experience again – this time with a renewed appreciation.

Most importantly, most everyone has things in their relationship with the Lord that are not right and they sincerely want more time to make right! We always intended to be actively involved in the Lord’s work. We always intended to spend more time with God and in His Word. We intended to share Christ with more of our family, friends and co-workers. We always planned on facing eternity knowing that our lives have made a difference in this world and in the Kingdom. All these things we intended to do, but never got around to – but, if we just have more time, from this moment on we will!

The truth is, we are all terminal! Our time left on this Earth is short – no matter how young we are and no matter what other plans we have made. Jesus warned each of us to be ready at any moment when He said, "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Luke 12:40 ESV)

I normally do not find it necessarily helpful to me personally to quote country music lyrics, but this song by Tim McGraw (though I would like to add to it) at least makes my point. How would your life look differently if you decided from this moment on, to "Live Like You Were Dying"?

He said,

"I was in my early forties

With a lot of life before me,

And a moment came that stopped me on a dime.

I spent most of the next days

Lookin’ at the x-rays,

An’ talkin’ ‘bout the options and talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."

I asked him,

"When it sank in,

That this might really be the real end.

How’s it hit you

When you get that kind of news?

Man, what’d you do?"

(chorus)

He said,

"I went skydiving.

I went Rocky Mountain climbing.

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Blue Manchu.

And I loved deeper.

And I spoke sweeter.

And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying."

And he said,

"Someday I hope you get the chance

To live like you were dying."

He said,

"I was finally the husband

That most of the time I wasn’t.

And I became a friend a friend would like to have.

And all of a sudden, going fishin’

Wasn’t such an imposition.

And I went three times that year I lost my dad.

Well, I finally read the Good Book,

And I took a good, long, hard look at what I’d do

If I could do it all again ...."

And then.

(chorus)

Like tomorrow was a gift

And you’ve got eternity

To think about

What you’d do with it.

What could you do with it?

What did I do with it?

What would I do with it?

"Skydiving.

I went Rocky Mountain climbing.

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Blue Manchu.

And I loved deeper.

And I spoke sweeter.

And I watched an eagle as it was flying."

And he said,

"Someday I hope you get the chance

To live like you were dying …

To live like you were dying …

To live like you were dying."

We have that chance now, but we may never have it again! I have heard it said, "The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone." But, I have also heard it said, "The man who removes a mountain, begins by carrying away small stones!" We cannot change our past, but we can decide how we are going to live out our future – no matter how long that future is! Live like you are dying!

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



March Lawn and Garden Checklist

PLANT

  • Divide and transplant summer-blooming perennials.
  • If you want flowers on your cactus, try planting it in a small pot. Most cacti bloom sooner if rootbound.
  • Repot houseplants too large for their containers. Cut back leggy plants to encourage compact growth. Root the cuttings in moist media to increase your supply of plants or to give away/trade.
  • Set out herbs such as rosemary, chives and thyme – but not tender basil!
  • Set out summer- and fall-flowering bulbs.
  • Transplant Bonnie onions, shallots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards and asparagus crowns to the garden.
  • Plant dahlias.
  • Plant gladiolus every two or three weeks if a long blooming season is desired.
  • Plant tuberous begonias in pots.
  • Sow hardy vegetables such as carrots, beets, kohlrabi, radishes, leaf lettuces, and turnips.
  • Start planting blackberries. Remember, if weather conditions prevent prompt planting, heel the plants in by placing the root system in a trench and covering the soil.
  • Seeds of summer annuals started indoors last month may be transplanted from the flats into peat pots and given diluted fertilizer.
  • Establish or renovate the lawn as needed. Re-sod or replant with turf grasses adapted to your part of the state and suited to the planting location (shade or sun).
  • It’s too early to plant Bermudagrass. You would be better off waiting until April.
  • Plant container-grown trees and shrubs as soon as possible.
  • In areas receiving shade where grass is difficult to grow, consider planting a dependable groundcover such as English ivy, Asian jasmine, vinca, hostas or ferns.

FERTILIZE

  • Fertilize shrubs and trees if this wasn’t done in February.
  • Use an acid-type rhododendron fertilizer to feed evergreens, conifers, broad leaf evergreens, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. Use an all-purpose fertilizer to feed roses and other deciduous trees and shrubs.
  • Wait until new growth appears before you fertilize warm-season grasses.
  • Fertilize any bulbs that have finished blooming with bone meal or bulb booster.
  • Begin fertilizing houseplants again with a diluted solution of soluble houseplant food.
  • It is best to get a soil test before fertilizing to determine needs. Your local Co-op store has the testing material needed.
  • Fertilize pansies.
  • Fertilize pecan trees with one pound of 10-10-10 for every inch of trunk thickness.

PRUNE

  • Pinch off tips of chrysanthemums when they are four inches tall to promote branching.
  • Prune winter jasmine, forsythia, quince and winter honeysuckle after flowering. Cut honeysuckle vines back to three feet.
  • Remove all spent blooms from spring bulbs, but leave the foliage in place. You can cut tulip foliage down as soon as it is unattractive because they probably won’t come back.
  • Roses can be pruned this month. Severe pruning results in nicer, long-stemmed flowers and more compact bushes.
  • Houseplants will react to longer days and brighter light at this time by putting out new growth. The end of this month is a good time to pinch them back to generate new growth and to thicken them.
  • A severe pruning now of overgrown beds of groundcovers will remove woody stems and induce new, compact growth from the base whereas later pruning will retard growth.
  • Remove winter-damaged plants once you can distinguish the dead wood from the greenwood.
  • When peaches are the size of your thumb, thin them to one fruit every four to six inches of stem. If you don’t thin, you will have a tree full of small fruit and broken branches.
  • Now is the time to prune giant holly shrubs back to a manageable size. You can cut them to 18 inches tall and they will come back.
  • Trim over-wintered houseplants to remove lanky growth before moving them outdoors.

WATER

  • Check the plants under the eaves of the house and under tall evergreens to see that they have sufficient moisture.
  • March is a good time to note areas of poor drainage. If there are pools of water in your yard that do not drain, fill in the low spot or scoop out a channel.
  • Check out the automatic lawn sprinkler system for leaks, broken pipes or heads, or wasteful misting.
  • Water all bulbs during times of growth and especially during foliage and bloom development.
  • Watering may not be necessary for established lawns. However, lawns started within the last year are especially susceptible to winter desiccation injury and need supplemental, cool-weather irrigation.
  • Mist or spray your houseplants to clean away the winter’s dust, prevent spider mites and add a little humidity.

PEST CONTROL

  • Watch new growth on roses for aphids. Begin a spray or dust program.
  • Spray apples, peaches and pears affected with canker problems.
  • Apply a pre-emergent herbicide before lawn weeds get started. These work by preventing the seed from germinating. Therefore, it is important they are applied in early spring, before growth of the weed seedlings.
  • In most areas it is still possible to do dormant spraying of fruit trees until the 15th. After that, dilute the spray by half. Application should be done when temperatures are above freezing (35-45 degrees) and the weather forecast calls for non-freezing temperatures for at least 24 hours. It is important to make thorough coverage when you spray, taking care to spray bark crevices and cracks where insects may be overwintering. Dormant oil is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at your local Quality Co-op.
  • Keep an eye out for cabbage worms on your cole crop plants (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli and turnips). Cabbage worms can be controlled with bacillus thuringiensis or Bt. It is a naturally occurring bacterium found in the soil. It won’t harm humans, beneficial insects or earthworms … only worms/caterpillars.
  • Remain vigilant in watching for insects and pests on your houseplants. It is much easier to win a "bug war" if you are aware of the infestation in its early stages.
  • Weeding really needs to be accomplished before they have a chance to flower and go to seed. Once the weeds go to seed, you can be fighting them for up to seven years or more. Most weeds can simply be pulled or cultivated out of the garden while they are young.
  • Follow instructions on pesticide labels carefully.
  • Apply pre-emergent broad-leaf herbicides if you didn’t apply them last month. Read the labels carefully and be sure your weeds are listed.
  • Examine the backside of euonymus and camellia leaves for scale insects. Thoroughly spray with horticultural oil if the pests are found.
  • We’ve all heard about filling a tuna or cat food tin with beer and snails and slugs getting in and drowning … and this really, really works. If you normally don’t have beer or don’t like the idea of buying it, another very effective alternative is boiling some yeast and honey in water. The proportions aren’t very critical, just mix some up, cool it off and put it in the tin. Empty and refill daily.
  • Remove spent camellia blooms from the bush and from the ground. You’ll prevent camellia petal blight.
  • You can spray fungicides while the trees are in bloom, but not insecticides. The bees are still pollinating your fruit trees and are susceptible to the sprays.
  • Dandelions will begin to make themselves known so get them now.
  • Help control iris borers by destroying old foliage before new growth begins.

