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May 2009

States Join Forces to Fight Foreign Invader - Cogongrass Destructive Weed Attacking Vital Southern Ecosystems

Assistant State Forester Bill Baisden checks his computer to examine the largest cluster of cogongrass fields in Southwest Alabama.

By Alvin Benn

Kudzu may be better known throughout the South, but it doesn’t have anything on another invasive plant just as much a pest and threat to agriculture and timber interests as that unwelcome, green Asian import.

It’s called cogongrass and it’s been a nuisance longer than kudzu which also is known as the "vine that ate the South."

One of the biggest differences between cogongrass and kudzu is appearance. Kudzu’s clinging, creeping takeover of vast tracts of land is evident to anybody driving by its location.

Cogongrass generally is found along rights-of-way, in fields and around trees. Unlike kudzu, it doesn’t overwhelm the eye.

When kudzu arrived from Asia during the Depression, it was warmly received at first—considered by farmers to be a great way to control erosion. Sadly, they would soon learn it wasn’t much good for anything.

An aerial view taken in Baldwin County showing the invasive spread of cogongrass.

Cogongrass didn’t receive an agricultural invitation to help stop erosion. It made its way into Alabama and the rest of the South quite uninvited from the Port of Mobile, most likely in packing crates. That was in 1912, nearly a century ago.

It wouldn’t be long before its seeds would spread throughout the southern part of Alabama, causing headaches for those trying to get rid of it.

"Cogongrass has been a worldwide pest for a long time," Assistant State Forester Bill Baisden told The Cooperative Farming News in an interview. "It’s so bad it can actually change ecosystems."

How, then, to get rid of it? One way is joint action involving Southeastern states where cogongrass has made its presence known for decades.

A young stand of cogongrass.

Not long ago, the Alabama Forestry Commission joined with similar agencies in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas to approve a "Memorandum of Understanding" to coordinate regional efforts to fight the spread of cogongrass whose scientific name is Imperata Cylindrica.

As a result of the agreement, forestry officials around the region will work with landowners and groups to help deal with cogongrass. It will involve ways to either control or suppress cogongrass. It’s also designed to educate people who don’t have a clue about what it is.

Alabama State Forester Linda Casey is well aware, if left unabated, cogongrass will continue to grow and pose a threat not only to tree stands, but also productive land, wildlife and ecosystems.

"Cogongrass is not going away on its own," she said, adding the Southeastern memorandum "will help us leverage local, state and federal resources, not only to battle this destructive weed, but also help educate landowners and citizens about the impact and spread of cogongrass."

Note how the native vegetation has been pushed out with nothing but cogongrass remaining. Without effective control, there are tremendous hazards for fire, destruction of wildlife habitat and replanting after harvest is extremely difficult.

Cogongrass, a weed that starts small, but can grow to more than four feet in height, has infested more than a billion acres worldwide. It has the ability to choke out native plants and destroy wildlife habitat. It can spread two ways—seeds blown by the wind or underground.

In addition to its plant and grass-choking dangers, it’s also a major fire hazard. Cogongrass’ roots are fire-tolerant, but its leaves and flowers are extremely flammable, thus presenting a fire hazard for firefighters and rural residents.

Few in Alabama understand the dangers posed by congongrass. Baisden, one of the state’s leading authorities on the weed, certainly does and he keeps tabs on it as much as he can.

When he clicks on his office computer in Montgomery, it’s likely he’ll be checking on a state map which shows clusters of cogongrass taking up a large area of southwestern Alabama, primarily in Baldwin, Washington, Monroe and other counties in the area.

"We worry about fire ants and killer bees, but cogongrass spreads much faster," he said. "The reason is it’s morphed enough to become more viable, especially around our forests."

Baisden said cogongrass does not present quite the same danger to farmers as it does to those in the timber industry, particularly those who raise row crops and till the soil on a regular basis.

Cogongrass doesn’t have quite the same opportunity to spread when dirt is turned over each year. That’s not the case in forests where it competes aggressively for nutrients also being sought by young pine trees just beginning to grow.

Location is a key factor in combating cogongrass, said Baisden, who describes defenses against it almost in military terms.

"You can’t effectively fight a war if you don’t know where the enemy is," he said. "The task force we’ve created recognizes that fact and has been gearing up to have an active detection element."

Funding, as it usually is in difficult economic times, is short at the moment and Baisden said effective chemical treatment will be expensive.

He doesn’t pull any punches when discussing the bottom line, saying it will take "billions of dollars to defeat cogongrass."

Educational efforts have begun at selected sites this spring—which is the primary growing season for the weed.

"It blooms in late May and into June, so now is the easiest time to treat it," said Baisden, who added cogongrass is relatively dormant in the winter and is covered by a thick brown mats of grass.

Once cogongrass begins to flourish, however, he said it can quickly take over areas, including pastures. Unfortunately, it isn’t palatable for cattle grazing in those fields because it has tiny prickly-edges up and down each thin stalk.

Dave Moorhead, a cogongrass expert at the University of Georgia, said now is the best time of year to begin controlling or eradicating it since it’s the invasive plant’s growing season.

Moorhead and others are spearheading training sessions across Georgia to alert Cooperative Extension agents and road crews on how to recognize cogongrass. That’s one of the reasons for regional meetings in Alabama.

"County road crews out on equipment are more likely to see infestations, especially this time of year," Moorehead said, adding cogongrass has been identified on 220 sites in 28 Georgia counties. That may only be the tip of the iceberg, however.

Moorhead said chemical treatments are important and must be applied on a regular basis because once cogongrass takes hold "it can be very difficult to kill."

"You can’t control it with a single herbicide treatment," he said. "You can’t treat it once and just walk away. It’s an ongoing treatment for many years to eliminate it from an area."

More than half of Alabama’s 67 counties have reported cogongrass infestations and forestry experts are trying their best to keep it from spreading to the rest.

"It can resprout quickly if you don’t keep at it," said Baisden. "Our recommendation is to attack it quickly and aggressively."

That’s why timing is important. Baisden said aggressive herbicide spraying in areas where cogongrass is still "young" can result in "total victory" over that area of infestation.

Baisden said America is basically the "newbie on the block" because cogongrass has been a worldwide pest "for a long time."

"Actually, we’re the last country to be invaded by it," he said. "Asia and Africa have been hit the hardest. In some parts of the Philippines there are mountains of it with the landscape reflecting nothing but cogongrass."

It’s for that reason Alabama forestry officials are going all out to eradicate or, at least, control the invasive weed. Signing the Memorandum of Agreement with other Southeastern states is a step in that direction.

Baisden estimated less than 15 percent of Alabama landowners understand cogongrass and the dangers it poses to their property.

He quickly gets their attention, however, when he tells audiences the slightest pickup of cogongrass seeds on boots can carry it into counties that have not had a problem with it before.

Working with the other states and focusing attention on Alabama organizations that might deal with cogongrass is important, he said, "and it seems to be working."

"Looking back on past years, we’ve seen different departments with their own programs to kill cogongrass," he said. "We were basically walking on top of each other and weren’t getting the message out. We weren’t consistent. I think we will be now."

If you’d like more information about cogongrass, e-mail Assistant State Forester Bill Baisden at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">, write him at P.O. Box 302550, Montgomery, AL 36130 or call him at (334) 240-0367.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

After 49 years, Opp Snake Rodeo is still “rattling strong”

Don Childre holds up a large eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

By Ben Norman

Want to hear some good country music, shop at numerous arts and crafts booths, and eat some delicious Southern-fried rattlesnake? Then the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo is the place to be.

What started out back in 1960 as just a snake-catching event to reduce the local snake population has turned into an event that has become famous across the country. According to Don Childre, the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo got started as a result of a Geneva dentist, Dr. Howell, wanting to reduce the exploding rattlesnake population on his quail hunting land.

"Dr. Howell had lost several bird dogs and had others injured as a result of snake bites. He and his hunting buddy, J.P. Jones, began harvesting snakes to reduce the danger," said Childre.

Dr. Howell came up with the idea of taking a short piece of hose, running it down in a gopher tortoise hole and shaking the hose back and forth. The hose was then held up to one’s ear to see if a snake could be heard shaking its rattlers. Once a snake was detected in the hole, a small amount of gasoline was poured into the hole. Fumes from the gas would make the snake exit the hole and it would be captured and placed in a snake sack or cage.

Opp snake hunters have little trouble finding enough snakes for the Rodeo.

This method was used for many years and catching rattlesnakes in the Opp area became a popular past time.

"J.P. Jones had a restaurant south of Opp that served as the headquarters for the snake-catching event in the early days. Jones and others decided it would be a good fundraising project for the local Jaycees. In 1971, we moved it to Opp and held it at the football stadium. We soon added arts and crafts, country music and offered various prizes for the most snakes caught and the largest snake. We added a program to educate people about snakes and did a snake milking demonstration," Childre explained.

Childre, who has been hunting rattlesnakes and participating in the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo for 40 years, has earned quite a reputation as an expert on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

"Most of the snakes we have on exhibit are eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. We also have a few timber rattlers or cane break rattlers as some call them. The eastern diamondback is the largest venomous snake in North America. They feed primarily on rodents like field mice, ground squirrels and young rabbits. The largest I’ve ever seen was seven-feet, two-inches long and weighed 13 pounds, eight ounces. The largest snake we have this year weighs eleven pounds and is about six-feet long," said Childre.

Cari Morgan can handle a snake as well as any of the guys.

The Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo is held the first weekend in April at the Channelle-Lee Football Stadium in Opp. Most of the snakes displayed are harvested within 30 miles of Opp.

"We do most of the hunting in Covington, Dale and Coffee Counties. North of these counties, you just won’t find the eastern diamondback. We find them in gopher tortoise holes where they coexist with the tortoise. I’ve found as many as seven snakes in one hole. They like to den in the tortoise hole because the temperature tends to stay more uniform. Being cold-blooded, a rattlesnake would freeze to death if it stayed out in cold weather too long," Childre said.

The first thing the snake hunters look for is a gopher tortoise hole. Once you find a hole, you will likely find several more tortoise holes nearby, increasing the odds of finding snakes.

"We hunt the same area year after year and find about the same number of snakes each year. The eastern diamondback population is not being depleted in this area as a result of the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo. As a matter of fact, fewer snakes are harvested now. Back in the earlier days when we gave prizes for quantity and size, there were 15 or more hunters bringing in hundreds of snakes. Now, we have four or five bringing in 60 or 70 snakes," said Childre.

The venom-milking demonstration is always a crowd-drawer.

During the earlier days when a lot of snakes were brought in, large quantities of rattlesnake meat was cooked and sold at the event.

"We no longer cook the meat from snakes captured for the Rodeo. Therefore, we don’t need nearly as many snakes. We do cook snake meat at the Rodeo, but we buy our snake meat from a USDA inspected producer now," Childre said.

The Opp snake hunters have abandoned the old method of blowing gas into a tortoise hole to make the snake come out. The new method employs a hose inserted into the hole to detect if a snake is present, but instead of using gas, a hook is attached to the end of the hose. The barb is mashed down or sniped off and the hook point is dulled. The snake is hooked just under the skin and pulled from the hole. The new system does no environmental damage to the land, tortoise or snake. Childre said they have never lost a snake from injury after they started using the hose and hook method.

Snakes captured at the event are often sold to medical facilities to use in the production of antivenin.

Fried rattlesnake is still a popular meal at the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo.

"We put on a venom-milking demonstration just to show how it is done, but to obtain venom to be used in manufacturing antivenin it must be done in a sterile laboratory," stated Childre.

The most likely place to encounter a rattlesnake is anywhere that attracts rodents, like feed rooms and debris piles. These areas in turn attract feeding rattlesnakes. But he also cautions they can be found anywhere. A rattlesnake was run over recently near Opp City Hall. Maybe that eastern diamondback had heard about just how entertaining the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo really is and was just trying to get there a few days early.

Ben Norman is a freelance writer from Highland Home.

Ag and Civic Leader, John A. Garrett Turns 100

John A. Garrett and his daughter, Mary John Byrd, enjoy a relaxing moment together.

Founding member of Quality Co-op one of his many accomplishments

By Kellie Henderson

Just days before his 100th birthday, John A. Garrett sat on his front porch in Snowdoun. White columns, white rockers and white swings paint a smile across the porch of the lovely red brick home designed by Garrett’s late wife Katherine. Dormers dotting the roof seem like caring, watchful eyes glazed with countless memories of rural living: cows grazing, neighbors passing by, two daughters growing up….

And in the center of that porch sits one white rocker taller than the others, a little more generously cushioned. It’s here where John A. sits on any pleasant afternoon, enjoying his daily ‘toddy time’ and waving warmly to anyone who drives by.

While he modestly said, "There’s not much else to do," make no mistake, John A. is not a man who idly sits watching the world change around him.

John A. Garrett when he was a student at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University.

"If you become involved in community activities, you’ll have more to do than you’ll know how to get around to," said Garrett who will celebrate his 100th birthday May 10, the date Governor Riley has declared John A. Garrett Day.

When asked about the biggest change in his life, Garrett lifted his cap revealing a head full of glistening white hair. He scratched his head, set his cap to rest again, and looked straight into the distance as he replied simply, "In a hundred years? That’s a big question."

Perhaps it’s a question best answered by looking at the changes he helped bring to the lives of others in the century he’s lived.

Born in Bay Minette, John A. was one of 10 children. His father served as sheriff of Baldwin County. John A. worked every afternoon after school to help with the family farm, feeding the cows and delivering milk into town. John A. still recalls a particular afternoon he was making deliveries. He had a dispute with a neighbor boy who remarked that John A. smelled like a cow.

"I whooped him, busted some milk over his head and told him he could smell like one, too," replied John A., his mouth creeping up at each corner in a mischievous grin.

John A. in 1975 when he was the District Governor of the Rotary Club.

After high school, John A. – he said the ‘A’ stands for ‘adorable’ – went to Auburn, then known as the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, where he earned his degree in civil engineering in 1936.

"I stayed homesick, mostly for those cows I guess. I traveled back and forth from Auburn to Bay Minette by train anytime I could and I hated to hear that train whistle blow when I didn’t have the money to go home," said John A., adding it took him a long time to get his degree because he worked to pay his way through college.

But during his time in Auburn, John A. eventually found a remedy for his homesickness in the tender smile of Katherine Stowers who became his wife the same year he graduated college.

"She got real sweet with me. Just couldn’t resist me," he said, leaning forward in his chair and peeking over the rim of his glasses for emphasis.

John A. smiled broadly as he talked about the woman he lovingly referred to as Girl. She passed away in 2001, just a few months shy of their 65th wedding anniversary.

Katherine was also a student in Auburn when she and John A. met. After they were married, the couple moved around while John A. worked in civil service. When Katherine’s father fell ill during the 1940s, she returned to Snowdoun to care for him. It was there in south Montgomery County Katherine and John A. settled to raise their daughters, Kitty Walter Dawson and Mary John Byrd. John A. also has three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

John A. and Katherine Garrett at their 50th wedding anniversary in front of their home in Snowdoun.

During the 1950s, John A. left his civil service job to work as the Director of Commodity Services for Alabama Farm Bureau. In the 1960s, he owned and operated a commercial and industrial construction business. But his love of the land came calling again during the Nixon and Ford administrations when he was asked to serve as Director of the Alabama Farmers Home Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the age of 68, John A. also founded the Alabama Rural Water Association, serving as the association’s executive director for 17 years before retiring in 1994 at age 85.

