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October 2014

4-H Extension Corner: Forestry Masters

Alabama 4-H Forestry team (from left): Angela Nichols (Coach), Gavin Rankins, Seth Rankins, Polly Barron, Lisa Barron, Sherry Barron, Baylor Nichols and Greg Nichols (Coach). The National 4-H Forestry Invitational was held at West Virginia University Jackson’s Mill State 4-H Camp and Conference Center near Weston, WV.

Alabama Forestry team earns top honors at National 4-H Forestry Invitational.

by Donna Reynolds

Alabama placed first among 12 state teams that competed in the 35th annual National 4-H Forestry Invitational July 27-31. Teams from New York and Georgia placed second and third, respectively. Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia were also represented at this year’s Invitational.

Alabama 4-H Forestry teams have won the national competition 18 times since 1984. Alabama 4-H forestry team members have won the high point individual 13 times since 1987.

"We are tremendously proud of the Alabama Forestry Judging Team for winning the national competition," said Dr. Gary Lemme, director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. "Alabama has a long history of success at this national competition. It is great to see the knowledge and skills these youth have developed translate to success at the national level.

"Forestry is an important part of both Alabama’s economy and its natural environment. Young people learn about its significance through a number of Alabama 4-H natural resource programs."

Alabama was represented by Lisa and Polly Barron from Auburn, and Gavin and Seth Rankins from Cusseta. The team was coached by Greg and Angela Nichols from Lafayette. Alabama team member Lisa Barron received the high point individual award. Second place high individual award was given to Daryl Blough from New York and third place high individual award was given to Seth Rankins from Alabama.

"I have seen the youth involved on the 4-H Forestry Judging Team gain more than an opportunity to become skilled in tree identification, insect and diseases, and timber volume calculations," said Greg Nichols, a volunteer coach for the Alabama team. "Participation also allowed team members to learn in an outdoor classroom how to manage resources to meet landowner goals and the importance of the forestry industry to our local area.

"Forestry judging events provide a platform for working with other youth throughout the state and the nation in a competitive and fun environment. As a father and landowner, I have also benefited from my children knowing how to better manage our land and have the ability to gain employment with local foresters."

Lisa’s first year on the team was 2013.

"I never thought I would be interested in trees and forests, but now that I am I have realized there is so much out there. I have learned a lot and I am still learning every day. As a team, and individually, we studied really hard in the woods and on the computer for a year to prepare for the national competition. It was worth all the hard work."

Seth said that in 2013, the team decided to attend the national competition.

"We made up our minds to go and win, and that is exactly what we did."

The invitational was held at West Virginia University Jackson’s Mill State 4-H Camp and Conference Center near Weston, WV. While at the Invitational, 4-H members competed for overall team and individual awards in several categories. Events included tree identification, tree measurement, compass and pacing, insect and disease identification, topographic map use, forest evaluation, the forestry bowl and a written forestry exam.

The event was sponsored by Farm Credit System, Plum Creek, The Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc., The Society of American Foresters, West Virginia University Extension Service, The American Forest Foundation and the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals.

4-H is a youth education program operated by the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the state land grant universities. More than 6 million youth, 540,000 volunteers and 3,500 professionals participate in 4-H nationwide, and nearly 100,000 are part of the 4-H Forestry Program.

Donna Reynolds is the communication editor of news and public affairs with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Auburn.

Ag Insight

by Jim Erickson

Enrollment underway for new dairy farm risk management program

Enrollment in the new dairy Margin Protection Program is underway and will continue through Nov. 28. The voluntary program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

The USDA also has launched a new web tool to help producers determine the level of coverage under the Margin Protection Program that will provide them with the strongest safety net under a variety of conditions. The online resource, available at, allows dairy farmers to combine unique operation data and other key variables to calculate their coverage needs based on price projections.

Producers can also review historical data or estimate future coverage based on data projections. The secure site can be accessed via computer, Smartphone, tablet or any other platform, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Margin Protection Program, replacing the Milk Income Loss Contract program, gives participating dairy producers the flexibility to select coverage levels best suited for their operation. Participating farmers must remain in the program through 2018 and pay a minimum $100 administrative fee each year. Producers have the option of selecting a different coverage level during open enrollment each year.

Dairy operations enrolling in the new program must comply with conservation compliance provisions and cannot participate in the Livestock Gross Margin dairy insurance program. Farmers already participating in the Livestock Gross Margin program may register for the Margin Protection Program, but the new margin program will begin only when their Livestock Gross Margin coverage has ended.

The Margin Protection Program final rule was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 29, and dairy farmers have until Oct. 28 to determine to comment on whether they think the regulation accurately addresses management changes such as adding new family members to the operation or inter-generational transfers. Written comments can be submitted at or

Genetically engineered seeds planted on over 90 percent of U.S. corn, cotton and soybean acres

U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered seeds rapidly in the 19 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher prices.

In 2014, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance or both traits, reached 96 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), and 93 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States.

Contract broiler growers have higher median and greater range of household income

Households raising broilers have higher median incomes than other farm households and other U.S. households, USDA’s Economic Research Service reported. But the median figures don’t tell the whole story.

First, some background: Household income for farmers combines the income the household receives from off-farm activities with the income the household earns from the farm business, net of expenses and payments to other stakeholders in the business.

In 2011, the median income among all U.S. households was $50,504, while the median income among farm households was $57,050. The median for contract broiler growers was higher, at $68,455.

However, the range of household incomes earned by broiler growers is also wider than other groups, even though contract growers are much more demographically homogeneous than both the U.S. population and the overall farm population.

The wider range reflects, in part, the financial risks associated with contract broiler production. Grower costs can vary widely, and flat annual broiler production in recent years has increased the risk that growers will get fewer chicks placed or that their contracts won’t be renewed.

Exports account for a growing share of U.S. milk disappearance

U.S. commercial exports of dairy products have grown since 1995, accounting for an increasing share of the total commercial disappearance of U.S milk production.

On a milk-equivalent skim-solids basis (a method of adding up quantities of diverse milk products based on their skim-solids content), U.S. commercial exports grew on average 11.8 percent per year between 1995 and 2013, with their share of total commercial disappearance rising from 3.4 percent in 1995 to 18.7 percent in 2013.

Commercial exports of nonfat dry milk and skim milk powder played a major role in the increase. In recent years, major U.S. markets for NDM and SMP have been Mexico, China, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Domestic commercial disappearance serves as a proxy for U.S. consumption, calculated as a residual after accounting for production, on-farm use, imports, exports and changes in stocks. The commercial data also exclude USDA net removals (price support purchases plus subsidized exports minus sales to the commercial market) that were significant in earlier years, but a minor factor since 2004.

Russia food import banto affect small share of U.S. agricultural exports

Russia’s recently announced a 1-year ban on imports of food from the United States should affect only relatively small shares of U.S. agricultural exports, according to USDA economists.

In calendar year 2013, U.S. agricultural exports to Russia totaled $1.31 billion, or 0.8 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports of $162.16 billion. Major U.S. products shipped to Russia in 2013 were poultry meat and products ($312 million), tree nuts (primarily almonds, $172 million), soybeans ($157 million) and live animals (primarily cattle for breeding purposes, $149 million).

However, imports of non-food items, including soybeans and live animals, do not appear to be on Russia’s banned list. U.S. exports of poultry meat and products to Russia accounted for 5.6 percent of U.S. exports in this category in 2013, but U.S. poultry exports to Russia have declined in recent years because of restrictive tariff rate quotas and phyto-sanitary measures.

Exports of high-quality breeding cattle to Russia accounted for 16.8 percent of U.S. live animal exports in 2013 and are imported by Russia to upgrade its cattle and dairy herds.

Russia was the 16th largest U.S. export market for tree nuts, accounting for 2.3 percent of those exports.

India’s cotton output now nearing world’s largest

After exceeding the United States in cotton production 7 years ago, India’s cotton output has continued to expand rapidly and now is poised to surpass China, the world’s largest producer.

India’s cotton production began to expand with the introduction of genetically modified Bt cotton.

Since 2000/01, India’s cotton area has increased about 2.8 percent annually and is now more than double the area sown to cotton in China and more than triple U.S. cotton area. However, India’s cotton yields, while improving about 6 percent annually since 2000/01 to an average of 530 kilograms per hectare (kgs/ha) during 2009/10-2013/14, remain well below those achieved in China (1,357 kgs/ha) and the United States (916 kgs/ha).

With gains in production, India has emerged as the world’s second largest exporter of raw cotton, after the United States, and the second largest consumer of raw cotton, after China. Cotton processed in India is destined for its large domestic market as well as exports of cotton yarn, fabric and clothing.

U.S. expected to reclaim role as leading soybean exporter

With soybean production forecast at a record 103.4 million metric tons (3.8 billion bushels) in 2014/15 (September/August marketing year), the United States is expected to reclaim the role of leading global soybean exporter that it lost to Brazil in 2012/13.

A record harvested area of 84.1 million acres is expected to enhance U.S. price competitiveness and boost U.S. soybean exports to a record 45.6 million metric tons.

U.S. soybean meal and oil exports also are expected to increase, with soybean meal shipments abroad forecast to edge up to 10.66 mmt in 2014/15 from 10.57 mmt in 2013/14. Soybean oil exports could reach 0.95 mmt, up from 0.77 mmt in 2013/14.

If achieved, the plentiful supplies will drive U.S. farm prices lower. USDA forecasts the average farm price for soybeans in 2014/15 will be in the $9.50-11.50 per bushel range, down from an estimated $13 per bushel in 2013/14.

The last time the U.S. farm price for soybeans averaged below $12 per bushel for a crop year was in 2010/11 when it reached $11.30, a record at the time.

Ann Marie’s High Blood Pressure

by Nadine Johnson

In September 2001, Ann Marie suffered a short period of unconsciousness. Extremely high blood pressure was soon determined to be the cause. Of course, her doctor prescribed medication. For some reason the medication didn’t control her pressure while it did cause undesirable side effects.

She had heard of me and the benefits I had experienced by taking alternatives. For that reason, she came for a visit. I showed her literature which suggested various herbs which help to control blood pressure. She decided to take hawthorn berries which proved to be successful.

Dr. John Day was scheduled to be at my house one day in October 2005. He would be giving consultations regarding the use of alternatives. I considered Ann Marie a prime candidate for his advice. After all, she suffered from high cholesterol, liver problems, heartburn, indigestion and diverticulosis as well as high blood pressure. Several trials had determined that she is one of those people who simply cannot take most prescribed medications.

First, Day gave her advice regarding her diet. He stressed the importance of eating properly. He also advised her to exercise three times a week. (This is good advice for all of us.)

She was advised to take natural food enzymes, milk thistle combination, red yeast rice and combination potassium as well as hawthorn berries.

FOOD ENZYMES supplement the body’s production of important enzymes. They provide a blend of enzymes to digest proteins, carbohydrates and fats. They provide a blend of hydrochloric acid and bile salts to help digest proteins and fats. They help prevent or relieve occasional indigestion.

MILK THISTLE COMBINATION supports the hepatic system, stabilizes liver cell membranes, facilitates elimination of toxins from the body, acts as a powerful antioxidant and provides 14,000 IU of vitamin A and 480 mg of vitamin C per serving.

RED YEAST RICE supports the circulatory system, helps the body to maintain normal-range cholesterol levels and supports the production of HCL (good) cholesterol in the liver.

COMBINATION POTASSIUM supports the urinary system, provides 42 mg of elemental potassium per capsule, helps generate energy, drives excess sodium from the body and supports kidney function.

HAWTHORN BERRIES contain constituents that help to enhance heart muscle function and provide circulatory support. The berries’ effects on the circulatory system have been well studied.

(This information regarding food enzymes, milk thistle combination, red yeast rice, combination potassium and hawthorn berries are quotes from the publication, NSP A-Z.)

By taking these recommended products as directed Ann Marie improved at a slow but steady pace. She regained energy and stamina. Realizing that this patient could not take prescribed medication, her doctor welcomed the alternative results.

Ann Marie and I met for the first time in late 2001. A lasting and wonderful friendship resulted. She continues to take alternatives regularly and enjoys exceptional health.

To learn more about John R. M. Day, MD, go to and/or refer to The Herb Lady’s April 2014 column in Cooperative Farming News.

Check with your physician before taking any alternative remedy.

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

Apples and Pies ... Oh My!

by Angela Treadway

With the availability of fresh apples all year long, I never saw much reason to freeze apple pie filling. However, I have had several requests for a frozen apple pie filling. So last fall I experimented with several recipes and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Because I used a sweeter apple in this recipe, I used the lesser amount of sugar. You can adjust seasonings to your taste. I chose this recipe because the thickening ingredient is tapioca that has greater stability to freezing than flour or cornstarch. You will also need to choose an apple variety that retains its shape when cooked.

Frozen Apple Pie Filling

18 large baking apples (about 6 pounds) (gala is a good one to hold its shape)

1½-2 cups sugar

1/3 cup quick-cooking tapioca

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

1½-2 teaspoons cinnamon

Peel and core apples. Slice apples into a color preserver solution.* Drain. In a 6-8 quart saucepan, combine apples and remaining ingredients. Let stand for 15-20 minutes until sugar dissolves and liquid begins to form. Cook over medium heat for 10-20 minutes or until mixture thickens and apple wedges are tender. Stir frequently, but gently so that pieces do not break up. Place pan in cold water to cool mixture. Stir mixture occasionally and change water around the pan to hasten chilling. Fill clean, wide-mouth freezer jars or food-grade plastic freezer containers with mixture, allowing 1½-inch headspace. Crushed food-safe plastic wrap may be put on top of mixture to reduce air space in jar. Place in refrigerator to completely cool and then immediately put in freezer. Makes 4 quarts.

*Prevent the apples from turning brown by placing in a solution of 2 quarts water and 5 finely crushed vitamin C tablets or 1 teaspoon ascorbic acid or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice. Commercial color preservers such as Fruit Fresh may also be used.

To use the mixture, completely thaw filling in the refrigerator. For a 9-inch pie, pour 1 quart of thawed filling into a prepared pie shell, dot with butter, top with top crust, lattice or crumb topping. Bake in pre-heated oven at 425° for 20 minutes, reduce heat and continue baking at 350° until crust is lightly browned and apples are tender. If rim of crust browns too quickly, cover with pie rim protector or create your own by shaping foil over the rim leaving center of pie uncovered.

Apple Tips

Apples are available year round, but peak season for getting the best is in September and October so you might consider preserving some specialties that will add variety to menus throughout the year. Apples can be dried, made into applesauce or apple butter, or even made into a delicious apple/pear jam. Apples do not make the highest quality canned or frozen slices but they can be preserved by those methods, also.

Whether you are buying apples by visiting the nearby orchard, the grocery store or market, or even picking apples from your own backyard, choose the preservation method that is best for your apple variety. Varieties that are good for freezing include: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, Gala and Granny Smith. Varieties that are good for making applesauce and apple butter include: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, Gravenstein and McIntosh. Red Delicious apples are best eaten fresh. They do not freeze or cook well.

When selecting your apples, remember their flavor is best when they are at the peak of maturity. To judge the maturity of apples, do not go by size. Different varieties have different typical diameters. Choose apples that are free of defects such as bruises, skin breaks and decayed spots. Little brown spots appearing solely on the skin of the apple, called "russeting," do not affect quality. Beware and be on the lookout for browning or broken skins that are evidence of actual spoilage such as rotting or mold. Also look for firm (hard) apples since soft apples tend to have a mealy texture and overripe flavor.

If making applesauce, apple butter or dried slices with your apples, use them as soon as possible after harvest. If any apples must be stored, keep them in a cool, dark place. They should not be tightly covered or wrapped up; a perforated plastic or open paper bag, basket or wooden crate is a good choice. If kept in the refrigerator, apples should be placed in the humidifier compartment or in a plastic bag with several holes punched in it (or in a zipper-type vegetable bag). This prevents loss of moisture and crispness. Apples should not be placed close to foods with strong odors since the odor may be picked up by the apples.

For more information on Food Safety/Preservation or Preparation, please call your local county Extension office or contact me at 205-410-3696 or

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.

Box Turtle

Can I Keep It?

by Chas Moore

The box turtle is found throughout the woodlands of Alabama. It is one of the most commonly seen turtles because it is a land turtle. Most turtles are aquatic - meaning they live in rivers, streams, ponds, swamps or lakes. However, like tortoises, box turtles live their entire lives on dry land. They only occasionally soak in mud puddles. Box turtles are usually seen crossing a road, in yards or in woodlots, especially after periods of rain in the summer. In dry periods of the summer, they will excavate under rotting logs or leaf litter only to come out when it rains.

Box turtles are easy to identify, as they are the only turtles native to Alabama that completely enclose their entire bodies inside their shell when alarmed. They have a hinge on their lower plastron (shell) that enables them to do this. This helps keep them safe from predators. The upper shell is shaped like a dome with highly variable colorations of yellow, orange, olive, black or brown mixed together to form a pattern.

Three different subspecies of box turtles occur in Alabama, but identification of these can be difficult for the novice. The northern half of the state is home to the Eastern box turtle. The three-toed box turtle is primarily found in the southwestern section of Alabama, while the Gulf Coast subspecies lives in the southeastern part of the state. However, their ranges overlap widely.

The three-toed box turtle does not always have three toes on the back feet as the name suggests and other races sometimes only have three toes as well. Only minute variations in the plastron and colorations distinguish the different subspecies. Intergrading among the races often occurs, making identification even more difficult where their ranges overlap. For this reason, we can just refer to them all as "box turtles."

Since box turtles are found so frequently and are so easy to catch, they are kept as pets more than any other turtle. They also are very easy to care for. They only need some loose dirt for digging in a yard or box and they readily eat a wide variety of foods, including dog food, fruit, berries and raw hamburger meat. Box turtles usually live 30 or 40 years, with a few reaching 100.

In Alabama, you may keep only one as a pet. It is illegal to buy, sell or trade a box turtle or its parts for anything of value. The best practice is to enjoy them in the wild and appreciate their role in the environment.

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

Chas Moore is a wildlife biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Calling All Shutterbugs

Outdoor Alabama announces its 2015 Photo Contest.

From its wildlife to its landscape, there is no more photographic a state than Alabama. Are you a photographer with an eye for its natural beauty? If so, then show us your work. Outdoor Alabama magazine is pleased to announce its 2015 Photo Contest, with winning entries to be published in the February 2015 issue.

The contest is open to any amateur photographer except employees of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and members of their immediate families. An amateur is defined as someone who does not earn a living from photography. Photographers may enter up to 10 photos. The photos may be in the same category or spread among different categories.

The categories include: Alabama State Parks, Birds, Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians, Other Native Wildlife, Scenic/Pictorial, Nature-Based Activities, and Plants and Fungi. Two youth categories for ages 6-12 and 13-18 allow those ages to enter any of the eight categories.

Entries must be postmarked by October 31, 2014. Entry forms can be downloaded from For more information call 800-262-3151, write to Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest, 64 N. Union St., Ste. 106, Montgomery, AL 36130, or email Kim Nix at

To view winners of the 2014 photo contest, visit Outdoor Alabama’s Flickr page at

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

Comedy of Errors or Just Kismet?

“What am I?” Clue: Tabasco pepper plant and what? Last month’s WAI: The vases the pansies are in are small glass vials that contact lenses are shipped in.

by Herb T. Farmer

This year I planted 128 pepper plants in the main front yard beds, interplanted with flowers of all sorts for a variety of colors. With the almost perfect growing weather and temperatures, they were producing wonderfully all season long. There were two big harvests, plus fresh bells, sweet bananas and jalapeños daily!

At the beginning of August, the peppers were just about ready for the third big harvest. The jalapeños were almost ready for the next big pickling harvest where I would have some red-ripe ones to mix in with the green ones. The sweet banana peppers had been putting on so many fruits that, even with daily harvests, sharing and freezing a few along the way, they were ready for another big pickling harvest in order to make sweet relish and other sweet pickle toppings. (Some folks call it chow-chow, but I never liked that term for such a fine condiment. Makes it sound like dog food.)

Even the habanero chilis were ready for their third picking. I only use those to flavor or heat up my hot chili paste. The Tabascos (and there’s a story there for another time) had been producing so many that I just let most of them turn red-orange ripe before harvesting.

Yes, sir. It was a fine year for the peppers.

Then one morning (or two or three) around the end of August, the local deer herd ran out of apples to forage and started eating the hostas. Then they ate the eggplants and tomatoes! That wasn’t such a big deal as they had started to wane in production.

But, when they started eating the tops out of my chili plants, it really got me going! This was the best pepper growing season that I could remember for several years. These were my prizes … and the deer were eating them! Some of this year’s crop could have been in the county fair! I was proud!

The Squeezo is set up to mill the chilis. It’s a wonderful invention. The cooked chilis go in the top hopper, seeds and skins come out the end and the sauce/paste goodness flows into the bowl.

There wasn’t even a remedy, short of exterminating them, that could stop these bandits. But, I watched and learned about their eating habits. It was interesting that they enjoyed the foliage and stems, but weren’t interested in the fruits. At first, I thought I could deal with that and just let them enjoy all the leaves they wanted, as long as they left the fruits to mature. Even considered growing more peppers for the deer to enjoy. It seemed to be a good idea just to let them top-prune the plants for me. That, in theory, would make the plants bush more and produce more fruits.

Well, that was one of the best short-lived bad ideas I’d had in a long time.

