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Friday, December 28, 2012

University of Minnesota Extension Offers Workshops for Small Farm and Acreage Owners

By: Julie Sievert, Extension Educator, Sibley County
Christian Lilienthal, Extension Educator, Nicollet County
Mike Donnelly, Extension Educator, Rice & Steele Counties

Do you have the dream of owning acreage in the country? Do you have an existing acreage that is in need of a plan and strategies for the best possible results? The Living on the Land Workshop Series, offered by University of Minnesota Extension, will equip you with the education and resources to be successful.

The eight-week course is designed to arm landowners with agricultural information to enable them to be good stewards of their land. The course will begin with goal-setting and individual property inventory, then address soil, plant, water and animal basics.

The Living on the Land curriculum addresses a growing need for information regarding small acreages. The series incorporates knowledge and experience from a team of instructors to address topics including: what do you have and what do you want, what you can do with your land, protecting water quality, what to do about weeds, lawn and pasture maintenance, getting down and dirty with soils, and caring for and managing your animals. The series also includes a farm tour.

The series will be taught by Extension educators and natural resource professionals at two locations. One of the locations is in Gaylord at the Sibley County Service Center. In Gaylord, the series will be held on Monday evenings from February 4th to March 25th. The second location is in Northfield at the Northfield Community Resource Center. In Northfield, the series will be held on Thursday evenings from March 7th to April 25th. Both workshops will run from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with light meals provided at each session.

Early registration is $175 until Monday, January 28 for the Gaylord location and Thursday, February 28 for the Northfield location. All registrations received after those dates will be $200. Each registration is valid for up to two people representing a single farm who will share materials. For example, a husband and wife team or two siblings may attend together. Benefits include useful educational publications, an educational farm tour, soil tests, a site visit/consultation from a University of Minnesota Extension educator in your area, as well as the tools to help you succeed with your goals and dreams on your country acreage.

For more information about the series in Gaylord, please contact Julie Sievert at 507-237-4100 or or Christian Lilienthal at 507-934-0360 or For questions regarding the Northfield location, please contact Mike Donnelly at 507-332-6109 or

Register now--space is limited at each location. Additional information and the Living on the Land workshop series brochure can be found on the Small Farms website.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ag Business Management Websites

By Jerrold Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore & Houston Counties

While preparing for the recent Land Rent Workshops, I stumbled across a list of useful Ag Business Management websites that Regional Extension Educator Gary Hachfeld and I prepared many years ago. I checked out those sites to see if they were still working and added a couple that are useful. Anyone with internet access might find them useful. These sites are in no particular priority.

A great place to start is the University of Minnesota Center for Farm Financial Management: At that site you can access FINBIN data. FINBIN is the largest and most accessible source of farm financial and production benchmark information in the world.

Other useful items under the Center for Farm Financial Management site include, The Ag Risk Education Library that organizes thousands of risk management materials which help producers and agricultural professionals quickly locate information, tools, and assistance on specific risk management topics; AgTransitions helps farmers and ranchers develop a plan to transition their business to the next generation; Grain Marketing where Ed Usset attempts to separate the wheat from the chaff in the often confusing world of grain marketing.

Value of Farm Land: Land Economics Web site at This is a site is prepared by Steve Taff, University of Minnesota. Over the years, I have shared it with a number of realtors. The site includes Farmland sales, Timberland sales, Land values, soils data, RIM easements, CRP contracts, and Property tax assessments.

I have also found three very useful publications from Iowa State University, "2012 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey", "Estimated Costs of Crop Production in Iowa - 2012", and the "Livestock Enterprise Budgets for Iowa - 2012". They can be accessed at:

The final source I will mention is the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). USDA, NASS has a wealth of data at or strictly Minnesota data at

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fall Care for Trees

By Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, McLeod and Meeker Counties

Trees have been under stress again in 2012. Above average heat and summer drought conditions have provided a less than ideal situation. Following is some helpful information for newly planted trees, existing trees, mechanical equipment protection, fertilization, and pruning.

According to the University of Minnesota Forest Resource Extension, in the Midwest region, bareroot trees and shrubs should be planted when the plants are dormant in the spring or at the end of the growing season (fall). Balled and burlapped, containerized, and container grown plants can be planted throughout the growing season, but with caution during the summer months. If planting in the fall, the recommendation is to plant four weeks before the soil temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. To plant trees correctly, get a copy of the U of M publication called "Planting Trees and Shrubs in Minnesota", which can be found on the U of M Extension Website: or by calling most U of M Extension Offices. The publication also has choices for proper Minnesota tree species.

Watering is going to be important to a newly planted tree as well as any existing trees on your landscape. Since watering is such a time consuming task, you may have to pick and choose the existing trees that you want to water. I recommend watering any newly planted trees and also water any trees that have shown stress, disease, or insect problems through the growing season. The dry conditions in late-summer and fall in 2012 are going to be very problematic for trees in 2012. Be sure to get out and water trees until the ground freezes.

Water newly planted and existing trees over the root zone of the tree. Roots of trees can vary from 1.5 to 3 times as wide as the canopy. Avoid frequent light watering and instead water infrequently and heavy. You will want to wet the soil to a 6 - 8 inch depth and then let the soil dry out in between. Use a rod to determine when you have wetted the soil to that depth. Believe it or not, you can over water trees, which will starve the roots of oxygen and cause roots to rot. If fall rains are averaging one inch every week, watering will probably not be necessary. Generally, you want to have an adequate amount of moisture before the ground freezes up in late fall, especially with coniferous trees. My Minnesota Woods Website has additional information on seasonal watering of trees and shrubs:

Protect stems of landscape and shrub trees from animals and mechanical equipment. This is most important on new or young shrubs and trees. Use a mesh or hardwire cloth at least three inches from the stem. Plastic guards can also be used, but they are only recommended to encase the lower part of the stem, where damage can take place. Sun scald can be prevented by wrapping the trunk with a commercial tree wrap, plastic tree guards, or any other light-colored material. Put the wrap on in the fall and remove it in the spring after the last frost. Wraps should be used primarily on new trees.