During the time John A. spent working other jobs, he never lost interest in farming for himself. In fact, he still maintains a herd of about 200 beef cattle on his Snowdoun farm. He also had one of the first dairy cattle operations in the area where the milk never was touched by human hands.

"I had about 250 dairy cattle, about 80 of them really produced. People used to come to see those dairy barns because they couldn’t believe cows would walk up steps," recalled John A.

In addition to his career, John A. has been instrumental in bettering the lives of Alabamians through philanthropy as well. He was one of three people who signed the original bank note to build Goodwill Industries of Central Alabama in Montgomery, a facility serving 18 counties. John A. was again one of three people who selected the site of Camp ASSCA in Jackson’s Gap. Another effort closer to his backyard has been his involvement with the Snowdoun Volunteer Fire Department, and John A. was a founding member of his local Quality Co-op, serving on the Montgomery County board for several years in the 1960s.

Alongside the photographs of farm and family lining the walls of his home are numerous awards John A. received for his service to farming and philanthropic organizations, tokens of appreciation for his years of dedication to improving the lives of others.

John A. was also a popular after-dinner speaker for more than 25 years, bringing his upbeat disposition and witticisms to crowds across the country.

"He would get so lively, Mama would tug on the bottom of his jacket to try to get him to finish talking or move along, but he’d just pause to look down at her and go right on talking," said Mary John.

Because he’s done so much, it’s easy to summarize his century of living as just a list of impressive accomplishments, but there’s no shortage of heart-warming personality to John A. either. He is a gentleman who says he doesn’t have a computer because he doesn’t need one ("I ain’t that big," he said) and loves Wal-Mart because he enjoys a little people-watching.

Today, John A. keeps himself busy as he continues to enjoy meeting with the Rotary Club, Farmers Federation, Cattlemen’s Association, Snowdoun Volunteer Fire Department and other community groups. He also enjoys going to check on his cattle, fishing and going out to lunch.

"The Lord made me where I love other people," he said.

And it’s a good thing, because the flow of visitors stopping by his front porch is proof that lots of people love him.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

Agri-AFC, LLC, Acquires Nine Agriliance Locations

Agri-AFC, LLC, recently announced the acquisition of nine retail locations of Agriliance from CHS, Inc. and Land O’Lakes, Inc., seven of which are in Georgia and two are in southern Mississippi.

The Georgia locations are in Waynesboro, Sasser, Hawkinsville, Rochelle, Arabi, Sylvester and Camilla. In Mississippi, the locations are in Hattiesburg and Magnolia.

Agri-AFC, LLC, was formed in 2003 as a joint venture between Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Inc. (AFC) and Agriliance, LLC. In 2007, Winfield Solutions, a Land O’Lakes company acquired Agriliance’s interest in Agri-AFC.

Agri-AFC provides crop input products to AFC member cooperatives through seven fertilizer terminals. In addition, Agri-AFC operates seven former Agriliance retail locations in south Alabama and southwest Georgia.

This acquisition will enhance Agri-AFC’s plan for sustained growth in the crop input business in Alabama, Georgia, the panhandle of Florida and southern Mississippi. These new locations will provide additional volumes of business to strengthen the market share of both AFC member Co-ops and Agri-AFC in Southeastern U.S. agricultural community. The Magnolia fertilizer bagging operation will join the two bagging operations of Agri-AFC to provide more consumer fertilizer products and the specialty fertilizers for the turf and ornamental markets.

Alabama Marine Police Celebrate Their 50th Anniversary

From twelve officers and ten boats in 1960 to a state-of-the-art enforcement agency now considered one of the best in the nation

By Ben Norman

Governor John Patterson signed legislative act 576 on November 19, 1959, creating Alabama’s Water Safety Division. But it wasn’t until January of 1960 that enough money from boater registration fees made it possible for the fledgling agency to take to the water to enforce the boating laws.

Marine Patrol officers are exceptionally well-trained today. They are well-versed in Alabama Law, defensive tactics, first aid, swimming, firearms and other subjects. Basically, a new officer is in some form of training for a full year. Courtesy of Alabama Marine Police

The Water Safety Division, as it was known then, hired ten officers, two supervisors and purchased ten boats. These ten officers were stretched thin, to say the least, as each officer was responsible for enforcing the law in eight to ten counties. In 1962, they also assumed the responsibility for marking hazardous areas with buoys. They began this program with only 100 homemade buoys. Today the 64 officers of the Marine Police oversee and maintain 1,640 buoys to protect Alabama boater from water hazards.

John T. Jenkins, Director, oversees the Marine Police today.

"I’m very proud to be a part of this agency as it celebrates 50 years of serving and protecting the citizens of Alabama. I am especially proud we are at the forefront of progressive boating laws across the country. We passed one of the most comprehensive boating safety regulations in the nation with the Boaters Safety Reform Act (Roberson-Archer Act) in 1994. We were the first state in the nation to require an operator’s license for a vessel, the first state to make boating education mandatory in the public school system and the first state to require an emergency cut off switch on a boat. We have an active boating program in Alabama. These laws and their enforcement have reduced the boating fatalities from 40 to 50 annually to 17 or 18 a year now," Jenkins said.

Personal flotation devices should be worn, not stowed. Courtesy of Alabama Marine Police

Major Bob Huffaker has been with the Alabama Marine Police for 38 years. The agency was only 12 years old when he went to work as a rookie water patrolman.

"In the early days we had trouble getting boating accidents reported. Today we investigate all collision-type accidents, fatalities and serious injuries. I’ve seen the Marine Police fluctuate from as low as 28 officers to its present strength of 64 officers. Also, in the early days, the boating laws were inadequate, especially the boating under the influence or BUI law. The early BUI laws were very vague and hard to enforce. Today it is much clearer and is basically the same as the vehicular laws as they pertain to drinking," Huffaker said.

The duties of an Alabama Marine Policeman can be quite varied. One of their primary duties is to patrol the 1.2 million surface-acres of water used by 670,000 licensed boaters in Alabama. Rescue, accident investigation, recovery, buoy placement and maintenance, and education are some other duties.

T-shirts are given to young boaters to help promote the wearing of life jackets and promote boat safety. Courtesy of Alabama Marine Police.

"Being the largest water-based agency, we are called on to help other agencies when a boat is needed. We help the Oil and Gas Board, FBI, Sheriff Departments and other agencies. Anytime there is a storm or other disaster, we are ready to help. In the last few years we have become involved in homeland security. We keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around bridges, railroad tressels, industries near rivers, nuclear plants or anything that could be a target," Huffaker said.

One thing Huffaker is particularly proud of is the amount of training an Alabama Marine Policeman receives now.

"When I went to work back in 1971, I was sent to Eufaula and got only five days training on how to operate a boat, trailer a boat, back and launch a boat. They went over the basic regulations and I went to work. Today, our training program is a vast improvement. Our officers are exceptionally well-trained today. They are well-versed in Alabama Law, defensive tactics, first aid, swimming, firearms and other subjects. A new officer goes through an eight-week recruit school, then a 12-week course with a field-training officer. They then go through the 480-hour police academy and work with other officers. Basically, a new officer is in some form of training for a full year," Huffaker explained.

Huffacker has also seen a big change in the boats the agency uses.

Sgt. John Bozeman teaches Crenshaw County students how to be safe boaters. Courtesy of Alabama Marine Police.

"The agency used fiberglass boats for many years, but they took such a pounding from so much use, we had to replace them about every three years. Today we use a modern, solidly-built aluminum boat that will last many years. Rather than having to replace the complete boat, we can just repower the unit and use it for many more years," Huffacker stated.

Sergeant John Bozeman has been patrolling Alabama’s water for 21 years. He has also seen a dramatic change in the attitude of boaters.

"Today’s boaters are more educated to the rules of the water and more concerned with safety. I believe the boating safety courses we teach have really had an impact. We still have violators, but if those who don’t obey the boating laws could help in a drowning recovery operation, they would see things in a different light. I’ve also seen a reduction in boating under the influence violations in the last couple of years. People just realize it is not only dangerous, but they can go to jail for it. The average boater I check is usually cooperative, but a Marine Policeman can’t get complacent," Bozeman said.

Boaters born before April 28, 1954, do not have to take a test or course, but they do have to have a V designation on their driver’s license. I fell under this ‘Grandfather Provision,’ but decided to take the course anyway. I’m glad I did and definitely recommend it to anyone who operates a boat. To find out about a boating course in your area, call 1-800-272-7930 or go to

Ben Norman is an outdoor writer from Highland Home.

Alabama Marine Police patrol all navigable waters in Alabama and are involved increasingly in helping Homeland Security. Courtesy of Alabama Marine Police.

As Fertilzer Costs Rise, So Does Interest in Cowpeas

By Dr. Don Ball

Southern peas, black-eyed peas and field peas are all names commonly used for a warm-season annual legume grown in the South for decades. Most Southerners, even many who live in urban areas, enjoy eating the immature seed (peas) produced by this garden vegetable. In fact, if you asked a number of people to make a list of classic Southern foods, many would include it on their list.

This plant can also be used as a forage crop, in which case it is almost always referred to as cowpeas. In the early part of the 20th century, cowpeas was fairly commonly used for forage, but in the past few decades it has been grown relatively little for this purpose, other than being fairly commonly planted in warm-season deer plots. However, interest in cowpeas, as well as other forage legumes, has increased among livestock producers in recent years due to the fact nitrogen fertilizer costs have risen.

Cowpeas exhibits a number of attributes as a forage crop. It is suited to be grown on well-drained soils throughout Alabama and other Southern states, and is relatively easy to grow. The recommended soil pH range is 5.8 to around 7.0, but it is a bit more tolerant of soil acidity than most legumes. It responds to fertilizer, but does not require high levels of nutrients to be productive. However, there are a number of insects and diseases that can attack cowpeas that sometimes can be a major limiting production factor.

In some situations, cowpeas can make a significant contribution to a summer forage program. Dry matter yields are variable; while they are typically in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 pounds per acre, they can be substantially higher. Forage quality of cowpeas is good, with crude protein levels often being 20 percent or more.

Despite its viney growth habit, cowpeas is sometimes planted with corn or sorghum and harvested for hay or silage, but it is more commonly used as a grazing crop. Good interception of sunlight requires a good amount of leaf tissue being present. Thus, good grazing management must be exercised to prevent overgrazing, especially when the plants are young. When animals are rotated off of cowpeas while there is still a good amount of leaf tissue present, there is normally good re-growth. In some areas, a high deer population may result in overgrazing despite good livestock grazing management. Gains of yearling beef animals grazing cowpeas may be near two pounds per day.

There are many varieties of this plant, especially if one includes all of the varieties commonly used in gardens. There are also some varieties developed especially for wildlife purposes. ‘Iron and clay’ is an old variety probably most commonly planted for forage purposes.

Cowpea seed is typically planted in Alabama in late April or May at a depth of one to one and a half inches. When drilled, around 50 pounds per acre are typically used. When broadcast and disked into a prepared seedbed, use of at least 80 pounds of seed per acre is advisable. Cowpea seed, which should be inoculated just before planting, is in short supply in some years or locations. Several herbicides are labeled for weed control in cowpeas.

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

Cattle Thieves hit Russell, Pike Co., Caught in Georgia

Benny Pinckard was glad to have his bulls back home after they had been stolen. The Pinckards consider them more pets than livestock.

Producers Grateful for Quick Law Enforcement Action and Returned Stock

By Kellie Henderson

Efforts among state and local authorities in Alabama and Georgia have led to the arrests of two men accused of stealing cattle in Russell and Pike Counties in Alabama.

On March 25, 2009, Pike County residents Kellie Bowen and Lenny Parker were apprehended in Marion County, Georgia, as the two were attempting to reach stockyards in Americus to sell cattle stolen from Russell County.

Clean Day Waste Pesticide Collection is May 14, 2009

Commissioner Ron Sparks announced a Clean Day Waste Pesticide Collection for Autauga, Bullock, Coosa, Elmore, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery and Tallapoosa Counties.

The Clean Day Waste Pesticide Collection Program is sponsored by Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries along with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

"The Clean Day Waste Pesticide Collection Program helps farmers, small businesses, households and other pesticide users to properly dispose of unwanted and unusable pesticides," Sparks said.

Unusable and unwanted pesticides must be disposed of according to label instructions. It is illegal to bury, burn or dump a pesticide. State sponsored waste pesticide collections provide a means to remove these wastes and help pesticide users comply with the law while ensuring the safety of the environment.

In order to participate in the program, pre-registration is required with your local county agent.

For more information, contact Kathy Smith at (334) 240-7242 or (800) 642-7761 ext. 7242 or Gail Ellis at (334) 850-9340.

Competition and Open Horse Show Return to Franklin Co.

Dale ‘Snap’ Lively and Sierra, his Paint mare, relax before competition begins.

New Arena Opens at Union Community Saddle Club with April Equine Events

By Don Linker

Saturday, April 4, 2009, marked the day horse shows came back to Franklin County after years of none being held there. An arena once stood on the ground where Union Community Saddle Club Arena now stands. The old arena stood for years and was the focal point for horse shows in an area where horses are still very prominent. Horse lovers met at the arena to show off their horses and to establish bragging rights. Over time, with work schedules changing, different leisure activities evolved with the faster-paced lifestyle and interest in horses dwindled as leisure time became crowded with other activities. The old arena finally gave way to progress and succumbed to time and the elements.

The idea to promote the building of a new arena on the same Community Center ground began with Buddy and Cindy Doughit, and was promoted vigorously by them. Meetings were held and plans were made to build an arena that could be used once again as a gathering place for the community and horse lovers. The arena exists to promote equine activities, get young people involved, provide equine education and, of course, to entertain.

The Union Community Saddle Club Arena’s sign was made and donated by club members Robert and Donna Batten, Phil Campbell.

The support of the community has been phenomenal with monetary help, materials and labor. The club would like to express its appreciation to all who helped, including the Franklin County Commissioners, probate judge, Senator Rodger Bedford, Franklin County Co-op (Karen Linker, manager), Northwest Alabama Stockyards (Jim Martin, manager), area political leaders of the people who bring their animals for the pony and wagon rides, Linden Miller, Johnny Smith, Ralton Baker and family, Joseph Baldwin, Tommy Hallman and all the bands who have used their time and talents to help raise funds to make this project possible. Special thanks goes to the determined club members, some of whom do not own horses, for all the work and effort they put in to the success of this undertaking. Funds are now being sought to build an announcer stand and concession stand with bathrooms. Fundraisers are planned which include horse shows and trail rides.

The show season kicked off on with an Extreme Trail Horse Competition at 10 a.m. and an Open Horse Show at 5 p.m. Contestants were plentiful and came from as far away as Tupelo, Miss., and Ardmore. The club will have more competitions and shows on May 30, June 27, July 18 and August 8.

For information on horse shows or the trail competitions, contact Don Linker, (256) 221-7194; Teresa Casas, (256) 460-1242; Ron Alexander, (205) 269-5730 or Jeremy Glenn, (205) 272-0033.

Remember your local Quality Co-op has all your equine and livestock needs including feed, animal health supplies, tack and answers to your questions. They support equine activities in your area, and appreciate and strive to earn your business.

Don Linker is an outside salesman for AFC.

Conservation Projects Promote Family Bonding on Mentone Farm

(From left) Don Morgan and his partner-son, Coley, explain how the Mira-Mount cattle watering trough they installed works to James Huber, technician, DeKalb County SWCD. The Morgans completed several conservation practices under the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) last year.