ODD JOBS

  • Start a garden journal. Simply buy a ruled notebook and use it to keep your gardening information. Remember to rotate the vegetables in the garden to reduce insect and disease problems.
  • Pick a permanent spot for Bonnie herbs in the garden. You’ll be amazed at the variety offered and many of them will come back year after year.
  • To encourage your houseplants to have even growth, give them a quarter turn every week or so in order to assure all sides receive relatively equal exposure to sunlight.
  • Broken or weak arbors, fences and trellis should be repaired now as you will only be getting busier in the coming months.
  • If you haven’t done it already, check stored tools and outdoor furniture for signs of rust. Remove any surface rust with steel wool and paint with rust-inhibitive paint.
  • Turn the compost pile.
  • Clean out your birdhouses ASAP, so they will be ready when birds are ready to nest.
  • When your vegetable garden is dry enough (feels crumbly like chocolate cake, not squishy like Play-Doh), it’s time to till and prepare it for planting. Add organic matter before tilling.
  • Avoid walking on wet soil in the garden.
  • Mulch tree and shrub plantings up to four inches deep, keeping mulch away from trunks.
  • Repot houseplants you plan to move outdoors. Their roots will need more room as they grow rapidly in more sun.
  • Mow your lawn a half inch lower than normal to remove winter debris. Do not scalp.
  • Wildflowers will begin blooming this month. Remember, they must be allowed to mature their seeds if you want new plants next year.
  • Check and repair sprayers, dusters, lawn mowers and tillers.
  • As they emerge, gradually pull mulch away from perennials to allow the soil to warm around them. It’s always better to remove mulch late than to remove it too early and expose your plants to a cold snap.
  • Early spring is the right time for two special turf treatments, if needed: vertical cutting or thinning to remove thatch and aerification or coring to reduce soil compaction. Special equipment is available for each operation. Consult a lawn-care specialist, or rent the equipment and do-it-yourself.
  • If you have a greenhouse, it is time to take cuttings of wintered-over plants such as coleus, chrysanthemums and geraniums.
  • Take a little time to prepare the vegetable garden soil for planting. The addition of well-rotted manure, processed manure, peat moss or compost is good for building humus in the soil.


Montevallo FFA Invites You to Farm Day!

Blake Ray, left, loves instructing FFA with this hardworking bunch! Ray with his group (front) Harry Perez, Andrew Tibbetts, Dalston Grishom, (back) Madeline Griffin, Jack Brown, Kristen Massey, Sam Dewell, Madison Childress and Dustyn Franklin.

by Cindy Boyd

Montevallo High School’s FFA welcomes you and your family to their 12th Annual Farm Day April 23, 2016! These students have been working diligently all year on this event and they are getting excited, working hard, gathering ideas, getting organized and finishing projects. MHS agriscience/FFA instructor for the last four years is Blake Ray. Ray stated that his mission is to promote agriculture and industry production careers for his students and the community.

Farm Day will begin for the community on April 22 with the FFA hosting the Montevallo Elementary School students for a special day just for them. Traditionally, the students will walk to the high school that is in close proximity. This is one of those small town advantages that bonds the schools and it’s fun to watch the kids make the trek over during the day dressed like farmers. For the FFA students, getting to interact with the elementary school kids is their favorite day and, for some, brings back fun memories of when they came themselves. This year, the FFA has set up a unique welding demonstration for the MES kids. The kids will then have the experience of crafting and welding a design of their own out of yummy pretzels and chocolate. The MES students will also get to enjoy the petting zoo and some of the other activities that will also be available on Saturday.

Dalston Grishom sands down a corn hole game piece getting it ready to sell on Farm Day.

Saturday begins with a tractor parade through Montevallo. Tractors new and old will be lining up around 9 a.m. Saturday morning getting ready to parade through town to signal the beginning of Farm Day. They will remain on exhibit for the remainder of the day. One of the crowd-pleasing demonstrations will include chainsaw woodcarving by Andy Cummings. The MHS archery team will have a range set up for bow shooting and will have bows and arrows ready to fly. Kids can enjoy simple crafts, a delicious cake walk, live entertaining music and, of course, the petting zoo with lots of kid-friendly animals. Oh, and don’t forget the bounce house! When the family works up an appetite, there will be barbeque (of course), Frios, Kona Ice and Krispy Kreme donuts just to name a few food vendors. Also, you can pre-order a ready-to-eat, fully cooked Boston butt for pickup on Saturday with proceeds going to the MHS FFA.

Madeline Griffin, Kristen Massey and Madison Childress show off their cabbage plants.

There will be booths to browse various items including beautiful, hand-crafted outdoor furniture and fun outdoor games made by the FFA students. The FFA will also be selling flowering and ornamental plants for spring the students have started themselves from seed and maintained. Farm Day is largely funded by the Montevallo FFA alumni. The money made from the sales of the furniture, games and plants is used for scholarships for seniors who will be furthering their education. Anyone interested in having a booth on Farm Day is encouraged to participate. This is such a huge community event and everyone is invited to join in displaying and selling their product within approved guidelines.

When asked, "What is the hardest part about conducting Farm Day?," the older students unanimously yelled, "Clean up!" And not just the trash left behind but cleaning up behind the animals and breaking down the exhibits.

Just a few of the items that will be finished before Farm Day by (from left) Andrew Tibbetts, Madeline Griffin (reporter), Kristen Massey, Jack Brown, Madison Childress, Dustyn Franklin, Dalston Grishom, Harry Perez and Sam Dewell.

When asked, "What is the most fun part of Farm Day?," the answers were a mix between having the MES students come over on Friday and how the whole community gets involved and comes out to enjoy the festivities.

"Everybody in town comes to Farm Day!" said Jack Brown, one of MHS FFA members.

So make plans to visit Montevallo on April 23 and check out what these kids have been up to all year. Admission is free.

For information on being a food vendor, setting up a booth or ordering a Boston butt, you may contact Blake Ray of MHS at 205-682-6484.

Cindy Boyd is a freelance writer from Montevallo.



Neat and Tidy Calving

by Baxter Black, DVM

This is the time of year when cow people don’t get much sleep. If you boiled "raisin’ cattle" down to its bare bones, the whole business revolves around gettin’ a live calf on the ground.

Folks outside the wonderful world of calvin’ season probably have some peculiar ideas about what happens. Maybe they think a heifer calves like chickens lay eggs: nice and clean, no muss, no fuss. Others might picture a sterile operating room with attendants gathered around in masks and rubber gloves saying things like "Push!" and "Nurse, wipe my brow and clamp the cord!"

A neat, tidy procedure done in antiseptic surroundings, not unlike the manufacturing of venison sausage.

Neat is not the word I think of when assisting at a calving. But, instead, insulated coveralls come to mind. As well as mud boots, chapped hands, rope burns, slippery chains, wet knees, sweating at 10 degrees above zero and midnight. In fact, calving involves a whole lot more than simply inserting a coin, punching a button and watching a can of Diet Coke be born with a thunk!

There’s that business like confidence that guides you when you check the heifer pen before turning in. You see one that’s still trying. You can’t leave her in that condition all night so you get’er up and slog her into the trap or calvin’ shed. While you’re gatherin’ up the O.B. chains and pullin’ off your jacket, a wave of nervous worry washes over you and settles into your gut.

Anticipation builds as you reach in for your first feel around. Hope surges when you make the initial pull on the calf. If luck is on your side, an enormous sense of relief follows. If not, that sinkin’ feelin’ soaks in right down to your bones.

It’s then that you do what your calling in life has prepared you for. It’s done with all the experience, skill, compassion and dogged determination you possess. The buck stops on your shoulders. It’s up to you and her to get the job done.

Finally, the calf comes. He plops down on the straw, wet and sleek as a porpoise. You tickle his nose, he snorts and shakes his head. You rub him down. You watch him struggle to three legs, fall and then try again.

You pick up your stuff and back outta the pen leavin’ mama and baby alone. You stand there a minute. You hear her talk to him. She’s lickin’ his face.

The wind is cold on your back. Snowflakes melt on your cheek. In the presence of this miracle, you don’t notice.

Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.



Not As Shocking As You Might Think!

Fisheries biologists use a variety of tools to safely assess the health of fish populations in reservoirs throughout the state.

by Chuck Sykes

Alabama’s Reservoir Management Program monitors 42 reservoirs totaling more than a half a million acres across the state. These reservoirs are generally sampled every three years, but some may be sampled more often if they receive a lot of fishing pressure or a biologist needs additional information the three-year rotation can’t provide.

The electricity stuns the fish long enough for biologists to net them and place them in the live well.