The deer, and their non-selective foliage pruning, prompted an early third harvest. The Alabama summer sun isn’t kind to chili fruits without some foliage to shade them at least part of the day. More than 200 red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers had to be harvested right away with spots of sun-scald on their tops. Those, along with nearly 100 mature cow-horn chilis and several others of that size, were picked immediately. The smaller peppers were harvested before the sun got to them. Besides that, all of them had to be processed within 24 hours in order to prevent rapid over-ripening and rotting, so you know I was busy!

The bell peppers were quickly prepared for freezing by cutting away the sun-scald spots and coring them to remove stems and seeds. (Reminds me of a [R.I.P.] Jesse Winchester song – "Twigs and Seeds.") They were sliced into rings and chipped pieces, and laid out on baking sheets and stacked in layers on wax paper. Then the single-level layers of prepared peppers were placed into the freezer until frozen.

(Hint: Remove the frozen peppers and place them in freezer bags. Since the pepper rings are individually frozen, you can remove as many as you need for cooking without having to thaw a whole bag.)

The seeds and skins are dried on jerky sheets in the dehydrator to make pepper flakes/sprinkles.

There was little time for the rest, so I gave all of the ripe jalapeños to some friends down the way. The remaining chilis had to be processed for sauce/paste in a hurry. They were prepared by removing blemished areas, stemming, removing seeds from the seediest ones (such as cayenne) and then chopped into about one- to two-inch pieces.

After the remainder of the hot peppers were prepped for the next step, they went into a 20-quart stainless-steel stock pot, where I covered them with cold water and added about 2 cups of granulated sugar, ¼ cup kosher salt, ¼ cup minced garlic and a pinch of ground nutmeg. The mixture was then stirred thoroughly and placed into the refrigerator to macerate for about 6-7 days.

Next, it’s time to cook it down. This is usually my favorite part because I do it in the late evening, outdoors on the propane cooker, after all the chores are done. Sometimes a neighbor will come over with a new dish or drink he/she has prepared and we’ll just watch the pot.

The mixture cooks at a high boil for about two hours with the pot lid cocked to one side to prevent boil over. Then the pot is watched for rapid cook down. The volume goes from 20 quarts or 5 gallons to about 8 quarts at the end. The final hour of the four-hour cooking process is most critical, especially the last 30 minutes. Stirring is essential! Do not at any time allow the chilis to stick to the bottom of the pot or scorch. That will ruin your season’s harvest and you’ll have to wait until next year.

You will want to reduce the volume and allow the peppers to truly pot-roast in order to pick up the chipotle flavor without roasting the chilis before creating your chili-wort.

When they have cooked down, the chilis will be soft and the liquid will have a brownish-red tint to it. You should then be able to smell the roasting in the pot.

Smell that? It’s ready. Let the pot cool to room temperature, then place your cooked chilis into a glass or stainless container. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (You actually have about a three-day window to complete the process as long as the peppers are kept refrigerated.)

The final process from this point has changed due to unforeseen circumstances.

In a perfect world: Place portions of the prepared chilis into your blender and puree until … well … pureed. I mean pureed until the last seed piece and skin have become undetectable in your paste mixture. It should all be consistently the same. If it’s too thick, add a little vinegar (1 teaspoon at a time). You will want the consistency to be somewhere between tomato paste and humus. After you have processed all of your chilis, taste your creation. Does it need salt? Sugar? Now is the time to adjust.

My experience was very different this year. From the time I planted to the harvest and final processing, it was all just weird. The plants were beautiful and grew magnificently all season long. So what about the deer issue just before the third harvest? I dealt with it and the sun-scald, too. The plants grew their foliage back and started blooming again and a fourth harvest is expected before frost.

The last major issue in the chili saga of 2014 is this: I put a portion of the chilled mixture into my blender and it started to whine. Then it began to clunk. Then it began to smoke! I unplugged it at about the time it had drawn enough amperage to blow the 15-amp breaker and create a small fire within the housing of the appliance. I extinguished the small flame by removing the critical carafe of many hours of loving-labor and placing the housing, by its unplugged cord, into the sink.

R.I.P. to my 35-year-old harvest gold Hamilton B—ch blender.

After the ozone smoke cleared, with the breaker reset, I found my newer model Osterizer (1989 or so) and transferred the mixture into the new carafe.

I guess it had become lonely and felt unloved, because the blender didn’t catch fire. It just quit working altogether after about a minute of use. I’ll take it apart later and try to determine if it’s fixable.

Change of plan: I set up the wonderful gadget, Squeezo, and processed the lot manually. The only difference is a slight flavor change because of the elimination of seeds and skins.

No matter. I dried the skins and seeds to make pepper flakes for pizzas, etc., and the chili sauce is hot and yummy! I shall call this batch, Herb’s Hurt Paste/Level Hell-3. It’s hot! Perfect for your Halloween celebrations! Try it on cheese and crackers, or use it to heat up a Bloody Mary!

Be sure to pressure can this product for storage the same way you would can potatoes.

I don’t hunt or kill, but I do eat. My neighbors across the street have an open permit here to harvest as many as our freezers will hold (deer, that is).

It’s spook-and-boo season and I’m ready for some pumpkin pie!

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

Thanks for reading!

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

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

Corn Time



Data … Is It Really a Four-Letter Word?

by Chuck Sykes

For many hunters, the February season shift is reason to celebrate. Here is an account of how the decisions were made:

As a biologist, I understand the need for quality data to make management decisions. Understandably, some people who do not have a scientific background may view data collection as unnecessary. One can never discount the political and social factors that come into play with decisions made on a state level. As a newcomer to the State Agency side of wildlife management, I don’t bring along the institutional knowledge of why decisions have been made in the past and what processes were used to make those decisions. Therefore, I utilized a once-wet-behind-the-ears biologist who is now a seasoned veteran and leader in the deer management arena to assist me with the explanation of how the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division began the process to get to where we are today with the season shift in South Alabama. The following is his account of the journey to the February deer season shift.

"WFF staff members have been collecting data to examine the reproductive health of deer in Alabama and improve their understanding of the various factors influencing the biology and behavior of Alabama’s herd since 1995. As more sites were sampled, it became clear that most deer herds in Alabama had the potential to be quite productive (i.e., very high pregnancy and fetus/doe rates), but predicting the local herd’s conception dates was often difficult. Deer in populations separated by only a few miles sometimes had average conception dates that were as much as two months apart. Unfortunately, efforts to collect these data from throughout the state were slow to expand.

"During this same time, more and more of Alabama’s deer hunters were educating themselves about not only new hunting tactics but also new ways to improve the quality of their local herds and hunting experiences through harvest and habitat management. These hunters learned of the importance of data collection and the importance of using these data when making management decisions. Many also began to question WFF’s own data-collection efforts and how the data was used in setting seasons, bag limits, etc. These inquiries often were dismissed or met with unsatisfactory responses. The old strategy of patting everyone on the head and telling them to ‘trust me’ was quickly becoming practically useless for WFF staff. It became clear the Emperor was naked.

"Two particular questions WFF could not answer to the satisfaction of many were: ‘When is the rut?’ and ‘Why can’t we hunt in February?’ Two neighboring states, Mississippi and Florida, offered February deer hunting in areas just across the border from Alabama. Much of the justification for allowing February hunting in those areas was due to the late breeding (i.e., late January/early February) seen in these areas. Hunters in south Alabama believed their deer rutted at the same time as neighboring deer in Mississippi and Florida, but found little support for a February season from WFF administrators. Opposition was not supported by data since very little conception date data existed from South Alabama.

"With the arrival of the current administration, a new push to collect conception-date data across the state was launched by WFF. These increased data collection efforts did a very good job of filling in many of the conception-date data gaps in Alabama. The increased data made it very clear most sites in some portions of the state had rut dates that went beyond January 31. The one area where the late dates were most consistent from site to site was southwestern Alabama. Data collected from 1995-2012 showed the average conception date in the area open for February hunting in 2013 (i.e., the February zone) was January 31, with 49 percent of the deer in the sample having conception dates after January 31. For comparison, deer sampled in the remainder of the state during that period had an average conception date of January 15, with 24 percent of the deer breeding after January 31.

"WFF’s Wildlife Section staff has continued to expand its reproductive health data collection efforts into areas where no previous sampling had occurred or where data indicated significantly earlier or later conception dates than surrounding regions. Two such areas where significantly increased sampling efforts were warranted beginning in 2013 were the area surrounding the 2013-14 February zone and the area with unusually early conception dates along the Chattahoochee River in southeastern Alabama. Data collected from these sites during 2013 and 2014 confirmed what hunters and biologists in these areas had suspected – the February zone should be much larger, but not all of South Alabama should be included.

"The additional data made the decision to expand the February zone and exclude portions of Barbour, Henry, Houston, Lee and Russell counties for the 2014-15 season an easy one. More hunters in south Alabama are finally getting their wish of hunting the peak of breeding in South Alabama. Unfortunately, shifting the season does not guarantee more success for hunters especially if proper hunting techniques are not utilized.

"The data also made it clear that shifting the opening day of archery season in the February zone should be a priority. The peak of fawn births in the new February zone is mid-August. Most fawns are not fully weaned until about 3 months of age. Opening archery season on October 15 in this zone means there is a very good chance many fawns will be orphaned at only two months of age. Orphaning fawns at that age greatly reduces their chances of survival. Giving them an additional 10 days to mature by shifting opening day to October 25 should improve their chances of surviving if their dam is taken by a hunter in the early archery season. Delaying the opening of archery season in this zone until mid-November or making the first two weeks of archery season buck only may be explored as alternatives to minimize this issue.

"Data collection and evaluation, research and public input should all be key components to effectively managing Alabama’s wildlife resources. The push to collect data on the reproductive health of deer populations across Alabama and the resulting interpretation of the data to set season dates are just two examples of how WFF is moving forward. Game Check, hunter surveys, cooperative research projects and retooling the Deer Management Assistance Program are other examples of how WFF is improving its management efforts for deer and other wildlife across Alabama."

Data is not a dirty word and it definitely isn’t the Boogie Man. Closing eyes and plugging ears because you don’t want to see what the data shows is no way to manage wildlife. Trust me, it doesn’t work.

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

Dirt Bound and “Bitter” Pickin’s

In spite of the difficult growing conditions, hard-packed dirt and competing bitterweeds, the volunteer peanuts Johnny Garrett discovered on his farm made a good crop.

Gathering volunteer peanuts from a bitterweed field is hard work; but, for Pike County farmer Johnny Garrett, the effort is worth it.

by Jaine Treadwell

Anyone who would attempt to harvest 60 acres of volunteer peanuts that are competing with bitterweeds for ground space must have a loose bolt or just be a nut.

No one would agree more than Johnny Garrett, a retired Pike County businessman and lifetime farmer.

However, overexposure to hard work for an extended period of time can cause bolts to loosen and rattle a bit.

Garrett, laughingly, admits hard work is now his hobby, not his chosen vocation, and maybe time has loosened a screw or two.

Maybe that’s why he went about gathering volunteer peanuts that were dirt bound and "bitter" pickin’s. But he loved every minute of what some would consider "a fool-hearted venture."

Garrett has deep roots in the red clay fields of Pike County.

As a youngster, he plowed barefooted because he only had one pair of shoes – "Sunday shoes."

Sam Carroll, a college student who helped Garrett with the peanut harvest, shaking the dirt and dust off the peanuts by hand.

"The ground would be so hot I’d try to walk on the peanut vines or under the cotton stalks where there was a little shade so I wouldn’t burn my bare feet," Garrett said. "I spent a lot of my young years behind the plow and looking at the backside of a mule."

But, along the way, farming got in Garrett’s blood – maybe from the dirt between his toes or from the sweat beads around his neck. But it got there and there’s no known antidote for farming in the blood. It is best managed by hard work, long hours and a little risk taking.

"I grew up working on the farm and working hard," Garrett said. "I learned to love to work. I’ve always loved field work and there wasn’t much harder work on the farm than going to the peanut field."

Shaking peanuts and stacking peanuts was hard work for the men, let alone a young boy.

"But I did it and never thought a thing about it," Garrett said.

"Back then, we had an old tractor with a ground slide. We’d lay the peanut stack over on the ground slide and the tractor would pull it to the stationary picker set up out in the field. The peanuts would be picked off and we’d pitch the loose hay into the baler. Doodling hay. That’s what we called it."

Johnny Garrett stands in what looks like a bitterweed patch, but is actually 60 acres of volunteer peanuts.

Garrett, laughingly, said he almost got cured of his love for work at the peanut picker.

"Around the peanut picker was the dustiest and dirtiest place in the world," he said. "I’d come away from the peanut picker so dirty all you could see was the whites of my eyes."

All the dust and dirt from the peanut picker would sift down on the ground and make that spot rich and fertile, and anything that grew there would grow bigger and better than anywhere else in the field.

"Those fertile spots were peanut-pickin’ spots," Garrett said.

Perhaps it was the combination of Garrett’s love of work and his affection for peanut-pickin’ spots that had him out in the hot, late August sun, picking volunteer peanuts.

"I’d rented 60 acres out to Mike Wilson and, for 2 years, he’d grown peanuts," Garrett said. "This year, he was going to grow cotton, but it rained so much out there he couldn’t get the cotton in the ground."

But evidently the rain was just right to bring up a big crop of volunteer peanuts.

Glancing across the field, it appeared the bitterweeds had choked out the peanuts so there was little to be gained from trying to gather the few goobers that dared to grow in the hot, dusty ground ripe for weeds.

Not so, Garrett said.

"Usually, volunteer peanuts don’t make much and the ones that do aren’t worth the effort it would take to get them out of the ground," Garrett said. "But I got to looking at those volunteer peanuts and they’d produced a right good crop. What surprised me was that they were good peanuts. They needed to be picked."

So, right there in the middle of 60 acres of volunteer peanuts, Garrett decided picking the peanuts would be worth the effort. He then took on the burdensome task of picking peanuts that were ground bound and tangled with bitterweeds.

Hard work and perseverance paid off. Garrett loaded his wagons.

Neither Garrett nor Sam Carroll, a college student who also loves to work, ventured a guess as to how long it took to load a wagon with volunteer peanuts.

"If we knew, we probably wouldn’t have done it," they agreed, and added that those 60 acres were a new kind of peanut-pickin’ spot.

"I had to find a way to get the peanuts out of the ground," Garrett said. "The ground was so hard you couldn’t pull the peanuts up or dig them with a pitchfork. I had to find another way."

Garrett’s "other way" was with a "mechanical mule," outfitted with a hayfork. The fork gouged the peanuts right out of ground. Of course, they came out in a tangle with the bitterweeds. Separating the "wheat from the chaff" was hot, dusty work, but it was "well worth the effort."

"We got several trailer loads of good volunteer peanuts," Garrett said. "I thought the children and grandchildren would enjoy sitting around and picking the peanuts off for boiling like we used to do for seed peanuts. They enjoyed sitting around with pans of peanuts in their laps and getting their pictures taken, but they didn’t do any picking."

Not to be outdone, Garrett loaded a wagon with the volunteer peanuts and he’ll haul them to the Peanut Butter Festival in Brundidge Oct. 25.

Folks can go by Johnny Garrett’s Peanut Picking Spot and pick off a bag of volunteer peanuts to take home. And, no, Garrett said, the peanuts won’t have the taste of the bitterweed.

"If they did, they wouldn’t have been worth all the trouble it took to get them picked and they were worth every minute of all the hard work," Garrett said. "And, I loved every hot, dusty minute of it."

Spoken like a tried-and-true, lifetime farmer.

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Dozer Decisions

Tommy Strain of Randolph County with his Caterpillar D6.

Taming the Bull of Land Management

by John Howle

The bulldozer is the bull of land management. In a few hours, a dozer can complete tasks that would take months with a farm tractor. Since most of us don’t own a dozer, a well-thought-out plan will save money when you hire a dozer and operator for work around your farm.

Choose Your Operator Carefully

If you are trying to balance the wildlife on your land with the management of timber, you can hire a qualified dozer operator for timber-clearing cleanup, creation of food plots and the construction of firebreaks. The most important consideration is hiring a dozer operator who is experienced and has the right dozer for the job.

Tommy Strain of Randolph County has been operating dozers in his construction business for 40 years, and he has completed just about any facet of land management that can be accomplished from the dozer seat.

"The first thing you have to do is match the dozer for the job," Strain explained. "If you are working in tight spots, a smaller dozer works better; but the smaller dozer wouldn’t be as effective if you are trying to push stumps out of the ground."

Even though there are different size classifications based on dozer manufacturers, Caterpillar, for years, has set the size classification where most folks know what size dozer you are talking about. For instance, a Caterpillar D4 is one of the smallest dozers, and it’s used primarily for tight space working or finishing grading work.

This Caterpillar D5 does an ideal job of finish work and clearing brush for pasture.

"A D4 does a great job of smoothing out a pad or doing finishing grading," Strain said. "However, you would want a larger D6 if you want to pop pine stumps out of the ground after a timber clearing."

The larger dozers are the D8s and D9s, and their job is to move large amounts of dirt quickly.

"If you want to build a one acre pond, a D6 would be ideal if you do not have to push dirt more than 200 feet," Strain continued. "If you are taking dirt farther than that, I would recommend using a pan, which is a dirt-hauling implement that attaches to the dozer."

A Dozer of the Right Size

One of the most common dilemmas the landowner faces when hiring a bulldozer operator is paying by the hour for a dozer that is undersized for the job. Ultimately, you are paying more cash because the smaller dozer may not be designed to handle larger jobs efficiently. Look at the jobs you want completed. If you are simply creating firebreaks, the smaller D4 would be sufficient. If you are smoothing a pad for a hunting cabin, the D4 would provide ample horsepower for the job.

The larger dozers have higher horsepower and can handle big jobs with fewer passes of the blade, but there are drawbacks.

"A D8 or D9 is a much bigger machine, but it’s also a big expense, not only in buying the machine but with the extra costs of moving the dozer and the fuel required," Strain said. "Ultimately, the landowner has to cover the extra costs of the bigger machine when a D6 could have completed the same job with lower expenses."

Timing Helps

If you have thinned or clear cut harvested pine timber, you’ll likely be left with tons of aggravating stumps. Strain recommended waiting at least 2 years before clearing land where pine forests have been.

"In 2 years, the pine stumps will lose the feeder roots through rotting, and they can easily be pushed up with the dozer blade," Strain said. "With a D6, you can simply push up to the stump, push up on the blade and the stump will pop out."

If you are hoping to remove hardwood stumps with a dozer, you may have to wait a few years or hire other equipment such as backhoes that can dig around the stumps.

"The toughest stump to remove is hickory," Strain said. "It takes years for hickory stumps to rot."

Firebreaks and Food Plots

Know in advance where your firebreaks should be or where you want brush piles pushed. If you have a written wildlife or timber management plan, this saves time when the bulldozer operator arrives on site, and, ultimately, it saves money since most dozer operators charge by the hour. Hourly rates can start at $75.

For most wildlife land improvements, Strain advises using the smaller D4 or D5 category bulldozers.

"For firebreaks, I usually use the smaller dozer with the 10-foot wide blade," Strain said. "A firebreak two-blades wide provides a wide, safe corridor for confining burns."

The land manager usually ends up with lots of brush after a timber clearing or thinning. In the log-landing zones where logs have been loaded onto the trucks, there will be a lot of debris left by the de-limbing machines. Strain recommended pushing the debris in one large pile with a firebreak cut around the pile for later burning. In addition to having an ideal spot for a food plot, the area where these burn piles are located will experience the by-product of better soil as a result of the ash left behind.

Best All Around

It’s difficult to pick just one size dozer for all the work to be completed with land management and, more importantly, picking an operator with the experience you need.

"My favorite all around choice for land management would be the D6 Caterpillar," Strain concluded. "As far as picking an operator, nothing replaces experience because it takes considerable know-how to operate a dozer to its potential."

When it’s time to hire a dozer operator, look beyond just the hourly cost. Make sure the operator is skilled and experienced, and make sure the dozer is big enough for the job.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.



Fair Board Drama

by Baxter Black, DVM

I went to America last week … the middle of America, Kansas, to a county fair. I flew into Denver and drove across miles and miles of green prairie. If America has a heart, it’s out here on the Plains. It’s not an easy place to live. You have to earn its respect. It will test you with blizzards, tornadoes, floods, droughts, dust, plagues and loneliness. It is often all or none. One learns to be self-sufficient.

The county fair is often the biggest event of the year in many Plains communities. Carnivals, tractor pulls, rodeos, cotton candy … where else can you get cotton candy? And the occasional traveling cowboy poet. For the agricultural folks, it has two purposes: to train the next generation of farmers in the profound knowledge that it takes to feed the world and to meet and educate consumers about where their food comes from.

This summer the Plains have turned into a garden. Less rain at the right time is better than more rain at the wrong time, which brings me to my trip. By the time I reached the little town in Kansas that was my destination, the clouds were beginning to huddle to plan their next play. I went by the fairgrounds to greet the fair board and check in. My performance was to be in the outdoor rodeo arena. The bell horn speakers sounded like the announcer at the Kentucky Derby!

We, the board and I, worked on the sound system so it didn’t sound like a tornado warning! When it was perfect, we moved it and broke one of the connectors. Repair required a trip to Radio Shack in the next town 42 miles away. The sky was turning a bruised-blue color in the north. I went to the hotel and changed into my fancy shirt. The show was advertised as a 7 p.m. performance. At 6 o’clock, I was back at the fairgrounds. The crowd was beginning to gather in the stands. Many of them had driven 50-plus miles to be there. The carnival had temporarily shut down in anticipation of rain. The clouds looked ominous. The storm hit at 6:30!