Fertilizing trees should be done on a case by case basis. A soil test can be done to determine if the soil does not have the adequate amounts of fertilizer in the soil. University of Minnesota Soil Test Kits can be picked up at most University of Minnesota Extension Offices. Often, the tree has sufficient amounts of nutrients available if the lawn is being fertilized regularly. If fertilizer is needed, a late fall application can be done before the ground freezes for coniferous trees and an application can be applied to deciduous trees between when it is fully leafed out and when it will start showing fall color change.

Pruning can also be done this time of year on many trees. Late fall brings the time when it is safe to prune oaks and elms until next spring. During the dormant season serious disease problems are less problematic. Hold off on apple trees until the best window for preventing disease spread, which is late winter (late-February to early-March). Another helpful publication is the University of Minnesota Publication "Pruning Trees and Shrubs" located on the University of Minnesota Extension Website or by calling most University of Minnesota Extension Offices. This publication is a good how to guideline for pruning trees.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Consider Cover Crops in 2012

By Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, McLeod and Meeker Counties

Jill Sackett, Extension Educator - Conservation Agronomist
University of Minnesota Extension / Rural Advantage

A wet spring and recent hail have left some Minnesota fields without a cash crop. The above average temperatures in spring and summer pushed ahead the small grain harvest. Fields without cover and those fields that have had the cash crop taken off can be planted into a cover crop. Other options for farmers include the use of tillage or herbicides to limit weed growth for the remainder of the summer and fall.

A cover crop is any crop grown between two cash crops. Cover crops could be utilized in areas where the cash crop has been taken off. Try planting a cover crop after your winter wheat, spring wheat, oats, barley, peas, sweet corn, or corn silage is harvested. Cover crops can even be worked into the corn-soybean rotation, especially when overseeded at the leaf yellowing stage. Be sure to check with Farm Service Agency and your crop insurance provider any time you intend to harvest or pasture a cover crop. Harvesting a cover crop may affect your crop insurance and your certified acres.

The benefits of utilizing cover crops in a rotation are numerous. Cover crops can reduce soil erosion from wind and rain, prevent soil crusting, improve water absorption and infiltration, and slow water from leaving the landscape. Protecting and improving our soils can help to conserve and improve the soil in your field. Soil quality will be improved and more water will be available for your future cash crops.

Many livestock producers look at cover crops as a way to maximize the production of forages and feed. Cover crops can be grown to supply some livestock forage needs. Cover crops also help to protect crop inputs that you have already spent for your cash crops. Many of the deep-rooted species scavenge nutrients from deeper in the soil and make them available for the next cash crop or future cash crops. Adding legume cover crops can also help to supply some nitrogen to the next cash crop or future cash crops.

Without cover on area fields there is no competition with grass and broadleaf weeds. No competition means that these weeds will be looking for the opportunity to grow and produce seed in your field. Utilize the cover crops to provide the competition for available moisture and nutrients, thus avoiding weed seed production for future generations of unwanted plants.

Choosing which species or mix to plant depends on your needs and goals, as well as the availability of the seed. There are a few main categories of cover crop species and those include grasses, legumes, and brassicas/mustards. Some of the utilized grasses include oats, triticale, millet and winter rye. The legumes commonly include clovers, field peas, alfalfa and vetches. The other category that is utilized is the brassicas/mustards. The most well-known of these is the tillage radish; it also includes canola, forage turnip and yellow mustard.

The same rules on planting timing apply for cover crops as other agronomic crops. Cover crops need to be planted when soil conditions are favorable and rainfall is adequate for germination and establishment.

The Midwest Cover Crop Council has numerous publications listed on its website,, as well as a web-based cover crop decision tool to assist farmers in choosing an appropriate cover crop for their situation. University of Minnesota Extension researchers and educators worked with a committee of farmers, agencies and organizations to help growers make the best decisions about cover crops. Minnesota's decision tool is available.

Following is some of a recent news release from the Minnesota NRCS on cover crops. For the entire news release click on the following link: Those in drought areas should be aware that the Minnesota NRCS State Conservationist Don Baloun has announced an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) signup for producers in Minnesota impacted by the summer of 2012 drought.

USDA-NRCS will provide funding to producers to plant cover crops through EQIP. "This announcement is in response to the USDA Secretary Announcement on July 23, 2012 and NRCS' understanding of the heavy loss of hay and forage impacting livestock producers in Minnesota," said Baloun.

Minnesota NRCS is allocating $400k for a special EQIP sign-up that will take place from August 6th through 10th, 2012. The sign-up will focus on the planting of cover crops for supplemental livestock feed and erosion control. The focus area will be in the severely affected drought counties in southern and NW Minnesota. The counties included in the signup are: Beltrami, Blue Earth, Clay, Cottonwood, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Jackson, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Lincoln, Lyon, Mahnomen, Martin, Marshall, Mower, Murray, Nobles, Norman, Pennington, Pipestone, Polk, Red Lake, Redwood, Rock, Watonwan and Yellow Medicine. Producers interested in obtaining financial assistance for cover crops are encouraged to stop by their local USDA NRCS office.