Fisheries biologists with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division often frequent reservoirs during spring and fall to collect fish and conduct standardized reservoir sampling. This method of sampling allows them to compare the results to previous samples and to other reservoir samples in Alabama. Various sampling gears are used to collect fish and are specific to the fish the biologists are targeting.

In the spring, biologists use specially designed electrofishing boats that temporarily stun fish so they can be netted. I know when this is happening because I get the calls about "those biologists out there killing all the fish with that dang boat!" Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Electrofishing is an extremely efficient way to collect fish, weigh and measure them, and release them back into the water totally unharmed. Spring electrofishing surveys usually target largemouth bass, spotted bass, smallmouth bass and crappie. On occasion, biologists will also collect other species such as bluegill sunfish, redear sunfish, shad or catfish.

In the fall and early winter, gill nets and trap nets are used to collect fish species that prefer open water or deep areas where electrofishing is not effective. Gill nets are made of monofilament and capture fish when they swim into them. Gill nets are primarily used to collect striped bass, hybrid striped bass, white bass, sauger and walleye. Trap nets are box-shaped nets made of nylon and are specifically designed to collect young crappie. They are an effective tool to evaluate young crappie produced from the previous spring, giving a solid prediction of how good fishing will be in the future.

Once the appropriate numbers of fish are collected, the biologist takes weights and measurements, and can then safely release the fish unharmed back into the lake, stream or reservoir.

Fish collected in reservoir samples are measured for total length and weight, and age is determined. Combining the length and weight data allows the biologists to examine how plump the fish are, indicating whether the appropriate amount of food is available. The length data is used to assess whether the correct proportion of catchable-size fish is available for anglers. Age data in conjunction with length data allows biologists to determine how fast fish are growing.

To age fish, biologists remove the inner ear bone, or otolith, and examine it under a microscope. Fish begin developing a new circular mark on the otolith each spring, so circular marks on the otolith correspond to years of age. The number of fish collected at each age is used to determine how quickly fish are dying out of the population, either from fishing or natural causes.

All of the data is analyzed and compared to previous samples from the individual reservoir and to statewide average data from all reservoirs. Biologists can then determine if harvest regulations need to be imposed to improve the fishery. The most common type of regulation on a reservoir fish population is a daily creel limit, or simply how many fish an angler can keep each day. Daily creel limits are used when angler harvest is too high to sustain the fishery. Length limits are another regulation used when fishing pressure or angler harvest is too high on fish of a particular size. Length limits are sometimes used to protect young fish so they can reach maturity or to increase the number of large fish for anglers.

Biologists also interview anglers at boat ramps after their fishing trips. These interviews are known as point-access creel surveys, and they give biologists important information about what kind and size of fish anglers are catching. They also give biologists information about what anglers want to catch and any issues anglers may be having at a particular reservoir. These interviews are a very important component of reservoir fisheries management because management decisions are ultimately made to benefit the people using the resource as well as the fishery.

In addition to baseline reservoir monitoring, research projects are often needed to address specific fisheries problems. Some research projects are undertaken by Fisheries Section biologists and others are contracted to experts at universities. Some recent research has produced interesting findings. For example, the best crappie spawns are often associated with higher than average rainfall in winter followed by lower than average rainfall in summer. Another recent study analyzed the food habits of striped bass and indicated that shad comprised about 98 percent of over 9,000 items found in stomachs. Game fish accounted for less than 1 percent of the diet items. This is important information because many anglers assume that striped bass prey heavily on game fish.

Many other species, including smallmouth bass, paddlefish, walleye, and alligator gar, have been the focus of recent research efforts.

The data and information collected through standardized reservoir sampling surveys is vital for biologists to make wise management decisions for anglers. The Reservoir Management Program is the primary source of data determining whether a fish population is in good condition, is overfished or a specific issue needs to researched. The work is a necessary part of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ mission to preserve, protect and enhance Alabama’s aquatic resources.

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



Not the Lone Ranger

by Suzy Lowry Geno

I’ve always said that my ideal situation would be a cabin in the middle of 100 wooded acres with a big, TALL fence encircling all around!

Who hasn’t just wanted to "get away from it all" and live out their lives unencumbered and unbothered?

I’ve always been a really shy person. I’ve told before how shocked my mama was when I announced that I was working as a newspaper reporter/photographer about 35 years ago. She couldn’t imagine me going out and interviewing ANYBODY, not less some of the "important" people I was required to meet with every day.

But I found that my notepad and my camera were good crutches and as long as I held them tightly in my hands I could interview anybody from the hottest country music stars right up to the vice president.

But inside I was still that shy little girl who would rather retreat to her world of books and fantasy than deal with most people!

While my husband was so sick those several years, it was almost like it was just me and him against the world at times ... we’d fight his illness with the latest technologies and medicines in the big city, but retreat to our little country home where we could just cocoon and be left alone!

Then after his death I became even more of a hermit. And that’s not all bad!

I am so blessed that I am content and at peace in my aloneness! Every time I see somebody post on Facebook that they are bored, I am just amazed! I have enough projects and things I’d like to do on my little homestead that I could stay busy 24 hours a day if I could just stay awake!

I guess those first few months were times of healing for me and I reveled in being alone, sitting by the wood heater quilting, knitting or crocheting with a purring cat at my feet.

I wasn’t completely a hermit in that folks came to the tiny general store on my farm and I always enjoyed visiting with them. But I pretty much stayed on these 15 acres.

Some relatives suggested I go on a cruise ... oh my goodness! To me, a cruise sounds like pure hell on Earth! Small cabins, confined spaces, no farm animals ... certainly not my cup of tea.

Then a group of "girls" from my high school class decided to go to the Smokies! I loved reading their antics and seeing their photos on Facebook every day, but I couldn’t imagine me up there with them, shopping, sight-seeing and traveling around.

My mama used to laugh and say it was just the Lowry in me! And it did seem I took after some of my relatives who preferred staying at home on their farms!

But after those long months of dealing with Roy’s illness, while I was content being alone and staying on my little farm, something was missing.

I could worship my gracious and great God right here on the farm; that was true. And I was able to attend church with some very much beloved folks every Sunday via the Internet.

But I ventured out one cold, Sunday morning and crowded into a little rented country church jam-packed with families.

And a little fire began to glow in my soul again.

A few months later, that church was able to buy a permanent home only four miles from my homestead!

I was there that first Sunday in the new building and I’ve been there ever since.

It’s not big or fancy. There aren’t all sorts of fancy-sounding programs. There’s just Christ and Christ alone, and oh how that warms my soul ....

But what was going on?

Brother Cliff Cook, one of the two pastors there, summed it up during two different sermons, one just last week.

"We aren’t meant to be Lone Rangers!" he emphasized again.

You probably remember the "Lone Ranger" on TV from 1949-1957 and available even now in reruns. (No, I’m NOT old enough to remember it on radio!)

Clayton Moore played the Lone Ranger who was the only Texas Ranger not killed in a terrible attack. He donned a mask and spent the rest of his life (or so the story went) riding his horse, Silver, on solitary missions to help others. But even he was aided by his sidekick Tonto.

But Bro. Cliff made his point to me with just a few statements.

God calls us to be witnesses to others and while I can do that through my writings, sometimes that means getting out of our comfort zones and going where those others are.

But most importantly, Bro. Cliff explained that while we are bearing fruit we NEED the fellowship of other believers to experience a true relationship with Christ.

While even Christ needed His solitude and often was portrayed going into a garden or some other place alone to meditate and pray, he had His chosen 12 often around Him AND He was always traveling to and fro where there were people in need.

Our other pastor, Brother Eric Hixon, often encourages those in our church to "love on" one another, not just during times of peril or tragedy but through the everydayness of life.

We’ve seen that so many times in the past, but we really saw it illustrated close to home two weeks ago.

I had a little health scare and my youngest daughter, Jannea, was awakened from a sound sleep to take me to the emergency room. She texted just one message to Bro. Eric and, before you know it, there were folks praying for both of us throughout our county. She received texts and emails throughout that day asking if we needed any help and letting us know they were praying.

I was able that night to hobble around and tend to all my animal chores – shutting chicken doors, feeding goats and making sure rabbits were OK. But the love shown me throughout that day was special ... and it happens every day in some form or fashion to other folks as well.

So while you won’t find this simple, gray-haired goat-woman hopping on a cruise ship any time in the future or enjoying the music row in Branson, Mo., there is a special fellowship that has called me home to another special peace ....

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



Pals: Wrappers, Paper and Plastic, Oh My!

Pine Level Elementary is thinking “beyond the trashcan.”

by Jamie Mitchell

Over 750 students from Pine Level Elementary School recently heard about how to do their part in keeping Alabama more beautiful and litter-free. The school recently joined the Clean Campus Program and wanted to learn more about how their school can make a difference. They already have an ongoing recycling program, so they are off to a great start!