The next hour and a half was the equivalent of a fair board SWAT team! Can we have it inside? Will the rain quit? Will anybody come? Will the speaker short out? Will people go home? They examined each alternative and waited … at 7:45 the rain fizzled to a drizzle. The clouds were moving south. The word went out … 8 o’clock in the grandstands, show time! It was still light, the flag was standing straight out in the wind, the crowd was bundled up and I stood on the front walkway with my back to the rain. The whole bunch of us just smiled and shed water. Cancel the show? Not on your life.

That was the moment we shined. All of us, from the fair board, to the volunteers, the farmer who fixed the sound system, the parents of kids who had projects, the local radio announcer, the county agent and all those in the grandstands who came to see the show.

I began, "I have called you all together here this evenin’ to thank the good Lord for the wonderful rain we’re havin’."

The crowd cheered and I heard an "Amen."

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,

Fish Art

2014 StateFish Contest Winners Announced

from the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

Each year, K-12 students from across the country can enter their artwork in the Wildlife Forever StateFish Art Contest. Student artists can submit artwork depicting any eligible fish listed on the organization’s website, This year, two largemouth bass, a cutthroat trout and a bluegill landed four Alabama students in the winner’s circle. Alabama’s first place winners will receive their awards at the StateFish Art Expo August 15-17 in Columbia, S.C.

The Alabama winners are:

Grades K-3: Grace Xiang, Barbara Keel Art School, Auburn, largemouth bass

Grades 4-6: Victoria Wang, Barbara Keel Art School, Auburn, cutthroat trout

Grades 7-9: Annie Zhang, Barbara Keel Art School, Auburn, bluegill

Grades 10-12: Brother Swagler, Mountain Brook High School, Mountain Brook, largemouth bass

Largemouth bass by Grace Xiang, winner grades K-3. Cutthroat trout by Victoria Wang, winner grades 4-6.
Bluegill by Annie Zhang, winner grades 7-9. Cargemouth bass by Brother Swagler, winner grades 10-12.

Alabama’s official state fish are the largemouth bass and the fighting tarpon.

National awards to be announced at the StateFish Art Expo include Best of Show and the People’s Choice Award. One outstanding piece of artwork will win the Art of Conservation Stamp Award and be reproduced as a conservation stamp. Proceeds from the stamp will be used to fund the StateFish Art Contest and children’s outdoor education. For more information about the event, visit

Wildlife Forever is a non-profit conservation organization based in Minnesota that works to preserve America’s wildlife heritage through conservation education, preservation of habitat and scientific management of fish and wildlife species.

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

Formax High Magnesium Minerals

by John Sims

As I thought about products to spotlight for October, I was drawn to high-magnesium minerals. High-magnesium minerals have been used for many years to help prevent grass tetany in cattle.

Grass tetany is a nutrition problem that strikes female cattle grazing highly fertilized cool-season grasses. It will mainly affect older cattle in early lactation. Grass tetany is caused by low blood-serum levels of Mg. When cool-season grasses are low in Mg, compounded with soils that are low in Mg, and added to the cow’s Mg requirements to produce milk, it can create a situation where the cow’s Mg is low. Cold temperatures and cloudy weather are conditions that promote low Mg levels in the forage.

To help prevent this condition, feed Formax minerals. Formax minerals are formulated and developed to help correct mineral imbalances in our Southern forages. Other mineral companies do not match our forage requirements here in Alabama. Most Formax minerals contain Mintrex chelated trace minerals that can increase absorption up to 600 percent over elemental forms of minerals. They are also weather coated to handle our humid conditions.

Formax Grazing Bronze - This is a good choice for the producer who wants a complete mineral and a low-cost magnesium source.

Formax Grazing Silver - This mineral is a great choice for the above-average commercial cattle herd. High levels of chelated minerals, weather coating and high levels of trace minerals make this a great choice to boost your magnesium and maintain a high level of reproductive performance.

Formax Grazing Gold - The Formax gold series of minerals is designed for the highest level reproductive efficiency in your cattle. Formulated with the greatest levels of chelated trace minerals, organic yeast and vitamin E to ensure this mineral can handle the stress of breeding, whether natural or artificial.

Formax 24/7 - This mineral fits nicely between the Bronze and Silver lines of minerals. In addition to having good levels of chelated trace minerals and weather coating, 24/7 has 6 percent magnesium so it can be fed all year. When fed continuously, this mineral will keep the blood serum levels of magnesium at good levels.

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


Personnel from Roland Cooper State Park had to bring in a backhoe to help the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries crew weigh the monster alligator caught during the opening weekend of Alabama’s alligator season by Mandy Stokes and her team. Team members are: (from left) Parker Jenkins, Savannah Jenkins, Kevin Jenkins, Mandy Stokes and John Stokes. The 15-foot gator weighed 1,011.5 pounds. (Credit:

Thomaston resident tags a possible world-record gator on the Alabama River during the state’s annual alligator season.

by David Rainer

At 5 p.m. on Friday, August 16, Mandy Stokes of Thomaston was a wife, mom and assistant to Dr. Bill Bledsoe at the Camden Veterinary Clinic. Less than 24 hours later, Stokes was an instant, multi-national celebrity.

Stokes admits she had no idea what she was getting into during the second night of the Alabama alligator hunting season and, especially, the media feeding frenzy that started when word began to circulate about the 15-foot, 1,011.5-pound alligator she tagged in the wee hours of that Saturday morning in a slough near Miller’s Ferry Dam on the Alabama River.

"I don’t really know how to describe it," Stokes said of reaction to the monster gator. "It just went nuts. John and I have a daughter that is 3 and a son that’s 1, so we kind of have a full-time job with that. I think the whole world-record potential is what’s really got people stirred up.

"I never expected to be a celebrity in any way, but I sure never dreamed it would be from gator hunting."

Stokes said CBS New York contacted her husband, John Stokes, and ABC News attempted to get an interview through Jeff Dute, who broke the story as outdoors editor of the Mobile Register/

"I’ve got an email from Fox News, but I haven’t even opened it," she said. "I can’t keep up with all the notifications. I’m already two or three days behind just trying to be polite to people. I don’t want to be rude and ignore people, but I don’t know what I’m going to do."

With her job as a veterinary assistant and John’s job with AT&T, Stokes said their commitments to their jobs have to come before the interviews.

"I’ve had people call me and tell me they were driving to Camden to interview me, and I told them not to come," she said. "I don’t want to upset anybody, but I don’t have time to talk to them all. I’m at work. I’ve got kids at preschool. Plus, John and I are trying to build a house. It’s just crazy around here anyway."

Stokes said she, John and Kevin Jenkins, her brother-in-law, went out on Thursday night, the first of the season, to look around for a gator to no avail.

"John and Kevin decided to work Friday, so we didn’t stay late Thursday so we could go back out Friday night," Mandy said. "When we got back on the water Friday night, I think the three of us decided that we were going to tag out no matter what we found. We just didn’t have time to hang out on the river for six nights."

Stokes said they had no idea a monster gator even lived in that narrow body of water off the river.

"I had never been in that slough in my lifetime," she said. "It’s unlikely that I’ll ever go back to it."

And if she draws an alligator tag in the future, she’s going to make sure John and Kevin do some downsizing.

"I don’t ever want to hook into one that size again," Mandy said. "If we had known what was on that line, it would have intimidated us so bad that we would have never harvested it. We never really saw the gator except for his eyes and tail. We thought it was going to be a 10-footer."

More than four hours into the fight, the team managed to get two ropes on the gator and secured him to the boat. That’s when Mandy tried to shoot the gator at the base of his skull with her 20-gauge shotgun. Unfortunately, the gator’s head went underwater when the trigger was pulled, stifling the shot. The gator then took the team on a boat ride it’ll never forget. The boat slammed into a cypress stump and sent the members of the team tumbling into the bottom of the boat.

"When we crashed into the stump, we all knew what was fixing to happen – we were either going to cut him loose or kill him," Mandy said. "My brother-in-law managed to get another hook in him, and he said he was going to try to get his head up. He told me, ‘When I get his head up, you be ready.’ His head came up just as calm as you could ask for."

Stokes’ second shot applied the coup de grace, and the gator rolled over.

"If that attempt had failed, we were through," Mandy said. "We were OK just to let this animal go. Our safety was at risk, and we weren’t willing to compromise that."

When Stokes realized the epic struggle was finally over, she didn’t know how to react.

"I was speechless," said Stokes, who still gets breathless reliving that night. "I was so overwhelmed with emotion at that point I didn’t know what to do. I thought, ‘Oh, what just happened?’"

The emotion of the successful hunt quickly turned into work as another rope was tied to the gator and the trolling motor was used to navigate out of the stump-filled slough in the early morning fog.

After exiting the slough, the boat was pulled onto the bank of the river to secure the gator for the 2-mile trip to the boat ramp.

"We really tied him up good, because we knew if he ever came off the boat, we’d never find him again," Stokes said. "We tied him the best we could. In fact, we ran out of rope."

When the Stokes team finally made it to the weigh station at Roland Cooper State Park, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries personnel were then presented with an obstacle similar to what the hunters experienced – the gator was too big for the equipment.

Wildlife Biologist Mike Sievering said Big Daddy Lawler, who hosts an outdoors radio show in central Alabama, alerted the weigh-station crew that a gator was coming in just as the scales were about to close.

The behemoth arrived on a flatbed trailer, and Sievering knew right away that this gator was special.

"This thing was huge," Sievering said. "I’d never seen anything that big."

The previous gator that topped the Alabama harvest charts was the so-called Fancher gator at 14 feet, 2 inches and 838 pounds. That gator also came into the weigh station at Roland Cooper.

"The equipment on the Fancher gator was just fine," Sievering said. "But on this one, the winch just wasn’t big enough. We got him off the ground, but one of the clevises popped and straightened out. Finally, we got up with State Parks and got them to bring a backhoe in there so we could weigh it correctly. Kudos to State Parks for helping out on that deal, or we’d have been in trouble.

"We had to re-rig it several times and tie the tail up to get it weighed. A 15-footer is a lot of animal hanging there."

As for the world record, there are really no set parameters to determine a world record, although it appears the length of the gator could be the determining factor. The Safari Club International recognizes a gator from Texas that was 14 feet, 8 inches long and weighed 880 pounds. The Arkansas state record gator weighed 1,100 pounds, but it measured 13 feet, 9 inches.

"It was something to see," Sievering said. "That girl, Mandy, sure was proud of it, but she was basically in shock at how big it was."

Stokes hasn’t been the only one inundated with media requests since the big gator hit the scales.

"I spent Monday morning on the phone with CBS, Fox News and a bunch of others," Sievering said. "There was even a media outlet from France that did an interview. I couldn’t get my weekly report done. Heck, I couldn’t even get a cup of coffee."

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes said the Stokes gator highlights another exciting hunting opportunity for outdoors enthusiasts in Alabama that has been in existence for a relatively short time.

"We are now in the ninth season of our alligator hunts, which began in August 2006," Sykes said. "Since that first year, we have more than tripled the size of our three hunt zones, coupled with an increase in tags to match. Each year, interest continues to increase from Alabama hunters for the opportunity to hunt this elusive species. As stewards of Alabama’s natural resources, we strive to manage for sustainable populations of alligators. With sound management practices such as regulated quota hunts based upon continued population monitoring, we anticipate that Alabama hunters will be able to enjoy these hunts for many years to come."

David Rainer is with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Get With the Program

by Stephen Donaldson

This time of the year is the beginning of my favorite time of the year. Soon the crisp fall nights will start rolling in, Friday night high school football, Saturdays on the Plains or the Capstone, and the beginning of hunting season all bring joy to this country boy’s heart. Crop harvest has begun and farmers are reaping the benefit of good weather and proper management.

I really enjoy following high school and college football. In recent years, we have heard catch phrases from coaches such as "all in," "the system" and "the process." To be successful, all of these phrases are true. Success surely comes from implementing these philosophies. That has been evidenced by the successes of college teams in our state.

However, these principles also are true for nearly anything we do. They are principles we need to embrace and use in our livestock production systems. These principles require that we set goals and methods to reach these goals.

For cow-calf operations, a set calving season and vaccination and nutrition programs are vital. You can also throw in marketing programs to help maximize profits. For these goals to be reached, a rigid written plan needs to be in place. The smaller details of this plan need to be adaptable and nimble, and have the ability to be changed quickly.

Stocker operators need to evaluate the size cattle they want to start and the weight at which they want to market those cattle. They must decide if they want to graze those cattle or dry lot them. Those decisions will dictate their goal for average daily gain. Many of the vaccination programs are dictated by the particular market where these cattle will be sold. In this phase of beef production, producers have to be concerned with the body condition of the cattle when sold. Cattle that are too fleshy when marketed will likely be discounted because of potential poor performance in the feed yard.

From a feed standpoint, there are more options out there than fleas on a yard dog. There are cheap feeds, premium feeds, all-natural feeds and intake limiting feeds. In fact, there are so many different types of feed that it can get downright confusing which feed you should use. Ah, here is where the above paragraphs come in. The feed you use should be dictated by your program or plan. Any quality feed retailer should have a feed that meets your production system’s requirements.

One of the best examples of this is Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s lineup of CPC feeds. The Stargro Program was developed through years of trial on hundreds of thousands of stocker calves. This program allows stocker producers to select feeds that work with their individual program. Whether you need a feed for incoming stockyard cattle or your own weaned calves, the starter feeds are balanced and medicated to get them on feed and growing quickly. After getting the calves started and converted to CPC Grower, producers can expect a low cost per pound of gain and cattle primed to sell to feed yards. The cattle will not be too fleshy and will grow and convert well in the feed yard. In regard to feed cost, the measure that assures profitability is the cost required to put on a pound of gain not the cost per ton of feed.

In the CPC feed lineup, there are products to balance silage-based programs, minerals, and both poured and low-moisture tubs. There are also products suitable for cow-calf operations from beef cow supplements to creep feeds. These are versatile feeds that can fit nearly any production scenario. As you explore these feeds, remember that you need to make them fit your program. They need to fit within your plan.

Take time to evaluate your production scenario and goals. Take time to write a plan. Make it a reasonable and doable plan. Make sure it has realistic and attainable goals. Evaluate how your plan will affect those producers further down the production line. After making this plan, take time to write it down and refer to it often. Especially, refer to it in times of change and critical decision making. Most importantly, evaluate how successful your plan was and change it to make it more productive in the future.

The success of any plan is dependent on the execution of the plan and the commitment to see it through. So, remember to go "all in" because success is much more gratifying than failure, especially when your financial success is in the balance.

Stephen Donaldson is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

Going “Hog Wild” in South Alabama

For Joey Flowers, hog dog hunting is more than just a family sport or a means of controlling the exploding hog population. He sees it as part of his heritage and a way of life that should be revered and preserved. Above, hog dog hunting is a family affair where fathers pass on traditions to their children. (Credit: Joey Flowers)

Some hog dog hunters see their hunting as both a recreational sport and a way to help landowners rid their property of destructive pests.

by Carolyn Drinkard

Joey Flowers hunts with his dogs along the rivers in Baldwin and Mobile counties on private property, hunting clubs and farmland just like his daddy and his granddaddy before him. For Flowers, a hog dog hunter from Bay Minette, hunting is a way of life.

"If I’m not hunting," laughed Flowers, "I’m thinking about it!"

In South Alabama, hunters have always used dogs to hunt deer, raccoons, fox, rabbits and squirrels. But now, with the influx of destructive feral hogs, farmers and landowners have turned to dog owners for help.

Hogs have become more than just nuisances. Chris Jaworowski, wildlife biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, said that from 1982 to 2014 the number of states reporting problems with hog populations more than tripled. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates over $1.5 billion dollars annually in damages to agriculture and the environment. Wild hog populations have grown so rapidly that locals jokingly refer to them as "four-legged fire ants."

Hogs root and wallow, tearing up farm land, hunting preserves and forestland in just a few days. Hogs also compete with whitetail deer and other game animals for acorns and native plants, thereby reducing game populations. They damage and destroy deer feeders. Once feral hogs frequent the feeders, deer and other wildlife will avoid the area. They will also feed on the young such as fawns, ground nesting birds, reptiles and even young livestock – anything they can catch. Wild hogs eat the eggs of turkeys and quail, reducing the number of birds in many areas.

Don Bradford hunts in Syrene (Clarke County) and along the Alabama River. He hunts with his children and grandchildren. In his logging business, he sees firsthand the damage done by feral hogs. (Credit: Don Bradford)

With the large numbers of hogs now in this area, management and control have become top priorities for dealing with the pests.

"Only a multi-faceted control program will decrease hog populations due to their extremely high reproductive rates and lack of natural predators," explained Jaworowski. "Studies suggest that 80 percent of a population must be removed just to keep the populations from continuing to grow."

Since hunters can legally hunt hogs every day of the year with no harvest restrictions on private land, many owners have turned to hog dog hunters to try to manage the increasing numbers of feral hogs.

For Flowers, hog dog hunting is more than just a family sport or a means of controlling the exploding hog population. He sees it as part of his heritage and a way of life that should be revered and preserved. Recently, Flowers and other hunters organized the Alabama Hog Dog Hunters Association. Flowers was elected president of the statewide organization, working to preserve the traditions and heritage of hunting wild feral hogs with dogs in Alabama. The group wants to improve laws and regulations regarding this type of hunting while bringing a more positive light to hunting hogs with dogs. They want to show the public how well dog hunters help to control the feral hog population. The members do not condone nor will they tolerate bad dog-hunting ethics within their association. AHDHA members must also abide by all local, state and federal hunting laws, rules and regulations at all times. The organization is rapidly gaining members and now has its own Facebook page. They recently met to elect officers and appoint representatives from each district. One of their upcoming events will be a two-day hunt with the Wounded Warrior Project.

Hog dog hunting often follows in the traditions of the once-popular foxhunts in South Alabama. Often, families gather to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the hunt with food and fun for the children. Those who hunt the river areas may bring campers or tents for a weekend of camping, swimming and boating with the whole family. Flowers pointed out that hog dog hunters are preserving an American way of life as both parents and grandparents join together to pass on traditions and stories of past hunts.

Hog dog hunting also has a major impact on the area’s economy. Hunters spend thousands of dollars on dogs, GPS equipment, ATVs, four-wheel drive vehicles, trailers and other supplies. At a recent hunt in Clarke County, Don Bradford of Syrene estimated the hunters attending that hunt had pumped over $600,000 into the economy.

Brandon Allen, right, and John Puckett with the 470-pound wild hog they hunted with their dogs. (Credit: Brandon Allen)

"That’s not counting gas, dog food, snacks, Ranger repairs, vet bills and the list goes on," Bradford added.

The relationship between a dog hunter and his dogs is very special. Often, a hunter will own generations of dogs, carefully bred for either baying or catching. They may run many different breeds of dogs on one hunt such as curs for baying and bulldogs for catching. Plotts, catahoulas, boxers and walkers are other breeds favored by hoggers. These dogs sell for thousands of dollars, and owners invest heavily in keeping them healthy.

The thrill of the chase and the excitement of the catch are only part of the hunt. The safety of both the hunter and his dog is always a major concern.

"There are a lot of risks when hog hunting with dogs," Flowers explained. "Snakes, spiders, alligators and, of course, a wild hog charging at you are some of the dangers. We, as hog hunters, know and understand the risks each time we go, but, from experience, we know how to deal with each one thrown at us."

New technologies have added another level of safety for both hoggers and their dogs. ATVs have replaced horses as the preferred means of travelling into dense, thicker areas, making it much safer for both the hunter and his dog. Using their smartphones to follow GPS tracking devices on the dogs’ collars, owners are able to know where their dogs are located at all times. Flowers believes that all sports harbor some danger, but he is convinced he and his fellow hog dog hunters make safety their number one priority.

Bubba McCandless congratulates his son, Zach McCandless, after sticking a pig.

Hog dog hunting does have its critics, however. Many think the sport is both cruel and dangerous. These critics believe that trapping, sterilization and other more high-tech methods would not only be more humane, but also more effective. Some experts say that hunters who capture and transport hogs increase the problems. Trappers believe that using dogs makes the pigs much wilder and therefore harder to trap. They also point out that many more hogs are caught with baited traps.

Flowers counters his critics by pointing out that he and his fellow hoggers kill 100 percent of the hogs they catch. He estimated that about 90 percent of the hogs he has killed were donated to churches and charity food banks. The other 10 percent were given to family members or friends who prize the meat. He explained that using dogs is the only means of reaching hogs in some of the dense, swampy areas where he hunts. Flowers believes that hunting with dogs is ethical, cost effective and successful in controlling feral hogs.

The debate over the best control methods will undoubtedly go on. But one thing is clear: hog dog hunting continues to grow and gain popularity, especially with younger hunters. The exhilaration of the chase, the surge of adrenalin at the catch, the camaraderie and fellowship of the hunt, and the passing of family traditions beckon young and old, male and female to join the hunt.

"It can be addictive," Flowers laughed. "If you try it one time, you’ll come back. I love it! I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing."

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.

Growing Palms in Alabama

The true palm pictured is a windmill palm/ Trachycarpus fortunei. Foliage was burned off on this plant by 4 to 7 degree F temperatures, but it rebounded by the end of summer.

by Tony Glover

This past winter took its toll on palms even down into central Florida, but we keep trying to grow them even where I live in North Alabama. We love them because palms and their "look-a-likes," the cycads, are beautiful plants that can add a tropical look to the landscape. We are certainly not in the right climate to grow a wide variety of palms outdoors, but there are a few of the hardy palms and cycads that the adventurous gardener may want to try. This is the time of year to talk to your local nurseries about what they will be able to get in the spring. If you have something special in mind, they can likely order what you want along with the other seasonal tropical plants they get for spring sales.