Raspberry Pruning

By Jake Overgaard
Extension Educator, Winona County

Pruning of raspberries is done to improve yield, ease of management/harvest, and to lower the incidence of disease by removing dead/dying tissue, increasing light penetration/air movement, and spray penetration. Below are some simple guidelines for pruning different types of raspberries. Remember that raspberries have perennial roots and biennial canes. The canes are distinguished as primocanes (1st year's growth) and floricanes (2nd year's growth).

Primocane Fruiting Raspberries aka Everbearing
  • Prune floricanes to the ground after final harvest

  • Thin primocanes (next year's floricane) late in the fall to 4-5 per linear foot (If concerned about hardiness, thin in the spring when winter survival is apparent)

  • Head back (prune) floricanes in spring just below winter injury point, or no more than 25% the height of the cane

Summer-Bearing Red & Yellow Raspberries

There are two options for primocane fruiting raspberries; they can be pruned to produce a summer and fall harvest, or a fall harvest alone. Pruning for fall berries alone is much easier, but there is more risk that you won't get a crop because of fall frost risk and because there is no summer crop.

If you want both summer and fall berries...
  • Thin the primocanes (next year's floricane) to 4-5 canes per linear foot, select the best canes

  • If concerned about hardiness, thin in the springtime when winter survival is apparent

  • In the spring, prune the floricane a few inches below the last node that produced fruit as a primocane in the fall
If you want only fall berries...
  • Cut all canes down to the ground in the Spring before growth starts. Yep, that's it

Black & Purple Raspberries
  • Tip the primocanes (cut or pinch off the top 2-3") when they reach 24-30"

  • Prune side branches to 12-18" on floricanes in the spring and select 4-5/hill

  • After fruiting, cut floricanes to the ground

    For more information on raspberry production, visit Raspberries for the Home Garden at

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Heat Stress and Your Livestock

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

How are your livestock handling the summer heat? Although this summer's heat is taking a toll on our personal sanity and electrical bills, it is important to remember that livestock don't handle heat stress nearly as well as humans. Cattle are most comfortable when temperatures are below 80°F. When the thermometer creeps past 90°F cattle have difficulty coping, and proper precautions are necessary to avoid health effects and potential death loss.

Two of the most common ways to alleviate heat stress in cattle, include increasing air movement and providing plenty of available water. The following tips based on a University of Nebraska Extension publication can help you keep your livestock comfortable and beat the summer heat:
  • Increase available water. As temperatures rise above 80°F, livestock will consume more water because it is the quickest and most efficient way of reducing body temperature. To compensate for increased water intake and to prevent dehydration, adding extra watering tanks may be necessary. Additional water sources should be added to livestock pens prior to spikes in the temperature so they can become accustom to new drinking sites.

  • Improve air flow. Particularly inside barns, adequate airflow can almost be nonexistent. Increasing air flow is necessary to decrease the effect of heat on livestock. Adding fans and opening the sides of barns are two simple ways of increasing the air flow available to your animals. Increasing airflow through the roof of a building may also be an option.

  • Provide shade from direct sunlight. If no buildings or trees are available to provide shade from the sunlight, constructing a netted area to block the sun can be another option. In addition, when shade is provided over the feeding area, it is easier to maintain proper feed intake during hot summer days.

  • Install misters or sprinkler. Throughout Minnesota it is a common practice to add sprinklers or misters to your livestock barns and pens during the summer. However, proper placement and installation is necessary to avoid subsequent problems. For cattle, be sure these additional water sources are installed over a clean, preferably concrete area. This prevents cattle from lying down in the mud, which can sometimes lead to bacterial problems, especially in lactating cattle.

  • Control insects. Biting insects, such as flies can further stress out livestock and interrupt their cooling. If pastures or buildings draw insects to cattle during times of extreme heat, provide proper insecticides or considering relocating your livestock.
Having a plan in place before hot temperatures strike is the most effective way to avoid the effects of heat on livestock. Each farm is different; make sure your heat stress management plan fits your operation. For more information on helping your cattle beat the heat, contact your local Extension office or the Farm Information Line at 800-232-9077 or

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thinning Apple Trees - Less is More?

By Jake Overgaard
Extension Educator, Winona County

I know it's exciting in the spring when apple trees are flowering and the trees are covered in blossoms. We naturally want to preserve every single flower and hope that it becomes a perfect apple that we pick and eat straight off the tree. The thought of going out and deliberately removing tiny apples before they really even have a chance is unthinkable to some, but you should think about it.

Thinning fruit can have multiple benefits. First, if you want your trees to produce consistently each year, thinning (and being timely about it) can have real benefits. Thinning can help minimize what is called "biennial bearing", or when a tree produces lots of apples one season and few to none the next. Biennial bearing is especially common in Honeycrisp and Haralson cultivars, among others. Also, by having fewer apples on a tree, fruit size improves and the apples can mature more evenly as well. Trees have limited energy, so fewer apples means there are fewer "mouths to feed". Also, on younger trees and weaker branches, fewer apples can prevent branches from breaking.

So when should you thin apples? First of all, wait until "June drop" has passed (I'll let you guess when that usually occurs). June drop is when a tree naturally sheds some of its fruit, leaving you with fewer apples to thin yourself. Depending on the year, June 20th or so is about the time to start thinning, but a simple rule of thumb is to thin when the apples have the diameter of a dime. Thinning at this time will help to prevent biennial bearing and help maintain the future year's yield. Even if you don't get started at exactly the right time, the current year's production will benefit from your efforts.