The students learned to think about where wrappers, paper and bottles end up when they are done with them. They learned that if a plastic bottle ends up as litter or in a landfill it can take up to 450 years for it to biodegrade. The students saw pictures of landfills and litter to get them thinking "beyond the trashcan." They then heard all about recycling and were shown pictures of a recycling facility. I showed them several items made from recycled materials so they could see how much better it is for plastic and paper to be given a new life rather than end up in a landfill or on the side of the road somewhere.

In 2012, according to the EPA, Americans threw away over 164 million tons of trash that ended up in landfills. Nearly 80 percent of that trash could have been recycled. Those are staggering numbers!

Thankfully, we have schools like Pine Level Elementary who see the value in recycling!

Could a school near you benefit from hearing more on the Clean Campus Program? Just have them give me a call at 334-263-7737 or send me an email at Jamie@alpals.org. They can also look us up online at www.alpals.org to sign up for the Clean Campus Program.

Jamie Mitchell is the PALS State Clean Campus Coordinator.



Saving a Local Treasure

Paddle boards and paddle boats are available for fun on Grist State Park’s 100-acre lake (Credit: Billy Pope, ADCNR.)

Community leaders unite to reopen Paul M. Grist State Park.

by Alvin Benn

Financial belt-tightening is one thing, but closing a popular park named for a local legend was just too much to take for Dallas County residents who went on the offensive to reopen it.

The 1,000-acre Paul M. Grist State Park honors a man who spent much of his 82 years in Selma where he became known throughout Alabama for his coaching, mentoring and spiritual leadership.

Grist’s induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame was a no-brainer when his name was submitted for consideration. What made it extraordinary was the fact he never coached a college or professional football team or was involved in any other big-time, money-making athletic venture.

While the park never made much money, those who supported it said that wasn’t the purpose of a facility providing recreational outlets for youngsters, some of whom were from poor families.

Whatever revenue was derived from admissions was quickly eaten up by expenses and that was one of the deciding factors that ultimately closed the doors at Paul Grist and other low-performance state parks across the state.

These signs point the way to the Paul M. Grist State Park as well as the Grist YMCA Camp that is no longer open.

When the other shoe dropped and Dallas County officials were notified that Paul Grist State Park would have to close, two men quickly responded with promises to do what they could to keep it open.

"We were aware that we had the resources and it wouldn’t cost much more than $10,000-$15,000 a year," said Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard. "We had three employees there, but cutting back to one and relying on volunteers did the trick."

That one person was Roger Nichols, who has directed the sprawling park for 25 years and was happy to keep doing what he had been doing. The park is also his home. His house is on a hill not far from his office.

The park had been operating on a $170,000 annual budget and the $40,000 generated from admissions was basically a drop in the bucket, but operating with two fewer employees and relying on volunteers is expected to keep the ledger balanced.

Guided horseback rides were a hit with youngsters during one of Grist State Park’s family events. (Credit: Billy Pope, ADCNR)

Ballard said they quickly stepped forward to do what they could to keep the park open, from cutting grass to clearing trails for walkers and riders. Bush Hog recently donated an expensive zero-turn mower to take care of grass once it begins to grow in the spring.

Dallas County Commissioner Roy Moore, who virtually grew up at the park as a teenager, joined Ballard in efforts to keep it open. They were joined by Anita Ellison, who came up with a "Save Paul Grist State Park" Facebook page that took off like a rocket once it appeared.

"We’ve been overwhelmed with public support to save the park," Ellison said. "I can’t say enough nice things about people who let us know we could count on them to do what’s needed."

The response was not only overwhelming, it was effective. Closed on Oct. 15, 2015, the park came back to life on Dec. 3 This summer promises to be as popular as it’s ever been since it was constructed during the Depression as a way to provide jobs for the unemployed.

For much of its existence, Paul M. Grist State Park consisted of two segments. The biggest was the park and its huge lake frequented by those who love to fish. The other was the Paul Grist YMCA Camp that hosted hundreds of children every summer.

Park Manager Roger Nichols keeps this huge hornet’s nest in his office to show visitors.

The camp closed years ago, a victim of changing times, video games and other recreational outlets as summer camps began to fall out of favor around the country. Boys and girls in the area once marked the opening dates on their calendars because they couldn’t wait to spend their summers at the Grist camp.

With Gov. Robert Bentley and other officials looking for ways to save money because of funding problems, state parks came into the mix and the Dallas County site wound up on the fiscal chopping block.

The result was a transfer of $3 million from the State Park System to support other governmental agencies. The Legislature apparently felt they were more important than public parks.

Five parks were put on the closure list including the one honoring Grist, who died at the age of 82 in 1982.

Closing the park angered Dallas County officials, who didn’t waste time looking for ways to reopen it as soon as possible.

"It breaks my heart whenever I think about what has happened to those programs up there," said Bill Porter, a Selma native now living in Auburn. "The camp drew children from all around Dallas County and in our region."

Porter formerly was director of the Selma-Dallas County YMCA and served as a counselor at Camp Grist for more than a decade. He’s in his 70s today, but the years haven’t lessened the awe he still feels for a man who meant everything to him and other youngsters who felt the same way.

"Few have had such a profound influence on the lives of other people as did Paul Grist," said Porter, referring to his mentor’s 45-year history working with children at the Selma "Y."

Portrait of Paul Grist that hangs in the new YMCA.

Born in Marietta, Ga., on Dec. 2, 1898, Grist arrived in Selma on Nov. 1, 1919, to work at the "Y" as physical education director. He remained in that position until 1950. Among numerous highlights of his tenure was organization of one of the South’s first basketball clinics in 1939.

Although he supervised a variety of athletic programs for children in and around Dallas County, Grist’s commitment to them was far beyond supervision of baseball, basketball, tennis and other sports.

"It was more than being a physical education teacher, a coach, a camp director and an executive that set Paul Grist apart," Porter said. "He was the finest of role models both for youngsters and adults. Indeed, he was known as Selma’s No. 1 Citizen."

Porter spent 16 of his summers at the Paul Grist YMCA Camp and hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t think of the man he says was "the moral conscience of the Selma community."

"Whenever something happened in Selma and government leaders were not sure which way to turn, they would always say ‘Let’s ask Paul Grist what he thinks.’"

Grist’s memory remains a powerful reminder three decades since his death and can be seen at the YMCA – a $6 million facility that replaced the one that had become dilapidated after decades of use.

Step through the front door and there’s a portrait of Grist on a wall next to the chapel, not far from a plaque listing the names of "Paul Grist Boy of the Year" honorees dating back to 1949.

Porter once was a speaker at a "Boy of the Year" banquet and the praise he lavished on those nominated for the award brought nods and smiles from relatives of those selected for their outstanding achievements.

Grist mentored more future leaders than he could ever remember, but one who stands out the most was Ralph "Shug" Jordan, who became Auburn University’s greatest football coach, once leading the Tigers to a national championship.

One of Grist’s popular sayings is still used for emphasis today by those who learned from him.

"So many times during his life he said, ‘Son, don’t wait to be a great man, be a great boy,’" said Porter.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.



So, where does milk come from?

Participants learn about the parts of a goat from AU students at Dairy Goat U.

Auburn’s Dairy U and Dairy Goat U programs provide a unique hands-on learning experience for youth and adults.

by Michelle Bufkin

When most students are asked where milk comes from, the typical response is the grocery store. This poses an issue for the agriculture industry because we are raising a generation that does not know about farming. In April, there will be two programs, Dairy Goat U and Dairy U, that attempt to correct this issue. Both of these events are run by students in Auburn University’s Animal Science 4960 class. Boyd Brady, dairy extension specialist, helped start the program and oversees it every year. Brady said he does not run the program; he is just glad the students allow him the opportunity to be a small part of their program.

Dairy Goat U is an educational, hands-on workshop about goats for youth and adults. This year, the event will be held at Stone Hollow Farmstead in Harpersville on Saturday, April 2. This will be the eighth year Dairy Goat U will be held. In the past, they have had stations like hoof trimming, breed ID, goat’s health, making butter, tattooing, common diseases and milking. There is a small registration fee and the registration deadline is March 17.

Jenny Isham along with youth and adult participants pose with Aubie at last year’s Dairy U program.

"My favorite part is listening to the participants talk about what they did and what they learned, and wanting to come back next year. The smiles on their faces are priceless; they leave much more knowledgeable and passionate about the agriculture industry," Brady said.

Brady helped start both programs because he wanted to provide youth with a venue to learn about agriculture in a fun environment. Dairy U was successful from early on and parents started asking for more similar programs.

"Dairy Goat U was the next logical step," Brady said.

Even though these programs were designed for youth, adult programs had to be added to satisfy the need with that population. Both programs’ adult components have had tremendous success.

The programs started out as stations being led by only Animal Science Faculty and Extension personnel. About four years ago, the program turned into a class at Auburn University. This allows not only the participants to learn but the student leaders as well.