Needle palms are considered the cold hardiest of the palms. A well-established plant could take short periods of near 0 degrees temperatures. Needle palms are an understory palm with a natural clumping habit, but could also be grown as a specimen plant. The clump will reach about 5-10 feet high and about that same width. The best location would have some shade, especially in the afternoon, and a good, well-drained but moist soil.

Windmill palms or Chinese windmill palms are slightly less but still very cold-hardy specimen plants. These palms have a single trunk with fan shaped leaves similar to those found on the needle palms. If you see a fairly large palm in north Alabama, it is likely this palm. The growth rate is fairly rapid, growing up to 2 feet per season. Like most palms, it should be in a well-drained soil and supplied with plenty of moisture. The windmill palm will tolerate temperatures down to about 5 degrees if well-established and acclimated.

Dwarf palmetto is another hardy palm that looks like it has a clumping growth, but it does have a very short trunk that may be hidden near or under the soil line. It is smaller than the needle palm and has fan-shaped foliage that may be green to a bluish-gray. They will get about 4 feet high and they grow rather slowly. With a little winter protection, they would survive most winters in this area. They could be grown in a container and moved into an unheated area for the winter because they are difficult to transplant. Because of this difficulty, they would not fare well to dig and store each year.

Cycads are not true palms. Pictured are cardboard palm/zamia furfuracea, Sago palm/cycas revolute and Coonti palm/zamia floridana (the only cycad native to the United States, found in south Florida). There is no cycad that can live outside in North Alabama, plant hardiness zone 7a.

The Pindo Palm or the Jelly Palm can tolerate temperatures slightly below 15 degrees for those in Central and South Alabama. It is the most common exotic palm grown in the Southeast. It has feathery foliage that is gray to blue-green and the fronds are often 6-8 feet long. They would likely require winter protection in most years. They will survive in extreme drought once established.

Cycads look very similar to palms and the most grown type in our area is actually called sago palm. Palms all produce fruit of some sort, but cycads produce cones. Sago "palm" is an evergreen with stiff fronds radiating out from its slow-growing trunk. You can grow a 3- to 5- foot plant in a few years if you have a large enough pot, but you may need to move it into an unheated garage or your house during the winter. They are very versatile and will do well in sun or shade. They are short and stocky, and will take a lot of wind abuse and still look very good. I saw a lot of severely damaged sago palms in Baldwin and Mobile counties after last winter’s cold weather.

Most of the other true palms are more suitable for summer use only in containers around a pool or patio, unless you live very near the coast. If you want to enjoy them for more than one year, you will need a large sunroom or greenhouse to overwinter them.

No matter which palms you choose, you need to fertilize them regularly. They can often become deficient in nitrogen, potassium, magnesium (Epsom salt) and manganese. Check your fertilizer bag or bottle and see if it contains micronutrients or buy one of the special palm formulations if you can find it.

For more information, you can check out the following web address:

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

Guiltless Chicken

Dr. Wallace Berry, professor of poultry science at Auburn University

The Myth About Hormones in Poultry Production

by Michelle Bufkin

The use of hormones in the poultry industry is a myth that has persisted for years, and recent marketing techniques have not helped to dispel this myth. One of the reasons it is so difficult to dispel is the public misconception that anything large has to be artificially induced. Another reason consumers may believe hormones are used in the poultry industry could be that hormones are allowed in livestock production, but the hormones used on cattle do not directly make the livestock bigger, they just make them more efficient, using less feed and time to produce better-quality meat; however, with chickens this is not feasible because they already grow as quickly as physically possible with no added hormones. The main reasons hormones are not used in poultry production are that they are ineffective, uneconomical and illegal.

Hormones in poultry are ineffective; research has proven there is not a single one that would make the chicken any larger.

Dr. Wallace Berry, professor of poultry science at Auburn University, said, "In poultry, hormones have no effects. All commercial chickens are so young that hormonal effects of being male or female haven’t kicked in.

"It’s all in the genetics, nutrition and environment of the birds. There is no hormone known to man that will do anything of benefit for chickens: no steroids, growth hormones or anything of the sort."

This reason is one that surprises a lot of consumers. Since chickens are processed before their own hormones have a chance to kick in and start running the body, adding hormones causes no effect. This is because poultry are already bred to grow maximally; they grow as fast as their bodies can handle, so there is no point in adding hormones.

Berry explained public perception of growth of poultry by saying, "People don’t have any problem knowing how you can get a Chihuahua and a Great Dane. You breed dogs to be small or big, same thing with horses, but they don’t think about poultry like that. The same genetic principles apply to poultry, which allow you to breed small or large chickens. Commercial poultry are bred to grow very rapidly and efficiently in a short period of time. If you kept those chickens for longer, their growth slows down. They do not keep growing like that; they are bred to have most of their growth at an early age. Their total growth in the long run is not much more than regular barnyard chickens, if they were kept until a year old."

Consumers hear that chickens are mature and grow large in a very short timeframe, and they assume the chickens must have been given hormones. In the world we live in today, it is believed that anything that is bigger than what people perceive as normal has to have been enhanced in a way that is not natural.

Hypothetically, if a farmer wanted to give chickens hormones, feeding them would not be an effective option. Berry puts it on a more practical level by explaining.

"Growth is complex; no one hormone can affect it. The hormone everyone considers a growth hormone is a protein hormone in all vertebrates. It cannot be taken orally, because it is digested normally; to be effective, it would have to be injected. The injections would have to be given every 90 minutes to be in correlation with the pulses of the natural hormones in the chicken. We have 110-120 million birds growing in Alabama at any given moment, so 120 million birds would have to be given an injection every 90 minutes - obviously that is not economical at all."

I know I would not want the job of injecting millions of chickens every 90 minutes, especially if it would not even help them grow that much. The poultry industry has started injecting eggs with vaccines, but it is done only once, to each batch of eggs, by a machine. For hormone injections to even begin to be slightly effective, they would need to be given 16 times a day every day to millions of chickens - and that is only in Alabama.

Poultry hormones are illegal. That is a straightforward reason why they are not used, but this is not a known fact among consumers because of the way products are being marketed. It is commonly said among poultry scientists that companies are their own worst enemy because of current marketing techniques.

"The food industry is all about consumer demand, giving the consumer what they want. It’s seen in the packaging: all natural, hormone-free, GMO-free and organic. This is done to meet consumer demand, but it is hurting ourselves [the poultry industry]," Berry explained.

These marketing techniques are hurting certain companies within the poultry industry because consumers see the words "hormone-free" on one package of chicken and not on another, then assume that, if it does not state so, all chicken has hormones. But that is not the case at all. There are two issues with these marketing ploys: no animal is hormone free, all animals have naturally occurring hormones, and no poultry sold in the United States has added hormones, so there should not be a reason to label that on packaging. But companies saw an opportunity to place their product above others and took it; this is one of the major reasons the myth of hormones in poultry is so hard to dispel, because of the package stating "hormone-free" or "no added hormones."

I hope, knowing the truth about the absence of hormones used in poultry production, you will have a better understanding and it will make you more at ease when you see the misleading "hormone-free" labeling. Hopefully it may even help you better explain the truth to other consumers who might be confused by this myth.

Michelle Bufkin is is a freelance writer from Auburn.

How's Your Garden?

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Remember Outside Tender Plants

Have you ever lost a favorite, frost-tender potted plant because you forgot to bring it in during the first cold spell? I hope you can say, "No," but for those of us who need a reminder – this is it. As the weather cools and frost threatens, prepare to move houseplants, citrus and tropicals to their designated shelters. Check for mites, aphids or scale because just one infested plant can cause trouble for all the others in the same place. If you’re like me, you’re scurrying just before dark on the night of a predicted freeze, but, if there’s time, wash the plants with a strong stream from your hose (or use your shower to help knock off dust and insects). In order to set flower buds, many cactus and orchids like cooler weather, but not freezing temps; move them in and out during this time of year to enjoy days and nights above 45 or 50 degrees.

Early Spring Blooms

Those great early spring blooms of sweet pea, larkspur, cornflower, hollyhock, calendula and poppy actually start now – from seeds or plants. These seeds sown in the fall often sprout now and appear to do nothing, but they are really working underground growing roots to support a surge of growth at the first hint of warmth in February or March. Sow seeds carefully in level areas not prone to washing. A word about buying seeds: You may need to order seed packets from mail order sources, as many seed companies have already picked up their retail seed packets for the year and will not replenish until late winter for next year. This happens because seeds have a shelf life and the new crop is only ready at the end of the seed harvest season. This is frustrating for gardeners trying to start a fall garden from seeds. When possible, plan ahead and buy your fall garden seeds in the spring, when you know they will be available. Store them in a cool, dry place.

811 - Call Before You Dig

Digging in your landscape can cause you to run into utility lines. To avoid problems, you can call 811 a few days before digging to notify your local utilities companies. In a few days, they’ll send a locator to mark the approximate location of your underground lines, pipes and cables, so you’ll know what’s below and be able to dig safely. For more information about this service, visit

Keeping Lantana

Want to improve the chances of overwintering your lantana? Don’t prune it this fall after it stops blooming and drops its leaves. Leave the brown, leafless stems (even if dead) in place. All that top growth will help protect the plant during the winter. After all danger of frost has passed in the spring, you can cut back any dead wood or trim it back to the base. Also wait until then to fertilize the plants. Give the plants well into May to see if they sprout new growth.

Elephant garlic looks a lot like a leek, to which is it related.

Grow Your Own Garlic

Garlic is becoming one of those items that gardeners who love to cook also love to grow because growing your own gives you more options in the kitchen. Now is the time to order plants, but you may need to order bulbs from a mail order source if you can’t find them locally. Elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks and is known for its mild garlic-like flavor. It is said to not store as well as garlic, but I’ve had it keep for at least three months, which is long enough for me to use it. You will find soft neck and hard neck garlic in catalogs. Soft neck is the most common type you find at the grocery store. Soft neck garlic keeps the longest. Hardneck has the strongest flavor. If you enjoy garlic-laden dishes, try several. They are very cold hardy and easy to grow through our winters. My elephant garlic (in Birmingham) made it through the winter of 2013-14.

Bulbs that Last Years, Even in Shade

Looking for bulbs that are dependable and will come back year after year under trees and shady areas of your landscape? Try sturdy bulbs like scilla, leucojum and snowdrops. Scilla (Scilla hyancinthoides hispanica), also called wood hyacinth, is pretty in the garden and also makes a nice, short-cut flower for a small vase. Snowdrops are named for the little white blossoms that pop up in the winter and early spring. The earliest to flower is Garden Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, but in South Alabama stick to Giant Snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, that needs fewer chilling hours. "Chilling hours" are a measure of how much cold a plant needs to break dormancy and bloom. It is very important for distinguishing varieties of fruit trees such as peaches, but applies to things like garden bulbs as well. Leucojum looks a lot like a lily-of-the-valley, but the blooms are distinguishable by a little green spot on the flowers. There are two species commonly available: Leucojum vernum, the earliest, and L. aestivum that blooms a little later. Be sure to buy your bulbs now while they are still available, but store them in a cool, dark place until around Thanksgiving when the soil is cool enough for planting.

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

In AFC News

Retiring from the Board at Limestone

H.L. King recently retired from Limestone Farmers Co-op’s Board of Directors after 54 years of service. He was honored at their August board meeting with a recognition plaque. Pictured (from left, back) Gregg Blythe, Jimmy Newby, H.L. King, Tony Black, Matt Haney, (front) Stan Usery, Brent Shaw, John Curtis and Perry Mcnatt.

For 50 Years ...

Carolyn Parker was recently recognized for her 50 years of service to Alabama Farmers Cooperative. She was awarded the inaugural Roger Pangle Cooperative Dedication Award at the 2014 AFC Managers Meeting. The award will be given to an employee who exemplifies the characteristics of cooperative spirit, loyalty and dedication to AFC and its Members. She was also recognized by her fellow employees at a luncheon in her honor.

Ironman Artist

Sand Mountain resident Walter Howell watches the blaze and the metal art he’s placed in it, waiting for the right moment to remove it and move on to the next step. The artistic process, he said, involves several “heats” in the forge. In the background is his shop complete with an anvil and an assortment of metalsmithing tools.

Sand Mountain blacksmith draws national attention.

by Maureen Drost

Dubbed "a country engineer" by his wife Rhonda, Walter Howell knows precisely when to remove the handcrafted piece of architectural hardware from the 1,800 degree flame.

As a visitor observes, the Henagar resident pounds the steel briefly with a cross-peen hammer on an anvil, then he places it back into the fire burning in the 19th-century forge. The cycle is repeated several times with a certain timing and precision as the 10-inch-long ornamental hook with a realistic-looking leaf and stem slowly takes shape.

In another step, a wooden mallet made to the artist’s specifications is used to continue hammering out the design. The huge wood base was once a 175-year-old tree that stood on the grounds of the Baptist church where he and his wife attend.

Botanical sculptures - putting images from God’s outdoor world into his own creations - are Howell’s favorite theme. He forged his first such sculpture when he was asked to craft a pitcher plant sculpture for the president of Jacksonville State University.

Over the last 10 years, Howell has gone from designing basic tools to elaborate works in metal, bringing him regional, national and international attention. He does remember his roots, though, as he repairs farm equipment for his neighbors on Sand Mountain.

Walter Howell is creating an ornamental hook with an intricate leaf design. Working atop an anvil, he uses a variety of cross-peen hammers to craft the hot metal. Howell has received many awards for his work, and he especially likes to design plant and tree sculptures.

Howell recently shipped a few pieces of his art to England and Ireland. He’s exhibited and won an award at The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, and has been featured in a book recognizing 50 of the top blacksmith artists in the country. He’s drawn plenty of recognition including receiving an Award of Excellence earlier this year from the Alabama Wildlife Federation, his work being accepted for display at two galleries in Tennessee, and the Tidewater Blacksmiths Guild featuring a story on him in a 2008 edition of their newsletter.

Yet the accolades, while deeply appreciated, are only part of a much bigger story. The artisan gives credit to his God for bringing him later in his life to the artistic profession he was born to pursue. After a string of "coincidences," Howell has no other way to explain it.

Howell and Rhonda moved to Sand Mountain after their farming venturein Georgia was failing. The couple joined a church and saw the home they hoped to live in. Soon their minister bought the home and rented it to them in addition to asking for help with his chickens. Howell was urged multiple times to seek out a mentor for his blacksmithing; he finally relented and decided to study with Master Blacksmith Susan Madasi in Tennessee. Not long before he left for the mentoring, the 100-plus-year-old forge was given to him.

Madasi was impressed very early with Howell’s talent, Rhonda said.

"You just came here to learn what you already know," Madasi told him.

Two or three days into his training, she already had him teaching other students.

One of Howell’s pieces of art.

Teaching and demonstrating his craft are now important to Howell. His mother was a teacher and principal. He emphasizes the old, traditional methods such as soaking the finished metalwork in a finish of beeswax, turpentine, linseed oil and other materials.

"It’s what they had before paints," he said.

In fact, only finishes and stains are used in his shop, not paint. He applied the brass color to the leaf on the ornamental hook with a brass-bristle brush rather than painting it brass.

In the summer, Howell usually travels to DeSoto State Park once a month to demonstrate his skills and experience. Groups of teachers often come to his place to see him work as do individuals and even some fathers and daughters.

"You don’t see people doing this today," Rhonda said. "It’s (creating) a memory … they’re going to talk about it for a long time."

In keeping with his desire to educate, he works with the Narrow Gate Foundation in rural Tennessee that helps troubled young men transform their lives through Christian formation and, in part, camping out for an extended period using basic wilderness survival skills. Later, they learn metalworking and woodturning.

It’s about learning life skills such as patience and persistence – much like Howell incorporates in his work.

He teaches students to keep trying things, Rhonda said, to discover their passions in life.

He’s "got to blacksmith," the Sand Mountain artisan said. "I can’t not do it."

Howell’s work is consigned at two North Alabama shops – The Graceful Giraffe in Mentone and The English Table in Huntsville. He may be contacted directly through his website Also carrying examples of his art is

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer from Huntsville.

Mastering Minerals

Supplying proper mineral nutrition doesn’t have to be hard.

by Jackie Nix

While most cattle producers know they should provide year-round mineral nutrition to their cattle, they sometimes get caught up in the how. Bulls tear up mineral feeders. It’s hard to find widely scattered cattle. Wind and rain create waste. It’s easy to just throw your hands up in the air and give up. Below is a list of general tips to help guide you.

Choose the delivery system that is best for you.

Mineral supplements come in many forms, from 200-pound low-moisture blocks in plastic tubs, to 40-pound pressed blocks that can be placed directly on the ground, to granular minerals requiring dedicated feeders. Each option has pros and cons. Do your research to find the product form that works best for your operation.

Give cattle convenient access to mineral supplements.

Mineral supplements must be consumed at recommended levels to provide advertised benefits. It makes no sense to make cattle compete for minerals and possibly not eat enough, so provide an adequate number of mineral feeders/blocks/tubs to reduce competition. Each product label should give specific stocking recommendations, so follow label directions. Place supplements at least 20 feet apart to allow all cattle, even the subordinate ones, equal access. Also, place supplements in areas cattle frequent. This is typically within 50 feet of a water source, loafing area or feeding area. However, conditions may change with season. The loafing area during winter months may be totally different from the loafing area during summer months. No matter what, avoid making cattle travel excessively to get the minerals they need.

Follow label directions.

Always read and follow label directions! Never mix a granular mineral with other ingredients (i.e. salt, dried molasses, dical, etc.) unless directed to do so. Mixing dilutes the minerals and vitamins provided or alters intake. Thus your cattle either get too little or too much, either way resulting in wasted money on your part.

Remove access to other free-choice sources of salt.

Cattle crave salt, so it’s used as an attractant in supplements. Salt is also used to limit intake. If cattle have more than one source of salt to choose from, they may over eat the high-salt supplement and under eat the balanced supplement (many essential minerals like phosphorus, magnesium and copper taste bitter). Once they have their fill of salt, they won’t eat any more supplement even if they haven’t met their needs for essential minerals. For this reason it is VERY IMPORTANT to provide only ONE free-choice source of salt in the form of the *complete* mineral supplement of your choice at any one time.

Monitor consumption.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure! Calculate average daily intake by first determining overall intake for one month (i.e. number of blocks/bags/tubs) and then multiply this by the weight of the supplement (for example, 10 bags @ 50 lbs. each = 500 lbs.). Divide this figure by 30 days to determine the consumption per day (500 lbs./30 days = 16.67 lbs./day). Next, divide this figure by the number of cattle exposed to the supplement to determine consumption per head per day (16.67 lbs./day/60 cows = 0.278 lb./hd/day). To convert this into ounces, multiply by 16 (0.278 lb./hd/day X 16 oz./lb. = 4.4 oz./hd/day). In this example, the average consumption was 4.4 ounces per cow per day.

Do not allow cattle to run out of mineral supplement.

Inconsistent access to minerals results in poor performance. Monitor granular mineral feeders at least once a week and refill as necessary. Or place new blocks or tubs next to the old when the old is half-consumed.

Cattle with inconsistent access to minerals typically over-consume when they do have access in a "feast or famine" cycle. This mistakenly leads producers to think this behavior will continue long term and they will "eat me out of house and home." When this happens, producers often limit access to minerals even more, thus perpetuating the cycle. However, when animals are allowed to eat as much as they want, they will typically slow down to recommended consumption levels within two weeks once they have had a chance to correct underlying mineral imbalances or deficiencies.

Make management changes if consumption is not at desired levels.

If cattle are consuming too little, increase the number of mineral feeders/blocks/tubs. You might also consider changing your feeding locations. For example, if blocks are near the water, but in the sun; you might want to place them in shaded loafing areas instead.

If cattle consistently consume too much (after an initial two week acclimation period), reduce the number of mineral feeders/blocks/tubs or move them farther away from areas that cattle frequent. If repositioning of supplements does not correct the situation, remove and reevaluate your overall feeding program. Remember that supplements cannot take the place of a well-balanced diet. If supplement over-consumption persists, it can be a sign of a poorly balanced overall diet.

Don’t be afraid to switch things up.

If after trying all of the above tips your cattle are still not consuming desired levels, you may need to consider switching products or even delivery methods. Differing cattle needs, environmental conditions, management practices and producer preferences mean that there is no one-size-fits-all product that is ideal in all situations.

There are a lot of different supplement options out in the marketplace. We know we have to deliver on quality and value for the price to keep your business. Give us a call at 1-87SWEETLIX, visit or like us on Facebook to learn more about the many different supplement forms and fortification levels SWEETLIX has to offer to help you be successful.

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

Mustang Makeover to the Extreme

Equine poetry took the stage at Alabama’s first Extreme Mustang Makeover.

by Jade Currid

Nothing can evoke patriotism, freedom and the unbridled yearnings of the soul quite as well as the sight of a mustang unleashing its full prowess in the ultimate display of elegance, beauty and grace.

Such equine poetry took center stage at Alabama’s first Extreme Mustang Makeover held at the Morgan County Celebration Arena in Decatur August 8-9.