By Cecil Gant

Conservation projects and farming in general have been a way of life for Don Morgan, his wife, Edna, and their son, Coley, on their farm in Mentone.

"Coley, now 30, is my right hand man on the farm, and he’s also my best friend," Don said.

Coley and his father developed an unusual father-son camaraderie after Coley suffered a devastating malignancy on his brain.

Don related, "When Coley was five, quite accidentally, we discovered he had medulloblastoma, a brain cancer from which not many people recover. Fortunately, because we pursued treatment from a really professional surgeon in Boston, Mass. Coley became a survival exception."

Coley is now a "live personality" who engages in his daily routine with enthusiasm and miraculous intelligence. Don said Coley has a computer for a brain which enables him to recall information sometimes faster than he could.

Coley partners with his dad and his mother in doing farming operations, like baling hay.

"Coley loves to see those gigantic round bales of hay go tumbling across the field," Don noted.

Don and his protégé work hard to protect and preserve the natural resources on the farm. To help maintain water integrity, they installed fencing to prevent cattle from accessing farm ponds and built gravel pads on which automatic waterers have been installed.

"These waterers require no power source, they don’t freeze in winter and they’re highly durable," Don said.

Following a conservation plan and using practice payments from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and technical assistance from the DeKalb Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the Morgans are realizing their efforts to preserve and protect soil and water. Through the EQIP program, the Morgans have installed 3,000 feet of fencing. This puts them well on their way to setting up a rotational grazing system for their polled Hereford purebred cattle.

Don applauds the guidance and technical assistance made available to his family by James Huber who works with the DeKalb County SWCD.

"Mr. Huber has helped us with what we needed to do in a very professional, non-intimidating way," Don said.

"The Morgans are committed to applying soil and water conservation practices on their farm that provides long-term returns. We are honored to help them in their efforts," said Huber.

The Morgan family has grown Herefords for 30 years. The current herd includes 50 brood cows and five bulls. Their operation includes 200 acres, which they own, and an additional 80 acres, which they lease.

Conservation work planned for the near future includes fencing and cross-fencing another section of the farm and installing another automatic waterer with which they have had such success.

"We’re waiting on a city water line to come by the farm which will allow us a good source of water to launch this effort," Don noted.

Don was a pharmacist for 42 years before he retired to the farm. He owned and operated a drug store in the middle of Valley Head. He remarked about the demise of small town life and infrastructure. He said one of his saddest memories was watching through his store window as the train depot beside the railroad running through the center of town was demolished.

Farming does not take up all of the Morgans’ time. Don said although the family works hard on the farm, particularly in the summers, they don’t allow the work to get in the way of their fun. He and Coley do a lot of fishing. The three of them are die-hard Auburn fans and frequent the "Loveliest Village on the Plains" quite often.

Cecil Gant is a Coordinator with the Sand Mountain/Lake Guntersville Watershed Conservation District in Rainsville. You can contact Cecil at 256-638-6398 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Cow Pokes

Cullman’s Festhalle Market Platz Designed to Benefit State’s “No. 1 Agriculture Community”

Festhalle Market Platz Manager Jimmy Simms.

By Suzy Lowry Geno

When Cullman city leaders decided to build a farmer’s market in 2006, they wanted to build something befitting the city and county’s reputation as the Number One Agriculture Community in Alabama.

According to Manager Jimmy Simms, they could have built a simple pole-frame building, but "their vision went beyond that."

"You only have to see Cullman’s Festhalle Market Platz to get that ‘Oh My!’ feeling," Simms explained.

And the large structure does often make first time visitors take a deep breath!

The timber wrights who built the magnificent structure believe it is the largest timber frame building in Alabama, with the open span market measuring 152 feet by 42 feet and standing three stories tall at 28 feet from the floor to the ridge of the simulated European clay-style metal roof.

And city leaders wanted to make certain the farmers had ample customers who would flock to the Market because of ease of parking and easy accessibility.

Crowds enjoying Cullman’s Festhalle Market Platz last season.

So they choose to locate Festhalle within close walking distance of the downtown business district (it is surrounded by eclectic shops in addition to the usual downtown commerce) as well as the Cullman County Museum, L&N Railroad Depot and the Depot Park.

"The Market was designed to provide area farmers a venue for marketing their fresh, home-grown produce, while at the same time providing a multi-purpose pavilion for an assortment of events ranging from community concerts to the annual Octoberfest celebration," Simms explained.

The Market features 32 vendor spaces, with spaces renting for $10 a day or for the entire 24 week season for $350. By the first week in April, already 22 spots had been rented for the entire season! (The building can also be rented for a nominal fee by other organizations when it’s not in use as the Farmer’s Market.)

But where did the Market get its unusual name?

Sampling the food available is always a fun part of shopping at Cullman’s Festhalle Market Platz.

Simms explained more than 220 names were submitted during a "name the market" contest in early 2007.

Simms said, "The mayor and council chose to go with a name symbolic of Cullman’s rich German heritage. Festhalle, in Germany, refers to a pavilion where festivals and other community events are held. Market was added for obvious reasons, since the primary function of the Festhalle Market Platz is to provide a venue for Cullman County farmers to sell their fresh, home-grown produce. Platz, again, is German for ‘gathering place.’"

Currently, the Market is open on Thursdays where local farmers can sell bedding plants they grow.

The official opening of this year’s market season will begin with everyone invited to "Paint the Town Red" during the Strawberry Days May 15-16 from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

A press release noted that weekend features "in addition to delicious Cullman County strawberries and some of the finest home-grown produce found anywhere in North Alabama, other activities include a 5K Strawberry Run beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday; a classic car show, tractor show and crafts." (Visit www.cullman

There will also be a Strawberry Cook-Off sponsored by the Cullman County Farm-City Committee with adults and youth divisions (for more information check out

The timber wrights who built the Festhalle Market Platz believe it is the largest timber frame structure in Alabama. The open-span market measures 152 feet by 42 feet and stands three stories tall at 28 feet from floor to ridge of the simulated European clay-style metal roof.

Other events include a free guided-walking tour of churches, sponsored by the Cullman County Museum, and an art show, pet parade, wagon rides, children’s games, pony rides, food vendors, giveaways for the kids and live entertainment.

Friday, May 15th, will be Senior Day and the Commission on Aging is asking participants at its senior centers throughout the county to have their weekly Congregational Singing and other activities at the Market. There will be fun activities like a cake walk in addition to all the fresh produce that will be available.

Downtown merchants will also be "painting the town red" with sales and specials including in-store prizes and drawings.

Regular Market times will then begin with Festhalle open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m. Festhalle is easily accessible at the corner of First Avenue and Arnold Street Northeast just off Highway 31.

"The Market features several other special events throughout the season including cooking demonstrations featuring local chefs, a Tomato Week in July, Watermelon Testing Day in late July or early August, period demonstrations like blacksmithing, candlemaking, canning, flower-arranging, beekeeping, master gardener clinics and musical entertainment featuring everything from "line dancers to shade tree ‘pickers,’" Simms explained.

But the farmers and their home-grown produce are by far the stars of the Market.

Simms continued, "We’ve had everything from beans to Brussels sprouts, fried pies to sunflowers. Festhalle Market provides anything and everything found in traditional home gardens and then some, including exotic varieties of cucumbers, all assortments of pepper from sweet to five-alarm-hot, heirloom tomatoes in shades from yellow to purple, all varieties of herbs and we’ve even had a sweet potato in the shape of a duck!"

Simms was born in Tennessee and was the grandson of a sharecropper. He grew up on the farm and became the first member of his family to graduate college.

Folks may remember Simms as working with "everything from a community shopper to serving as editor of the Cullman Times" during his 31 years utilizing his degree in journalism.

He was in his 23rd year with the Cullman Times in December 2006 when the City of Cullman asked him to come to work as an administrative assistant whose main responsibility would be management of the city’s new farmer’s market.

"It wasn’t a hard decision to make. I accepted the job and it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I truly love working with the farmers and the folks in this community, which adopted me and my family many years ago," he said.

Simms noted community support for the Market has been "overwhelming as has the generous contributions of local service and civic organizations like the Cullman Kiwanis Club, Cullman Lions Club, Rotary, Farmers Federation and others."

Simms concluded, speaking on behalf of himself, the city and the local farmers, "We thank everybody for ‘Buying Fresh, Buying Local.’ Thank you for your support of the Market the past two years and we’re looking forward to another successful market season in 2009."

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.

Do you see what I see?

Choosing the proper optics for the job will assure you learn everything possible. If you spot a trophy like this at a distance, crystal-clear viewing of your subject is essential to learn the subtle details to put you close enough for a shot.

The truth about optics

By Todd Amenrud

The buck made his way down the edge of the food plot. One glance at his antlers and I knew exactly which buck this was. I had spent hours glassing, and all that time behind the spotting scope was about to pay off. He was with two other bucks and he was the last in line as they fed down the edge of my food plot. I let the first buck pass through my shooting lane. As soon as the second buck made it through I came to full draw and waited…antlers… head…shoulder, release. I drove a Hoyt-propelled Rocky Mountain Titanium through both lungs and the buck toppled over after a 35-yard dash.

All of the information necessary for making an ambush on this buck was gathered by glassing from a distance. There are many things to contemplate when deciding on the proper optics for a certain task. Weight, size, magnification, angle of view, light-gathering and light-transmission can all be important traits. How, when and where you plan on using your optics are all critical factors. If you are thinking about buying optics for this season, you need to read this.

The most reliable scouting information we can have is an “actual buck sighting.” It’s a proven way of learning everything necessary to set up on a buck whether it’s August or January.

Many want one binocular that will do everything. For me, I use three pieces fairly often – one, a spotting scope; two, a high power, full-size porro prism binocular; and three, a small compact binocular. You could also add a range finder and night-vision to the list.

Some compact binoculars are great for viewing in bright daylight, but during dawn or dusk they may not transmit enough light back to your pupil for suitable viewing. The objective lens size means a lot in how much light enters the binocular, but there are many other important components and features determining how much light actually reaches your eye.

With a 7x35 binocular, the "7" indicates the power. The image you view will be seven times larger than the human eye will see without the binocular. The "35" signifies the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. All other details being equal, a 35mm lens will "seize" less light than a 50mm lens. Some binoculars will also have a third number, like 8.6, which will be the real angle of view.

To determine your "field of view," you would multiply 8.6 by 52.4. 52.4 is the linear measurement in feet that one degree represents at a thousand yards. The field of view of this binocular would be 450.6 feet at one thousand yards or 45 feet at one hundred yards.

All the information necessary to make a setup on this buck was learned through glassing from a distance. The 7x5 scores 165 2/8.

"Exit pupil" describes the image projected to a point in space beyond the eye piece where your eye should be positioned. The relationship between the dilation or contraction of your eyes and the size of the exit pupil determines light-gathering power. A human eye pupil diameter ranges from about 2mm in bright light to about 7mm in the dark. For proper light-gathering potential, the diameter of the exit pupil must be equal to or greater than the diameter of your eye pupil during various light levels. To determine the exit pupil diameter, divide the objective lens size by the power rating. For our example of 7x35, we would divide 35mm by 7 which gives us an exit pupil size of 5mm. This binocular should give you a good exit pupil for viewing in very low-light situations, basically anything short of total darkness.

As I stated before, many other details other than the power and objective lens will ultimately determine how much light makes it through to your eye. Internal blackening, lens coatings and prism quality will also have an affect. Some manufacturers may not blacken the components inside the lens barrel. The result will be reduced image quality and annoying glare.

Lens coatings also make a big difference. All optical glass both absorbs and reflects light. The loss of light, or reflected light, affects brightness dramatically. Light transmission can be as low as 50 percent with no coating or poor coating, to as high as 95 percent with high-quality, expertly-applied multi-coating. Five percent of light absorption cannot be corrected for.

One of the most, if not the most, important components of any optical instrument is the glass. The companies manufacturing their own glass seem to shine above the rest of the industry when it comes to quality. Nikon, Ziess and Swarovski all manufacture their own glass. Using glass that is inferior quality may cause eye strain, distortion or poor light transmission.

In binoculars, you may also want to consider the difference between roof prism and porro prism. The purpose of the prisms is to correct the images you would otherwise see inverted and reversed. Roof prism binoculars are sleeker because of the straight prism tube; however, they are typically more expensive to manufacture because of the special grinding and polishing required to maintain image integrity. Porro prism binoculars are usually a little bulkier but provide increased depth-of-field for a more three-dimensional image.

Size and weight can also be important. For sitting in a treestand, I prefer a small, lightweight compact binocular. Most compact binoculars are of the roof prism design. My choice is a Nikon Travelite V, a porro prism binocular. Again, a porro prism gives you greater depth of field. If a buck is walking through thick brush it seems a porro prism "pulls" the buck out better than a roof prism design. They also have aspherical lenses which allow you to view a crystal-clear image from side to side.

If I’m on a stake-out somewhere, or on ATV or horseback, then I like to carry a Nikon 10x50 Action Extreme ATB. The large objective lenses on these binos give me superior light-gathering and resolution under any conditions. They are also waterproof, fog-proof and shockproof.

If I really need to reach out there and "count the hairs on their chin," then I use a 15-45x60 zoom spotting scope. You will not be able to "hand hold" a spotting scope because of the magnification, so I have both a window mount for use in my vehicle or a small tripod if I need to be mobile. Glassing from a distance is an important scouting tactic throughout the year for almost all game species.

One piece that is very valuable when "the moment of truth" comes near is a rangefinder. I like a Nikon Archer’s Choice Laser Range-finder. They also have a new RifleHunter 550 and Monarch Gold Laser 1200; these are the "Cadillacs" of rangefinders. However, being an archer, the Archer’s Choice is all I need and it’s a little more compact then its big brothers. Features I look for are fast display acquisition, true readings on moving targets and being able to read through clutter like grass or brush. All of these models are faultless on these features.

Whether you’re observing birds or wildlife, hiking through the mountains, watching sporting events or a plethora of other applications, different circumstances call for different optic requirements. The best environment for making comparisons is to pick out a very detailed subject in very low light. Never look through the store window where you purchase your optics. Think about what you’re going to do with your optics and pick the pair that best suits your needs.

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

Donny Young Gives a Horse Free Rein

Horse lover Donny Young with his top-placing stallion, Gunalena Chex.

His Gunalena Chex Among
Top Reining Competitors

By Susie Sims

Donny Young knows horses. You can tell that by looking at him. He has trained horses for more than 35 years and he’s more excited now than he’s ever been.

Young and his horse, Gunalena Chex, are turning heads in the horse world. Gunalena Chex, age 8, is ranked among the top horses in the National Reining Horse Association.

Until a recent back injury, Young, 52, had been showing Gunalena Chex in reining competitions around the country. Now friend Rob Huddleston has taken the reins on what is shaping up to be a championship year.

"We’re going to try to win the intermediate open," said Young. "My horse is good enough for the open, but I’m not qualified."

Young said the competition is as much between the riders as it is the horses. Some of the riders are professionals and have been showing horses for years. Compared to them, Young is a recent convert to the sport.

Lauderdale County native Donny Young hopes to have this foal ready for reining competition in three years.

"I’ve been doing reining about seven years," said Young. "I love it."

Huddleston now has the horse at his home in Mississippi and is continuing its training.

Young explained the wet weather in North Alabama forced him to move the horse to drier facilities.