Participants at last year’s Dairy U program learn from a hands-on activity.

"I am excited for Dairy U because I want to learn about the dairy industry. I grew up showing beef cattle, so I know plenty about that, but I am not as familiar with dairy cattle. I look forward to all that Dairy U has to teach me," said Taylor Evans, an Animal Science Pre-Vet student from Wilmer.

Dairy Goat U started in 2010 with 40 people and grew to 127 people last year. Jenny Isham, a senior Animal Science Production Management major from Bayou La Batre, helped Brady plan the event last year and is looking forward to helping this year as well. She loves the program because it bridges the urban-rural gap.

"Kids may not go into agriculture – they may be business owners, stay-at-home parents, sanitation workers or doctors," she said. "We need all different types of professions to function as a society, but this event helps people understand what farmers do and how hard they work to produce food and fiber for a growing population."

Dairy U is a hands-on educational event for youth and adults focusing on dairy. This year it will be hosted at the Auburn University’s Stanley P. Wilson Beef Teaching Unit on April 23. The past events have included stations like injections, milking demonstration, skeleton and composition, bacteria, hormones and Dippin’ Dots. There is a small registration fee and registration is due by April 1.

The Dairy U program started with 50 people in 2008 and has grown to 160 participants last year.

"I really enjoyed my Dairy U experiences from the past six years. Dairy U is a unique program, and you do not even have to be familiar with the dairy industry. It is a day jam-packed full of fun and is totally worth a Saturday," said Shelby Anderson from Auburn.

Anderson has attended all but one Dairy U program since 2008. Last year was the largest attended program in its seven-year history.

Each program provides hands-on activities, knowledge, a meal, a t-shirt and a participant bag full of goodies. At the close of each program, the participants are presented with awards – dependent upon years of participation. The awards in the past have consisted of certificates, cow bells, old-time milk bottles and a belt buckle. But the awards are not the reason to participate in these programs. They provide children with hands-on knowledge about the dairy and dairy goat industry that is difficult to learn anywhere else but on a farm. Come learn about all sorts of dairy, no prior experience required!

The events are hosted in cooperation with the Auburn University Animal Science Department and the Alabama Cooperative Extension Services. For more information, contact Boyd Brady, bradybo@auburn.edu, in the Department of Animal Sciences at Auburn University.

Michelle Bufkin is is a freelance writer from Auburn.




Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "I told Bute to hold his horses! We’d be there in a few minutes."

What does holding horses have to do with waiting?

The phrase "hold your horses" means to be patient.

The U.S. origin is from the 19th century. In keeping with its American origin, it originally was written as "hold your hosses" and it appears in print that way many times from 1844 onwards. In "Picayune" (New Orleans), September 1844, we have:

"Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There’s no use gettin’ riled, no how."

It’s clear that hoss is the U.S. slang term for horse that was certainly known by 1844, as in David Humphreys’ "The Yankey in England," 1815:

"The boys see a ghost in the form of a white hoss; and an Indian in every black stump."

It isn’t until much later, in "Chatelaine," 1939, we get the more familiar phrase:

"Hold your horses, dear."

In 1943, there’s a more descriptive use, in Hunt and Pringle’s "Service Slang":

"Hold your horses, hold the job until further orders (comes from the Artillery)."




Spring – Just Days Away

by Herb T. Farmer

Counting down the days until the Vernal Equinox; winter hasn’t been too rough on me or the plants. There have been at least three weather breaks each month so I could set the houseplants and tender perennials outside to get some natural rain, direct sunshine and fresh air.

It was so warm that at a couple of points I left the plants out for more than a week at a time.

Let’s have a look at the garden this year and compare it to the successes and failures of the 2015 plantings.

Due to an injury last year around the middle of July, I was unable to work the farm and gardens as much as I should have. Though I still managed to have decent production and had enough fruits and veggies to share, eat fresh and put up (can, preserve and freeze), the season wasn’t quite as bountiful as others past.

The No. 1 best-producing plant from seed last year was one of the epic failures on the farm. I was unable to maintain my weed destruction and the wisteria grew, and then went to seed. I am having a fit controlling it today.

Now, on to the happy side of life.

There were many seed varieties that performed exceptionally well last year. I tried to keep up with production using the camera for documentation, but, alas, that did not happen enough to capture the true beauty of the bounty.

I did keep good notes, though. Remember? I started journaling my days a couple of years ago.

All good gardeners love to while away the hours during the cold winter months reading, wishing and planning from a stack of seed catalogs. I know that I do.

Last year, I ordered most of the seeds from only three of the usual sellers that I buy from. Johnnie’s, Botanical Interests and Renee’s Garden got most of my business. The other companies I order from always get some of my business, just not as much as the Big 3. Each year I select a few good performers from the previous year, purge the ones that weren’t successful and try new varieties.

There are several varieties of vegetable and herb seeds that are outstanding and I grow them every year because of their vigorous growth habits, flavor, presentation in the garden as well as on the plate, and their tolerance to adversities (weeds, drought, heavy rains, etc.).

This year, I ordered from the same three companies. Only Renee’s Garden and Seeds of Change got the bulk of my business.

Chadwick’s Cherries is by far the best cherry tomato I’ve grown in years. (Credit: Renees garden.com)

Again, please forgive me for not having photos to go with my stories about the garden. Perhaps I’ll call the companies and ask for some pictures from their gardens.

Okay … moving right along … one thing that really gets me going is when somebody says to me that they don’t like tomatoes! I usually look at them and say, "Did your momma raise you that way or is it just genetic?"

I grow at least a dozen tomato varieties here on my little farm and most of them are heirlooms. I save seeds from each good-producing variety and plant them the following year along with the current year’s seed purchase. (When I can get the same variety, that is.)

Also, I save some of the seeds and test-germinate them to record viability for at least three years. This gives me an idea of how durable the strain is for prepping. (Yes, folks, I’m a prepper – though not fanatical.)

One variety of heirloom tomato standing out among the others is called Chadwick’s Cherries. I grew it many years ago and lost the seed lineage due to a bad case of mold caused by flooding.

I finally found them again at Renee’s Garden and they are just as sweet as I remember.

It’s recipe time!

During the month of March I am having the same breakfast every morning, except Sunday. On Sunday, it’s brunch, and anything I want to make! But, the other six days I’m having a simple bowl of oatmeal. Well, maybe not so simple.

For the whole month of March, it’s oatmeal for breakfast.

Here’s my formula:

½ cup oats

1 cup milk

6 prunes, chopped

¼ cup raisins

6 apricots, chopped

¼ cup pecans, chopped

2 Tablespoons local honey

Pinch of salt

Mix it all together and pop it into the microwave. Eat and enjoy!

Remember to save all of your compostables from the kitchen. That includes citrus!

Daylight Saving Time begins Sunday, March 13, and the Vernal Equinox is Saturday, March 19, at 11:30 p.m.

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

Thanks for reading!

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

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

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




Stressed out? Take your vitamins!

by Nadine Johnson

Stress is physical, mental or emotional tension." That’s what my dictionary says.

What is B-complex? Here’s what someone who knows much more than I do has to say about these important vitamins:

"B-complex is a family of water-soluble vitamins found naturally in whole grain, flour, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, liver, kidney and heart. Your body cannot store them and washes the excess out through your kidneys and in perspiration. You need a fresh supply of B-complex daily. Because the B-complex vitamins work together in many biological processes, a deficiency of even one can disrupt your entire metabolism."

A lack of B vitamins causes a person to suffer greater stress. A person in a stressful situation has a greater need of the B-complex.

I gained this knowledge after I became a herbalist – not during the 37 years I was an active nurse (Licensed Practical Nurse). I’m sure the doctor, for whom I worked as an office nurse, was well aware of B-complex needs. She gave the orders and I administered many intramuscular injections which the patients and I jokingly referred to as "Vitamin Salad." This was most often a half cc of vitamin B-12 and a half cc of other vitamins.

These vitamins can be taken by injection, as noted, and they can easily be taken orally. Some people prefer a liquid form which they drop under their tongue. Others prefer a tablet. I personally take a pill that provides all the B vitamins as well as some relaxing herbs (Schizandra fruit, wheat germ, bee pollen, hops, valerian root and skullcap).

In my opinion, everyone should be taking a good all-purpose mixture of vitamins and minerals daily. There was a time when our daily food consumption provided the needed vitamins. That day has passed. Our soil has been leeched of its wonderful source of natural nutrients. (This information also comes from someone with much more knowledge than I have.)

Remember the days when we farm families ate fruits and vegetables from our own gardens that were fertilized with manure from our own chickens, cows and horses. Many berries were picked from the wild. We had yard chickens that provided eggs as well as meat for Sunday dinner. We had cows that provided milk and butter (occasionally a butchered calf for meat). Don’t forget the hogs that were home slaughtered to provide cooking fat as well as several forms of meat. My parents didn’t raise goats, but that was an option for some people.