Sponsored by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, the event offered an adult division, in which 24 equestrians worked with assigned mustangs for a 100-day period, before riding them in preliminary classes that determined which competitors earned a spot in the top 10 freestyle finals.

For the youth division of the competition, eight equestrians adopted and trained yearling mustangs and showed them in in-hand classes.

Taylor McIntosh stands on his mustang Owen and shoots a gun during the freestyle portion. Taylor and Owen accomplished many original feats during their captivating routine. (Credits: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)

At the conclusion of the competition, all of the adult mustangs were available for adoption.

"The goal of the competition is for the trainers to produce a safe, well-rounded horse that someone can adopt into their family and riding environment," explained Mustang Heritage Foundation Marketing Director Kyla Hogan. "The classes are designed to incorporate horsemanship maneuvers and situations that a horse and rider might encounter during a day of trail riding or working in the arena."

Alabama Extreme Mustang Makeover Champion Taylor McIntosh of Waverly and his mustang Owen both immediately stole the hearts of those whose paths they crossed, were selected fan favorite, and left spectators spellbound with their freestyle routine.

During the freestyle portion, the dynamic pair made a grand entrance into the arena by clearing a jump through a cowboy curtain and did not disappoint in a quest to accomplish original feats.

In a demonstration of complete trust in each other, they cleared a jump while McIntosh shot a gun and rode on a moving panel hauled by a truck around the arena while McIntosh distributed t-shirts into the crowd with a cannon.

Highlights of the ride that also incorporated reining elements included McIntosh’s brilliant and symbolic carry of the American flag, and the pair’s smooth and solid movements, transitions and maneuvers.

McIntosh became involved with horses in college through rodeo and bull riding, connecting him with his current friends and colleagues.

The crowd erupted as Adult Reserve Champion Stan Smith of Athens sat his mustang Alt 6 on a panel during the freestyle portion of the event. Creativity was a major component of the event. (Credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)

He credits his wife Brandy, who is a previous collegiate reiner with invaluable show experience under her belt, for spurring his passion for horses the most.

"I told her after the bull riding career that I wanted to go and learn how to ride horses and learn how to rope. She said, ‘Well, if you’re gonna learn, you’re gonna learn from the best.’ My first formal lesson was with Al Dunning, so she sent me to the top of the top. And kind of the rest is history now."

What McIntosh appreciated most about the competition was what it allowed him to accomplish in training Owen.

"I guess the only thing Owen knew was what I was teaching him, and I think that was the favorite aspect of mine because it was really a tribute to the way I train a horse, and it really showed what we can do at McIntosh Equine," he said.

The name McIntosh chose for the mustang he drew for the competition holds a special meaning.

"The name Owen was picked out because of a childhood friend of mine who died from cancer, and his name was Brian Owen," he said. "And I figured what a way to honor him and his family by naming this special horse after him."

He touched upon the connection formed between him and Owen.

"The bond between me and Owen is something I cannot even really explain all the way," he said. "I had to gain his complete trust from day one, and I had to give him mine. Also to get on something that people call ‘wild’ – it takes a whole lot of trust the first ride. My heart beat a little fast, I’m not going to lie, but I had trust in Owen and I had trust in my flag man, Stephen Freeman of Old South Equine, and he’s flagged me on so many colts, it’s not even funny now."

McIntosh explained the importance of Extreme Mustang Makeover competitions.

"The mustangs don’t have a voice," he said. "They’re just a horse standing in a pen after they’re gathered. This takes the older mustangs, the 5-year-olds and what-not, and, really, it pushes them out into the public eye and says ‘Hey this is a trainable horse that you can actually get something done on.’ We did more with that 5-year-old mustang than what most people can do with their 2-year-old Quarter Horses."

McIntosh related that such a competition frees mustangs from a holding facility, where they might have been for 3 or 4 years, a fact which people may not realize.

‘They think of a mustang running free," he said. "And that’s not exactly how it is. The mustangs are standing in pens in Nevada and Wyoming. They’re just standing there doing nothing."

He further expounded on existing misconceptions about mustangs.

"Most people think of a mustang as something wild and rogue – that it’s going to buck every time," he said. "But these guys are not built to buck, that’s the funny concept. They don’t buck. They run."

The event was a story of redemption for Reserve Champion Stan Smith of Athens and the mustang he trained, Alt 6.

After competing in Extreme Mustang Makeover competitions for the past 6 years, Smith finally drew the type of horse he had always wanted to work with, a mustang that was branded on the hip and deemed unadoptable.

"He was scared to death when I got him," Smith said. "He was fighting for his life. He didn’t know if I was a tiger or not."

Smith formed the analogy of how Alt 6 represents all of mankind.

Everyone has at some point in life felt unwanted or branded, he stipulated.

Like many, all Alt 6 needed was to find purpose and a job to thrive.

Two cowboy churches have used the topic of Alt 6’s transformation for sermons.

Third place competitor Andy Blevins of 4B Horsemanship in Oldfort, Tenn., related how trust was the building block of training the mustang he drew, Nevada’s Cayuse.

It was imperative he touch his horse within the first 24 hours of bringing him home, Blevins said.

"After I think about three or four hours of working him and yielding him and touching him with the rope, I was actually able to touch him with my hands because it was very important for me to get my hands on him that first day."

The mentality of Nevada’s Cayuse directed the course of his training.

"I kind of let him tell me how fast to go. Now, with him being as aggressive as he was, that also worked in my favor."

If Nevada’s Cayuse seemed stressed, Blevins would give him a break and ride him in the mountains.

"I’m fortunate to have a national wilderness within 20 minutes. So we would just let him go be a horse and take the day off."

Taylor expressed his gratitude to the Mustang Makeover Foundation for being an asset to the mustangs.

"I think it’s just a wonderful event to showcase the different trainers in the area and really show off what these mustangs can do," he said. "Without the Mustang Heritage Foundation, none of this is possible."

Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.

My Life

Cooperative Farming News contributor Alvin Benn reminisces on 50 years in the newspaper business.

by Alvin Benn

August 4, 1964, is a date forgotten by most Americans, but not me because it signaled the start of a career that has lasted 50 years.

There I was, a duffle bag filled with civilian clothes draped over my left shoulder, a carton of cigarettes in my right hand and, in a pocket, a one-way bus ticket to Birmingham.

I was leaving the Marine Corps after 6 years to embark on an adventure I could hardly have imagined when I enlisted in 1958.

After all, how many guys my age wound up through the years with a front-row seat to the civil rights movement, covered rocket tests that got us to the moon and interviewed world leaders?

Before reaching Birmingham, I was to stop off at United Press International’s regional headquarters in Atlanta for a crash course on the nuances of wire service work. I hadn’t worked for civilian newspapers, let alone filed stories about important events stretching across three Southern states.

As the bus pulled out and headed for Atlanta, two major events were happening at home and abroad – events that would have an impact on the first phase of my long career.

One was a naval clash between the United States and North Vietnam that mushroomed into a war that would claim the lives of 58,000 Americans by the time it ended.

Alvin and Sharon Benn flank Montgomery Advertiser publisher Robert Granfeldt Jr. at an event honoring Al on his 50 years as a journalist.

The other happened closer to home – the discovery of three bodies in Mississippi. They were civil rights workers shot to death by Ku Klux Klansmen and buried in an earthen dam near Meridian.

My scheduled orientation session didn’t happen. Busy UPI writers working on the Mississippi story didn’t have time to be bothered by a rookie who might not last very long in a pressure-packed job.

Back on the bus, it was off to Birmingham for the next 2.5 years, a period that included daily deadline pressures no college journalism professor could ever have adequately explained.

It was an exciting time for a rookie reporter who might interview Martin Luther King Jr. and Klan leader Robert Shelton the same day or drive up to Huntsville to watch with NASA’s Wernher von Braun the testing of the Saturn 5 moon rocket or ask Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant how he got his nickname.

Heady wine it was for somebody whose stories wound up in The New York Times and The Washington Post thanks to skillful editors who made it look like I knew what I was doing when I didn’t much of the time.

UPI was the Avis of wire services, second to the Associated Press in salary scales, but often first and factual when it came to getting stories to anxious newspaper editors before AP did.

Wire service reporters were not welcomed in the South during the civil rights era because our reports circulated around the world, angering some small town publishers and editors who took a dim view of airing Dixie’s dirty laundry in Paris or London.

The most anxious moment for me and two photographers was a night in 1965 when we covered a Klan rally at a small park in Marengo County. When it was over and we got back to our car, we could see that all four tires had been slashed. A set up? It sure looked that way.

UPI reported initially that we were missing because we didn’t check in at the scheduled time. Cell phones would have been nice had they been invented back then.

Luckily, I had gotten to know one of the Klan leaders who could just see the headlines about it. He passed around his pointy white cap to collect enough money to buy four new tires for us and that got us back on the road toward Birmingham.

Those three civil rights workers were murdered only a few months before just across the line in Mississippi, not far from that little isolated park in Linden. I wondered if Sharon and I would have a very short marriage.

During the trial of Klansmen accused of murdering civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo after the end of the Selma to Montgomery March, three Klan wives had an "invitation" for Sharon who had accompanied me to Hayneville.

They asked if she might like to join their "auxiliary." I told them she couldn’t since it might interfere with her Hadassah meetings. Hadassah is a Jewish women’s organization.

Jan. 1, 1967, signaled the start of my newspaper career, one that has included stops in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, where I’ve been a reporter, photographer and editor-at-large for dailies and small weeklies. I was even a publisher for a brief period at a little paper.

Some stories stood out more than others during that time, including an interview with George Wallace in 1967 as he prepared to run for president the following year.

He didn’t like the liberal Decatur Daily where I worked at the time, but said he’d give me 20 minutes. He talked for 90 minutes during a priceless interview in which he touched on everything from civil rights to the war in Vietnam and the growing crime problem across America.

One of my proudest moments occurred in Decatur where two of us came up with an idea to prove that American patriotism still existed despite the growing anti-war movement.

We came up with an Independence Day extravaganza called "The Spirit of America Festival." It’s still going strong after 47 years.

It takes an understanding spouse to deal with the kind of nomadic life we led during the first half of our nearly 50 years of marriage, but I’ve been lucky to have the former Sharon Ann Boumel by my side through thick, thin and occasional threats.

We’ve lived in 11 houses or apartments during the past half century and she became an expert in the art of packing, unpacking and wondering where the next stop would be.

That came to an end in 1980 when I got the best job I’ve ever had at the Montgomery Advertiser, where I’ve produced thousands of stories, columns and photographs.

Working at the Advertiser has afforded me an opportunity to do what I enjoy the most – writing columns about people from all walks of life – the rich and the poor, the prominent and the plain, the criminals and those who catch them.

Another of my most memorable stories involved a woman in Lowndes County who sold boiled peanuts at the intersection of U.S. 80 and Highway 21 that leads into Hayneville.

It was a bitterly cold December afternoon when I first saw her. She was shivering as she told me the peanuts were to help her raise enough money for transportation to Baton Rouge, La., to see a specialist to help her with her cancer problem.

Selling $2 bags of boiled peanuts wasn’t bringing in much money, but two articles I wrote about her plight helped raise a lot more for gas, lodging and other expenses in Baton Rouge.

Unfortunately, she died a few months later, but not before thanking the people who came to her aid as a result of articles proving that newspapers remain as relevant as ever in a time of constant change within the profession.

Sharon and I, the proud parents of two and the grandparents of four, wonder at times where the last 50 years have gone.

Daughter Dani is a University of Alabama graduate who has used her speech and language pathology degree to help autistic children through the years.

Son Eric, a Troy University graduate, is a federal agent in El Paso, Texas. The Justice Department has flown him to Washington several times to be honored for his investigative achievements.

As for me, well, I wanted to attend Millersville University in Lancaster, Pa., but it didn’t work out and my dream of teaching history seemed out of reach.

But, it all turned out for the best because, instead of teaching history for 25 years, I’ve helped write it for the past 50 years thanks to my "degree" from the "School of Hard Knocks."

So, all in all, that bus trip from Parris Island to Birmingham half a century ago turned out pretty good.

And, that, my friends, is quite an understatement.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Mystery in the Pumpkin Patch

Chuck and Angie Yeargan spend part of their days checking out their vegetable crop when not preparing for October’s Pumpkin Patch festival.

Yeargan Farms Adds Twist to the Conventional Corn Maze

by Alvin Benn

Pumpkin patches abound across Alabama during the fall, but Chuck and Angie Yeargan have come up with an added twist – a corn maze "mystery" to solve.

It involves the apparent disappearance of "Farmer Joe" somewhere in the mile-long winding maze that’s one of several featured attractions at the Valley Grande site just outside Selma off Highway 14.

"We’re asking people who come to our Pumpkin Patch to determine which farm animal is ‘guilty,’" said Angie. "It seems Joe is missing and there are signs of ‘foul’ play."

In order to solve the mystery, visitors will be asked to investigate several farm animal "suspects" by collecting evidence hidden throughout the maze.

A real "whodunnit," the mystery’s creators have put together a list of "culprit" possibilities including "Antonio de Llama," "Billy the Goat," "Boots the Dog," "Jean the Lubber Duck," "Mary, Kary and Shary the Gossip Chicks," "Theodore the Bull" and "Frank the Pig."

It’s all in fun, of course, and visitors will be given clues during their stroll through the maze to determine which one is the "guilty" party.

Yeargan Farms’ Pumpkin Patch is one of many agricultural indicators in Alabama that fall has arrived, summer’s heat is about to depart and Christmas is just around the corner.

“Scamp” Yeargan has the run of the family farm in Dallas County and enjoys relaxing and napping around big piles of bright orange pumpkins – a perfect setting for the couple’s annual Pumpkin Patch event that runs throughout October. (Credit: Jason Kopp)

For the Yeargans, it’s a perfect way to give back to their county and those surrounding it in Alabama’s Black Belt.

"This is Chuck’s dream," Angie said. "He always wanted to own a farm and do something for families. This is our second year at the Pumpkin Patch and we expect it to continue growing."

The Yeargans have planted 4 acres of pumpkins and the yield is in the thousands of bright orange "inhabitants." It’s a wonderful way to greet the new season and continues through October.

"We didn’t know if we were doing the right thing because this has required a lot of work, but it’s been a great experience for us as we watched it take shape," Angie added.

"Angie and Chuck are workaholics," said Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma. "It doesn’t matter if it involves their business, their church or any other venture; they pour their hearts and souls into it."

Hard work defines the two, who haven’t had much time to rest until recently, after decades of building their construction company into one of the largest its size in Alabama.

Chuck, who grew up in neighboring Chilton County, began as a welder and fabricator. He used his experience as a basis for what came later while Angie was a legal secretary with dreams of one day becoming a lawyer herself.

"Chuck’s creativity is amazing because he can build just about anything," said Wood, whose business has provided fertilizer, corn seed and other items for the Yeargans at their farm. "He’s quite innovative and it’s a treat to see his latest addition."

Angie shelved her law career idea and shifted to the construction business. It’s been a very successful enterprise, one that has reaped millions of dollars in government contracts to build and refurbish facilities across the South.

Angie’s Cherokee ancestry helped because of available federal funds for women and minorities – something they took advantage of and turned it into an enormous success.

This bright orange “pumpkin” is a favorite photo backdrop for visitors to the Yeargan Farms Pumpkin Patch in Dallas County.

"We started slowly, building our construction business to the point where it is today," she said. "We’ve been involved in five states and have worked hard for many years."

Honored as one of America’s leading female construction company owners, Angie has joined her husband as a partner in creating a farm on what she said was first considered for part of a golf course.

Competitive companies submitted attractive bids on those construction projects, but the Yeargans were successful from the start and have built an operation far exceeding their bare-bones beginning.

At first, all they had were themselves and one other employee. They knew it would take a lot of work to become successful and they made it happen.

"We pounded the pavement and did a massive amount of marketing," Angie said. "We also sold some property and lived off of that until we got settled. Then things began to grow."

Yeargan Pumpkin Patch:

Dates: Oct. 1-31
Monday-Thursday: Field trips and groups only
Friday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Phone: 334-375-2424
Address: Yeargan Farms, 14764 Highway 14 West, Valley Grande, AL 36701

One of the company’s first major contracts was renovating the huge Veterans Administration Hospital in Montgomery. Work at Maxwell Air Force Base also enhanced their bottom line.

After that came a $5 million contract at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. It was the start of a 15-year construction relationship with that state.

Instead of three people, up to 75 employees once found work at Yeargan Construction Co., with the annual payroll soaring into the millions of dollars.

"They took an idea and moved it forward through hard work," said Jamie Wallace, one of the Black Belt’s most knowledgeable industrial experts. "The company has gone through some tough economic times, but it has persevered. Their faith played a major role in their success story."

One of the company’s most satisfying projects involved the renovation of 581 trailers needed quickly to house families displaced because of a natural disaster in the Dakotas.

The Yeargans had eight weeks to complete the $1.9 million renovation contract at the Selfield Industrial Park in Dallas County. They finished it with time to spare by bringing in 36 local workers to augment others already on the payroll. A catering company also was hired to provide meals for the workers.

"We even rented a bus from a local school to get them to the site," Angie said. "In the end, everybody profited, including the school that provided the bus."

They also found time to save the popular Battle of Selma reenactment after it fell on hard times a few years ago and its future was in doubt.

A civic club was unable to continue as chief sponsor and volunteers were hard to find until Chuck pitched in and personally took the project under his wing.

He kept the re-enactment going until he had to step away and get back to his family’s construction business. By that time, he had the event back in business and it continues to be one of the most popular programs of its kind in the South.

After years of hard work, the Yeargans have been able to step back and admire their accomplishments, but they didn’t do it very long.

Son Brad has been named to run the operation while they concentrate on Yeargan Farms, especially their Pumpkin Patch project.

"Chuck was overwhelmed by all the travel that was required and we decided to take a break," said Angie. "That’s when we really began to focus our attention on the farm."

She loves sitting at a picnic table near a pond on their property or just relaxing and admiring the scenery. It wasn’t always like that. When the couple decided to turn part of their farm into a pumpkin patch, Angie had doubts that it could succeed because of the hard work that would be required.

It had been a hot, dry period and she hoped for rain as she looked over her budding pumpkin crop that needed moisture. She began to pray, asking for divine guidance to let her know if she and Chuck were doing the right thing.

Then, as if providential, a sign appeared from far above. It began to rain and, when it ended, Angie detected not one, but two colorful rainbows. That’s all she needed to know that their latest venture would be worth the effort.

"When Chuck and Angie become involved in a project they do it first class and that’s just what the Pumpkin Patch is," Wood said.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

October Lawn and Garden Checklist


  • Early in the month, before temperatures drop too much, seed cover crops such as clover, peas or vetch to enrich the soil. It will serve as a natural fertilizer, stifle weed growth and help loosen up the soil for next year’s crops.
  • Set out strawberry plants.
  • October is a great month to shop for trees and shrubs as they’re showing their true colors at the nursery. Planting can take place now and over the next several months, letting strong, healthy roots develop over the winter.
  • Start a family tradition by planting a tree or shrub in honor of a holiday, birthday or anniversary. While celebrating the special occasion, you can also beautify the landscape around your home.
  • Plant cool-season annuals such as sweet peas, pansies and snapdragons – remember to water them regularly while temperatures are still warm.
  • Divide and move perennials.
  • Buy hardy garden mums to plant in well-drained soil in a sunny location; fertilize now and again in the spring.
  • Chill tulip and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator until mid or late December before planting. The lower part of the refrigerator is best. Do not leave bulbs in airtight plastic bags during refrigerated storage.
  • October is prime time for planting spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Plant three times as deep as the bulb is tall. In sandy soil, set slightly deeper and in clay soils less deeply. Finish planting by the end of November.
  • Pot bulbs for indoor forcing.


  • Get your soil tested and add amendments as needed.
  • Fertilize houseplants now; they shouldn’t need it again until March (do not feed dormant houseplants).
  • October is a good time to make an application of a fall- or winter-type lawn fertilizer.


  • Stop trimming hedges – the flush of new growth can be killed by freezing weather, which can harm the entire plant.
  • As frost browns perennial foliage, prune it to the ground, except for mums, sedum, ornamental grasses and plants with seeds that you want to leave for birds (such as coneflowers and black-eyed Susans). When in doubt, let it be and do the deed at the end of winter before new growth appears.
  • Cut back long "whips" of roses.
  • Prune fall-flowering shrubs just after bloom.
  • Trim off dead and broken branches from trees and shrubs.


  • One of the major reasons why some plants do not make it through winter’s cold weather is because the soil is too dry. It is very important to take time and check that all plants have sufficient soil moisture.
  • Check the moisture of plants in dry, sheltered areas such as under eaves and around tall evergreens.
  • Continue watering gardens, shrubs and trees if rainfall doesn’t reach an inch or more every week or 10 days. It’s important for plants to go into cold weather with adequate moisture.
  • Empty hoses, fountains and drip-irrigation systems.