Thin apples down to one fruit per cluster (typically there are 5 per cluster) and leave 6 inches in between each apple or roughly a fist length. Also, using this standard will help you determine if you need to thin; the tree may already have a light crop due to frost or other effects, in that case, don't thin. It is possible to thin by hand, simply remove the fruit from the stem. However, you want to be sure that you aren't damaging the tree by tearing off any spurs. A small pruner or even a scissors works pretty well. At first, it may seem like a daunting task, but with a little practice, you can become a speedy thinner. I know some growers who feel terrible when they have to thin (be it an apple, a carrot, or a radish for that matter), but less is more in this case, and your final product will be better. For more information on apple tree maintenance view the archived Yard and Garden News article titled "Simple Steps to Productive Apple Trees" at this address:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Creep Feeding Considerations

By Mike Boersma
Extension Educator, Pipestone and Murray Counties

Creep feeding beef calves can be a good way to provide supplemental nutrients to calves in a time when their nutrient demands are growing rapidly and forage quality and quantity in the pasture is declining. The process usually involves allowing calves access to feed or supplemental forage with fences that exclude the rest of the cow herd.

Creep feeding can be a controversial topic among beef producers, as some feel that the effects of creep feeding are not economical and can even be detrimental to the future of the calves, while other producers feel that creep-fed calves will be heavier, healthier, and transition better to the feedlot setting. Both of these views are correct, in certain circumstances.

First, creep feeding isn't always economical. In years when feed prices are high relative to calf prices, it may not make sense to spend the extra money on feed if the returns are low. Also, if you have high-milking cows with enough available forage, it is not usually economical to creep feed because the added calf weight can be gained through healthy cows.

Therefore, creep feeding spring-born calves in May and early June will not have much benefit for the average producer, since forage is usually plentiful and cows should still have adequate milk production to raise their calves. Creep feeding becomes more advantageous later in the summer when forage growth and milk production decline.

Finally, it is not advisable to creep feed early-maturing, smaller framed calves, especially on a high energy diet, as this will cause the calves to gain unwanted fat and will result in low performing cattle in a feedlot situation. This is especially true for heifer calves to be kept for replacement. There are many research studies that prove high fat levels on future replacement heifers at a young age could severely hinder their ability to become productive, functional cows in the future.

On the other hand, creep feeding is a definite advantage when feed prices are low relative to calf prices. Also, in dry years when pasture production is low or when cows are not producing much milk, it is a good idea to provide supplemental nutrition to the calves. This will not only benefit the calves, but the cows as well since the calves will likely be eating creep feed instead of grazing on the limited grass the cows desperately need.

Calves out of young cows will also benefit from creep feed. These cows usually produce less milk and have a higher energy requirement themselves since they are still growing. Creep feeding these calves will also keep the young mothers in better condition which will help the cows to breed back sooner for the following year.

Finally, purebred cattle producers will likely experience more benefit from creep feeding. The added feed will increase weaning weights and overall bloom to the calves, which will generally bring a premium price when sold as young bulls or replacement females.

So, as you contemplate whether or not to creep feed your calves, keep in mind that there isn't always a simple answer. What is economical for your neighbor's herd may not benefit your own operation. Consider your goals and expectations before creep feeding and make sure the economics are in your favor. In order to spend the extra money on feed, there should be a plan to capture that value back when the calves are marketed.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Raspberry Renovation Workshop

By Jake Overgaard
Extension Educator, Winona County

Jake Overgaard of University of Minnesota Extension Winona County will be giving a free on-farm workshop July 14th, from 1-2 pm on raspberry renovation at Hoch Orchard and Gardens near La Crescent, Minnesota. Participants will learn how raspberry plants develop, the importance of renovation, and how to renovate. High tunnel production will be discussed as well as variety selection. There will be an opportunity for hands-on learning (bring a pair of work gloves if interested!). The workshop will be held at Hoch Orchard and Gardens near La Crescent, Minnesota. Weather permitting, this workshop will be held entirely outdoors, dress appropriately and bring your sunscreen.

Hoch Orchard and Gardens will also be holding an open house the same day with farm tours from 11 am to 5 pm. Feel free to attend either or both events! Please see the attached flyer for directions and contact information for the open house.

Directions to Hoch Orchard and Gardens: Take Houston County Road 6 West of of La Crescent 8 miles and turn right on Forster Road. Send questions on the workshop to or call 507-457-6440.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

'Sick' Trees Becoming Common

By Mike Boersma
Extension Educator, Pipestone and Murray Counties

Over the past several weeks, many homeowners have witnessed a number of problems with their trees. Some abnormalities this spring may include bare branches that failed to leaf out, seemingly healthy leaves falling from trees, small or under-developed leaves, curled leaves, or brown to black spots on otherwise normal leaves. While these symptoms can be a result of several things, many of them have likely been caused by one sort of environmental stress or another.

The dry fall, lack of snow cover, unseasonable winter temperatures, warm March, cool April, late frost, and wet May and June have all contributed to some extent. Dry conditions last fall and winter certainly caused stress to trees - especially young trees - that weren't properly watered. The warm March followed by a late frost also caused damage to leaf buds or very young leaves. But the most common cause for concern lately has been the brown or black patches developing on leaves of many species of shade trees. These patches are likely caused by a fungus, as the frequent rainfall during May and June provided ideal conditions for fungal growth.

Fungal diseases are most common in late spring and early summer and tend to follow stretches of cool, wet weather conditions. These diseases can take different forms and affect different species of trees, but they commonly appear as brown or black patches on the leaves of shade trees. Trees that are affected in early spring will often develop large patches that can cause the leaves to curl and fall from the tree. However, trees affected later in the growing season will likely only show small spots of black or brown on otherwise normal leaves.