We had the most wonderful cornbread. The cornmeal was made from our home-grown corn and ground at Linton’s mill near Goshen. Occasionally Mother made hominy.

Our animals were fed on home-grown corn, peanut hay and sometimes oats. They had free range of the pasture. I’m sure I’m leaving something out, but you get the message. Our food was organic.

We all experience stress daily. Some situations are more stressful than others. We need to take our vitamins daily for the sake of our general health and especially to help us cope with stress.

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



Sunfilm Silage Wrap

by John Sims

Many producers have started wrapping wet hay to capture a list of benefits: hay quality, labor costs, storage issues and time savings. You can count on your local Quality Co-op store to provide you with the high-quality silage-wrap products you need.

Co-ops carry the Sunfilm brand of silage wrap. Sunfilm is North America’s leading brand of silage wrap. Sunfilm also offers the highest levels of cling, tear and puncture resistance, and UV protection.

White is the most popular color due to its lower-temperature properties, but we do offer it in black for dry hay. The standard size for silage wrap is 30 inches wide, but we do have 20-inch wrap available upon request. Bale caps are also available to seal off your in-line wrapped bales.

So before you head into hay season this year, stop by your local Quality Co-op and pick up all your hay supplies. From twine to net and silage wrap, we’ve got you covered.

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



Termites! Are you protected?

by Tony A. Glover

In spring, I often receive calls from homeowners about swarming termites. If folks live in wooded areas, this is usually a regular occurrence. If you live near a wooded area, you need to understand that termites are an important part of the natural cycle of turning wood into organic matter that continues to decompose and replenish the soil with nutrients. We want this process to occur in the woods, but we don’t want it to move to our homes. If your house is properly protected, you should not worry about termites in other areas.

As spring arrives, trees bud, plants bloom and we are outdoors more. While you are outdoors, keep your eyes open for swarming termites because that is their favorite time to "be fruitful and multiply."

Termite swarms are composed of winged male and female termites that fly from their home colonies to mate, disperse and start colonies of their own. Swarming functions to mix the termite gene pool and spread the species. Swarming also helps termites find new sources of wood to attack. Dead tree stumps, downed trees and branches, moist wooden fences, mulch around houses and, of most concern, wood in your home are all favored by termites.

Most native subterranean termites swarm during the day, usually on sunny, calm mornings one or two days after a rain. These native termites are dark bodied and have gray wings.

Formosan subterranean termites swarm in the evening and early night, and will fly to lights. Formosan termites are yellowish colored and have tan wings with many tiny hairs. They are often found in window sills and swimming pools the day after a swarm.

In addition to feeding on the wood in our homes, Formosan termites have attacked more than 50 species of living plants, including citrus, pecan, wild cherry, cherry laurel, sweet gum, cedar, willow, wax myrtle, Chinese elm, pines, oaks and maples. They can construct galleries to the upper stories of buildings to feed on the wood. Fortunately, they are not widespread in our area, but are of more concern in the southern part of the state.

The process called swarming means that the parent colony is mature and healthy enough to reproduce. Immediately prior to swarming, workers and soldiers usually make tunnels upward to a high location: above windows of homes or up the trunk of a tree. The colonies infesting trees construct a launch pad, and colonies infesting homes usually chew tiny exit holes through sheetrock walls. Care should be taken to thoroughly inspect homes where swarms have been reported, particularly if the termites swarm within the home.

Spring is the best time for termite inspection. In addition to watching out for swarming, look for signs of mud tunnels on the walls, foundations and pillars of homes. It is highly recommended that your home be protected from termites by a professional pest control company. The bait systems commonly used today are both safe and effective, but do require regular monitoring.

Visit Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s website, www.aces.edu, and search for our publications on termites. These publications have lots of useful information and pictures to help you distinguish swarming termites from swarming ants.

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



The Co-op Pantry

Our cook of the month, Anita Grimes of Coffee County, has a wonderful legacy of both cooking and the Quality Co-op system. We appreciate both her and her husband’s dedication to Alabama agriculture.

Here is her story:

"I grew up in south Coffee County on my parents’ family farm. I loved to cook with my mother and grandmother from an early age. We grew a very large garden, so I learn to freeze and can foods, too. On our family farm, we grew corn, cotton, peanuts, rye and pasture grass for cattle. Oh yeah, we raised chickens, catfish and hogs, too. And farming was a family affair, too. We all helped with wherever was needed.

Anita Grimes and newest grandson, Bradley.

"We were all involved in several leadership roles in church and community activities: the Cattlemen Association, Alabama Farmers Federation Home Demonstration Club, etc. My sisters and I enjoyed showing beef calves for several years.

"In 1977, I met my husband, Bryan, while attending Troy University. It was ironic, we had grown up with similar backgrounds and growing the same agriculture as his family’s farm in west Coffee County. He also helped with cooking, gardening and farming.

His family was also involved in several leadership roles in church and community activities: Coffee County Farmers Co-op, Farmers Livestock Co-op and Alabama National Guard. Bryan began his career farming with his father and in the National Guard.

"After college, I taught young, needy families and foster children independent living skills as a licensed social worker. My husband began career farming with his father and was in the Alabama Army National Guard.

"His father retired as Director of Coffee County Farmers Co-op’s board and Bryan followed by being elected to the board and has been president for most of the 22 years he has currently served. In fact, our family farm is about two miles from the Co-op in Elba.

"We love to cook together and enjoy new recipes from many sources. We were blessed with a son and daughter, who enjoyed cooking with us and continue to inquire about recipes at different times. We were very involved in church, 4-H, Boy & Girl Scouts, football, band, FFA, etc. with them.

"They now both have great families of their own and are very successful. We are very proud to have four grandchildren. We are extremely proud to announce that we have a healthy, new grandson, Bradley, born January 19.

"We continue to enjoy family gatherings for a meal together on a regular basis! Bryan also loves to cook on the grill and barbecue with several farmer friends on occasion."

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

ENGLISH PEA
AND ASPARAGUS CASSEROLE

1 can small English peas

1 can asparagus, drained

1 can cream of mushroom soup

½ cup milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 eggs, sliced

2 cups cheese, shredded

Saltine crackers, crushed

Layer peas and asparagus in a 9x11 casserole dish. Mix soup, milk, salt and pepper. Pour mixture over vegetables. Layer with eggs, cheese and crackers. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

Note: This dish has become a tradition for me to cook for my family, especially at holidays.

SPAGHETTI

1 pound ground beef

½ cup onion, chopped

¼ cup bell pepper, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon seasoning salt

Medium can chopped tomatoes

Medium can tomato sauce

1 (12-ounce) package thin spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained

Brown beef, onion, bell pepper, salt and pepper. Drain. Add next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Cook on simmer for about an hour. Serve over noodles.

TEA CAKES

2 cups margarine

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

4 cups self-rising flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream margarine and sugar. Mix eggs and flour. Add to sugar mixture. Mix well. Mix in vanilla. Shape and bake for 10 minutes.

Note: This recipe was handed down from my grandmother and I enjoyed helping her make them. All ingredients prepare better at room temperature.

HAMBURGER CASSEROLE

1 pound ground beef

½ cup onion, chopped

¼ cup bell pepper, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

½ Tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon seasoning salt

1 large can chopped tomatoes

Small package wide noodles, cooked

1 can whole kernel corn, optional

2 cups cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350°. Brown beef with onion, bell pepper. Drain. Mix in remaining ingredients except cheese. Put in 13x9x2 greased casserole dish. Top with cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.

Note: This casserole was passed down to me from my mother-in-law, Marylene Grimes. I enjoyed cooking with her and also her mother.

MAMA'S HUSHPUPPIES

2 cups fine white cornmeal

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups water

2 eggs, well beaten

1 large onion, chopped fine

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon black pepper (optional)

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Hushpuppies should be fried after frying fish. Use a teaspoon to drop mixture in grease (always using a cup of water to dip spoon in after each spoonful of batter). Hushpuppies will float to top and brown when done. Serves about 14-16. Recipe may be doubled for larger number.

Note from Bryan: In loving memory of my mother, Marylene Grimes. She would always make this batter for my father to take to the Co-op whenever we would have a fish fry when he was Director of the Board at Coffee County Farmers Co-op in the ’80’s. Now I am the President of that same Board!


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


PEANUT BUTTER BONBON PIE

Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup shortening

½ cup crunchy peanut butter

Blend ingredients with pastry blender. Roll carefully. Place in 9-inch pie plate. Push crust up to edge of pie plate and flute with forefinger and thumb. Bake at 450° for 10-20 minutes – check frequently until nicely brown.