  • Before bringing houseplants indoors, spray them, if necessary, to keep aphids, mealybugs or other harmful insects out.
  • Cut back peony to the ground after first frost leaving a 2 inch stalk and discard. Do not compost your peonies because botrytis blight (also called gray mold), a fungal disease that affects peonies, sometimes survives the composting process.
  • Cut back tender roses to 10-12 inches, and remove all foliage so insects and diseases can’t winter over.
  • Keep staying ahead of weeds this month; they serve as homes for pests and bugs, and destroying them before they flower and seed will save you work in the future.
  • Broadleaf turf weeds that make fall growth – including dandelions, field bindweed, chickweed, shepardspurse, henbit, ground ivy and violets – can be controlled most effectively anytime in October or early November.
  • Rake fallen leaves and fruit from under fruit trees and put them in areas away from healthy fruit trees. This prevents leaf-borne diseases from recurring. It also reduces habitat for mice, which can be destructive to fruit trees.
  • Use hardware cloth to wrap around the base of small fruit trees and roses. This will protect them from rodents.
  • Slugs don’t slow down as the weather gets cooler; in fact, you’ll likely find them at all life stages in October, from eggs to youngsters and adults. Take whatever measures you prefer - salt, slug bait, saucers of beer - to eliminate slugs. It’s best to catch them at early stages to stop the reproduction cycle.
  • Scale insects on broad-leafed evergreens such as camellia, gardenia, holly and euonymus can be effectively controlled by spraying with dormant oil. Do not use oil spray if temperature goes above 80 degrees.
  • Check for aphids and caterpillars on fall flowers and leafy vegetables.


  • Bring houseplants indoors before the first frost.
  • Cacti and other succulents such as jade plants and sedums do best in a sunny south or west window.
  • Carefully harvest material for dried arrangements at this time. Choose cockscomb, flowering artemisia, already mature okra pods, flowering oregano stalks and others to enhance fall and winter bouquets. When using dried flowers with fuzzy seed heads, spray them with hair spray to keep them from shattering.
  • Consider planting serpentine garlic now and use their dried, twisting flower stems in dried arrangements next year.
  • Clean and store your pots. Extreme temperature fluctuations in the coldest part of the winter can result in the death of many a good pot. Empty them, compost the soil, hose them out well and store them dry in a covered shed or garage.
  • Garden tools add up to a large financial investment. Clean garden tools before putting them away for winter. Use soapy water and a steel brush or sand paper to remove caked-on dirt or rust. Apply lightweight oil to a rag and wipe all of the metal on the tools to prevent rust. Vegetable cooking oil works fine for this task. Scrub wooden or fiberglass handles to remove dirt and debris. Sand any rough spots to reduce splinters. Use a furniture paste wax on the handles or wipe with linseed oil to keep the wood from drying out. With proper care, quality tools can last you a lifetime.
  • Clean up the blueberry patch: Prune broken or diseased limbs, and thicken the mulch with a layer of pine needles or bark.
  • After a light frost, begin harvesting sweetened turnips, parsnips and other late vegetables left in the ground.
  • Asparagus top growth should not be removed until foliage yellows. Let foliage stand over winter for insulation and moisture.
  • Before you put away your mower, add a gasoline stabilizer and take it to the shop for any repairs and to have the blade sharpened and balanced.
  • Core aerate turf to reduce soil compaction, improve drainage, break up thatch and help nutrients move into the soil.
  • Dig and place caladium bulbs in a dry place out of the sun for about two weeks. At that time the shriveled, brown leaves should remove easily leaving a dry scar. Brush off excess soil and place in old nylon stockings, mesh onion bags, paper bags or cardboard boxes. The idea is that the container should be able to breathe. Do not store the tubers in a plastic bag, as this may lead to rotting. Store out of the sun at above 70 degrees.
  • This is an ideal time to remove any plant that isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Take out the old, the ugly, the sick and anything that sucks up more of your life than you want it to take.
  • Get poinsettias and Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti ready for well-timed holiday color. Give them a daily dose of 10 hours of bright daylight and 14 hours of night darkness. Christmas cacti need a cool environment of 50-60 degrees, while poinsettias prefer a warmer 65-72 degrees. Let cacti dry out between waterings.
  • Pick and dry or freeze herbs for winter use.
  • Harvest mature, green tomatoes before frost and ripen indoors in the dark.
  • Collect pumpkins and winter squash before frost, but when the rind is hard and fully colored. Store in a cool location until ready to use.
  • Dig sweet potatoes before frost.
  • Hold off dividing asters, chrysanthemums and other fall-blooming perennials. It’s best to split them in spring.
  • Holly plants with a heavy set of fruit often suffer a fertilizer deficiency. An application of complete fertilizer late this month can be helpful and provide a head start next spring.
  • If you have saved seeds of your favorite plants, allow them to become air dry; then place them in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Be sure to label each packet carefully. Remember, seed from hybrid plants will seldom resemble the parent plant.
  • If you’d like to extend the harvest of carrots, turnips and other root vegetables, leave some in the ground to mulch as the weather gets colder. They can handle cold snaps!
  • Make a note of plants displaying outstanding fall colors as you drive along city streets and the surrounding countryside. You may wish to incorporate some of them into your own landscape.
  • Prepare new beds now for planting next spring. The soil is usually easier to work in the fall and fall-prepared beds allow for earlier plantings in spring. Plus, tilling now can help control insects such as corn borer, corn earworm, cucumber beetle and squash bug.
  • Rake or shred tree leaves, especially large ones like maple and sycamore, to prevent them from matting down and smothering grass. You can also run over the leaves with a mulching mower, which chops them into small bits. These finely chopped leaves can be left on the lawn where they will break down and add nutrients to the soil.
  • Spray evergreens, including newly planted ones, with an anti-desiccant when temperature is above 40 degrees. These products protect plants from drying out.
  • Strawberry plants need protection from winter extremes. Apply winter protection when plants are dormant, but before temperatures drop below 20 degrees.
  • Now’s an ideal time to start a compost pile if you don’t already have one. The combination of spent plants from the garden, excess fallen leaves and grass clippings from the final, shorter cut of the season make a perfect compost blend. Be sure to have extra soil available so each layer of plant material may be covered with several inches of soil. Add about one pound of a garden fertilizer or half pound of blood meal to each layer of plant material to provide the necessary nitrogen for decomposition. If you really want to get the microbes dancing, add about a cup of granular, feed grade molasses to each layer! Remember, a soggy compost pile will come to a standstill during the cold of winter. Cover if possible.
  • Think about a de-icer for the birdbath.
  • Natural feeds will be getting even scarcer soon. Keep the bird feeders full!

On the Road

Making Lasting Memories

by Christy Kirk

In July, we took Rolley Len and Cason to Cherokee, N.C., not really knowing whether or not they would survive the long drive, let alone be into the whole long-term camping experience once we arrived. The drive north went fine, even with a food and potty break in Atlanta at a rather questionable exit. In hindsight, stopping in Atlanta for lunch at that particular Burger King was probably just what we needed before heading into the mountains. Experiencing the noise and crowds of a hectic big city can help you appreciate the peaceful solitude and simplicity of the campground. Rolley Len and Cason have spent a lot of time at the creek, lake and the Gulf, but camping by the Oconaluftee River was an experience for them unlike the others.

The first day, we arrived late in the afternoon, so the kids met up with their cousin Anna Ruth and had just enough daylight to ease into the icy water and look for fish in the wading pools. After warming to the cold, Cason and Anna Ruth braved the splashing water and tried the inner tube together, but Rolley Len wasn’t so sure about getting soaked just yet.

After dark, Rolley Len, Cason and Anna Ruth played Red-Light, Green-Light and Duck-Duck-Goose with a few other children staying nearby. They all had huge s’mores by the fire pit, but, even with all that sugar, it wasn’t long before they were all yawning and ready to go to sleep.

Cason decided he wanted a story in the tent, so I told him a story that tells the origin of Native American people, "When Grizzlies Walked Upright" (Modoc). He listened intently and asked questions. Then his own imagination took hold and he made up his own story, making shadow puppets on the roof of the tent.

I am always surprised that Rolley Len and Cason never tire of listening to stories. Whether the stories they hear are new versions of the "Three Little Pigs" or oft-repeated family histories, the kids are always eager, paying close attention and asking questions. So, as planned, we took them to the Cherokee Bonfire on the Oconaluftee River after dark on Friday night.

A crowd was gathered around the bonfire and there were three storytellers wearing traditional Cherokee dress. One of the men had already begun to tell a story when we arrived. As I looked around for somewhere to sit, the story was interrupted by the sound of an approaching helicopter. The storyteller had to wait for the roaring helicopter to land in the field across the street before continuing.

The modern disturbance caught the attention of Rolley Len and Cason who were just entering the park with their MawMaw and Pop across from the open field. Someone had gotten hurt and been put onto a board to be loaded into the helicopter. Rolley Len and Cason watched the paramedics and firemen intently. For a few minutes, I was torn about whether to let them continue to watch the rescue or bring them over to the bonfire. Do I let them watch heroes preparing someone to be airlifted or hustle them over to see the war dance?

Both were exciting new things they had not seen before, so I decided to let them watch the rescue until the crew started to load the patient, then I pulled them both on into the park, perched them on a huge tree stump, and crossed my fingers that I made the right decision. They stood very still as two men began the war dance and did not move until they finished. Not long after they stopped, Cason was ready to go play at the campsite. Rolley Len wanted to stay and listen to the storyteller explain their clothing, hair and marriage traditions, so we stayed as long as Cason’s patience would allow.

On our last day, it rained most of the day, but that didn’t stop Jason and Cason from going to the 13th Annual Talking Trees Children’s Trout Fishing Derby. The river is stocked with thousands of trout in preparation, so there is a really good chance of hooking one, even if you can’t bring it to your net. Up to 2,500 children ages 3-11 participate in this huge event, so there was no way Cason wanted to miss it. Kids received bait, a t-shirt, a fishing hat, a Zebco rod and reel, and were fed a barbecue lunch, all for free. Even though it rained and their fish got away, Jason and Cason made memories to last a lifetime.

Once the Derby was over, they came back to the camp, and we loaded up to go ride inner tubes down the river. After feeling how cold the water was, Rolley Len had not been very interested in tubing at the camp. But this time we all went and even brought a new friend from the campsite, Harli Ponders from Georgia. The river was smooth most of the way, but there were some rapids that surprised us. The kids loved it, even the rough, scarier parts. It took about three hours to go down the river. It rained on us some and the water was icy, but it was still fun.

The icy water is what makes the trout fishing possible and popular in North Carolina. If you can’t make it to Cherokee for the 14th Annual Derby, check out some of the options closer to home. In Alabama, there aren’t many places stocked with trout. You can fish at Lake Weiss, Sipsey Fork (near Cullman) or some families stock their own ponds with trout during the winter time.

Rolley Len and Cason already started talking about their next trip to Cherokee. Apparently the only thing they would change is to more of what they did on the first trip. Next year, we will again go hear the storytellers, fish for trout, inner tube for hours, play games at the camp after dark and make more s’mores. Sometimes traveling with family can be a struggle, but for us it gets easier knowing that we are making lasting memories for all of us. So, whether you go just down the street to your local pond or go all the way to the mountains, take your family on an adventure and have your next meal on the road. You never know how much fun you can have!

Visit for more information about trout and other freshwater fishing.

Trout Cakes

Trout Cakes

1 trout, cleaned and filleted
½ onion, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
Lemon juice to taste
Olive oil
Old Bay seasoning

Brush trout on both sides with olive oil. Place on foil in a roasting pan and broil until barely cooked through. Fish will be flakey and tender. Make sure all bones were removed. Set fish aside.

Sauté onion and red pepper in butter in skillet. Pour into a large bowl. Mix together with the trout, mayonnaise, mustard, egg, breadcrumbs and a little lemon juice. Add salt, pepper and Old Bay to taste.

Form into patties, and fry in 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil until cakes are lightly browned on the outside. Drain on paper towels and serve with ketchup, tartar sauce or horseradish sauce (recipe included).

Horseradish Cream Sauce

1 cup sour cream

2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

1/8 cup chopped chives

1 clove minced garlic

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until well blended.

Broiled Trout

2 trout fillets, cleaned

2 Tablespoons salt

1 cup water

½ cup oil with ¼ teaspoon black pepper added

Place fillets in brine of salt and water for ten minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Spray or oil the broiling pan. Brush the fish with the peppered oil. Put the trout on the pan with the skin side up. After 5 minutes, the skin should be browning. Baste with peppered oil and cook until browned. Turn fish over and baste the exposed side. Cook until browned. After removing from pan, add a little butter to the top of the fish.

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


Pacesetter Awards are given every year at the annual Co-op Manager’s Meeting. Awards are presented for total dollar purchases, for total percentage increase and some presentations were based on other information collected during AFC’s fiscal year 2013-2014.

Colin Morris, right, Goshen Farmers Co-op, was the recipient of the special Turn Around Award presented by Rivers Myres, AFC’s CEO. For a complete list of award recipients along with photographs, visit The AgriSolution awards were presented to (from left) Colin Morris, Goshen Farmers Co-op, for Largest Percent Increase and for sales to Robert Pittman, West Geneva County Co-op, and Keith Griffin, Madison County Co-op.
The Animal Health sales awards were presented to (from left) Bryan Monk, Central Alabama Farmers Co-op, and Danny Murdock, DeKalb Farmers Co-op, and for Largest Percent Increase to Sam Lincoln, Elberta Farmers Co-op. The Bonnie Plants awards were presented to (from left) Seth Eubanks, Cherokee Farmers Co-op, for Largest Percent Increase and for sales to Lance Ezelle, Morgan Farmers Co-op, and Talladega County Exchange (not pictured).
The Crop Nutrients awards were presented to (from left) Robert Pittman, West Geneva County Co-op, for sales; Lance Ezelle, Morgan Farmers Co-op, for Largest Percent Increase; and Keith Griffin, Madison County Co-op, for sales. The Crop Protection Products sales awards were presented to (from left) Robert Pittman, West Geneva County Co-op, and Brit Christopher, Limestone Farmers Co-op; and for Largest Percent Increase to Scott Hartley, Taleecon Farmers Co-op.

The Feed Ingredientsawards were presented to (from left) Bryan Monk, Central Alabama Farmers Co-op, for sales and Kellie Trull, Fayette Farmers Co-op, for Largest Percent Increase. Also, receiving a sales award was Russell Lassiter, Andalusia Farmers Co-op.
The Hardware awards were presented to (from left) David Tierce, DeKalb Farmers Co-op, for sales and Sam Lincoln, Elberta Farmers Co-op, for Largest Percent Increase. The John Deere Credit awards were presented to (from left) Eric Sanders, Blount County Farmers Co-op, for Volume (Dollar) Increase and Keith Griffin, Madison County Co-op, for Largest Volume – Dollars.
The Lawn and Garden sales awards were presented to (from left) Robbie Neal, Lauderdale County Co-op, and Steve Lann, Marion County Co-op, and for Largest Percent Increase to Sam Lincoln, Elberta Farmers Co-op. The Professional Products awards were presented to (from left) Colin Morris, Goshen Farmers Co-op, for Largest Percent Increase and for sales to Danny Murdock, DeKalb Farmers Co-op, and Wayne Gilliam, Tuscaloosa Farmers Co-op.
The Seed awards were presented to (from left) Eric Sanders, Blount County Farmers Co-op, for Largest Percent Increase; and for sales to Jamie Vann, Madison County Co-op, and Wayne Gilliam, Tuscaloosa Farmers Co-op. (From left) The Hardware sales award was presented to Bryan Monk, Central Alabama Farmers Co-op. The TBA awards were presented to Steve Lann, Marion County Co-op, for sales; the Largest Percent Increase award to Ricky Wilks, Coffee County Farmers Co-op; and sales award to Brandon Walls, Madison County Co-op.
Not Pictured
The Excellence in Safety & Risk Management Awards were presented by Marie Cook (fourth from right), AFC’s Safety Director, to (in alphabetical order by store) Altha Farmers Co-op, Altha, Blountstown and Marianna; Atmore Truckers Association; Calhoun Farmers Co-op, Jacksonville and Piedmont; Central Alabama Farmers Co-op, Demopolis and Faunsdale; Cherokee Farmers Co-op, Centre; Coffee County Farmers Co-op, Enterprise; Colbert Farmers Co-op, Tuscumbia; Cullman Farmers Co-op; DeKalb Farmers Co-op, Crossville; Elmore County Co-op; Farmers Co-op of Ashford; Farmers Cooperative Market, Frisco City and Leroy; Franklin County Co-op; Giles Co-op, Pulaski and Lynnville; Jackson Farmers Co-op, Stevenson; Jay Peanut Farmers Co-op; Lauderdale County Co-op, Florence and Rogersville; Lawrence County Exchange, Moulton and Courtland; Marion County Co-op, Hamilton; Mid-State Farmers Co-op; Morgan Farmers Cooperative, Hartselle; Opp’s Co-op; Quality Co-op, Inc.; St. Clair Farmers Co-op, Ashville and Pell City; Tuscaloosa Farmers Co-op; and Walker Farmers Co-op. BioLogic presented sales awards to Elmore County Farmers Co-op and Pike Farmers Co-op, and Largest Percent Increase award to Mid-State Farmers Co-op.
Feed - Feed presented sales awards to Central Alabama Farmers Co-op and Talladega County Exchange, and Largest Percent Increase award to Headland Peanut Warehouse.

Pals: Going Green

Bluff Park Elementary School starts the year with a PALS visit.

by Jamie Mitchell

Bluff Park Elementary School in Hoover kicked the school year off right by having Alabama PALS come do four programs in one day on littering and recycling. The students rotated through by grade and had a chance to learn more about how littering affects our environment and animals. They saw real-life pictures of how sea creatures can get caught in the trash and plastic that ends up in our waterways if we litter.

The students also learned practical ways in which they can reuse items, recycle more of their trash and reduce their carbon footprint. They asked questions and provided many examples of how they are already reusing items in their home and recycling at home and at school. The students were challenged to find one new way in which to reuse something in the coming weeks. Many of the students planned to challenge their parents to begin using reusable bags at the supermarket.

Bluff Park already is a leader in the green movement. They have their very own "Green Team" that spreads the word about littering and recycling around campus. Bluff Park has also partnered with Alabama PALS to "Adopt an Area" at their school. They have adopted their outdoor classroom and made a commitment to keep it clean and green for the 2014-2015 school year. At the direction of Nancy McGowin, the students of Bluff Park Elementary School have a very bright (and green!) future ahead.

If a school near you is interested in learning more about Alabama PALS’s Clean Campus Program, please have them contact me at 334-354-4214. We look forward to continuing our work around the state this school year educating and partnering for a litter-free state!

Jamie Mitchell is the PALS State Clean Campus Coordinator.

Peanut People

S.W.E.A.T. Time

Plus: Post Holes & Pine Planks

by John Howle

“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.” Benjamin Franklin

Is the government creating an environment of idle men? I’m not talking about farmers, because farmers work their entire lives. Most "town jobs" involve reaching retirement age and having the option to be idle after retirement. If you are a farmer, you are never idle, and you never retire. The work is your life; it is determined by the seasons, and you get your worth from the farm work you do.

In the nation outside the farming communities, things are different. According to Forbes Magazine, the true unemployment rate should be around 11 percent. Even though the media reports numbers ranging between seven and eight percent, Forbes says the 11 percent is more accurate because over 5 million people have left the workforce altogether because they lost hope of getting a job. Many of these who have dropped out of the work force simply set their dignity to the side and signed up for government safety net programs.

Once these people have dropped out of the workforce, they aren’t reflected in the current unemployment numbers. This makes the current unemployment rate look deceivingly lower. So what’s the best way to create more happy working folks?

Mike Rowe, host of television’s "Dirty Jobs," has recently created a pledge with the acronym, S.W.E.A.T., Skill and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo. The following is Rowe’s S.W.E.A.T. Pledge:

I believe I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.

I believe I am entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that "happiness" and the "pursuit of happiness" are not the same thing.

I believe there is no such thing as a "bad job." I believe all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.

I do not "follow my passion." I bring it with me. I believe any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm.

I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it. I would rather live in a tent and eat beans than borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can’t afford.

I believe my safety is my responsibility. I understand that being in "compliance" does not necessarily mean I’m out of danger.

I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.

I believe the most annoying sounds in the world are whining and complaining. I will never make them. If I am unhappy in my work, I will either find a new job or find a way to be happy.

I believe my education is my responsibility and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning and understand that library cards are free.

Post-hole drills mounted to the front-end loader deliver downward pressure.

I believe I am a product of my choices – not my circumstances. I will never blame anyone for my shortcomings or the challenges I face. And I will never accept the credit for something I didn’t do.

I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.

I believe all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.

Post Hole Happiness

This October, there are a few things that can help your work go smoothly. If you have lots of posts to put in, it might be worthwhile to invest in a hydraulic-powered post-hole drill. Many of the post-hole drills mount on the back of tractors, but if your tractor doesn’t have downward pressure with the lift arms, the drill doesn’t work as well.

Many farmers remedy this problem by mounting the post-hole drill on the front of the tractor so the front-end loader arms can push downward. You can fabricate a simple frame the post-hole drill can be attached to, and this frame can be attached to the front-end loader.

Slice a skinned pine pole with a chainsaw for two rounded planks.

Silent Stalking

October means deer season is opening up. One of the quickest ways to ruin a hunt is walking through loud, dry leaves. If your path is free of leaves, you can stalk practically silently through the woods. By scraping your firebreaks, you can remove the noisy, leaf debris and allow silent walking if you time your scraping after the bulk of the leaves fall. Now is the time to mark your calendar for an early November scraping which will have the leaves cleared by the time gun season for deer opens.

Pine Planks

If you have some small construction jobs around the farm, you can create your own lumber even without a sawmill. Small pine saplings can be stripped of their bark and sliced in half with a chainsaw to give two rounded planks. I use these to make construction additions to fences and chicken pens.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.


Here’s the mature “home-grown” buck that the author was referring to in the opening. He was aged at 6 years old and had over 9 inches of mass above his left G-2.