While the signs and symptoms can vary significantly, the causes and effects of these fungal diseases are usually quite similar. In addition to cool, wet weather, dense trees or multiple trees planted too close together are often more vulnerable since the dense vegetation remains protected from sun and wind. This causes trees to remain cooler and wetter than ideal and allows fungi to grow and spread more readily. Fungal diseases often start on the lower, inner branches and work their way up and out.

Unfortunately, there is not much that we can do to help these trees right now. Simply watering, feeding, fertilizing, and keeping the trees as healthy as possible may be the best thing for them since fungal infections are not usually detrimental to the long-term health of the tree. Also, collecting and disposing of any fallen leaves will help prevent the fungus from spreading and re-infecting trees in the following growing season. Pruning dense growth to allow for more air circulation and sunlight penetration will also help to prevent the growth and spread of the fungus.

If the problem persists for multiple years or if the tree is under other stresses caused by root restrictions, insect pressure, or drought, homeowners may want to treat the infected tree with a fungicide as a means of prevention. Fungicide applications need to start in early spring, at bud break, and continue according to label recommendations. Unfortunately, while this process would help prevent future infection, it is not likely cost-effective until it is absolutely necessary - especially for large mature trees.

Visit the What's Wrong with My Plant Website to help you diagnose your tree problems: The web page is designed to help gardeners in Minnesota diagnose problems in the yard and garden caused by insects, diseases, and nonliving factors.

Tips to Making and Storing Quality Hay for Livestock

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

To those who have livestock, hay can be one of the most valuable feed sources available. Quality hay provides nearly all of the required nutrients to complete the diet of most livestock species. When harvested and stored correctly, a farm's hay supply can be kept for long periods of time with little loss of nutritional value. The following are a few key items to keep in mind when creating quality hay:

1. Stage of maturity at harvest. The stage of maturity at which to cut your hay crop varies based on the type of forage you are harvesting. The following suggestions are based on University of Kentucky Extension recommendations:
  • Alfalfa - Time of harvest at first cutting should be when the plant is in its late bud to first flower stage. For second and later cuttings, first flower to 1/10 bloom is suggested.

  • Bluegrass, Orchardgrass, Tall Fescue or Timothy - First cutting should occur at the boot to early head stage and other cuttings should be at 4 to 6 week intervals. The boot stage of growth is just before seed head emergence, and can be identified by the presence of enlarged or swollen area near the top of the main stem.

  • Red Clover or Crimson Clover - First flower to 1/10 bloom.

  • Oats, Barley or Wheat - Boot to early head stage.

  • Rye - Boot stage or before.

  • Sudangrass and Sorghum Hybrids - 40 inches tall or early boot stage, whichever comes first. 

2. Time and technique of cutting. If possible, cutting your hay during the early part of the day creates a number of benefits that can lead to a quality hay crop. When hay is cut in the early part of the day, it allows for a full day of drying and a faster drop in the moisture content. Furthermore, cutting hay into a wider window can also accelerate the drying rate.

3. Moisture content at baling and storage. The time at which hay is baled is critical for maximizing its nutritional value. The optimum moisture for baling hay is between 15 and 20 percent. Hay baled at a moisture level below 15 percent can result in great harvesting losses, especially for alfalfa, which can suffer leaf loss. When storing newly baled hay, moisture content should not exceed 20 percent in small bales and 18 percent in large bales to avoid discoloration, molding and heating, dry matter and nutrient loss. Lower moisture contents are necessary for larger bales because of less natural drying.

If hay is baled into smaller square bales at a moisture level higher than 20 percent, it is necessary to apply effective preservatives to prevent heating and molding from occurring. And, in the case of large bales, proper preservatives must also be applied to anything baled with a moisture content over 18 percent.

4. Storage conditions. Properly storing baled hay can lessen the amount of lost dry matter and nutrient quality. If it is necessary to store hay outdoors, it is best to prevent direct contact with the ground to avoid additional moisture uptake which can cause molding--try placing hay bales on layers of coarse gravel, old tires or wood pallets. Additionally, if bales are not able to be stored under a roof, consider investing in tarps or storage buildings to protect from rain and other precipitation.

Putting things into perspective, a University of Kentucky study (Burdine et al., 2005) evaluated five different hay storage methods and the affect each had on percent dry matter (DM) loss:
  • Outside on the ground - 30% DM loss

  • Outside on gravel pad - 20% DM loss

  • Outside on gravel pad w/tarp - 10% DM loss

  • Plastic bale cover - 7% DM loss

  • Under roof - 5% DM loss

As with any crop, hay requires an investment of time, labor and money. Correctly harvesting and storing your hay to preserve its value can result in increased quality of forage for your livestock and an adequate return on your investment.

Following is a link to the University of Minnesota Extension Forages Website:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fly Control for Livestock

By Mike Boersma
Extension Educator, Pipestone and Murray Counties

Summer fly control is an important aspect of raising livestock. While it is challenging to assign an exact dollar value to the benefits of proper fly control, it is undoubtedly important. High fly populations are not only a nuisance; they can also lead to reduced weight gain and feed efficiency and increased incidence of diseases like pinkeye.

There are a variety of fly control options for producers and the preferred method of fly control will vary from one producer to the next. The most effective method depends on livestock species, livestock numbers, facility design/pasture size, availability of working facilities, and a variety of other factors. Often, finding a combination of control measures that work well for your management system will be the most effective way to control flies.

Insecticide-impregnated eartags are a popular option for cattle producers looking for season-long control. While these eartags can work well, it is important that producers insert tags in early summer and remove them by early fall to help avoid insect resistance to the insecticide. Also, varying the brand of tag and insecticide used will help to reduce insect resistance.