Reining is starting to catch on the Southeast. Like many horse-related sports, it is just now getting attention from Southerners.

Events are popping up all over the South, along with new local associations to help the sport grow and develop.

Young said it takes a special kind of horse to compete in the reining events.

"The disposition on these type horses is so great," said Young. "They are just not aggressive. They love people. They are easy to train. They are the easiest to train I’ve ever been around and I’ve been training since I was 15."

Young has put many hours into studying horse breeds and personalities. What he learned was not all pedigrees are created equal.

"I looked for years to find a stallion. I wanted to find a certain breed of horse," said Young. "But when I found that horse, he didn’t have what I was looking for.

This young foal tries to get the attention owner Donny Young.

"The gentle eye is very important. You look for the one that wants to be your buddy, wants to do what you ask him to do."

The Competition

Young said there are three things you must be to compete in reining events: a horseman, a trainer and a showman.

He’s got the first two down pat and is working on the third. Showmanship is where a lot of competitors win or lose events. A few points in an event can mean the difference between winning and barely placing.

Reining events consist of several maneuvers, like spins, fast and slow circles, lead changes and sliding stops.

Young said loose reins are key. Much of the work is done with hardly noticeable leg motions.

"These horses are very athletic—the work is hard on their legs," said Young. "But you can tell they love it."

Showing is not an easy life. Competitors have to sacrifice their off-time from their jobs to participate. Young spends many hours on the road just to get to events.

"I try to stay within eight or nine hours of home when traveling to shows," said Young. "I leave on Friday and drive to a show, then show on Saturday and Sunday, and drive back late on Sunday so I can be at work on Monday."

Young, who is a native of Central Heights in Lauderdale County, travels to about 24 shows each year.

The Life

Besides life on the competition circuit and a regular job in the construction industry, Young spends all of his spare time with horses. He and wife Mary both love horses.

"We train and sell horses," said Young. "I like to train my horses. I know they’ve got a good foundation and a good start. I do train other people’s horses, too."

Young said it takes 18 to 24 months to get a horse trained to show.

At the heart of his love for horses is Young’s desire to teach. Even though training horses is his focus, Young is always willing to give advice to young or new riders. He occasionally has an apprentice work with him to learn training techniques.

The Youngs’ farm also offers breeding services.

Young said without Mary’s help he couldn’t show horses. She usually stays behind to feed the animals and take care of the place.

In return, he supports her in her career as a bluegrass and gospel recording artist. The Youngs have been married for almost 10 years.

The Future

Gunalena Chex’s first offspring has started competing and is doing well.

Young has a new foal that will be ready for competition in about three years. The foal has "the desire," said Young.

Contact Information

Persons interested in contacting the Youngs may call them at (256) 767-0884 or (256) 740-1768. Their e-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">


Father-Son Duo Open Goat, Lamb and Deer Processing Plant

Daniel (left) and Wade Hussey in front of their sign for D&W Processing in Wicksburg.

State-of-the-Art Operation is Focused on a Growing New Market

By Jaine Treadwell

Some folks might think Daniel Hussey and his son, Wade, have gone out on a limb with the lamb. However, the Husseys think they are on to something.

The father-son duo are in the process of opening a goat and sheep processing plant in Wicksburg in South Alabama. Already the D&W Processing —- Goats, Sheep, Deer sign has motorists slowing down and doing a double-take.

"Yeah, it’s kind of new in this area but we think there’s a growing market for both goat and sheep meat," Dan said. "There’s already a pretty good market for goat around here. Lamb is popular in some of the bigger cities and some of the more upscale restaurants. We believe that we’re making a good investment in the goat and sheep processing plant. Of course, we’ll process deer, too, and deer meat is popular all around this area. It’s a good red meat and healthy, too."

Daniel Hussey showed one of the processing rooms during a tour at D&W Processing’s Open House.

But it was not an interest in deer processing that brought close to 100 producers to Wicksburg on March 23, 2009. Those who came were goat and sheep producers, and they came to find out more about a ready market for their animals.

D&W Processing hosted an open house at their processing plant to give producers an opportunity to tour the plant and see first-hand the state-of-the-art facility available to them once the Husseys get the USDA stamp of approval.

"This was not a grand opening," Dan said. "We’ll have that when we get the stamp. What we wanted to do at the meeting was get information out to producers of goats and sheep, and those who are interested in getting into the business. We wanted to let them know what our plans are and how having a processing plant in our area can benefit them."

After a supper of goat and deer meat, and all the trimmings, the producers settled down to hear a parade of speakers who lauded the merits of goat and sheep meat.

Visitors to D&W Processing’s Open House were fed a supper of goat and deer meat with all the trimmings.

Among the speakers was Wade Hussey who explained to the producers D&W will purchase market lambs and goats live-weight by the pound.

"We’ll work closely with the producers to make sure this is a win-win situation for all of us," Wade said. "We are interested in buying top-quality animals because we want the meat shipped out of D&W Processing to be the best you can get."

Wade told the producers a quality animal means it has good muscle. A sheep has more muscle than a goat, therefore it has a better turnout.

"A 100-pound sheep will turn out about 50 percent hanging on the rail," he said. "A 100-pound goat will hang at about 35 to 37 percent."

Wade was not suggesting producers favor sheep over goats. He was just explaining the difference in the percentage of turnout.

"Right now, there’s a better market around here for goats," Dan said. "But some local markets are showing interest in lamb and so are some of the restaurants. We’ve got to first get state approval for our processing plant and then, we’ll work to get federally approved. Then we can cross state lines with our meat and that will open up markets in places like Atlanta and all around Florida. And, of course, other places, too."

The main benefit of locally-grown lamb and goat is that it will go to the market fresh, not frozen.

"Meats brought in from places like New Zealand have been frozen for no telling how long," Dan Hussey said. "The meat we process will be fresh and fresh meat is a better quality meat and has a much better taste. There’s a lot to be said about fresh goat and lamb."

A strong organization of goat and sheep producers is essential to the success of any processing plant and the Husseys want to make sure local producers have that opportunity.

"At first, we thought the best way to organize would be as a co-operative but, after looking at it from all angles, it seems an association will be better for us," Dan said. "There’s a lot of difference in the amount of paperwork necessary and an association allows us to buy from members of the association and for the members to have the first chance to sell to us. When our processing plant receives an order, we can send out an e-mail to the members of the association saying how many animals we need. If members of the association can’t supply the number we need, only then would we go outside of the association to buy."

D&W Processing is awaiting the green light from the state and, when it gets the go-ahead, they will begin the custom slaughtering of lambs "right off the bat."

"We’re ready to go and we are looking forward to getting into a business that will be beneficial to goat and sheep producers in our area, and also an encouragement to others to consider becoming producers," Dan said.

"The market will grow because goat meat is already in demand and lamb will be a meat of the future. Right now, it’s more popular in the northern section of the country and in up-scale restaurants but as more of it is produced, it will be more readily available and at more affordable prices.

"We’re just proud to be in on the ground floor of lamb and goat processing in South Alabama."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

During D&W Processing’s Open House, there was a parade of speakers who lauded the merits of goat and sheep meat.

Feeding Facts

By Jimmy Hughes

As deer hunting season winds down each January, hunters and hunting preserve owners alike turn their attention to thoughts of next year’s hunting season. This time of the year, I receive numerous requests for assistance in formulating deer feeds for supplemental nutrition to the deer herd. The most common question is How do you get a bigger buck?" While a record buck cannot be guaranteed, there are things you can do to increase the chance of developing such a deer. Big antlers are generated from a three-prong process including age, genetics and nutrition. A program including all three will increase the possibility of a big bucks being seen next fall.

A whitetail buck will see an increased pattern of antler-development increasing in size up to his sixth or seventh year. The only way you can influence antler-development based on age is to pass up younger bucks. This means the possibility of seeing bucks with large racks will start occurring around four to five years of age, rarely sooner. I would encourage you to study the development of deer so you can accurately estimate the age of bucks you see. By passing on the younger bucks, this should lead to bigger bucks down the road.

Genetics also play a role in deer antler development. Just like people, genetics play a huge role in antler development. Some bucks are destined to be huge, most will just be average. Again, unless you can affect the genetics of your deer through the introduction of stronger specimens, there is very little you can do to affect the gene pool in the area you hunt.

While there is little you can do to affect age and even less to improve genetics, nutrition is one thing you can have a dramatic influence over. The goal behind providing supplemental feed is an effort to improve the overall nutritional plane. It should not be used as a bait to bring the deer closer during the hunting season. It has been proven through research, with proper nutrition, you can grow larger bucks at a much younger age than those just consuming natural forages. Proper nutrition will also play a role in reproductive success, stress resistance and behavior.

Antler development is based upon two primary nutrient components: high quality protein and a complete mineral supplementation during the antler-growth cycle, which is the time between the shedding of last year’s rack until the buck rubs off his velvet. Once he rubs, the nutrition flowing to the horns stops causing growth to stop as well.

In order to have the greatest impact on growth, you must keep an abundant source of at least 18 percent protein available through this time period. Most naturally occurring forages will contain around 14 percent protein in early spring and drops as the forage matures.

As you can see, deer must receive a high protein supplement to reach the goal of an 18 percent diet. You can do this through the use of pelleted feeds, food plots and nutrition blocks. While corn is a popular choice for a lot of hunters, corn is inadequate in protein to meet the nutritional needs of male deer for maximum antler growth.

The second part of the equation is mineral supplementation. The antlers of deer are composed mainly of minerals; therefore, it is essential to provide a complete supplement to the herd in your area. The proper balance of minerals and vitamins during the growth period will work with protein to reach the genetic potential in your bucks.

It is also important to remember minerals and vitamins can interact with each other causing them to be unavailable to the deer. It is important to know the forage in your area and to work with nutritionist or deer biologist to select the very best supplement. I would also encourage you to avoid special blends and mixes heavy on a certain mineral important in antler development. By doing this, the deer may have a mineral interaction with serious side effects. Mineral supplements are very easy to provide by either pouring a bag of granular mineral on the ground or a stump, or providing a highly-palatable mineral supplement block.

Another point to remember is: if the deer will not eat the supplement, the supplement cannot benefit the deer. Select a feed that is highly-palatable, free of insects and fresh. Your local Quality Co-op carries a line of deer feed and minerals along with supplement blocks that are highly-fortified as well as palatable.

Also remember shelled corn and salt do not make a fortified nutrition program. While corn will provide large amounts of energy, it is deficient of protein and will add very little to antler growth. Salt is, as the name implies, "salt." It does not include the additional minerals and vitamins needed for deer to meet their genetic potential. This also includes trace mineral salt containing 97 percent salt.

In conclusion, nutrition is a science and it takes a lot of planning and research to develop a nutrition program to lead to larger bucks. It is also important for age, genetics and nutrition to work together in producing large bucks. I would suggest working with a nutritionist in creating a complete nutritional program to allow the deer in your area to meet their genetic potential at the youngest age possible. Remember, if your program consists of corn and salt, you are more likely baiting instead of supplementing your deer and the chance of that large buck is greatly reduced.

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

Financial Lessons for a Lifetime

Through the 4-H “$15 Challenge,” this young man from Pickens County has learned it doesn’t cost much to put together a stylish and comfortable wardrobe.

By Amy Payne Burgess

The Great Depression had a powerful impact on the economic habits of America’s "Greatest Generation," the men and women who came of age during World War II. Although we pray our current economic downturn will be a mere shadow of events of the 1930s, it is still having a dramatic effect on Alabama families. College and retirement savings have been severely diminished, job security has been challenged and many of our basic financial assumptions have been overturned.

4-H and Cooperative Extension have strong roots in the Great Depression. During the era of the family farm, we helped put food on Alabama’s tables by teaching the science-based approach to food production and preservation. For those of us who appreciate historic 4-H, it is clearly time to dust off those old gardening skills. Home-grown okra and heirloom tomatoes can be foundations for tasty, nutritious and economical meals. And rabbit, farm-raised fish and goat are finding places alongside traditional meats on Alabama menus. As my colleague Luci Davis has pointed out, 4-H and the Junior Master Gardener can be great resources in helping young people develop these resources.

During these tough times, 4-H and Extension can offer important support to Alabama families and youth. Your county Cooperative Extension Office has a variety of information on financial management. Many counties offer workshops directed toward family finances. 4-H has excellent educational programs on personal finance and being a savvy consumer. And one of the coolest new 4-H events is called "The $15 Challenge," in which young people hit garage sales and thrift stores in an effort to put together a stylish outfit on a shoestring budget.

Remember 4-H is itself one of the best bargains around. Membership is open to all Alabama youth in kindergarten through 12th grades. Membership is free, and all events and activities are either free or extremely inexpensive. For example, 4-H Summer Camp ( costs less than a trendy pair of athletic shoes and provides an experience kids will remember all of their lives.

Many Alabama young people learn about finances through their 4-H animal science projects.

There are, of course, important things parents and families can do to turn these tough times into lifetime economic lessons. Young people naturally tend to be fearful during times of stress or change. If the family is facing some rough spots, parents should make an extra effort to keep their kids informed. Involve them in budgeting, saving and reducing expenses. Just as important, every family can use this as a time to evaluate and discuss family values regarding materialism, helping others and deciding what is most important in your family’s lives.

Adults should serve as good examples of thriftiness and good planning. Even in flush times, it’s important to:

- Spend less than you earn.
- Avoid excess debt.
- Improve your credit worthiness.
- Plan for tomorrow while keeping pace with day-to-day needs.
- Save and invest regularly.
- Protect your financial identity.

Ages and Stages of Financial Education

4-H Summer Camp is a great bargain for Alabama families. The $85 fee includes housing, meals and fun-filled activities.

In 4-H, we are real sticklers for "age appropriateness," making sure kids learn at a level they can understand and appreciate. That holds true for financial education.

During the ages of two to four, children are absorbing information like "little sponges." You should let them see you shop, and maybe have them hand the clerk the money for small purchases. Have a piggy bank, and make a big deal about their saving for some future purchase. Let them start learning to recognize the value of coins and cash, like counting out pennies for example. They love to play store, so have pretend games where you and they buy and sell things.

From five to seven, children are ready to deal with small amounts of money and they begin to get the concept of credit. Around school age, kids should handle money on a regular basis so they get comfortable with cash. It may be time to start a small allowance with rules on what the child needs to pay for and how he or she might save. At this age, they begin to understand shopping for value, comparing the prices on toys or food. They also need to become familiar with credit cards, ATMs, on-line purchases and the relationship to bills and banks.

At eight to ten, children become increasingly interested in where money comes from, where it goes—and how to save it. Help them begin to see how their family earns money and start to introduce the notion of them taking on tasks for income. Let them get a sense of the family’s general expenses and income. This will provide an opportunity to start considering the difference between wants and needs. They can open their own bank or credit union account to start savings. Talk with them about how and why you (and they) can support the food bank or other worthy organizations in your community.

Pre-teens face pressure to follow fads. Offer them increasing independence in making financial decisions, but you should continue to provide insight and advice and you are still their role model. You will wish to increase their allowance, but also increase the child’s responsibilities for what they purchase. They will begin to learn about interest and some will begin to explore the notion of long-range investments. Perhaps buy a few stocks.

Teens who enter high school with a sound understanding of money management will be more financially self-assured and better able to deal with the pressures of materialism. They move toward adulthood with a better sense of what money can and cannot do, and how they can make the most of their financial resources.