Create Your Own Whitetail Paradise

by Todd Amenrud

This buck had almost 10 inches of palmated antler mass above his G-2 and that’s what caught my eye as he approached through the swamp. My heart was pounding and my left leg was shaking so hard it made the treetop jiggle. He was following a scent trail of Special Golden Estrus I had set up before getting into my treestand. He stopped, did a lip curl, raked the brush with his antlers, and then put his nose to the ground and continued on the trail. He scanned the area and I thought the jig was up! Not finding what was making that "sweet smell," would he move on without offering me a shot? I fumbled for my call and executed a perfect aggressive-grunt and a snort-wheeze. His ears locked onto my position, his hair bristled up and he came intently on a stiff-legged walk with his ears pinned back, looking for who had just insulted him. I let him pass by until his vitals opened up and then drove a Hoyt-propelled projectile through both lungs.

I love bowhunting mature bucks! This gray-faced, massive whitetail was 6 years old. How cool is that? But what made it so much sweeter was the fact I watched this buck grow up on my property! Why was this buck here? Because my property is a "whitetail paradise" – why would they want to leave? I don’t own thousands of acres and I’m not wealthy … my point is – if I can do this, so can you!

I don’t care if you have 40 acres or 4,000; you can dramatically improve the amount and size of the bucks on your property and make hunting them a lot easier. Why not create your own big buck paradise?

If you are a serious hunter, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the "F+W+C formula" (food, water, cover). In recent years there’s been an "S" added to that blueprint. It basically means "security" or "sanctuary." Translated, that means "lack of pressure." If you have food, water and cover, but you go traipsing through the area every other day to find one more rub on a tree you didn’t see on your last scouting trip two days ago – you simply will not hold mature bucks.

All parts of the formula are very important, so which should you begin with? Although water might be the most important component, if you have whitetails in the area, there is already a source of water somewhere nearby. So, my suggestion would be to start with both the food and cover portion of the puzzle – these will show the biggest payout. However, if you truly want to hold whitetails on your property, they shouldn’t have to leave for anything – everything needs to be available for them on your property.

With food plots, a well-rounded program that devotes acreage to both attraction and nutrition is the best. There’s no question that variety is of the utmost importance. Think about just the timeframe from September through January, temperatures and climate are changing, plants are changing, a whitetail’s needs are dramatically changing … see the key word – "CHANGE." Whitetails require different forms of nutrition for the wide range of conditions they will face.

You obviously must have enough acreage to give them ample variety. As an example, if you have only a half-acre plot, you don’t have enough space to provide much variety. Otherwise, when a specific plant becomes palatable, there’s not going to be enough to keep them coming back, they’ll wipe you out too soon. With small plots you have to be very specific about the goals for the plot and what you will plant.

For plot placement and design, I rely on aerial photos, topographical maps and satellite images. For those of you who are "computer friendly," you can get amazingly clear satellite images on "Google Maps." If you plan things right, you can dictate to your herd where they’re going to bed, travel and feed, and it makes hunting them much easier.

Food plots are going to decrease the home-range size of every animal on your property and, in doing so, they will increase your property’s carrying capacity – if you do things right, possibly significantly increase your herd numbers. However, one of the main points to stress is, along with all that great food, if you don’t also supply them "extra spots to live," your impact probably won’t be what you expect.

While standing on the ground in your hunting area, if you can see clearly for 75 yards or further in several directions, chances are your property is NOT holding many deer. A whitetail’s world exists from six feet high to the ground. If you want to increase your property’s carrying capacity, I suggest getting busy with the chainsaw. In addition to the woods work, I would also begin planting cover. Besides creating cover for "housing," both of these tasks will also create extra food. Regardless of how much food you plant in your food plots, deer still MUST HAVE their natural browse. Planting native warm-season grasses, various trees and shrubs or even planting certain seed-producing annual grasses can add fast, thick cover for more living space.

I’m not saying you want to do a clear-cut either. Whitetails like a balanced mix, they like edge cover and diversity. However, quite honestly, unless a large canopy tree is producing some type of mast crop or fruit, it’s not doing your whitetail herd much good at all. Anywhere you can let the sunlight hit the soil your deer herd will benefit from it, even if you aren’t planting food plots. Do your woods work in steps – having trees and plants in all stages of growth is healthy for your woods and for your whitetails.

One of the most important aspects in producing and holding trophy bucks is leaving undisturbed space for them – "sanctuary." If you wish to hold mature bucks on your property this "safe zone" is especially important! To go along with these sanctuaries, minimizing pressure on other parts of your property is also important. Older bucks will not tolerate much before they change something to avoid making contact with you. Some managers deem their entire property as a sanctuary and use what is referred to as a "minimum-impact" hunting style.

We initially mentioned water, and as stated, if you have whitetails on your property now, there is a source of water somewhere nearby. Even if that is the case, make it easy for them. What happens if the ol’ creek dries out during a drought? I would suggest having several backup sources. Livestock water troughs or a large drum (cut in half) or tank buried in a low spot can do the job. Fill the tank if it runs dry. In most parts of the country, the natural rain water will keep them full enough if you place them properly. If you want something a little larger, it’s amazing what a person can accomplish in one weekend with a "front-end loader" and some pond fabric.

I understand that with smaller parcels it’s impossible to hold whitetail at all times. However, even with smaller acreage, I am positive that if you provide them what they need in the food, water and cover departments, and you allow them to live as undisturbed as possible, you can create your own big buck "Shangri-La."

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

Shelby Gets Ripped

by Lisa Hamblen Hood

They say you should never name an animal you plan to eat, but that never stops kids from naming their show animals. They may not ever actually eat them but they do sell them, and they eventually end up on someone’s table. One of my junior high students Shelby named her show goats Hazel and Chloe. Like many show animals, these two critters ended up being family pets.

I couldn’t help laughing as she and her mother described how the goats knocked the underpinning off the house so they could explore underneath. The family would hear them scrambling around under there bleating pitifully because they couldn’t find their way back to the opening. Someone would feel sorry for them or just get tired of listening to all that racket, so they’d beat on the side of the house to help the goats find their way back to the hole and escape.

If that didn’t happen, one of their dogs would slip through the hole and round them up and out. Their dogs, Lulu, Lucky and Fat Ball, a weird combination of sheepdog, Border Collie and basset hound, have enough herding instinct that that task comes pretty naturally.

For several months before the county show, Shelby faithfully fed, groomed and walked Hazel and Chloe every afternoon. It was a welcome relief from the pressure and aggravation of being at school all day. About a week before their debut into the show ring at county, we had a little mini show at our school. It was sort of a practice run for the real thing, which was especially helpful for newbies like Shelby who’d never shown an animal before. The students wore their best jeans, boots, Western shirts and sparkly rhinestone belts. We always have a qualified judge, a ring full of wood shavings, trophies, ribbons and an audience full of their peers. Most of the 100-plus students in our school and a handful of parents and teachers came to watch. We lined the metal bleachers to watch the spectacle held in the bus barn behind the ag shop. Mother Nature obliged with a bone-chilling day and a stiff north wind, even when the temperature had been balmy the week before.

On the day before the show, Shelby went out to the bus barn to check on her "babies." She spotted something amiss in Hazel’s pen. Instead of walking around and entering through the gate, she gingerly stepped over the welded wire panel. When she did, the sharp edge of the wire caught the back of her jeans and ripped them all the way up. "Dangit!" she muttered as she felt the arctic breeze blowing on her bare backsides.

Unlike most junior high girls, Shelby is calm and unflappable. Her motto about most everything is: "It’ll be all right …." And that’s exactly what she told her mother, who teaches at the school with me. I knew something was up when I saw her mom snatch up her purse and storm out the side door. She headed for the closest town some 15 miles away hoping they’d have some girls’ jeans. After searching both "dollar stores," she ended up at the hardware store with some boys’ jeans.

Well, the slim, straight-legged jeans didn’t fit her daughter’s developing curves, so they went back to the store together. They finally found something that would work, and by that time they were both able to laugh at the mishap. If it had been me, I’d have just slapped a strip of duct tape over that rip and called it good. In fact, I’ve actually done that – more than once. I’m kind of like Shelby and don’t worry about little things like wardrobe malfunctions. I know that "it’ll be all right …."

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

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "I saw you talkin’ to Jeb over thar a minute ago. You better know to take anything he says with a grain of salt!"

Why would someone take salt during a conversation?

To take a statement with "a grain of salt" or "a pinch of salt" means to accept it, but maintain a degree of skepticism about its truth. The idea comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt. Pliny the Elder translated an ancient antidote for poison with the words "be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt."

Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, 77 A.D., translates thus:

"After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day."

The suggestion is that injurious effects can be moderated by the taking of a grain of salt.

The figurative meaning, that is, that truth may require moderation by the notional application of "a grain of salt," didn’t enter the language until much later, no doubt influenced by classical scholars’ study of ancient Greek texts like the works of Pliny. The phrase has been in use in English since the 17th century; for example, John Trapp’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, 1647:

"This is to be taken with a grain of salt."

The "pinch of salt" variant is more recent. The earliest printed citation I can find for it is F. R. Cowell’s Cicero & the Roman Republic, 1948:

"A more critical spirit slowly developed, so that Cicero and his friends took more than the proverbial pinch of salt before swallowing everything written by these earlier authors."

Sustainable Agriculture: Using Every Tool in the K

by Dr. Tony Frazier

I am old enough at 54 to think of more than a few terms or phrases that were never uttered when I was growing up, or even in most of my adult life for some. You have terms such as "online," "website" and "Google" that came in with the creation of the Internet. In fact, Internet is one of those words I do not believe I had ever heard before the 1990s. When I was a kid, if someone had asked if we had a cell phone, my answer would have been, "No. We have a rotary phone." I do not recall the first time I ever heard of a microwave oven, but I think I was probably a young adult. If you have any age on you, you know what I am talking about. The world is changing at such a pace that someday my grandkids will not hear terms such as "chalkboard," "black and white TV" or "rotary phone." There is another term that has, in the past few years, become fairly common in the circles that I travel. That term is "sustainable agriculture." The term sustainable agriculture is the idea of practicing plant and animal agriculture that focuses on efficient use of non-renewable resources, the use of renewable resources, and sustaining the economic viability of farming for the long term.

I believe there are a number of extremely important issues at play in the world that will significantly affect the future of humanity. In my opinion, the ability to produce food is fundamental to the quality of life as we go down the road to the future. I go to a lot of meetings that look at what we can expect as we approach certain milestones such as the year 2050. A recent prediction commonly accepted is that the population may reach near 9 billion people by 2050. That is about a 25 percent increase over the world population today. I do not have a concept of what 9 billion people looks like. I know the capacity of Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn is roughly about 87,500. That would mean you could fill about 103 thousand Jordan Hare stadiums with 9 billion people. So I still don’t have a good grasp on how many 9 billion is. I do know the world population today is around 7.1 billion and people go to bed hungry every night. I have never gone to bed hungry … I mean, I have never known hunger. It is important to me that we make sure as few people as possible go to bed hungry. That will be a challenge as time goes on.

I have always loved working with farmers. To me, they are the rock stars of society. They tend to be the most taken-for-granted sector of society that exists. I keep in my desk a copy of a Washington Posteditorial from February 2013. The editorial was inspired by the Dodge Truck advertisement that featured Paul Harvey reading his essay, "On the Eighth Day God Made the Farmer." The advertisement first aired on the Super Bowl that year. The person who wrote the editorial referenced Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, who told reporters he "hopes the people of America will wake up and appreciate the family farmers of America." The writer then goes on to advise his readers that farming no longer resembles the family enterprises that are part of the shrewd marketing campaign. He indicates that agriculture is mostly dominated by large corporations. I understand an editorial is only the opinion of the writer, but I would like for it to be a little less like a fairytale. One of the most amazing statements in the editorial is: "Farmers are wealthy and the U.S. food supply is not remotely at risk …."

I often wonder how someone could get the idea that "the U.S. food supply is not remotely at risk." I do believe that with the loss of around 5-7 million baby pigs to the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus and cattle herd numbers being the lowest since the 1950s as a result of ongoing droughts in various parts of the country, our food supply balances on a delicate set of factors that could as easily go negative as positive. I suppose that if every time a person goes to the grocery store and the shelves are full, it could give the impression that the food supply is abundant. I suppose that when we go to restaurants or fast food places and we can order whatever we want, it could lead one to think there is an endless supply out there and it will always be that way.

As I think about sustainable agriculture as we move into the future, I believe it is critically important we use every tool in our kit to produce as much food as efficiently as possible. There are areas in animal agriculture production such as genetics and nutrition in which I am not involved. I am, however, involved in animal health. I believe, if we are to be able to feed a growing population, we will need to be more aware of animal health issues than ever before. I am not just talking about the diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis and trichomoniasis that we regulate. I am referring to anything that robs production from our farmers. I am talking about parasites quietly robbing animals of nutrients that could be used to produce muscle. I am talking about diseases such as shipping fever that causes weight loss and poor production. I am talking about diseases causing reproductive failures such as Lepto. I am referring to addressing diseases such as blackleg where a vaccine can prevent the loss of an animal.

As I mentioned earlier, those who do such things are predicting the population of the world will grow by just over one-fourth in the next 35 years. It is not likely that we will see parking lots and subdivisions turned back into farm land. I have heard that a good bit of the rain forest in South America is being turned into farm land, which is probably not a good thing. The point I want to make is that we need to significantly increase productivity over the next decades. There are other issues that will need to be addressed such as being able to get the food from places where there are surpluses to places where there are deficits. There are political issues that will need to be worked through. And educating people in third-world countries about production agriculture is an absolute must. Having said all that, if we cannot sustain production agriculture, the prediction of 9 billion people will probably not happen. When 9 billion people show up at the dinner table, we will either feed them or world hunger will become public enemy number one. A closing proverb that I recently heard goes like this: "A country with plenty of food has many problems. A county without food has only one."

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama.

Swarms: Working Together to Achieve a Goal

by Glenn Crumpler

As I write this, I am in a hotel in College Station, Texas, where I have been in a series of meetings with some members of the faculty, staff, student body and alumni of Texas A&M University. I did not know much about TAMU until I was invited by some students who were interested in learning more about Cattle for Christ and how they could be involved in the work of the ministry.

During my time at TAMU and my experiences of meeting alumni around the world and how they interact with one another, I realize they really understand and value the concept of being "Family." They may not agree with one another on every issue but they stand together and are there for one another whatever they need. Visiting TAMU reminded me of what can be accomplished when a group of imperfect people work together for a common purpose.

I can only imagine the impact the universal Church would have if we just had the same sense of family and unity associated with being an "Aggie." With that level of unity comes strength, power, wisdom from the knowledge of many and the resources to do whatever needs to be done.

I am not elevating TAMU or any other great organization to the level of the Church, though many of them are part of it. I am, however, making the point that, if we had the sense of unity and family of this secular institution, combined with the leadership and the power of the Holy Spirit available to all Christians, we could accomplish all that Jesus prayed for in John 17 when He prayed that the Church would be ONE just as He and the Father are ONE.

Jesus prayed for the Church to be brought to "complete unity." That unity had a purpose: "That the world may know that You sent Me and that You loved them even as You loved Me." If Christians would work together as family, each member doing what God equipped them to do under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we could indeed reach and change the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ and help them meet their physical needs in ways that would be effective and self-sustainable.

Just this morning, I read an article written by Robert Lee Hotz in the Wall Street Journal about a "Swarm" of 1,024 robots created by a group of scientists at Harvard University (headed up by Dr. Michael Rubenstein) that can work together to accomplish a common goal without any guiding central intelligence. These robots can assemble themselves into precise designs and formations, and can perform very complex tasks.

The scientists’ inspiration to build this swarm of robots came from nature’s team players – social insects such as bees, ants and termites; schools of fish; and flocks of birds who collaborate in vast numbers to perform complicated tasks, even though no single individual is actually in charge.

Quoting excerpts from Hotz’s article: "The beauty of biological systems is that they are elegantly simple and yet, in large numbers, accomplish the seemingly impossible. Driver ants, for example, live together in colonies of 20 thousand or more. The ants are blind. Yet they work together to forage for food, guided by chemical signals, smell and touch. Among such social insects, that team spirit is hard-wired into the genetic code.

"To give robots that kind of hive intelligence, Dr. Rubenstein and his colleagues developed a programming formula that allowed a very large group of robots to find each other and collaborate on a task, without requiring detailed moment-to-moment instructions. Each robot knows three things: how to follow the edge of a group, how to track its distance from where it had started, and how to maintain a sense of its relative position."

I know these examples of insects and robots are not direct correlations to the workings or the structure of the Church or the design of human beings created in the image of God. They do, however, show us solid evidence of what the Church can do if we work together.

The desire and the heart of Jesus for us to reach the world with His love and the Good News of the salvation He offers align perfectly with the will of the Father. When we are surrendered, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit, what Jesus asked the Father for on our behalf is absolutely achievable!

If it was not possible for the Body of Christ to be "ONE" and to reach the world, why would Jesus have asked the Father for us to be "ONE" and why would He have commanded us to go and accomplish an impossible task? It may be impossible for us, but it is not impossible if we are united, surrendered and obedient to His will. It is not impossible if we allow His Holy Spirit to work in and through us, each using our own unique gifts, personalities, resources and influence to serve Him together.

The task seems impossible with all that is going on in the world today, but it is not! How can we attempt such a task? How and where do we start? I cannot reach around the world alone, but: "If everyone on Earth joined hands to form a human chain, it would stretch about 7 million kilometers. The chain would circle the Earth at the equator about 175 times, stretch to the moon and back about nine times, and reach about one-fifth of the way to Mars when it’s at its closest point to Earth." (CBC News: Science & Technology)

As individuals we are all different, no two people are identically the same. So how are we to be ONE as Jesus and the Father are ONE? We are to operate on the same agenda as Jesus! He longs that the Father be glorified, that His followers be sanctified, and that the Church be unified to reach the world for Him. His love for us should result in our love for Him and for one another. If insects, fish, birds and robots can work together to do seemingly impossible tasks, surely His people filled with His Holy Spirit (Christ living in us) can work together to make His love known to all the nations as He has commanded us to do.

We cannot agree on everything, but we can agree that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6); that God loves all people and sent His Son to give His life so all people could be saved (John 3:16); that without faith in Jesus, all people are condemned already by their own sin (John 3:17-18); that it is not His desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9); and that He has commanded us all to work together to reach the world for His sake and has given us the power of His Holy Spirit to accomplish the task. (Matthew 28:18-20)

It is time to swarm! It is time to come together to take Jesus to the world! What will you do?

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

We have an incredibly busy, and talented, lady as our cook of the month, Amy Belcher.

"I was born and raised on my family’s beef cattle farm in Hope Hull. The only time I’ve lived anywhere different than Hope Hull was when I was in school at Auburn. When I was growing up, my grandparents (my dad’s parents) had a dairy farm just three miles from where we lived. I spent lots of time there with my cousins, many fond memories were made on their farm. We all showed dairy cattle as our 4-H project," Belcher related.

"I went to school (grades 1-12) ‘in town’ at Montgomery Academy. When I left there, I headed to Auburn. In November 1995, I began working as an intern in the Marketing & Economics section here at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. I graduated with a degree in Agricultural Business & Economics in June 1996. I began working full-time for the department that same month. I moved from the Marketing section to the Executive division in 1999 and now serve as the Communications Director for the department.

"I love my job because of the many programs I am involved with. I serve as Vice Chairman of the Ag in the Classroom Steering Committee, am a member of the state Farm-City committee and am a board member of E.A.T. South. I also coordinate the department’s Century and Heritage Farm program where we give special recognition to farms that have been in the same family for over 100 years. I also serve as the editor of the department’s monthly publication, Alabama Farmers and Consumers Bulletin."

Wow, and I thought I was good at multi-tasking!!!

Amy tells us that on a personal level, "I have been married to my high school sweetheart Michael for almost 19 years. We have been blessed with two children, Mason, 12, and Elizabeth, 8.

"Between work, school activities, sports, family and church I don’t cook at home as much as I’d like. I learned to cook at an early age, but have always been more of a baker than a cook. In fact, Michael will tell you that the cakes I made for him while we were dating were one of the reasons he married me. His two favorites are the Red Velvet and the Dr. Pepper cakes and now the Red Velvet has become the children’s favorite as well."

When asked about what got her started cooking Amy informed me, "I’m not sure how old I was when I realized that not everybody can cook because everyone in my immediate family and, most certainly, my extended family were great cooks. I watched my grandmothers and aunts cook all the time. My sister is also an excellent cook and began cooking for the family as early as 12. My mom was famous in our family for making the baked beans for all the family barbeques. My cousins were insistent that something was mentioned about her baked beans at her funeral after she passed away in 2010. They are that good, so I’m sharing that recipe as well. I love to entertain, so several of the recipes I’m sharing are things that I cook for parties we have at home."

A hearty "Thank You" to Amy for taking time out of her busy life to share her story and her recipes!

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

Dr. Pepper Cake


1 cup real butter, softened

2 cups all-purpose flour

1¾ cups sugar

3 Tablespoons powdered cocoa

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

2 eggs

½ cup buttermilk

1 cup Dr. Pepper

1½ cups miniature marshmallows

Combine all ingredients except marshmallows in large mixing bowl; blend at low speed in a mixer. Blend well. Mix in marshmallows by hand. Pour batter into greased 13x9 inch glass Pyrex dish. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean; cool 15 minutes and then spread with icing.