Back rubbers and dust bags also work well but they must be placed in an area that the livestock will pass through on a regular basis. This could be an open gate, doorway, or some other structure that animals must pass through. Locations adjacent to feed, water, or other areas that livestock visit regularly are the most effective.

There is a long list of pour-on insecticides for producers to choose from as well and these can be very successful. However, their effectiveness on outdoor livestock can be short-term, especially during rainy periods.

Finally, many feed companies offer mineral supplements or lick tubs that can also aid in fly control. Many of these are designed to control fly larvae in manure but may not be effective against adult insects.

Any of these options, as well as many more, can be effective in certain situations and it is important for producers to evaluate the management system that will work best for them. Regardless of which option is chosen, producers should remember to wear gloves and other protective clothing when handling pesticides. Also, some insecticides may have a withdrawal time for certain livestock. Finally, remember that variation among different control options and different insecticides will help minimize insect resistance and will lead to continued effectiveness in future years.

Biosecurity on the Small Farm

By Diane DeWitte
Extension Educator, Le Sueur and Blue Earth Counties

Biosecurity is an integral part of all livestock enterprises, and is particularly emphasized in large, concentrated swine, poultry and dairy farms. Just because the small farm or hobby farm isn't producing large numbers of livestock doesn't mean that biosecurity shouldn't be an important part of the farm operation.

Biosecurity is the practice of excluding livestock from outside people and animals, limiting traffic in and out of the farm, and using barriers and disinfectants to reduce the chance of disease spread from outside sources.

It's simple to set up a biosecurity procedure on the small farm.

1. Limit the traffic of people in and out of your livestock. Post a sign in your driveway instructing visitors to contact farm personnel to be escorted through the livestock. Have disposable plastic boots available for visitors, then provide a container for them to discard the footwear when finished. If your visitor has had contact with other animals or birds, ask him/her to wear a pair of your farm coveralls. Never underestimate the potential of a human visitor to accidentally carry a disease to your farm.

2. Limit the contact of pets, wildlife, feral domestic animals, rodents, and wild birds with livestock on the small farm. Keep your pets close to home and do not allow them to roam the neighborhood. Provide screening and fencing in your poultry yard to prevent interaction of wild birds with your poultry. Your farm activities should include a regularly-scheduled rodent control plan.

3. Keep a disinfectant foot bath pan available for visitors. This can act as double security by allowing visitors to step into a product which will kill microorganisms on their footwear. Iodophors ( Betadine), chlorhexidines (Nolvasan), and phenols (Environ) can be used in foot baths.

4. Do not wear your farm clothes and footwear when visiting other animals, attending auctions, flea markets or livestock exhibitions. Wash those clothes separately from farm laundry.

5. Quarantine new animals and birds for 30 days. Create a separate place on your farm to hold them for acclimation and observation. Have new livestock checked by a veterinarian before introducing them to your herd or flock.

6. Keep accurate records of livestock and poultry movement in and out of your farm. In the event of a disease outbreak on your farm or in the neighborhood, good records can help animal health officials determine the source or spread of a disease.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Keeping Backyard Chickens

By James Stordahl
Extension Educator, Clearwater and Polk Counties

Keeping a small poultry flock can be a fun and rewarding experience for anyone interested in producing their own food. Chickens can be kept by just about any member of the family and make great 4H projects. Chickens are typically kept for eggs or meat, but they are also great for pest patrol, they love all bugs, including wood ticks. Indeed, it's joy to have colorful animals around the home that provide healthy, nutritious homegrown food.

The first decision to make is whether your flock will produce eggs or meat - or both. Once that decision is made, selecting a breed is the first task. Although some breeds are considered dual purpose, breeds are typically divided into two groups, breeds best adapted for the production of either eggs or meat.

Most store-bought eggs have white eggshells, but most farm flocks are comprised of breeds that produce eggs with brown shells. Brown egg layer breeds are generally a better fit for small flocks because they tend to be hardier, more docile and colorful.

Although some layer breeds can be used for meat production, most chickens destined for meat production tend to be a crossbred. The most common one is a Cornish x Rock cross that lives to eat - and gain weight. Some of the fastest growing crosses can be ready for the freezer in a little as eight weeks. The slower growing crosses may take ten to twelve weeks, while a dual purpose breed take up to 20 weeks.

Getting started is as simple as a trip to your local feed store, hardware store or grain elevator. In fact, most of our area communities will have someone that sells day-old chicks. If not, they can be ordered and delivered through the mail or purchased in a nearby town.

Newborn chicks require additional heat since their mother is not there to keep them warm and safe nestled under her wings. Typically, a simple heat lamp and a small pen is all that is needed to get started. The chicks should be "brooded" at 92-95° for the first week, followed by a reduction of 5 degrees per week until a steady 70° is reached.

Once the birds get larger, they need housing that will allow about 4-5 square feet of space when they reach the age to lay eggs - typically at about five months of age. A corner of the barn, an unused garage or even an abandoned playhouse can be adequate. Chicken housing is limited only by your imagination.

Most small flock owners feed a completely balanced feed ration. However, most flock owners utilize table scraps, garden waste, and whole grains from your farm to supplement purchased feed. During the summer, chickens allowed to roam will find about one-third of their ration from grass, weeds and bugs. These pigment rich feeds create a darker yolk richer in the healthy omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids both of which are beneficial to human health. In fact, a recent study in Pennsylvania found pastured chickens produced eggs that contained 10% less fat, 34% less cholesterol, 40% more vitamin A, and four times as much omega-3 fatty acids compared to standard values reported by the USDA.