As you consider ways to make your child more financially aware and savvy, remember you are helping them build skills for a lifetime. You are moving them toward making their own decisions, including learning from their mistakes and successes. If you raise your kids to respect the value of money, work for what they get and learn to save, you greatly increase the chances of them being good adult money managers. It’s knowledge that will pay off!

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

Gardeners Find Many Secondary Vegetable Parts Edible

By Angela Treadaway

The culinary reputation of most vegetables is based primarily on the edible qualities of one or sometimes two primary parts of the plant. For example, the tomato is the leading garden vegetable, due to the popular appeal of its fruit, while the turnip contributes both its root and its leaves as table fare. For home gardeners who grow and have the entire vegetable plant at their disposal, other plant parts may be edible; although, perhaps not so tasty as the main product. For non-gardeners, however, there is little option for eating parts other than those offered for sale.

Although many of the secondary plant parts are edible, their popularity as food items is diminished by lack of proper flavor or unfavorable texture. For example, the leaves of practically all the cabbage family are edible, but the strong flavors of some species are disagreeable or too strong for most people’s taste.

The edible leaves and stem tips of sweet potato vines are well-known in many parts of the world. Often considered a poor man’s food, sweet potato foliage has a rich protein content helping supplement the nutritional value of the roots.

As for all vegetable parts, there is a great deal of variation within varieties in flavor and culinary characteristics of these secondary parts. For example, some sweet potato stem tips in certain varieties are bitter, with a resinous flavor that is too strong.

Quite often, cooking is necessary to make the parts edible. Raw leaves eaten fresh may even be slightly poisonous in some cases.

The following is a list of ordinary garden vegetables with both commonly-eaten parts and less-frequently eaten parts. Obviously, in a list like this, there may be quite a few omissions.

For more questions on this or on food safety or preparation of different vegetables, contact your local County Extension office or Angela Treadaway, Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety, at (205) 410-3696.

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

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

The guys and I were talking the other day about any and all subjects related to hunting.

We discussed this last deer season, our successes and our failures. The topics ran from how the weather affected the deer hunting to which deer, in some trail cam photos, needed to be culled from the herd. (Let me add this entire discussion took place while watching sheets of rain falling during the prime days of turkey season.)

We actually avoided the subject of turkey hunting because none of us knew whether or not we could take it. We had been waiting out several days of heavy rain and being unable to hunt in that mess when you had waited all year for a six-week event was taking its toll. Every day lost to the rain is precious when you are looking at a mere 45 days (plus or minus) of a season. Add in the fact today’s turkey hunter has to make a living, which further constricts the opportunities to hunt, just adds fuel to the fire.

Finally someone took the chance and brought up turkey hunting. With a rush, the conversation picked up speed and excitement as we speculated when the rain would stop, how many nests had been washed away, how many gobblers we had heard the few mornings when it wasn’t raining, so on and so forth.

As the conversation played out and we all were exhausted, having vented our frustration, the last topic was an open discussion of primitive weapons. The term "primitive" weapon only applies when you consider what time period you are in. As I told the guys, at one time a bow and arrow was high tech.

Of course, being a bunch of gun hunters, our opinion of a primitive weapon is an inline muzzleloader with a 3x9 scope shooting an improved-precision bullet propelled by black powder substitute pellets ignited either by electronic ignition or, at least, M209 shotgun primers, not a muzzle-loading, hammer-cocking, double-set trigger percussion or flintlock rifle using a round ball about as accurate past 50 yards as throwing the gun at a deer.

I really admire the mountain man re-enactors who do everything the old-fashioned way. I would love to go to one of their rendezvous since they look like great fun. I really admire the real mountain men of the 1800s. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid and was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was either a cowboy or a mountain man.

I am almost positive our modern day mountain men absolutely hate the inline muzzleloader with its highly accurate scopes, bullets and powders; I can see their point.

If you want to hunt with a primitive weapon, do it right and get a true smoke pole. Use round balls, mattress ticking and grease. Use open sights and fire thousands of rounds at a target in order to find the one load that suits the rifle. Adjust your sights with a file, not a screwdriver. Get yourself a real powder horn, pour grains of powder down the front-end and unload it with either a piece of flint or a No. 11 primer.

Be dang sure you can hit what you are aiming at because you will not get another shot!

Personally, I look at it not from the mountain man re-enactor standpoint, but from the real mountain man side of things. I would be willing to wager some serious money on the fact that, if an inline muzzleloader had been available, Jim Bridger would have used it. I would be willing to bet (and I will admit I am a little fuzzy on firearms history and chronology) ‘Ol Jim swapped his flintlock for a percussion rifle as soon as he got the chance. I’ll bet during more than one occasion when he was fighting off some hostile Blackfoot warriors, he was wishing for a muzzleloader a little more accurate further out or at least a rifle that would load a little faster. I’ll go one step more and say, if he were still alive when the cartridge rifle was invented, he probably would have gotten one of them as well. These guys, I would imagine, were always on the lookout for anything to help them bag one more elk or deer for the winter, slay a grizzly just a little quicker and knock a hostile Native American off his horse a little farther and faster.

I look at the modern muzzle-loader and see where some of my boyhood heroes would have given a whole bale of beaver hides for one. Look at Eli Whitney for example. Long before he invented the cotton gin, he invented interchangeable parts for rifles. His brother was killed in battle because his rifle had broken, was repaired and then broke again since the part needed had to be handmade not replaced with another one just like it. At least that is the gospel according to the True Life Adventure Biography I read in the third grade. Eli saw the advantage of modernizing the firearm industry; he didn’t sit back and say we can’t do that because it’s not "authentic" or "traditional."

One last thought on primitive weapons and I’ll shut up and let you get back to turkey hunting. The ultimate user of primitive weapons, our Native American brothers, had been using the bow and arrow for thousands of years. But as soon as the world caught up with them, name me one who didn’t drop his bow and pick up a rifle the first chance he had.

I don’t mean to offend those who prefer to hunt with a bow and arrow or with a traditional muzzleloader. If that’s what you want to use, I’m just glad you are out in the woods using it. I’m just trying to stick up for those of us who use a modern muzzleloader or a cross bow as our primitive weapon; we are the ones between the mountain man and the modern world. We are the ones who traded a stone knife for a steel blade, decided to put some buffalo hide on our feet instead of going barefoot, thought it would make sense to stick some moss inside that buffalo hide when it was cold, thought we might kill more deer if we climbed a tree and got off the ground…I could go on and on.

Now remember this comes from the guy who asked the question, "Have we gotten too high tech in our hunting?" and complained about GPS units, game cameras and such. You see, I told you I could see both sides of the coin.

C’mon Jim, let’s go get them beavers!

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

Herbal Teas From Your Garden and Pantry

By H. T. Farmer

We have all seen the colorful boxes of assorted teas in the grocery store. Some of the labels claim to be caffeine-free, herb tea, high in catechins or 100 percent organic tea. Essentially, unless you grow the herbs yourself, you really don’t know what’s in the teas.

Herb tea is described as a tea not made from any part of the traditional tea bush (Camellia sinensis). It should be organic, as opposed to being made of synthetic compounds. It can be made from caffeine-rich plants like the Yaupon holly (Ilexvomitoria) or the Yerba-maté (Ilex paraguariensis).

Your tea can also be made from herbs that are caffeine-free and have a soothing or sedative-like effect. Examples of these are chamomile (Matricaria recutita), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and woodruff (Galium odoratum).

To make herb tea you must first start with your base ingredients. Citrus (Citrus sp.) or mints (Mentha sp.) are popular beginning herbs with me. I usually keep dried satsuma, Meyer lemon, Bergamot orange and lime peels in my refrigerator for this purpose.

Add other herbs or spices to your base to make the tea with the desired effect.

Here are a couple of recipes I use.

Herb’s Sleepy Tea: 1 tsp dried spearmint (Mentha spicata), 1 tsp dried chamomile flowers, ½ tsp valerian, ½ tsp fresh tender stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) or 1/16 tsp stevia powder. Place ingredients into a tea ball and steep in 10 ounces of hot (160°) water for seven minutes.

Herb’s Spicy Eye-Opener: Parch 50-60 Yaupon leaves in toaster oven or in pan on stove top, then crush. Add 1 tsp dried lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). Place in tea ball and boil for 1 minute or place in muslin tea sock and microwave for 2 minutes on high in 12 ounces of water. Place ½ short cinnamon stick and one square-inch of dried Satsuma peel into tea and steep for about five minutes. You can then either sweeten your tea with stevia, sugarcane spear or honey, or drink it unsweetened as I do.

A few other herb tea ingredients I keep on hand are ginger, dandelion, dill, raspberry leaves, garden sage, rosemary, rose hips, yarrow and fennel. Tea mints include monarda, peppermint, lemon balm, thyme, pineapple mint and catnip.

I make herbal teas and drink them at particular times of the day as a personal ritual. It isn’t so much the drink as it is the moment. I use the teas, in preparation, to experiment with the collected ingredients for flavor and effect; to drink during a moment of quiet meditation, taking notice of the wonderment of nature and all it provides.

Experiment with your own ingredients to come up with your own pleasing recipes. Please share them with me too. I’d like to know what you’re drinking.

E-mail me if you have any questions about herb teas and where to buy the herbs.

Thanks for reading!

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

How Now Future Cow

By Baxter Black, DVM

Amidst the calls that there should be a Greenhouse Gas Tax on ruminant animals (meaning cows; NOT meaning goats, rice, termites or water buffalo), exciting research is being done genetically to address the issue.

Purebred breeders have long kept track of individual animals. Many qualities are examined. Average Daily Gain (ADG) is a prominent marker used to evaluate the performance. But, even more critical is Conversion (pounds of feed per pound of gain). A ‘good Conversion’ means it takes less feed to produce a pound of beef.

The significance of using less feed correlates directly to producing less methane and carbon dioxide. Studies in fed cattle have shown the difference between the top third of the pen and the bottom third can be as high as 40 percent! Forty percent less feed to produce that same pound of beef, thus 40 percent less greenhouse gases expired in the atmosphere.

Is that a reasonable trait to search for when selecting breeding stock? If it were within reality, it would be the equivalent of hybrid cars, quadrupling our nuclear reactors or capturing all the hot air coming out of Congress to turn windmills on the Washington D.C Mall.

At present we can envision selectively breeding to increase cattle converting more efficiently. But how ‘bout finding the gene or chromosome affecting digestive efficiency? Does it exist? Is cloning raising its hand in the back row?

Genetic manipulation will probably be the driving force for medical miracles in the next 50 years. We have achieved miracles in plant production since Booker T. Washington tickled his first sweet potato. It is a science that is scary yet breathtaking.

In 50 years the questions of ‘man-made’ global-warming may be proven or forgotten like Global Cooling and Worldwide Famine or the Y2K collapse. Regardless, being able to use less natural resources —- be they oil, grain, coal, trees or grass —- just makes sense. Agricultural research, private and public, is at the forefront on finding the answers. Agriculture can’t put a man on the moon, but we can feed China.

All this high-minded thinkin’ gives me confidence and pride in our way of making a living. Even when I’m slogging out into the lot to check on a calvy heifer. We may not have methane on our minds but . . . somebody does.

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,

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

One Tabasco Plant Goes a Long Way

Last year I was most impressed by the first Tabasco pepper I’ve ever grown. The plant grew about four feet tall and four feet wide and was loaded with enough peppers for our neighbors and us. Typical of hot peppers, they continued producing peppers through the high summer. The more I picked, the more it made. Our one plant yielded hundreds of little peppers. The plant was very pretty, bearing light green, red-orange and ripe-red fruit all at the same time. Our birds, who don’t have heat receptors, seemed to favor the red fruits, especially late in the season. If you like hot pepper vinegar or sauce, I recommend trying a Tabasco variety in your garden. The little peppers are easy to get into leftover pepper sauce shaker bottles, too.

Cuban Oregano Does Double Duty

Cuban oregano is an herb which is both ornamental and flavorful.

Cuban oregano is both an ornamental and flavorful flesh herb great for growing in containers with other plants. The first time I ever saw it was at the Atlanta Botanical Garden as a companion to flowers in a pot. However, its leaves have a true oregano-like flavor; they’re used in Cuban cooking. This oregano is becoming more popular for its ornamental qualities, so keep your eye out and try one in a pot. The fleshy, variegated leaves are very drought-tolerant and make a nice companion to flowers in a container.

When moonvine opens its buds in later afternoon, a wonderful fragrance fills the air for the night.

Moonvine, It’s Like a Flower Ballet

A $1 to $2 packet of moonvine seeds offers priceless entertainment in the evening as you watch the flowers unfurl. Plant this near your porch or patio where you can sit in the late afternoon as its buds begin to unfurl. The whole process takes but a few minutes. When the big, morning glory-like flowers open, they release a wonderful fragrance all night. They are likely to be visited by an assortment of night pollinators, too, like the giant hawk moth, which is so big one of my children mistook it for a hummingbird. The seeds have a hard seed coat, so rough them up on concrete or with coarse sandpaper and soak overnight before planting. Give the vines a rail, wire, fence or trellis to climb.

Add Some Romas to Your Garden

Roma-type tomatoes will give you a harvest of good fresh tomatoes that cook well. They don’t make great slicers because they are meaty, not juicy, but that is what makes them great for cooking down into a sauce or for adding to soups and casseroles. I still have some in my freezer from last year; they produce quite a bumper crop.

Try an Alka-Seltzer

Flower vases with narrow necks can be hard to clean, even with a bottle brush, but there is another way: fizz off the water stains with Alka-Seltzer. Fill the vases with warm water and drop two or three tablets in each. Let the vases sit overnight. Their innards should be clear by morning.

Once Blooming Roses

Now is the time to cut back roses that only bloom once a year, in the spring. Trim them back to whatever size suits you. If your rose is a climber, consider taking the biggest, oldest cane down to near the ground so it will throw out another young shoot or two from the base. You can usually identify the oldest cases because they are the biggest and sometimes their bark looks corky near the base of the plant. Fertilize lightly with a slow-release or organic fertilizer after pruning.

Watch Boxwoods for Leafminer

Leafminer is a pest to watch for this spring as your boxwoods leaf out.

Boxwood is not only elegant, but also very valuable. Just try pricing a big one. If you are lucky enough to have some big boxwoods on your property, watch out for a nasty pest: the boxwood leafminer. Shortly after boxwoods leaf out in early spring, the little leafminer fly, which looks like a tiny mosquito, will lay eggs in the tender new leaves. Its larvae burrows inside the leaves and by the time you finally notice the damage, it’s done. If the leaves of your boxwood looked blistered and yellowed last year, chances are this pest is back in your shrub damaging the new growth this year. To control it, use a product containing imidacloprid like Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Care. It offers systemic protection to kill the larvae inside the leaf. Luckily, protected new growth will help hide last year’s damage and before long the shrub will look much better.

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

Is that a Selaginella, Lycopodium or Diphasiastrum

By Kenn Alan

A couple of weeks ago, I was hiking in a hollow along Straight Mountain in Blount County identifying spring ephemeral wildflowers when I stumbled upon a plant I had never seen before in that region, or even in my plant references.

At first, I thought it was a bunch of little conifer seedlings popping up from the leaf and pine straw litter on the forest floor. After closer examination, I noticed the little plants were much too large to be seedlings of any kind. They looked like small green umbrella frames, three inches, or so, in diameter and spiking up about two to three inches from the ground. The texture seemed as that of an Arborvitae or Cypress. I had seen something like them before, but I could place neither what nor where.