Filling:

8 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

2 cups milk, scalded to boiling point

½ cup coconut

2 Hersey Chocolate candy bars, broken into pieces

½ cup roasted peanuts, finely ground

Beat yolks and sugar in saucepan. Add flour and vanilla to milk. Pour milk over yolk mixture. Stir over medium heat to boiling point. Blend in coconut. Cool for 10 minutes.

Fill pie shell with mixture. Dot top of filling with candy bars while warm enough to melt them. Sprinkle with peanuts. Let cool. Yield: 6-8 servings.

Note: My mother was the National Peanut Festival 1979 Grand Prize Winner with this recipe and she tested it with our family several times until she perfected it for the contest and frequently afterwards, making it a family tradition. In loving memory of Bowden and Claire Sessions.

MAMA’S BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

5 cups self-rising flour, plus extra for shaping

1 cup buttermilk

6 teaspoons cooking oil, divided

Preheat oven to 425°. In medium bowl, put flour. Make a hole in flour with a cup. Add buttermilk and 2 teaspoons oil. With clean hands, slowly combined flour with liquids until all are mixed. Knead dough several times until dough is a smooth consistency of biscuit dough. Pinch off enough dough for biscuit and roll with flour in hands until smooth. Place on well-greased small baking pan. Mash down each biscuit with thumb in middle of biscuit, adding about ¼ teaspoon of oil on each biscuit. Bake about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Yields: 8-10 biscuits.

Note: My mother made these biscuits for my father every day at dinner, our middle meal of the day, when my Daddy farmed. She kept her flour pan covered under the sink at all times. This recipe was past to her from her mother and then to me (it takes some practice, so don’t give up on them). In loving memory of Bowden and Claire Sessions.

COCA COLA CAKE

2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

½ cup margarine

½ cup oil

3 Tablespoon cocoa

1 cup Coca Cola

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon soda

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1½ cups small marshmallows

Mix sugar and flour. In sauce pan, combine margarine, oil, cocoa and cola. Bring to a boil. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well. Add buttermilk, soda, eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Fold in marshmallows. Pour in 9x13 pan. Bake at 350° for 40-50 minutes.

Icing

½ cup margarine

3 Tablespoon cocoa

6 Tablespoons Coca Cola

1 box powdered sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1 cup nuts, chopped

In sauce pan, mix margarine, cocoa and cola. Bring to a boil. Add sugar, vanilla and nuts. Mix and spread on cake.

Note from Anita and Bryan: This is a family-tradition recipe that Marylene Grimes loved to make, especially at big family dinners such as Easter and birthdays.

EGG CUSTARD

1 can evaporated milk

4 eggs

4 Tablespoons self-rising flour

4 Tablespoons margarine, melted

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°. Put all ingredients in blender and mix well. Spray pie pan with cooking spray and sprinkle with flour. Pour mixture in pan. Bake for 35 minutes. This pie makes its own crust.

Note: This was my mother’s recipe and is so easy.



The FFA Sentinel: Hatton High School Fall Festival and Summer Ag Camp



Students from Hatton FFA Chapter tour several farms as part of their Summer Camp.

by Adam Daniel

Located in West Central Lawrence County, the Hatton High School agriscience and FFA program strive to be a well-rounded asset to the school and community. While instruction in various agriscience-related areas is the No. 1 goal, the FFA chapter and its activities are used as an extension of the classroom. Activities help add to the instructional component while also providing leadership and service opportunities for our students. The importance of good work ethic, cooperation and attitude are always stressed. The Hatton chapter annually participates in various Career Development Events, State and National Conventions, and other leadership activities. Every summer, an instructional Ag Camp and community service projects are held as well.

Recently, the Hatton FFA hosted their 4th Annual Fall Festival. The chapter started the festival as a way to educate the public about agriculture and FFA, raise operating money for the program and to serve as a community service program. Although rain dampened attendance this year, the festival normally brings in around 200 people. It is held on the football field because all infrastructure needed such as the concession stand, restrooms, bleachers and open space is there in one spot.

We have tried to have a variety of activities that will draw a large, diverse crowd.

Hatton FFA members provide community service as part of their summer work experience.

The festival consists of various activities geared toward kids such as multiple blow-ups, a dunking booth, livestock exhibits, and various games and prizes. For the adult crowd, an auction is held to sell various items donated by local businesses and individuals in support of the program. The Lawrence County Antique Tractor Club sets up a show as well. This activity was added two years ago to hopefully bring in more people. Entertainment is also provided by local talent. Concessions are available throughout the event, including 100 gallons of chicken stew.

The event takes a lot of planning, legwork and set-up time. Members of the program advisory committee have stepped up and helped out in various ways. Several parents help with things such as admissions, running the concession stand and organizing the auction.

"Without their help, it would be really hard to pull this off," stated Samantha Culver, Hatton’s current FFA president. "Our Fall Festival is one of the greatest things we have done for ourselves and our community. The community can come together and have a great time. The preparation is tedious, but it is always worth it when you see both children and adults having fun."

The officers always set up a display to promote FFA and its purpose. A major benefit of this event is it brings in a lot of people who can see a snapshot of our program and ways it can help our students. During the day of the festival, FFA members and ag students help set up the field and get everything ready. Signs and posters are made, the stage is placed, livestock pens set up, and stew and concession items are prepared. The next day, when the fun is over, they make sure everything is cleaned up.

Besides the Fall Festival, Hatton FFA students complete two to three community service projects in the summer. Students have trimmed shrubs at the school, built planter boxes at the local senior center and maintained the grounds at a cemetery in Mt. Hope, a feeder community for Hatton High School.

"Being able to participate in these projects gave me a sense of accomplishment. Not only did I get to help my community, but I also got to learn hands-on skills I can use the rest of my life," said Ivey Terry, FFA vice president.

The Templeton Cemetery is where C. C. Smith is buried and is an old cemetery with many graves from the 1800s. Smith made various contributions to the Lawrence County school system. Many years ago, the Mt. Hope School Ag Department completed the maintenance at times, but the high school is no longer open. The Hatton High FFA plans to help out at least every other year by mowing, trimming and brush control.

The summer Ag Camp is basically a series of farm and industry fieldtrips to get students out of the house while also providing an extension of the classroom. Over three days, students make about six stops at local farms and industry. The camp days give students a good look at real world agriculture and job opportunities.

The activities of the Hatton agriscience and FFA program are just some examples of why these programs are still a tremendous asset to Alabama school systems. Even after almost 100 years of existence, these programs continue to educate and prepare our future leaders and help keep the much-needed agricultural industry alive. This longevity proves that, even today, few other areas in education can provide the same diverse combination of instruction, career prep and leadership activities all in one educational component!

Adam Daniel is the FFA advisor for Hatton High School in Lawrence County.



The Final Push

by Stephen Donaldson

Though we have continued to experience a mild and wet winter, we have just had a couple of brief cold spells with just a bit of snow. When we experience these cold, snowy days, we think the weather couldn’t be any harsher on our cattle. In reality, rain and mid-30 degree temperatures are harsher than these snowy days. I know I belabor the subject, but, truthfully, the weakest aspects of beef cattle nutrition in Alabama are the lack of supplement being fed to producing cows and the lack of creep feeding.

The main reason I bring the subject back to the forefront is that now is one of the most critical times for proper supplementation. Many veterinarians have told me they experience more downer cows and cattle deaths in the month of March than any other time of the year. Many cattlemen simply quit feeding or cut back on feeding at the onset of pastures starting to grow. Many times the perception of pastures starting to produce forage is just that, a perception and not reality. While pastures may be full of color and growing, they simply don’t have much dry matter and the cattle are consuming mostly water.

This is also the time of year we see many metabolic problems such as grass tetany or milk fever. This again can be partly because dry matter intake has been decreased. The livestock are simply not consuming enough nutrients for optimum production and, in many cases, to support life.

Another issue that comes into play is that many times the only hay left to feed is the poorest quality. Hay of poor quality simply isn’t digestible enough to provide the required nutrients. Therefore, supplementation is needed.

Also, this time of year many producers have small-grain winter grazing available. This gives producers plenty of high quality forage, but many times during rainy and cloudy weather grass tetany can be an issue. Again, supplementation can remedy these problems.

So let’s tie these loose ends together. First, make sure you are supplementing your herd with the proper minerals. If you have been feeding a mineral with adequate magnesium, there should be no problem with grass tetany. If your mineral contains less than 4 percent magnesium or it hasn’t been fed regularly, then you should consider feeding a high-mag mineral (14 percent magnesium). Since you are evaluating your mineral program at this time, it would be the perfect time to switch to a loose mineral containing Altosid for fly control.