Waterers and feeders can be purchased or made with the most basic carpentry skills. The investment in equipment can literally be nothing if you can scrounge up makeshift feeders and containers for waterers. If you would rather purchase these, the investment is minimal, typically less than $50.

If you would like to have maximum egg production during the winter, laying hens require at least 14 to 16 hours of light each day. This can be accomplished with a simple timer and a small light bulb. So as you consider housing options, consider the need for electricity for light, as well as a small heater to keep the water from freezing in the winter. Electricity in the coop is convenient but not an absolute necessity.

Predators may be your greatest production challenge. Chickens allowed to roam will head for the chicken coop to roost as the sun begins to set, but you still need to protect them from various critters. The most common predators are skunks, raccoons, raptors, weasels and foxes - as well as domestic dogs. Indeed, protecting your chickens from someone's meal will be a primary concern and should be high on your "to-do" list. We're not the only ones that like chicken.

Keeping a small flock can be rewarding on many levels, but will be most evident when you begin to eat the fresh eggs or meat. You'll marvel at the flavor of free-range eggs and will wonder when commercial chicken lost some of its flavor.

Seven Simple Tips to Prevent Tomato Disease

By James Stordahl
Extension Educator, Clearwater and Polk Counties

Plants need three factors for disease to develop. The host plant must be susceptible, the pathogen must be present (usually in the soil), and the environmental conditions must be right. This typically involves wet leaves over some period of time.

Plant Disease Triangle.gif

There are several simple cultural techniques that you can implement before considering chemical treatments. Fungicides (that innocent looking white dust) are dangerous and are often over applied, so avoid using them until you have exhausted the following cultural options. Why add pesticides to your food when it can be avoided?

Step 1. Begin with a proper crop rotation. This simple practice alone will significantly reduce disease. Do not plant tomatoes where you had potatoes, peppers -- and of course tomato -- last year. Rotation is important and is your first defense in disease prevention.

Step 2. Plant a variety of tomato that is resistant or tolerant to leaf blight, especially if blight has rained on your parade in the past. Sometimes, disease can be prevented simply by variety selection. If you start your own transplants, this information is supplied on the package. If you purchase transplants, your local garden center horticulturalist will have this information.

Step 3. Do not crowd the tomatoes, lack of air circulation favors disease development. Leaf diseases need longish periods of uninterrupted wetness for disease development, and overcrowding prevents leaf drying.

Use a trellis or cage on plants spaced a minimum of 24 inches apart to keep leaves and fruit off the ground. This aids in the plant drying and keeps the disease inoculum further away from the leaves; remember, the disease inoculum is in the soil. Also, it keeps the fruit cleaner and reduces the incidence of spoiled fruit.

Step 4. This may be the single most important step of all. If you need to irrigate, water the ground, not the leaves. Sprinkler irrigation keeps the leaves wet and splashes the disease inoculum from the soil onto the leaves. Soaker hoses, drip irrigation or careful hand watering are better alternatives.

Step 5. Consider using plastic mulch. Plastic mulch laid on the soil surface prior to transplanting is a common practice in commercial production and works well in gardens too. Commercially available plastic is available in 3' and 4' wide rolls in a rainbow of colors. Clear and black are the most readily available to the gardener, but red and green are often available at garden centers. Clear and red mulch will allow weed growth beneath the plastic, unlike the black and green colors. If you need to water the plants, water through the transplant hole. Often, however, the plastic reduces water evaporation so watering is not necessary. Drip irrigation is another option when mulch is used, but increases the complexity of "simple tips".

Plastic mulch's other benefit is warming the soil, which significantly increases the yield of warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers and melons. Research in northern Minnesota shows a two-fold increased fruit yield using plastic mulch as compared to bare soil. The increased yield is due to warmer soil temperatures, reduced disease pressure, reduced water evaporation, and greater consistency in water uptake by the plant.

Step 6. Pinch off the "suckers" growing at the leaf axis. Suckers produce unnecessary foliage and decreases air circulation around the plant. Commercial growers will often leave one leaf beneath the first flower and remove all other leaf from that point and down. This does not make for a pretty tomato plant, but it's effective.

Step 7. Don't apply too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen. Excess fertilization promotes succulent leaf growth which is often more prone to disease. My fertility choice is compost, from either manure or other vegetative materials. Compost is advantageous as it provides all the essential elements necessary for plant growth in a slow release form in sync with plant growth.

If you follow these recommendations, you will hopefully enjoy juicy red tomatoes with an added benefit - fruit without pesticide residue.

If all else fails and you're tempted to use a fungicide, remember that fungicides only prevent new infections, they will not cure existing leaf disease. Fungicides should be applied according to the product label.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Electric Fencing for Livestock

By Laura Kieser
Extension Educator, Carver and Scott Counties

There are many fencing options for livestock. One of the most economical choices is electric fencing. Electric fencing may have lower financial and labor investment compared to other fencing alternatives. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when designing your electric fence.

Layout: Decide where your fence is going to go and what type of livestock it will be used for. It is often helpful to draw a picture of what you want the fence to look like when it's completed. This will help you determine where gates, water and laneways should be. It will also help to plan where different types of posts will be located. When sketched on paper it is easy to make changes to your plan.