Fan Clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum)

After taking a couple of pictures of the specimen, I noticed they were all over the place in that area. I decided it probably wouldn’t hurt collecting a sample of the plant to bring back home for identification. As I attempted to collect one, I noticed they were interconnected by a single stem running from spike to spike, just below the leaf litter. Therefore, I collected one plant having 11 spikes.

I showed the plant to one friend who suggested it might be a Selaginella. Ah-hah! That’s where I had seen this type plant before! I used to raise a type of Selaginella called ‘Cypress Selaginella.’ My plant had a similar texture, growth habit and overall look of that plant, but not exactly. I sent an image to a couple of other friends who came up with the correct genus and species right away and responded back to me within five minutes of each other. Both Dr. Larry Davenport of Samford University and Tony Glover of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System suggested the plant was in fact a Lycopodium and not Selaginella.

However, after reading further about this plant, I discovered both plants are related in that they both, in the plant kingdom, belong to the Division, Lycopodiophyta! Wa-ay cool, huh? So what do it all mean and what is a Diphasiastrum?

The plants are all considered to be fern allies and the common names are clubmoss and spikemoss, though they are neither fern nor moss. These plants are some of the earliest plants found in prehistoric studies. Both Diphasiastrum and Lycopodium are argued to be one in the same in some botany circles.

The bottom line is these plants will all do well in a filtered sun, moist garden with slightly acidic soil. If you can grow an azalea there, try these plants as a groundcover underneath the azaleas. And if you can’t identify the plant from your own database, don’t be ashamed to ask somebody else.

E-mail me at if you need further information on Lycopodiaceae.

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

Mother’s Day Thoughts From the Flat Rock General Store Regulars…

Our Mothers Taught Us So Many Things!!!

By Joe Potter

It was Thursday near nine a.m. and a heavy rain was a fallin’ on the old tin top of The Flat Rock General Store. The rear, ‘bout the old potbellied heater, was a layered thick with most near all The Store regulars. Like normal, there was a few other community and area Flat Rock folk a hoverin’ ‘bout. My Daddy "Pop" C.C. near drove his John Deere Gator up on the porch and was a fightin’ off the heavy rainfall as he used his steadyin’ cane to maneuver inside. Essex walked in carryin’ hot coffee and a plate full of scrambled eggs, fried Spam, pear preserves and homemade from scratch cathead biscuits for Slim’s mornin’ breakfast.

Topical discussions included heavy rainfall a causin’ the risin’ of both Mud and Town Creeks, gardenin’ plans, high school baseball, politics, consolidation, adulters, chicken-growin’ and church amongst others. Estelle offered, as she headed out for her Hair Factory, time was a movin’ close ‘tward Mother’s Day ought nine. Bro. offered Ms. Ida had penciled down on white butcher paper in red marker a headin’ to offer thanks to our mothers for the special "Little Things" they did. Most near all the regulars had penciled on their words …

To pray—give thanks
Southern gentlemen things
Bible readin’
No hats in the house
To tie my shoe
Fun stuff
Adults mostly knowed best
Bed makin’
Simple little life things…

There was bunches more; the back wall carried a list too full for me to pencil em’ all down fur this writin’.

At this point, it was a nearin’ noon eatin’ time and the folk all seem to change directions precisely at the same time. Slim offered a goodbye-howdy t’ward all those individuals as they sighted in on the old double-front doors.

I myself headed off in my pick-up for a few evenin’ farm chores. I was reminded my Mother, Lizzie Allee Masterson Potter, taught me lots of simple life lesson like folding a letter, sister on the bus first every day, etc., etc. and so on. Then there was fashion: stripes, solids, white P.E. socks, the proper combinations and precisely no caps in the house. These, in her words, were "no-nos."

As I look at fashion today, I don’t suppose Mother’s plaid-and-stripe teachin’s or no-caps-in-the-house would go over well. Come to think of it, I guess lots of things Mother taught me wouldn’t go over well in today’s society. Maybe we need to take another look at the writin’s on the wall of The Store and try to apply what our mothers taught us….



If my Mother could speak from the grave today…

I wonder just what she would say about the past

or heaven this day….

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

Peanut People

Pets, Spouses Compete for Title of “Best Stress Reliever”: Pets Win

From the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

The human-animal bond has done it again. According to a study, a furry friend may do more to help one’s stress level than a spouse. People’s heart rate and blood pressure are affected less while performing stressful tasks when they are in the presence of their pet vs. their spouse.

"Over years and years, if you have something good like that in your life, every day, it has to be a good thing," said study leader Karen Allen, PhD, a research scientist at the State University of New York-Buffalo.

Dr. Allen investigated the stress levels of 480 people, while alone and in the presence of various combinations of friends, spouses and pets, as they performed two tasks commonly used to study stress: completing a series of mental arithmetic problems and submerging a hand in ice water for two minutes. An electronic monitor recorded participants’ heart rate and blood pressure at baseline and then once each minute during the tasks.

The study, reported in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, involved 240 heterosexual married couples; half the couples had a single pet, and the other half had not had a pet for at least five years. Participants who did not have pets identified a same-sex close friend to participate in the experiment, which took place in participants’ homes.

Individuals performed the stress tasks in one of four randomly assigned conditions: alone; in the presence of the pet or friend; in the presence of the spouse; and in the presence of the spouse and pet or friend.

The study revealed pet owners had, on average, a significantly lower baseline heart rate and blood pressure than other participants, reacted less on stress tests and returned to baseline levels more quickly. Cats and dogs were equally beneficial, and researchers did not find major personality or demographic differences between pet owners and nonowners that could account for the differences.

During the math challenge, non-owners had the lowest reactivity—change in heart rate and blood pressure—when they performed alone and the highest reactivity in the presence of their spouses.

Pet owners also had the highest reactivity with their spouses present, but the addition of a pet significantly reduced this reactivity.

During the water test, pet support was also associated with the lowest reactivity, although the presence of spouses and friends was not as detrimental as during the math tests. Nonowners reacted the least when alone.

One explanation for the beneficial effects of pets could come from the research of Dr. Johannes Odendaal, a researcher at the Life Sciences Research Institute in Technikon, Pretoria, South Africa. Dr. Odendaal’s research has shown people who interact with dogs have increased levels of oxytocin and phenylethylamine, hormones that produce pleasant feelings and a sense of well-being.

But Dr. Allen believes the explanation lies in the fact people think friends and spouses are somehow evaluating them, whereas pets are seen as nonjudgmental supporters.

"For our participants, although spouses and friends may have meant well and tried to provide support, they were not perceived as nonevaluative," Dr. Allen said.

Scoring Sessions Announced for the Records of Alabama’s White-tailed Deer Program (RAWD)

The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will be holding scoring sessions this spring and summer for its Records of Alabama’s White-tailed Deer (RAWD) deer records and recognition program.

The RAWD program was established to recognize exceptional bucks grown and taken in Alabama. The program is open to antlers from all free-ranging bucks legally harvested or found dead in Alabama, regardless of the year the deer was harvested or found. The antler scoring system used for the RAWD program is identical to that used by the Boone & Crockett Club. The minimum scores for the program are 140 Typical (net) and 165 Non-Typical (net). All entrants meeting the minimum requirements of the program will receive an official RAWD Certificate.

If a deer has been officially scored for Boone & Crockett, Pope & Young, or Longhunter’s purposes, sportsmen can bring the official score sheet with their mount to a RAWD scoring session. Participants should preregister prior to attending the scoring session by calling the appropriate telephone number listed below. Sessions are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

Date: May 9th Time: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Location: District IV ADWFF Office
1820 Glynwood Drive, Suite C
Prattville, Alabama

Information and preregistration: (334) 358-0035

Date: May 9th Time: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Location: Auburn University Wiregrass Research and Extension Center
167 East Alabama Highway 134
Headland, Alabama

Information and preregistration: (334) 347-1298

Date: May 16thTime: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Location: District I ADWFF Office
21453 Harris Station Road
Tanner, Alabama

Information and preregistration: (256) 353-2634

Date: May 16thTime: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Location: District III ADWFF Office
8211 McFarland Boulevard West
Northport, Alabama

Information and preregistration: (205) 339-5716

Date: May 16thTime: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Location: District V ADWFF Office
30571 Five Rivers Boulevard
Spanish Fort, Alabama

Information and preregistration (251) 626-5474

Date: May 19thTime: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Location: District II ADWFF Office
4101 Alabama Highway 21 North
Jacksonville, Alabama

Information and preregistration: (256) 435-5422

The demand for information on quality bucks harvested in Alabama led to the development of the RAWD program. The program allows Alabama’s deer hunters to have their deer scored by trained wildlife personnel. Hunters can also compare deer taken in their region to deer from other areas of Alabama, as well as other states in the Southeast. To learn more about the Records of Alabama’s White-tailed Deer program, obtain score sheets, or locate the next available scoring session, visit

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

Step Back in Time at the Alabama Antique Tractor Show and Pull

James Barton of Centreville competes in the modified class with Big Bad John, his 1952 John Deere A.

By Ashley Smith

Award-winning barbeque, Southern sweet tea and homemade ice cream – the union of these three foods create the basis for any successful event. When you add an antique tractor show, a competition for power and speed, and true Southern hospitality, the event quickly becomes a must-attend. If interest is piqued, learn more about the occasion drawing thousands to the hosting small town. Get ready to mark the calendar and head to Elmore.

The upcoming Alabama Antique Tractor Show and Pull offers something for everyone. For individuals with an appreciation of antiques and an interest in bygone times, the antique tractor show portion will have great appeal. Many tractors will be presented the day of the show. Last year, nearly 200 antique tractors were on display. This year, the oldest scheduled for the show is a 1925 model McCormick Deering tractor. Most of the antique tractors are fully restored and in working order.

A 1930s Meadows Grist Mill grinds corn into corn meal.

"For lots of folks, the show is like stepping back in time," said Southern Antique Iron Association President Tony Martin. "It is a way to see the equipment people once used for work, see how farming once was."

Truly one who appreciates antique iron (he owns somewhere around 40 antique tractors!), Martin will have several of his own tractors at the show. Not only will there be hundreds of antique tractors on display, many of the machines from the past will also be demonstrating past farming techniques. Demonstrations include plowing, hay baling, corn shelling and meal grinding.

"Because of the varying techniques shown, this part of the event is a great way for folks to be reminded of the past or to get a live history lesson," Martin shared.

Southern Antique Iron Association President Tony Martin plows with his 1929 John Deere Model D. When not restoring antique tractors, he can be found managing his trucking operation. He hauls bulk material for his local Quality Co-op, Elmore County Exchange. Martin and his family have been longtime customers of the Co-op.

For those individuals who prefer the present-day, the tractor pull will provide maximum entertainment. There are two basic classes, stock and modified. Tractors in the stock class were built prior to 1960 and are basically in the condition they were when they left the dealer. Modified allows modifications to engines, tires, drawbars, etc. This division allows tractors to 1970. Within these two classes, there are different weight classes. All classes pull the same weight transfer sled. As the tractor goes down the designated track, the weight on the sled moves away from the wheels on the back and forward onto the "skid," the movement of the weight makes it much harder to pull. When the tractor spins or chokes the engine down, its distance is measured. The tractor with the longest distance in each weight class wins that class. There will be 150 to 200 pulls with tractors pulling somewhere between 2,500 – 10,000 pounds, based on division and power.

"The younger generation really enjoys the tractor pull," Martin said. "The pull is all about mechanics. And we do see some really interesting contraptions in the modified division."

Tractor pulls are as old as tractors themselves, even older if you consider pulls were popular events where farmers tested the strength of their farm mule against the strength of their neighbors’ mules. "Pull on Sunday, plow on Monday" was an old saying associated with tractor pulls. A means of entertainment, farmers and their families would gather on Sunday afternoons for good-natured competition and fellowship. The same tractors competing in the tractor pull would be back to work on the farm on Monday. The saying holds true today as some of the equipment in the competition is regularly used farm equipment.

Martin promises the event will be fun for both young and young-at-heart. Especially designed for those attendees under the age of 12, there will be pedal tractor races. He laughed as he said that as soon as kids are old enough to grip the steering wheel, they can enter the pedal races.

"We will push them, if we need to do that," he said.

The cake walk is another way (a delicious one) to enjoy the event. Winners take away cakes from the best cooks in the county. And, as mentioned earlier, there will be plenty to eat! A barbeque cook-off ensures delicious, award-winning barbeque will be onsite. Other food vendors will be selling hot dogs, hamburgers and more. Everyone loves the homemade ice cream made by the manual ice cream freezer, cranked by the John Deere gas engine which dates back to the 1920-1930s. Several arts and crafts vendors are also expected.

The all-day event is definitely about having fun yet so much more. As attendees enjoy the day and all offered, they help contribute to the community. Proceeds from the event go to the Elmore Volunteer Fire Department. Income from the pedal tractor races and the cake walks benefit the Alabama Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.

"This is the seventh year of the event," said Martin. "Our antique tractor club, Southern Antique Iron Association, formed in January 2002. Not long after our formation, we wanted to get our tractors together for a show. When we started talking about having an antique tractor show, we thought there might be a way to also help our community. The local volunteer fire department needed funds. We decided to work together to create an event that would benefit everyone."

The seventh annual event is truly a win-win for all involved. Members of the Southern Antique Iron Association, approximately 100-strong, really enjoy the opportunity to gather and show others their tractors. Every piece of equipment has a story and evokes even more stories from people who come to look. The Alabama Antique Tractor Show and Pull offers a way to connect the past with the present.

In years past, the Alabama Antique Tractor Show and Pull has been a two-day event; this year it will be combined for a fun-filled one-day event. Based on previous years’ attendance, several thousand attendees are expected. With all the day offers, it is truly a must-attend event. Go ahead! Mark the calendar for Saturday, May 16, 2009. See you there!

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.

Stimulate, Germinate and Incubate Without a Government Bailout

Columnist John Howle; his wife, Jenny; son, Jake; and daughters, Emma and Abigail, with a corn harvest from a small, well-tended garden.

By John Howle

Does your personal budget need a stimulus? Do you feel like the only thing stimulated is greed on the part of those who got our country into financial turmoil? Take heart. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House or Congress as long as we know who occupies the throne. God has given us a wealth of commodities on which we can thrive here in Alabama. With a little ingenuity, you will be providing low-cost, high-quality food for your family, and you won’t need a government bailout to do it. The good news is most of the materials you need are found at your local Quality Co-op.

Get in the Garden

Many folks will say they don’t want to deal with the work involved in a garden when they can buy canned green beans on sale three for a dollar. However, when the value of the dollar drops, that ear of corn or serving of beans continues to hold its value in nutrition. Here in Alabama, we’ve been blessed with a long growing season for a variety of fruits and vegetables, and when you grow it yourself, you don’t have to worry about imported vegetables that might be grown using chemicals the U.S. banned years ago.

Emma Howle shows a bucket of Silver Queen sweet corn.

A handy website for planting dates of fruits and vegetables can be found through the Alabama Cooperative Extension office by visiting and entering garden planting dates in the search box. Your local Quality Co-op also provides high-quality seeds as well as plantings by Bonnie Plants. In addition, the tools and implements you will need to cultivate, weed and harvest your garden are available at your Co-op.