Consider feeding a feed supplement containing complete minerals and vitamins. For your cow herd, products such as Brood Cow Supplement, CPC Grower or CPC Developer are perfect for providing ample nutrition. These supplements will provide energy, protein, minerals and vitamins to get your cows through this tough end-of-winter stretch. Feed supplementation also helps the rumen microbes break down that tough-to-digest forage.

Remember, cattle have just come through a time when they are expending large amounts of energy to just maintain body temperature. If you add extra energy and protein demand such as nursing a calf or redepositing body condition, supplementation is a must.

It is also a good time to consider using poured tubs, low-moisture tubs or liquid feed supplements to add some energy, minerals and added protein to aid with forage digestibility. There are viable options with all three of these molasses-based supplements. Simply choose the best option for your operation.

Finally, it is a great time to be creep feeding calves. Creep feed will give you extra pounds at weaning and can take some production pressure off your cows. Calves will replace some of the nutrition they are receiving from the cow with feed. Also, remember that feed conversion at this stage of production almost insures added profits in your pocket. So this is a strategy to help your cows maintain body condition and improve your weaning weights.

The challenge also facing producers is getting these stressed cows rebred. The previous supplementation strategies also should help boost conception rates and help with calving percentage next calving season. The addition of minerals and vitamins aids in keeping all of the reproductive processes working optimally.

I encourage you to make this final push to ensure you maximize profits and cow health for today and in the future.

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



Wet Weather Means Increased Risk of Foot Rot

by Jackie Nix

The incessant rains we’ve had these past months have created a problem we haven’t seen in recent years – standing water. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, cattle have to stand in this water, resulting in more cases of foot rot. Why should you care, you ask? Lame cows won’t eat enough and thus won’t make enough milk for calves and lame calves won’t graze, either, resulting in further reduced weight gains. Lame bulls will not travel to seek out females in heat, meaning more open cows at the end of breeding season.

Why Does Wet Weather Cause More Foot Rot?

Foot rot is caused by anaerobic bacteria that cannot penetrate intact, healthy hoof tissue. However, when cattle continually stand in water and mud, their hooves soften, just like your fingernails after a long bath. Softened hooves are less impervious to punctures and abrasions, thus giving the foot rot bacterium a route into the hoof. Therefore, we see more foot rot in herds exposed to long periods of wet weather.

Signs of Foot Rot

Foot rot is first characterized by swelling between the toes. Eventually the skin splits open to reveal necrotic, foul-smelling tissue. The affected foot will be warm to the touch. Cattle often run a temperature and appear lethargic. The initial reddening of the skin is sometimes known as foot scald. If left untreated, the infection may progress up the foot into the joints, tendons and bone. If this occurs, the animal rarely recovers.

Other conditions causing lameness are often misdiagnosed as foot rot. These include sole ulcers and abscesses, sole abrasions, cuts, punctures and laminitis. Cattle grazing endophyte-infected fescue pastures that have developed fescue toxicity experience a loss of blood circulation to the feet causing lameness and are sometimes misdiagnosed as having foot rot. For these reasons, it is important to examine the affected animal(s) closely to confirm the problem is in fact foot rot.

Lameness caused by foot rot will result in poor productivity and lost profits.

Transmission

Contagious foot rot is mainly spread by infected animals. The bacterium travels from the infected animal to the soil to non-infected animals. These bacteria can survive in the soil from one to 10 months and even longer within the hoof tissues. Problems are usually introduced into a non-infected herd by purchasing an infected animal and mixing these animals or by using a facility such as a sale barn after infected animals. Humans can also spread the disease on their boots or vehicles.

Prevention

Do not purchase animals from herds showing signs of lameness. You need always quarantine new animals (from any source) before introducing them into your herd. If you observe signs of lameness, clean and examine the foot to establish if you are dealing with foot rot. In mild cases, topical application of zinc sulfate solutions or other acceptable treatments may be all that is necessary. In severe cases, antibiotics may be in order. Consult your local veterinarian for more information about diagnosis and treatment. Cattle displaying chronic foot rot symptoms should be culled, as they will act as a reservoir for the foot rot organisms for the entire herd.

Management practices that help reduce hoof damage can help to reduce the incidence of foot rot in your herd. Maintain good drainage in and around watering and feeding areas. You may also think about placing concrete pads in these areas to reduce the amount of mud. Do not utilize sharp gravel in travel lanes. Proper mineral nutrition, especially zinc and copper, can also help to improve hoof integrity and strength and reduce the incidences of foot rot.

Role of Zinc and Copper in Hoof Integrity

Zinc is a critical nutrient involved in maintaining hoof tissues, including, but not limited to, stimulating growth, production of keratin (the part that makes the hoof hard), improved wound healing and improved cellular integrity. Zinc-deficient cattle exhibit increased claw and hoof disorders as well as skin disorders and poor wound healing. Improved zinc nutrition has been proven to improve hoof health in deficient animals.

Copper is required for healthy claw-horn tissue as well as antioxidant activity. Copper deficiency decreases the structural strength of hoof tissue. Copper deficiency also results in decreased immunity, infertility and decreased growth.

Supplementation

Natural deficiencies in soils as well as high levels of antagonists make proper supplementation of zinc and copper extremely important for all cattle. Cattle producers who have observed lameness in their cattle should consider use of one of the SWEETLIX CopperHead line of mineral supplement products.

All CopperHead supplement products deliver enhanced levels of copper, as well as balanced levels of zinc and other essential minerals and vitamins. The CopperHead line of mineral supplements contains organic forms of zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt for optimum bioavailability. SWEETLIX CopperHead supplements also have the added advantage of RainBloc for improved resistance to moisture.

In summary, foot rot increases during prolonged wet weather. There are many management practices you can employ to reduce the incidences of foot rot on your farm. Included among these is proper supplementation of zinc and copper. Many Alabama cattle show deficiency symptoms, including discolored hair coats, slow-to-shed winter coats, depressed immunity, decreased conception rates, increased days open and hoof problems. If your cattle experience any of these symptoms, you should use one of the SWEETLIX CopperHead line of mineral supplements to help enhance copper and zinc nutrition. Ask for CopperHead by name at your local feed store, call 1-87SWEETLIX or visit www.sweetlix.com to learn more about these and other Sweetlix supplement products for cattle.

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations (www.sweetlix.com). You can contact her at jackie.nix@ridleyinc.com or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.



Where Are Our Turkeys Going?

by Corky Pugh

Hopefully, March 15 will usher in a far better spring turkey season than last year. As turkey hunters, we have to be blind, running optimists to get up morning after morning in the dark to get to the woods before daylight just hoping to hear a turkey gobble.

For a long, long time those of us who pursue this wiliest of game birds in Alabama have been spoiled. The relative abundance of turkey populations, on average, year-in and year-out, has lulled us into a false sense of security about the resource base that supports hunting this grand bird.

To the credit of professionals in the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, there is a genuine concern about the problem. Meetings with hunters and field survey work efforts have confirmed what appears to be a decline in turkey populations. The problem is not unique to Alabama, but is Southeast-wide.

Possible Reduction in Limit Only a Stop-Gap Measure

Early discussions in Alabama mentioned the possibility of reducing the season limit. Please don’t confuse this stopgap measure with solving the problem.

For decades, hunter harvest through lawful, regulated means was not deemed to be a major limiting factor on established, reproducing game populations. The holy grail of harvestable surplus held that populations were limited by natural mortality, habitat and other factors, resulting in surplus carried from year to year. A simple definition is the number of animals that can be harvested without affecting population size at the beginning of the next hunting season. Hunter harvest was thought to only impact the surplus.

Harvestable Surplus Questioned

As time progressed, hunters became more efficient and regulations were liberalized; the concept of harvestable surplus came into question by many wildlife professionals.

When turkey decoys were being debated in Alabama, I told the Conservation Advisory Board that, while legalization of decoys would not decimate the turkey population, the more advantages we give the hunter, the greater the likelihood that in the future we would have to reduce the season length or annual bag limit. It’s right there recorded in the minutes of the meetings if you care to read it.

The cumulative effects of all the advantages hunters have today, including advanced camouflage, realistic calls, highly efficient shotguns and turkey loads, blinds and other equipment such as decoys, tip the scale in favor of the hunter. Do I think "decoy pox" is the cause of the turkey decline? No.

Effective Problem-Solving Identifies Causes

Effective problem-solving requires that we identify causes. Pitfalls include confusing symptoms with causes, jumping to conclusions and waiting until all data is available before making a decision. If we wait until all data is complete, all the turkeys may be gone.

Every potential solution must be measured against the common sense question of, "If we do this, will it fix the problem?"

Will reducing the annual bag limit stop the decline of turkey populations? Not likely.

If the professional turkey biologists in the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division believe a reduction is needed until the problem is addressed, then as hunters we should support their recommendation. But we should rightfully expect that measures be taken to address real solutions to the problem.

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

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




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