1 stick butter

3 Tablespoons cocoa

1/3 cup Dr. Pepper

1 box confectioner’s sugar

1 cup pecans, chopped

Combine all except pecans. Beat until smooth. Stir in pecans. Spread on cake.

Plum Cake


2 cups sugar

2 cups self-rising flour

1 cup oil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

2 small jars baby food plums

3 eggs

1 cup nuts

Combine all ingredients. Bake in tube pan at 350° for about an hour.


3 Tablespoons lemon juice

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Mix together. Pour over cake and enjoy!

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese
Butter Pecan Frosting Cake


2½ cups sifted flour

1½ cups sugar

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon cocoa

1 cup buttermilk

1½ cups (3 sticks) butter

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

2 eggs

2 (1-ounce) bottles Red Food Coloring

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

Sift together all dry ingredients. Add other ingredients in order and mix thoroughly.

Bake in 3 round cake layer pans which have been greased with butter and floured. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes.

Cream Cheese Butter Pecan Frosting

2 cups pecans, chopped

¼ cup butter, melted

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

½ cup butter, softened

2 (16-ounce) boxes confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Stir together pecans and melted butter. Spread into a 9x13 baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until toasted. Let pecans cool. (Be careful not to let the pecans burn, stir once or twice while cooking.) Beat cream cheese and softened butter until creamy. Slowly add confectioner’s sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in pecans and vanilla. Spread icing between layers and on top of cake.

Note: The best Red Velvet you’ve ever tasted!

Mama’s Baked Beans

3 (1 53-ounce, 1 15-ounce & 1 28-ounce = 96 ounces) cans Van Camp’s Pork & Beans

1½ cups light brown sugar

1 (18-ounce) bottle Kraft Honey

Hickory Smoke BBQ sauce

6 dashes Worcestershire

1 large onion, chopped

2 Tablespoons pancake syrup

1 pound bacon, chopped into smaller pieces

Mix all together in a large bowl. Place in baking dish. Bake on 350° for 45 minutes. Delicious!!!

Granny Hall’s Macaroni & Cheese

1 (16-ounce) box uncooked macaroni noodles
1½ teaspoons salt, divided
2 cups sharp cheese, shredded
2 cups mild cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 stick) butter
8 eggs
1½ cups milk

Boil noodles according to directions on package, adding at least 1 teaspoon of salt to water. Drain noodles and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9x13 casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Layer half of macaroni in baking dish. Cover with 1 cup of the sharp and 1 cup of the mild cheese. Repeat. Melt butter in microwave and pour over cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and ½ teaspoon of salt. Pour over macaroni. Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes.

Hot Bacon & Swiss Dip

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

¾ cup mayonnaise

2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded

1 bundle green onions, chopped

1 sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed

8-10 pieces of bacon, ¾ of the way cooked in microwave

Mix all ingredients except crackers and bacon together. (I melted the cream cheese a little in the microwave to make it easier to stir.) Put mixture in the bottom of Pyrex dish, cover with crackers and then bacon. Bake at 350° for 25-35 minutes.

Corn & Cheese Dip

2 cans Mexicorn, drained

8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, finely shredded

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

½ cup green onions, chopped

Mix all ingredients in large mixing bowl. Best if made the night before. Serve with Fritos Scoops.

Note: This is a super easy to make and a party favorite!

Baked Ziti with Ground Beef

1 pound ground beef

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 (16-ounce) box ziti noodles

1 (15–ounce) container ricotta cheese

2 (1-pound, 10-ounce) jars of Raguspaghetti sauce

2 (14½-ounce) cans Italian dicedtomatoes, drained

4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided

Brown ground beef with a little salt and pepper in a skillet, drain and set aside. Boil ziti noodles according to directions on box, drain and put into a large mixing bowl. Add ground beef, ricotta cheese, spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes and 2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Mix well. Spray two 9x13 casserole dishes with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mixture into both dishes, spread evenly and cover with remaining cheese. Bake at 350º for 30-40 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture bubbles.

Note: This recipe freezes well.

Sausage and Cheese Crescent Squares

2 (8-ounce) cans refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 pound hot or mild sausage
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
8 ounces (2 cups) sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 375°. Unroll 1 can of dough into 2 long rectangles. Spray bottom of 9x13 glass baking dish and press dough to cover bottom and ½ inch up sides to form crust. Brown sausage in large skillet over medium heat until thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently. Remove sausage from skillet and drain. Add cream cheese to same skillet. Cook over low heat until melted. Add cooked sausage; stir to coat. Spoon evenly over crust in baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese. Unroll second can of dough on work surface. Press to form 9x13-inch rectangle; firmly press perforations to seal. Carefully place over cheese. Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Cut into small squares.

Sausage Breakfast Casserole

4-6 slices loaf bread
1 stick butter, melted
1 pound ground sausage, browned
8 eggs
1 pint half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded

Lightly spray bottom of 9x13 casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with bread. Pour butter over bread. Sprinkle cooked sausage on top. Whip eggs, half and half, and salt and pepper together. Pour over other ingredients. Sprinkle cheese over egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350º and bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes or until firm.

I am looking for cooks of all ages, cooking traditions and skill levels to feature in this column. I want to hear from those in Alabama as well as our out-of-state readers. The simple requirements for being a featured cook are to love to cook (and eat) and to share your story with us. Get those recipes coming! Any featured cooks during 2014 will receive a free copy of our new cookbook when it is published.


The FFA Sentinel: Access to Agriscience

Students spread and prepare soil for the garden bed constructed in their Agriscience course using soil provided by Scotts Miracle-Gro Company of Vance.

Distance learning gives students opportunities to interact with
others around the state while being involved in hands-on ag projects.

by Jennifer Crutchfield

Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide distance learning works to bring agriculture education programs in Alabama together through project-based learning. Agriculture courses are typically thought of as hands-on activities and for good reason. Now, by adding distance education courses to the agriculture education mix, students are incorporating technology as they "mingle with others" and are "Learning to Do and Doing to Learn."

For the last few years, Brookwood High School of Tuscaloosa County and Robert C. Hatch High School of Perry County are connecting via ACCESS distance learning. This innovative partnership has helped both schools further develop and expand their agriculture programs.

Various agencies have helped both schools, ensuring the success of their aquaculture, horticulture, animal science and floriculture programs. Most recently, the agriculture teachers from R.C. Hatch High School and Brookwood High School worked with Scotts Miracle-Gro Company of Vance and with the support of plant manager John Bickett to utilize two different donations of soil that allowed students to build raised garden beds and grow potted plants at both schools.

"This agriculture education distance learning connection with Brookwood High School has presented many new opportunities for our teachers and students. Our students are excited to see the results of the garden beds and potted plants. We are very appreciative to Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, Mrs. Crutchfield and all other stakeholders involved," Principal Ford-Turner of R.C. Hatch High School said.

Without distance learning, this relationship would not have happened. Brooke Chhabra, an ACCESS distance learning agriculture teacher from Brookwood High School, said, "Critical business and industry partners from the agriculture industry allow our students to learn through hands-on experiences and encourage students to develop a better understanding of what agriculture is about."

Because of the success of the gardens and the willingness of Scotts Miracle-Gro Company to help both schools, this fall another large donation of soil was made by the company. Tuscaloosa Farmers Federation President Joe Anders assisted in hauling over 10 pallets of soil. Additionally, he took the time to ensure that the Agriculture Department would have the equipment to haul and load the materials needed. Anders also acquired a dump truck from Burkhalter Construction in Tuscaloosa to haul the soil donations.

Lonnie Sigler, the agriculture teacher from R.C. Hatch, also went to Scotts to pick up two loads of soil for his students to use in developing the garden beds. Once the soil arrived, the students went to work taking the concepts discussed in the classroom and putting them into action. The raised beds were constructed in the agricultural shop facilities on the high schools’ campuses, incorporating woodworking skills into the project. A variety of produce was planted and successfully raised by the students of both R.C. Hatch and Brookwood High Schools.

With this project, the Agriscience Departments at R.C. Hatch High School and Brookwood High School have introduced students to Agriscience topics including carpentry, soil science, vegetable production, home gardening, communications and technology while introducing the students to agricultural stakeholders in their communities.

ACCESS distance learning provides schools in all parts of Alabama opportunities to connect and engage students in curriculums and courses that might not otherwise be offered at their schools. What ACCESS has done for both of these schools is to allow them to develop a partnership outside of their four walls, interacting and developing critical learning opportunities for students from Perry and Tuscaloosa counties.

The soil donation from Scotts Miracle-Gro Company provided an opportunity to connect advisory committee members, business and industry partners, and county ALFA Farmers’ Federation members to students in ways enhancing students’ understanding of the agriculture industry in Alabama.

Jennifer Crutchfield is the Agriscience teacher at Brookwood High School.

The Myth of Immediacy

There are no short-cuts to effective deer management.

by Corky Pugh

The buck my friend John’s adult son killed late in the season last year was incredible by all standards.

A 4.5-year-old class animal, the deer weighed a tad under 200 pounds and sported an outside-the-ears, heavy nine-point rack. The young man who killed him was very deserving and had a full appreciation of what went into producing such an exceptional buck.

A deer steward, the young man has taken it upon himself to become educated about deer management and to apply what he has learned on his family’s property. He knows that this buck of a lifetime was the product of many years, rather than something that occurred last year.

Although food plots can play a role in overall game management, the openings we all work so hard to plant and maintain are only one relatively small component of overall habitat management. Food plots definitely benefit a variety of wildlife in terms of food, cover and the edge effect around the openings. However, food plots alone cannot compensate for poor habitat or overcrowded deer.

The vast preponderance of things in the natural world is the result of multiple factors occurring simultaneously or, sometimes, in sequence. It’s the lesson we learned as little kids with the seed, soil and water in a Dixie Cup in the sunlight on the windowsill that produced a plant. Remove any one of the factors, maybe even the Dixie Cup, and nothing happened. In some cases, this early childhood lesson in easily forgotten or ignored.

Ask any forester or biologist and they will readily tell you that a mix of factors, some under your control and many beyond your control, drive what happens in the way of outcomes in the natural world.

In the case of John’s son’s buck, the hurricanes several years prior re-arranged incredibly large blocks of habitat. What had once been essentially closed-canopy forest was taken to ground zero. The sunlight penetration, soil disturbance and resultant widely distributed browse and dense escape cover caused an alarming reduction in deer sightings and harvest.

The "we done killed ‘em all" doom-sayers went berserk. They pointed to the aggressive doe harvest for several years prior as the culprit.

In fact, the exact opposite was true. The severe reduction in deer numbers through aggressive doe harvest was what was needed to bring the deer population within the carrying capacity of the land. At the same time, the buck-to-doe ratio was brought more into balance. Like so many properties in the southeastern United States, John’s family’s acreage had a deer population that was a result of decades of buck-only harvest.

John’s son’s buck was born 4.5-years prior, and born to a doe in healthy condition. This neonatal consideration is just as real in deer as it is in humans. If mama is starving to death and loaded with parasites due to overcrowding, baby gets off to a terrible start.

It is likely that the buck was born earlier in the year due to a breeding cycle that led to conception occurring during the first estrous cycle. This happens when the buck-to-doe ratio is more balanced and there are enough bucks to breed available does.

The dense escape cover created by nature’s clear cut provided sanctuary in order for the buck to grow to maturity. If a hunter ever even previously saw the buck, the decision was made to pass up a shot.

Because of the abundant browse, the buck had plenty of nutritious, palatable food. Browse comprised of leafy green plant material is the mainstay of a deer’s diet. Whether early successional forest or agricultural crops in the leafy stage, this is the foundational building block of deer nutrition and certainly what deer prefer to eat.

Just as there was no magic bean stalk, there are no real shortcuts to comprehensive deer management. Sometimes hunters would be better off applying pelletized lime and fertilizer to natural vegetation. Research has shown that fertilized honeysuckle can yield 17 percent crude protein. And it is perfectly legal to hunt over.

There simply are no substitutes for active forest management combined with active hunter-based management of deer populations through wise harvest strategies.

Just as it takes time for any living organism to grow and develop, it takes time for deer to reach maturity. Voluntary restraint on harvest of young bucks allows some of these animals to move into older age classes. These older bucks become very smart and difficult to kill, but a certain percentage become available to very woods-wise (and sometimes just lucky) hunters.

For excellent reading about comprehensive approaches to deer management, read "Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer in Alabama" by Bill Gray and Chris Cook. Gray and Cook are two of Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s around 45 or so highly-qualified wildlife biologists.

Also by Gray and Cook, "Effective Food Plots for White-tailed Deer in Alabama" is a highly informative guide in which the authors observe that food plots "should never be viewed as ‘magic beans’ to resolve all deer management issues."

Both books are available for free download at

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

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

Tired But Not Retired!

by Suzy Lowry Geno

I really didn’t know how to respond when a lady last week asked me how I was liking being "retired"!

When she asked me I had mud and chicken poop well toward my knees on both legs of my blue jeans, my shirt was plastered with sweat and my hair – oh, that gray hair – was kind of straggling down my back held somewhat in place by a big, plastic hair clip.

I’d just stuck a nail in my wrist as I was struggling to get some errant hens out of the guinea pen, I’d stepped in an armadillo hole while surveying the back goat fence for storm damage AND I’d managed to mash my finger while using my drill to screw a piece of plywood back onto the front goat enclosure.

I THINK I was polite when I told her that, while I don’t now have a full-time newspaper reporting job, I am definitely NOT retired!

When I posted something on my Facebook page about the retirement question, I got all sorts of replies from folks who are always interested in my somewhat unique lifestyle.

And it doesn’t matter who or what interesting thing, farm, business or person that I write about, the "Simple Times" column that provide the most feedback through email, phone calls, texting and other means of communication are the ones I receive after I write about my simple little homestead or what I’ve been doing here.

One of my 12-year school classmates asked where I got my energy to get everything done. I replied somewhat comically that "poverty is a great motivator." But that’s not completely it.

I was reading a "Report From Them That’s Doin’" from the November/December 1977 Mother Earth News last night and the couple quoted a question from a book called "Working Loose," published by Random House in 1972.

They said, near the beginning of that book, it asked, "Forgetting about money, what would you like to do more than anything else?"

As they pondered that question and reevaluated their lives, they left the corporate world and raised their children on a farm whose money crop was primarily honey!

While their so-called standard of living was "lowered" and their annual income was as well, the man no longer had to take antidepressants AND a strange rash which had been plaguing his body off and on for months suddenly went away.

Just this morning on the Internet, I was sent a photo whose caption read: "Don’t be so busy making a life that you forget about LIVING!"

Yes ... I know. In this modern world, we can’t completely "forget" about money! (Believe me, money has really been on my mind this morning since I have to buy a new battery for my truck!)

But as I said in my August article, which received so much feedback, if we are simply working to make money to pay for all the latest things for our homes, cars, etc. yet we are so busy working we are seldom home to ENJOY many of those things, then something is incredibly WRONG!

Somebody told me that was too much of my old "hippie" philosophy coming through. No, I prefer to think of it as a part of my Christian walk ....

There’s a small group of young men who are making videos to show on the Internet for free and one of the most recent showed random people who were asked to share food with those who said they were hungry ... in nearly every instance it was the homeless or the "less wealthy" who immediately shared what little they had, often dividing in half the one sandwich they had just been given by someone else!

All of these things make me stop and think.

There’s another old saying (and I’m not sure who deserves credit for this one) that says, "Find something you love doing as your career and you’ll never WORK a day in your life!"

I guess that’s where I’m at in my life right now.

I "work" 10-12 hours every day, but I wouldn’t do all this if I didn’t truly love it.

A typical day for me begins by me feeding and watering the eight goats, 400-plus chickens, 30-plus ducks, five rabbits, two dogs and five cats ... (and right now son and daughter-in-law’s seven turkeys who think my farm is more fun than their own next door).

Any animal that needs special attention gets it at that time such as medication or wormer for some of the guys and gals and possibly hair trimming for a rabbit or two.

If anything needs to be nailed up, replaced or wired together, I try to see to that then as well.

I usually open my little farm store, hang out the flag, label any jelly and soap that needs to be stocked in the store, order any Amish-made products I’m getting low on, then make any jelly that needs to be made that day.

On days I’m not making jelly, I usually make goat milk soap. It is still hot right now and I am thankful that currently there are not goats that need twice daily milking!

I gather eggs from the hens around lunchtime and at least twice more during each day, clean them, and place them in the little store refrigerator.

Any time I sit down, there’s a quilting project or a knitting or crocheting project nearby so even time on the phone is not wasted. (These are items to sell, not just for fun!)

If I get up really early (often before daylight), I try to do whatever writing I can before my mind and my body gets cluttered with more physical chores.

During just about every season there is something to cultivate, water, propagate, pick or gather.

A recent project has been to make gallons of what we call "Granny Soup" filled with whatever vegetables I have on hand, which will feed me well into the cold winter months.

There’s nearly always something drying in the dehydrator for either dried herbs or herbal teas.

During these fall months I hope to get my raised beds finished in time for this coming spring’s growing season.

Each season has its own specific chores. In the winter, I carry in enough wood in the morning to last throughout the day and, each late afternoon, I carry in enough to last throughout the night. Then there’s taking out the ashes and extra sweeping required.

Hopefully there will be more time this winter to work on continuing to learn to spin not only my rabbits’ wool but sheep wool and other fibers.

I do just about what all the "big" regular farmers do, except I do it on a smaller scale since this is a "one woman" operation.

While I don’t bring in large sums of money, my profit margins were figured once by a financial guru and those profits percentage-wise at least were in line with much bigger farmers.

Helen and Scott Nearing, long considered the "parents" of the back-to-the-land movement in the 50s, 60s and 70s, divided their waking time into sections: four hours of "bread" labor (work to provide for themselves on their homestead); four hours of labor to earn monies that were necessary (they were both writers and speakers); and four hours used to help others.

While I don’t agree with the Nearings’ socialist leanings, I do agree with their divisions of labor!

Even when I worked full time for a busy newspaper, I never ever worked in an office other than my home office. I guess I’ve just never been a nine-to-five type of gal.

And as for retirement: I don’t plan on having one!

Hopefully I won’t have to stop working until I’m laid peacefully in the ground on that hill atop Oak Hill Cemetery beside my husband.

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

What’s In Your Garden?

Chickens can be helpful in cleaning up old vegetation left in your garden.

by Robert Spencer

If you enjoy vegetable production and think you might also enjoy raising chickens, cattle, goats or sheep, you should consider integrating vegetable and livestock production to diversify your farm operation. It does not matter whether you have small garden plots or large vegetable fields; using livestock to clean up old vegetation with poultry or ruminants has great potential from late fall through late winter as long as you have proper fencing and housing for controlled grazing as needed.

Advantages to integrating vegetable and livestock production:

Crop residue provides healthy nutrition for livestock.

Animals trample vegetative residue into the ground, loosen top layer of soil and add organic matter.

Value-added way to rid crop residue and vegetable discards.

Livestock manure provides natural fertilizer - N, P, K and minerals.

Integrating livestock and vegetable production offers farm diversification such as:

Year-round marketing and revenue generating opportunities.

While vegetable production and marketing tends to be seasonal, livestock production and sales can be year round.

Expands customer base, develops customer loyalty; provides one-stop shopping for vegetables, eggs and meats.

Both can be all-natural or organic with the proper management strategies.

Opportunities with silvopasture, fruit and nut trees with forages for grazing.

The need for fencing is essential to making this integrated practice stress free. During times of viable vegetable production, it is essential to exclude animals from the garden area. When vegetable production season is completed, it is time to allow animals access to the garden area, thus encouraging them to clean up all dormant vegetation.

So what are fencing options?

Permanent woven wire with appropriate posts is an expensive option.

Strands of electric wire with appropriate posts are okay, but plain wire is not very visible.

Portable electric net-wire fencing is an option for smaller areas and is portable, yet can be expensive for larger areas.

Poly, rope and tape electric wire is affordable and with portable posts can be moved about or removed as needed.

Keep in mind, containing or excluding untrained goats and sheep with a fence charger that offers 5-6 low-impedance joules will be necessary to maintain their exclusion or retention. Poultry and cattle will not require such a strong fence charger, unless it covers acres and acres.

Word of caution regarding potentially toxic vegetation and their fruits: Do not allow animals to graze plants of the nightshade family such as eggplant, tomatillo, tomato and potato (excluding sweet potato)! Rather than going through the effort to fence those plants away from livestock, harvest entire plants and remove them to a location where livestock will not be able to access.

Last few words of advice:

Be aware of nutrient needs for livestock, and be prepared to supplement with additional grazing, hay or grain-based feeds. Ex: Cattle and sheep need 8-12 percent protein; goats need 10-16 percent protein; and chickens may need supplemental layer pellets for egg production or feed for growth as meat animals. Ruminants will consume 2-3 percent of their body weight in forages, hay and grain.

Goats were meant to browse, but can be grazers; sheep and cattle are primarily grazers.

Allow livestock to graze for short timeframes, then relocate to pastures; keep them moving to minimize problems with gastro-intestinal parasites.

Provide free-choice minerals for livestock on a year-round basis.

No matter how big or small your operation, the integration of vegetable and livestock production has a significant potential. From late fall through late winter is an ideal time to graze animals on vegetable plots while allowing them to clean up your remaining vegetation, leave behind an all-natural form of fertilizer and expand marketing opportunities. So why not integrate some form of livestock (chickens, goats, sheep and/or cattle) into your vegetable or fruit operation?

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

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