When harvest time comes, you can freeze or can most of the vegetables you raise. Excess amounts can be sold at local farmer’s markets or in neighborhoods through peddling. Even though it takes more space in a freezer, I like to store corn in the shuck. Simply remove the outer shuck, cut off each end and the corn will keep all winter in one-gallon freezer bags. Roasted corn in the shuck is delicious. It can be cooked at the same time cornbread is cooking or be placed around the campfire on cookouts. Roast the corn until the shuck is dark brown for the best flavor. Apply salt and butter as your doctor allows.

The easiest way to store corn is trim the ends, remove outer shuck and store in one gallon freezer bags. Corn can be frozen for up to a year in this manner. Roast the corn in the shuck around the campfire or in the oven for the best flavor.

For corn to be cut off the cob, slightly cooked and stored for freezing, shucking and silking takes the most time. When it comes time to shuck, silk and cut the corn, have some fun with it. I told my kids we were going to have a corn party. I set comfortable lawn chairs under a shade tree, rolled out an extension cord for a radio and couple of electric fans, and we began work. After two hours, however, my youngest daughter said, "This is the worst party I’ve ever been to in my life."

Profit from Poultry

Chickens are unique animals that can feed you twice. First, by the egg, then, by the chicken. Most breeds can practically make a living on their own during warm months and only require minimal feed supplementation during the winter. You local Co-op will have all the poultry supplies you need to get started like watering and feed containers, as well as chick starter, layer mash and other chicken feeds.

Jake Howle feeds clover to a couple of hens.

Chickens only require a small area to live, so they are probably the most cost effective farm animals to raise. Companies like Murray McMurray Hatchery ( can get you started with an assortment of baby chicks with a minimum order of 25 birds. The birds arrive at your local post office as day-old chicks. Then, all you need is some Chick Starter feed and water. Nature and time do the rest.

Chickens can produce eggs and meat if they have at least three or four feet per bird for living quarters. With the purchase of chicken wire or small netting wire from your local Co-op, you can turn your chicken pen into a mini pasture with clovers, grasses and protein-rich insects that thrive in the ground.

Warm-season forage choices for chickens can be browntop millet, bahaiagrass, sorghum, sunflowers and corn. Cool-season choices are more abundant. For grasses, oats, winter wheat and ryegrass provide greenery during the winter. Nitrogen-rich clovers like Red, White and Crimson provide high food value as well and keep the chickens well nourished. Chickens allowed to roam free can be one of the best insect eliminators around the house. I have turned the chickens loose to run free in the yard and watched them eliminate hundreds of Japanese beetles.

Chickens can survive on greenery and insects around your property.

The market for non-commercially raised chickens is growing due to an increase in the Hispanic populations in Alabama as well as higher demands overseas by the Asian market. For excess chickens you don’t use for eggs and meat, you’ll find local flea markets and trade days are profitable outlets to sell extra chickens.

Bring ‘Em Up Without Bailouts

By adding nothing more than a garden and chickens to your property, you’ll find youngsters learn a lot of responsibility if they are given regular chores. They learn in order to produce, the garden has to be tended regularly, fertilizer amounts need to be accurate and an understanding of the biology of plant life is a necessity.

The kids also learn if you eat all the chickens, the egg supply will quickly run out. This is a lesson many of our financial leaders across the country should learn. In addition, the kids learn the time-honored skills of farming can help put food on the table even in hard times. Children begin to learn it can be better to run to the garden instead of the government when they get hungry.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Teamwork and Success

Roxy Hunt got to kiss a goat during the Elmore County Sheep and Goat Expo. Roxy is the granddaughter of Sydne and Robert Spencer.

There is no “I” in team

By Robert Spencer

For nine years I have been doing outreach work and I’m continually impressed with the amount of work that goes into organizing outreach/educational meetings (workshops, symposiums, conferences) and the amount of networking or teamwork essential to insuring the success of each activity. The adage "there is no ‘I’ in team" is essential to organizing almost any event with the intent of it being well-attended. There are initial needs like a planning committee, contacting potential speakers and sponsors, identifying cost and financial resources, selecting a location best for all involved, and securing a facility. For those of you who may not be aware, sometimes speakers are able to participate (travel, lodging, meals and time) using the financial resources from the organization they work with and sometimes they require compensation for all associated expenses (including speakers fees). That is just the beginning. There tends to be follow-up meetings, confirmation of speakers and sponsors, updates to organizers/participants, publicity efforts and lots of "notes-to-self" on forgotten issues.

About nine years ago I was part of a group organizing a goat field day. There was a planning committee, several sponsors and lots of team members. In the end, there were over 300 attendees! A year later I made a similar effort with no planning committee, one sponsor and only a few team players; there were 30 attendees. That was a valuable learning experience for me. Since then I have helped organize many similar educational-type meetings and attendance has ranged from slightly over 100 to barely five (if you include the two speakers).

For agriculture-type meetings, there are invaluable resources for media promotion, financial support and possible planning committee members. They include producer groups, special interest organizations, agriculture-related publications, agencies and institutions who support agriculture and on and on. To put this all together requires developing and cultivating working relationships and a creative imagination tends to be helpful. Attitudes and egos do not serve well in these situations, and unfortunately they can surface from time to time.

Attendees of these events may or may not be aware of all that goes into putting together any type of outreach activity. To me, that is part of what makes an event successful. However, I always appreciate when people share complimentary statements like how much they enjoyed the activity, and, if something was a problem, I also like to know about it so it can be avoided in the future. Whether the meeting is formal or casual, all require the same fundamental considerations and implementation. Based on my experience the success of any event can always be traced back to teamwork!

Master Meat Goat Herdsman Program Ready to Begin

The training manuals are ready, a curriculum has been developed and the trainers are ready to go! The Master Meat Goat Herdsman Program offers a statewide comprehensive training curriculum addressing the fundamentals of meat goat production including reproduction, nutrition, forages, health, management, marketing, economics, live-animal and carcass evaluation, food safety, hands-on experience and other relevant areas. It is designed to serve potential and existing goat producers, as well as agricultural professionals interested in learning more about sustainable meat goat production.

The registration fee ($35) will help supplement costs associated with implementing this program. Upon completion of course requirements, participants will receive a collection of materials including copies of the presentations, relevant handouts, certificate acknowledging completion of the program. The entire program will require a commitment of 18 hours divided into several sessions. Each applicant must be willing to make this commitment in order to receive the course materials and certificate of program completion.

Dates & Contact Information:

For Northeast Alabama (May 1 & 2 and May 15 & 16) the training will take place at the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center in Crossville. For more information contact Eddie Wheeler, Suite G21, 424 Blount Avenue; Guntersville, AL 35976-1132;
Phone: (256) 582-2009.

For South Alabama (May 15 & 16 and May 29 & 30) the training will take place in Butler County. For more information contact Anthony Pinkston; 101 S. Conecuh Street; Greenville, AL 36037; Phone: (334) 382-5111.

For Northwest Alabama (June 26 & 27 and July 10 & 11) the training will take place at the Lauderdale County Extension Office in Florence and a local farm. For more information contact Robert Spencer; 802 Veterans Drive; Florence, AL 35630; Phone: (256) 766-6223.

Dates and locations are being planned for West-Central Alabama (Hale County area), East-Central Alabama (Talladega area) and weeknight classes for North-Central Alabama (Cullman to Clanton area). More information will be forthcoming regarding these locations.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.

The Co-op Pantry

Patsie DeMo of Montgomery County described her and her husband’s goat operation, DeVillery Goats, as a full-time hobby.

"We’re both retired, but we keep busy on the farm and with our volunteer work with the Montgomery County 4-H Club," she said.

Patsie said the joy she’s found in caring for her goats comes from motherly, nurturing instincts, but she admitted she didn’t actually start with the goal of becoming a goat farmer.

"My father-in-law had raised cattle for years and, as he aged, decided smaller animals like goats might be easier to handle," explained Patsie.

"I was working in the Master Gardener Program through the Cooperative Extension Service, so I would pick up Extension information about goats. After a while of reading about them, when my father-in-law would mention some issue he was having with his herd, I’d tell him about ideas and solutions I’d found as I read," said Patsie.

So when Patsie retired several years ago, her father-in-law made her a gift of 40 goats of her own.

"We keep them segregated," Patsie said of her dairy goats and husband Fred Jr.’s meat goats.

"I have my goat barn, and he has his," she joked.

Patsie and Fred at one time had 177 head at DeVillery Goats, but now they have just fewer than 100. She also enjoys cooking with meat and milk from goats.

"People don’t realize how common that is in almost every other part of the world. For a lot of the world, ‘milk’ comes from goats instead of cows," she said.

But Patsie doesn’t really have special recipes for goat meat or milk.

"I use goat milk in place of cow’s milk all the time, and almost any recipe for pork will work for goat meat," she said.

Patsie made goat milk soaps for a while, but her current passion is making cheese.

"I’m just exploring and enjoying the process," she said, adding she’s combined her love of gardening with her new-found interest.

"I’ve really gotten into herb gardening in the past few years, so I’ve been making herbed goat cheeses. My favorite so far has been sun-dried tomato and basil," she said.

She added her favorite herb for cooking is dill, and several of the recipes Patsie shared highlight the freshness of her preferred herb, like her Tomato Dill Bisque and Fresh Delicious Dill Dip.

Recipes like Vidalia Onion Pie and Tomato Pie will give cooks another dish for preparing fresh produce as the growing season swings into full gear, while Coconut Pie and Vanilla Wafer Cake make perfect take-along sweets for summertime’s church gatherings and family reunions.

"These are the recipes people ask me for, and none of them are too complicated," said Patsie.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.

Vidalia Onion Pie

1 sleeve Ritz cracker crumbs
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 Tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups Vidalia onions, sliced
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup sharp cheese, grated

Without opening, take the sleeve of Ritz crackers and place each end in the palm of your hands. Firmly press inwards until all crackers are finely crushed. Gently open the package. MAGIC! Works every time! Mix cracker crumbs with 2 Tablespoons butter. Press crumbs in bottom of 9 x 13 baking dish.

Sauté onions in remaining butter until slightly limp. Layer over cracker crumbs. Add salt and pepper. Combine eggs and milk. Pour on top of onions. Top with grated cheese. Bake at 350o until middle is almost set and top is light golden brown (about 30 minutes). Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Chilled Asparagus with Pecans

1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
3/4 cups pecans, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
Pepper to taste

Wash asparagus by allowing it to soak in cold water. Pick up each stalk and by holding it by each end, bend it until it naturally snaps. Discard the big end. Keep the “heads” all pointing in the same direction. Blanch in boiling water for only 1-2 minutes or until it begins to turn a bright green. Drain. Rinse under cold water. Drain again.

Arrange all spears pointing in the same direction. Place in a quart size zip-lock bag. Mix remaining ingredients (except pecans) until sugar has dissolved. Pour over asparagus and place in refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours prior to serving. Be sure mixture penetrates all spears. Turn at least once prior to serving. Before serving, remove from bag and place on serving tray. Top with pecans. May be marinated up to 36 hours prior to serving.

Patsie’s Coconut Pie

2 regular pie shells (not deep dish)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 (6 oz) packages frozen coconut

Melt butter in microwave for 1 minute in large plastic bowl. Remove butter from microwave; thaw coconut in microwave. Mix remaining ingredients in bowl with melted butter. Add thawed coconut. Bake at 350o for about 40 - 45 minutes. Center will still jiggle. Allow to cool for about 10 -15 minutes before serving.

Orange Bread

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon orange rind, grated
1 cup pecans, chopped
2 cans refrigerated flaky biscuits
1 (3 oz) package cream cheese
1/ 2 cup butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice

Mix sugar, orange rind and pecans. Separate flaky biscuits into as thin of sections as possible. Take thin section of dough and place a small amount of cream cheese in the center. Top with another section of dough. Dip both sections in melted butter. Roll in sugar mixture.

Place on a round 9" baking stone. Layer the biscuits on their edges along the outside rim forming a wreath effect. Once the outside ring is complete, make an inside ring. (This bakes well.) Once all dough is used, drizzle any remaining sugar and butter over dough. Bake until golden brown. Make glaze with remaining powdered sugar and orange juice. Drizzle over top of warm biscuits. Delicious! Pull apart to serve.

Vanilla Wafer Cake

2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 (12 oz) vanilla wafers, crushed
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 (6 oz) packages frozen coconut
2 cups pecans, chopped

Cream butter and sugar. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each. Add crushed vanilla wafers, alternately with milk. Add coconut, pecans and vanilla. Bake in tube pan coated with non-stick spray for 1 hour 30 minutes at 325o. Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely.

Note: This cake has a tendency to stick to pan and then crumble if allowed to cool too long before removing from pan.

Tomato Dill Bisque

1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon dill weed
3 cups chicken stock
3 - 4 cups tomatoes, diced, or 1 (20 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (5 oz) can evaporated milk
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Sauté onion in butter. Add flour and stir to remove any lumps; add next four ingredients. Stir in tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes. Blend with hand mixer. If creamy texture is desired, use a stick blender. Add parsley and evaporated milk. Garnish with additional parsley and fresh dill.

Sun Dried Tomato Basil Dip

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise

Mix all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour prior to serving. Serve with chips, crackers or fresh vegetables.

Fresh Delicious Dill Dip

3 teaspoons fresh dill weed
2 teaspoons season salt
2 teaspoons onion, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate for one hour prior to serving. Serve with chips, crackers or fresh vegetables, or as a sauce for fish.

Tomato Pie

1 (9 inch) deep dish LIGHTLY pre-baked pie shell
3 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
1/2 sweet onion, chopped and sautéed
A few leaves of fresh basil
6 slices of bacon, cooked & crumbled
3/4 cup mayonnaise (mixed with 1/4 cup ranch dressing)
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated, (mixed with 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated)

Layer the items in the lightly pre-baked pie crust in order as listed. Bake at 350o until cheese is bubbly on top. Be careful not to burn.

The FFA Sentinel

By Philip Paramore

In its 46th year, the Alabama FFA Association, just like the rest of the country, was going through changes. The previous school year of 1973-74 saw the most remarkable change in the reporting of the State Association’s news. From a glossy black and white with paid advertising, the face of The Reporter, was now only four pages. According to information from the Reporter, the changes in the size and paper used in the publication were brought about by the decision not to ask Future Farmers for a subscription price increase and the exclusion of advertising. Without these revenues, there would only be five copies sent to each chapter instead of each FFA member in the state receiving a copy. State FFA dues were $1.50.

This month’s Sentinel article features the school year 1974-75. Events to trigger one’s mind to what was going then were Happy Days premiered on ABC in the fall of 1974 and The Brady Bunch ended its sixth and final year of broadcast. The country received its 38th president, Gerald Ford.

The Reporter’s Fall 1974 issue highlighted winners and the newly- elected state officers from the past state convention. Elected as president was Paul Stanfield of the Isabella Chapter. Assisting Stanfield was Eddie Blizzard, Scottsboro, first vice president; Danny Williamson, W.S. Neal Chapter, second vice president; John Summerford, Falkville Chapter, secretary; Hamp Tew, Florala, treasurer; Ric Payson, Stanhope Elmore Chapter , reporter; and George Cargile, Millport Chapter, sentinel.

Thirty-two Alabama FFA members were recommended by the National FFA Board of Directors to receive their American Farmer Degree. The Attalla, Cullman, Evergreen, Jasper and Wetumpka Chapters each had two degree candidates.

Randy Vaughn of Hayden won the state public speaking contest. Vaughn also won the Tri-State FFA Public Speaking Contest in Atlanta and represented Alabama at the national contest. The Holly Pond Chapter won the quartet contest, while neighboring West Point Chapter won the string band contest. West Limestone won the land judging, Attalla won the agricultural mechanics contest, Louisville won livestock, Alexandria won dairy judging and Talladega won forestry judging.

Proficiency Awards included David Oswalt of Winfield, crop production; Kenneth Smith of Holly Pond, dairy production; Billy Rigsby of West Point, livestock production; Randall Jones of Bay Minette, placement in agricultural production; Bobby Allen of Section, poultry production; Larry Tubb of McAdory, ag sales/service; Herbert Newell of Fayette "A," forest management; S. Wadsworth of Wetumpka, home improvement; Dale Green of Russellville, ag electrification; F.D. Emmons of W.S. Neal, ag processing; Tim Kirksey of Castleberry, ag mechanics; Philip Barron of Tanner "A," ornamental horticulture; J. Summerford of Falkville, soil and water management; and Cecil Burney of Chelsea, fish and wildlife management.

Scottsboro was the top chapter in the chapter contest. The Jackson Chapter won the safety contest and the Reform Chapter won the farm woodland award.

The Winter 1975 issue of the Reporter stated Cecil Burney of Chelsea was Alabama’s only national proficiency winner at the 47th National FFA Convention. Burney won the Fish and Wildlife Management Proficiency Award. West Point’s string band also performed at the National Convention. Band members consisted of Vaughn Burden, Randy Lawrence, Chuck Eddy, Ricky Skinner, Randy Milligan and Ruda Strickland.

Four new chapters were welcomed into state membership during the 1974-75 school year. The new chapters were Anniston Agribusiness Center, Bibb County AVC Blue, Bibb County AVC Gold and Escambia-Brewton AVC.

The final news item from the Winter 1975 Reporter featured an article on former state president and national officer Sammy Peebles. Peebles spent four months in FFA’s foreign work experience program. He spent three weeks working on a farm outside Milano, Italy. He then traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, where he joined with 30 more FFA members participating in the FFA Work Experience Abroad program where they evaluated their summer experiences on European farms prior to a two-week whirlwind tour of Europe.

Peebles ended his European tour in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he was a guest of the Ministry of Education and Culture, which had arranged for him to live and work on an Israeli Kibbutz. He spent approximately three months living and working on the Kibbutz and visiting three different vo-tech centers offering agricultural education.

The Spring 1975 Reporter highlighted a call to the 46th State Convention by the state officers. Each officer issued a request to all FFA members to attend the convention which was to be held at Garrett Coliseum, Montgomery. The theme for the convention was "FFA: A Chance For Growth."

Horticulture Judging, the forerunner to today’s floriculture and nursery-landscape contests, was added to the state level for the first time. Huntsville AVC claimed the honor of winning the first state contest.

Lee County set at least a county record when it had nine speakers in its prepared public speaking contest. Tim Collins of the Smith Station "A" Chapter won the county contest. (Collins evidently put his public speaking ability to good use as he became a minster. After serving many years as a pastor in Alabama, he now pastors in Missouri.)

David Glover, in his first teaching position at Waterloo (Lauderdale County), set a goal of building a new image for the Waterloo FFA. Glover said a veteran agribusiness education teacher gave him some excellent ideas and one was to secure a vehicle for use in mechanics instruction and to provide transportation for the supervised work experience program set up by Waterloo’s Agribusiness Department. Through a cooperative venture of the Chrysler Corporation, the Waterloo Agribusiness Department and Mid-Cities Dodge, a (new) four-wheel drive Dodge Ramcharger was secured.

There were 56 chapters in Alabama that had 100 percent membership. Also highlighted were 83 chapters that had 100 or more members. The top chapters were Jacksonville Lab with 236 members, Foley with 227 members, Opp with 214 members, Choctaw County with 212 members, West Point with 209 members, Winfield with 202 members, Wetumpka with 199 members, Hokes Bluff with 195 members, Scottsboro with 187 members and Greensboro Public East with 177 members. According to this issue of the Reporter, at press time the Alabama FFA membership was 27,148.

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

Time for Spring Cleaning

By Dr. Tony Frazier

It’s that time of year again to clean out the old notebook of odds and ends I need to tell you about. I’m not sure where the time goes, but I think someone should look into the concept of "time inflation." We hear, all the time, about how inflation affects our money. You know, a dollar used to be worth a dollar, but now it’s only worth fifty cents. Maybe an hour used to be worth 60 minutes, now it’s only worth 30 minutes. It makes sense to me.

Time to Vaccinate

Every year about this time, I remind horse owners to vaccinate their horses against West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Take this as your annual reminder. Also be advised we recommend they be vaccinated twice a year for those diseases. Additionally, no horse should be without its annual tetanus vaccination. Obviously, if you play the odds, and many people do, you can get by without the vaccination for tetanus. I am not recommending you try to play the odds. Tetanus is a very devastating disease in horses that is very difficult and sometimes impossible to treat. Beyond those recommendations, check with your veterinarian for recommendations for a total horse health care program.

While we always make a point to recommend equine vaccines, I do want to mention that cattle owners remember to vaccinate their cattle. Certainly there are cattle producers who could make an excellent argument to always vaccinate calves against blackleg. I remember back (way back) during my days in private practice, there was a fellow who lost ten calves to blackleg in a very short period of time. When I asked him why he didn’t vaccinate against blackleg, he said he used to but never had the disease, so he quit vaccinating. Somebody is going to have to explain that logic to me. I wonder if the fact that he had previously vaccinated had anything to do with him not having the disease in his calves then? As with horses, check with your local veterinarian about a good herd health program.

Animal Identification

Four plus years after Alabama officially kicked off participation in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), we are still paddling our canoe in that direction. We continue to get calls from producers who are angry because they think they are going to have to pay a $1,000 fine if they do not identify their animals with a microchip and report any movement to the government within 48 hour. Well, none of that is true. Apparently some producers and owners have not heard that the program is VOLUNTARY so far as the federal government and the state of Alabama are concerned. There are, however, private sales, shows and events that may require participation in the NAIS in order to participate. Any private entity can be as restrictive as they wish to be. If a private show or sale wanted to require an orange stripe be painted down the animal’s back, that is within their rights to do. But I cannot think of a reason why anyone would want an orange stripe on an animal.

We are continuing to register premises. We are also in the process of making the official radio frequency identification tags available to local veterinarians to be used when official identification is needed for brucellosis, tuberculosis and other times "official" identification is needed. Stay tuned for more on the tags as it develops.

Is It Still Safe To Eat Food

Peanut butter, spinach, jalapeño peppers, hot dogs, ground beef…….The list continues to grow. When I was a kid, you never heard about food recalls because of bacterial contamination by food-borne pathogens. Can you imagine Popeye getting a bad case of diarrhea because he got a salmonella infection from eating his spinach? That wouldn’t happen because he got his spinach from a can. Anyway, I recently heard someone ask the question, "Why is all of the food becoming contaminated lately? It never used to be this way."

I cannot totally answer that question, but I can give an opinion putting it in perspective. I think food-borne illnesses have always been out there. I am not a public health official, but since the State of Alabama Meat Inspection Program does fall under my umbrella, I think I can weigh in on the issue. I’m sure, years ago, there were outbreaks with E. coli and salmonella that may not have been linked back a specific food source. I believe increased testing for pathogens and the ability to trace down lot numbers of product produced on specific dates and at various establishments have made it seem like an explosion in bad bacteria in food. There are certain practices used in the past to produce raw product discontinued because those practices enhanced or contributed to bacterial contamination.

Just be aware every time you hear about a food-borne illness outbreak or even large amounts of contaminated food, some good does come from it. The experts study what went wrong and regulations (usually sensible and necessary) are put in place to deter that situation from happening again. If regulations were already in place, but not followed, the penalties are getting extremely stiff which makes anyone else trying to skirt the regulations think twice.

I do believe food-borne illnesses can even further decrease if people follow a few simple rules. First, well-rinse all products right out of the bag, especially those to be eaten raw. Number two; keep raw meats separate from cooked or ready to eat foods. Do not share preparation utensils or cutting boards without thoroughly washing between uses. Finally, thoroughly cook all ground products like sausage or hamburgers. They should be heated to 165 degrees.

Now that my notebook is cleaned out, I think I’ll go fishing.

Wrights Win Alabama Farm Of Distinction Title

David and Martha Wright of Plantersville, seated in Gator, captured the 2009 Farm of Distinction award during the annual Farm-City Committee’s awards luncheon in Birmingham. Back row, from left, Federation President Jerry A. Newby, Jim Allen of Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Tom Tribble of John Deere, Lester Killebrew of SunSouth, Lynne Morton of TriGreen and Ed Underwood of TriGreen.

By Debra Davis

David and Martha Wright of Plantersville were named the Alabama Farm-City Committee’s 2009 Farm of Distinction winner during a luncheon Monday April 19, 2009, in Birmingham.

As this year’s winner, the Wrights received prizes valued at more than $10,000 and will represent Alabama in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition during the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, GA, Oct. 20-22.

As owners of Wright’s Nursery and Greenhouse, the Wrights are the first to admit their operation isn’t the biggest in the state, but said instead they focus on doing things efficiently.

"Efficiency is just the name of the game," David said. "You can be left behind, a has-been before you know it these days. Automation and the efficiency of that automation is what’s keeping us all afloat. We can produce a better product at a more competitive price with that automation."

The Wrights produce mostly bedding plants for independent garden centers in the Birmingham, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery markets. David’s son, Davy, has also expanded the business to the Internet through and the family has registered its trademark "Alabama Grown," which appears on all their products. In addition, the family owns/manages a 1,400-acre Treasure Forest.

The Wrights are active in the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association and the Plantersville Baptist Church. David and Martha have two children, Davy and Diane.

As Alabama’s Farm of Distinction winner, the Wrights received a John Deere Gator donated by www.SunSouth.comand TriGreen Equipment dealers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. They also received a $1,250 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC), redeemable at any of its member Quality Co-op stores. The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Health presented the Wrights with an engraved, mahogany farm sign and, as the state winner, the Wrights will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo. The Sunbelt winner will receive $14,000, plus several other prizes.

Five other finalists also were honored during the program, held in conjunction with the Alabama Farmers Federation State Women’s Conference. They were Glynn C. and Bobbie Debter of Blount County, John William and Mary Sudduth of Winston County, Nealy and Betty Barrett of Elmore County, Carl and Donna Sanders of Coffee County, and Mickel and Sybil Shepherd of Clarke County. Each finalist received a $250 gift certificate from AFC.

The Farm-City Committee of Alabama presents the Farm of Distinction Award annually. Farm-City Week is observed nationally each year the week before Thanksgiving as a way to help bridge the gap between rural and urban residents.

Yes, I am “The Chicken Lady”

Samson and his harem.

By Suzy Lowry Geno

"Is the Chicken Lady at home?"

That’s the greeting my husband often hears when he answers the doorbell.

Or—"Hey, aren’t you the Egg Lady?" I may hear when I’m out shopping on one of my as-INfrequent-as-possible forays into the local big-box store.

No—the last time I looked I hadn’t sprouted feathers, but I AM the Chicken Lady to a lot of folks just the same.

It started innocently enough. For years I’d tried to be as self-sufficient as possible on my little 15-acre homestead, but my only livestock (THEN!) was a small barn filled with fluffy Angora rabbits and, of course, the constant dogs and cats.

But the more I read, the more chickens begin to make sense.

LeRoy, a rooster who was hatched from a fertile egg at Old Field Farm.

So in the early spring of 2000 as I was buying rabbit feed in the Blount County Farmers Co-op in Oneonta, I asked Jerry Sterling what type of chickens he’d recommend.

Sterling, who has since passed away, had served as the manager for a long time, and although officially "retired" still came in a couple of days a week to help.

He pulled a colorful poster off the wall and showed me an orangey-brown splotched chicken called a "Golden Comet."

"They lay huge brown eggs and are really hardy. They’d be good for a beginner," he said.

So he placed my order for 20 Golden Comets AND five Easter Egg hens, Ameracaunas, which would lay big bluey-green eggs.

Baby chicks.

He helped me choose a brooder light, waterer and chick starter feed.

Into our spare bedroom went a giant cardboard box with pine sawdust on the floor with the light hanging in the middle, held in place on a broom stick hung across two conveniently placed straight-backed chairs.

When those 25 chicks arrived I was fascinated! I put a tablespoon of sugar in their water each time for the first couple of days. As I carefully lifted each one from the box, I dipped its beak in the sugar water, then in the small pan of feed.

And I didn’t loose a single chick!

I built a chicken enclosure onto one side of what we call "our barn." I read everything I could get my hands on about chickens.

Eggs and an old radio.

When those 25 feathered out fully, I moved them to their new home and they immediately began scratching in the dirt! I was in chicken-heaven!

My husband, whose mama had owned a "real" chicken farm for several years, told me I’d know when I got my first egg because there would be a decidedly different cackle.

About four-and-a-half months after their arrival, I heard it! It was a Thursday morning about 10 when I heard Miz Chicken doing her happy-song-and-dance!

I raced outside and sure enough, there was a big brown egg! I swear that hen had a smile on her face!

I carefully cradled that egg in my hand and raced to show my then-80-year-old mama! Then I called my husband. Then e-mails went literally around the world to all my homesteading friends! They laughed with me and shared my joy.

Move forward more than nine years later…

Chickens are addictive.

There are now approximately 250 chickens (of practically every breed) and six roosters who roam all around my little Old Field Farm. Each rooster has his own harem. Each group has their own area of the three-times-added-on chicken house to enter that is divided from the others. Each little flock patrols their own areas of the woods, yard, goat pastures and more.

But every night, they all line up and march back into the safety of their little houses.

And those big beautiful eggs! About seven years ago a neighbor donated an older refrigerator for my carport because he said he got tired of having to ring the doorbell when he needed eggs!

Now there’s a fruit jar in the fridge and if you need eggs when I’m not at home, you just help yourself, leave your empty cartons on the counter and your money in the jar!

People come from far and near to get "farm fresh eggs from happy chickens." I’ve helped innumerable families get their own home flocks started, just as folks helped me when I started out. For the past three years, I’ve also been selling (and giving away) fertilized eggs so now I have little chicken-grand-children all over our county.

But the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a huge change and this spring it’s been enormous.

All the major national hatcheries serving backyard flocks have a back log of orders as of mid-May. They told me folks are ordering chickens who either had never had them before or who had them years ago and feel now is the time to make sure their families will have fresh eggs (and possibly meat) no matter the state of the economy nor the threat of world-wide situations.

Some of the "real" chicken farmers don’t like it and I’m sorry about that because there is a place for the huge farms and for the little home farmers as well.

While those larger chicken industry folks don’t like to admit it, and some adamantly deny it, Mother Earth Newsconducted a survey in 2007 where they contend true free-range eggs are lower in cholesterol and higher in most vitamins than the typical eggs you get at the store (go to

Whether you agree with that or not, you have to agree there is just something special about going out in your own backyard, sticking your hand in a nest under a happy hen and coming out with a big brown egg!

There are still nay-sayers. One woman visiting my farm said of my farm fresh eggs: "I wouldn’t eat ANYTHING that came out of a chicken’s bottom!" (Although she all the times eats standard white eggs from THE STORE!!!)

So I am just writing this article as a warning: chickens ARE addictive to some folks——me for sure.

Once you see that proud rooster strutting and calling his "women" when he finds a tasty bug or you hear that special cackle when that little lady lays her very first egg, you won’t ever be the same. And that’s good.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.

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