Materials: It is important to have a properly sized charger for the length of fence that you are constructing. The fence also needs to be properly grounded. A good rule of thumb for determining the length of ground rod needed is three feet of ground rod per Joule of charge on the charger. When building the fence you will need to consider how many wires to attach, what type and how many posts to install. Usually you want to have three or more lines of wire on perimeter fencing. Up to five lines may be needed on perimeter fencing for smaller livestock. The strength of the wire used will also vary depending on the type of livestock being contained. Higher gauge wire will have a longer life, but is stiffer to work with. Posts will vary in size. Wire should be galvanized or coted to prevent rust. Corner posts should be built from heavy, treated wood as they are supporting the fence. Posts along the fence can be steel, fiberglass or wood. These will maintain wire spacing around the fence line. When considering insulators to secure the wire to the posts, invest in porcelain polyethylene or wrap around insulators. Although these options may be slightly more expensive, they will pay for themselves in the long run.

Tools: You will need to purchase a few tools to make constructing your fence a manageable project. You can find wire strainers/ratchets that can adjust the tension on the fence. The strainer needs to be stronger than the wire you use. Tensions springs will help to tighten shorter stretches of the fence. A posthole digger and post driver will help with setting corner posts. A wire spinner will help you to layout lines of wire efficiently. A crimp tool used with crimp sleeves helps to connect wires while maintaining strength. Other useful tools that can be used, but are not specific to fence building include: pliers, hammers, and shovels.

When you start to build your fence, be sure of the legal boundary of your property. You wouldn't want to build a section of your fence on your neighbor's property. Remember that electric fencing is a "psychological barrier" so it is critical that livestock can see the fence. Be sure to limit temptations outside of the fence line. If your fence line is next to a wooded area, goats for example would be tempted to browse through the fence. Clearing a path around the fence takes the temptation away as well as making the fence easier to maintain.

Monday, May 21, 2012

University of Minnesota Extension Offers Assistance with Soil Testing

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

The University of Minnesota Extension fields a number of questions regarding soil fertility and soil testing. The local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line offer soil testing assistance and are primary links to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, which provides routine soil testing and fertilizer recommendations for homeowners, farmers, florists, nursery workers and a number of other groups.

Soil testing, in any type of agricultural or horticultural landscape, can provide a number of benefits. A soil analysis takes the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations, makes good economic sense and ensures fertile soil without excess fertilizer application. Based on the results of the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, the local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line can provide advice and consultation with specific soil conditions.

Soil testing kits, which include sample bags, collection recommendations and a soil sample information sheet are available at your local Extension offices or by contacting the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory. Instructions for sampling soil in both small and large landscapes are also offered. After the sample has been collected it can be mailed or delivered to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory on the St. Paul Campus.

The sample will be processed and analysis will be provided in the selected area. Along with the returned soil test results, recommendations are provided for nutrient application. If assistance is needed to interpret the recommendations or soil test results, please visit your local Extension office or call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

More information regarding soil testing through the University of Minnesota can be found at

Row Covers

By Janelle Daberkow
Extension Educator, Stearns and Benton Counties

Row covers come in various sizes, are made from various materials, and are used for different purposes by vegetable growers. Row covers include plastic covered trenches, floating row covers and hoop-supported row covers. They are made of light-weight materials such as polyethylene (poly), polyester or polypropylene, and may be vented or unvented. Vegetable growers can use row covers to drape over individual plants, or enclose plants in rows or groups. The cover "floats" directly over the top of the crop, allowing air, sunlight, and water to penetrate the material, but protecting plants from outside pests. Plants beneath row covers without vents are often irrigated with drip irrigation. Floating row covers can be purchased through mail order seed catalogs as well as from garden supply companies and at some local garden centers. An advantage of using row covers is that they can usually be reused for two to three years.

Row covers made of heavier materials can offer frost protection to crops in the fall, and also allow for earlier season plant establishment in the spring by holding temperatures 4- 10 degrees warmer under the protection of the row cover. Crops, such as radishes, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, Chinese cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips, can be seeded directly into the garden and covered at planting time by the row cover. Row covers made of lighter weight materials can be used as a pest barrier around plants by keeping insects, rabbits, deer, birds and other nuisances out.

Row covers can be secured to the ground with sod pins, boards, bricks, sand bags, rocks or soil. It is important to leave enough slack in the row cover so that growing plants can push it up. Plants that are well suited for row covers include: lettuce, spinach, radish, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower. Other crops such as Swiss chard, beets, potatoes and snap beans can be grown under row covers, but since are growing through the hottest part of the summer and it may be necessary to remove the row covers by mid-June to prevent heat from building up around plants.

Some disadvantages of floating row covers are that pests that overwinter in the soil can become trapped under the row covers. These pests include: aphids, whiteflies, mites, trips, root maggots, flea beetles or Colorado potato beetles. Cultivating the soil before planting to reduce the number of surviving insects, and rotating crops from year to year will help with insect populations. Temperatures under floating row covers can increase dramatically, and temperatures can become too warm during hot days for plants. Also, weeds grow fast under floating row covers. It is necessary to pull the row covers back to hand-weed or hoe weeds out. It is possible to apply mulch around plants to keep weeds down. Finally row covers are difficult to use with tall plants, and covers need to be removed from plants such as tomato, pepper and eggplants, cucumbers, squash, melons, and pumpkins, when they begin to flower.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Good Time for Lawn Weed Control

By Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, McLeod and Meeker Counties

Spring is the time that most homeowners work towards controlling lawn weeds. Pre-emergent herbicides are often used to control crabgrass and other spring germinating weeds. Typically, the best time to apply pre-emergent herbicides for lawn weeds is the middle of May. However, timing should be moved up in 2012 due to the above normal temperatures this spring. Pre-emergent herbicides can be purchased to help control those populations. Follow the label requirements for application and be sure that the product is labeled for the use you have intended it for.

Some gardeners are now using corn gluten meal because it acts similar to pre-emergent herbicides by inhibiting weed seeds from germinating. Corn gluten meal also contains a source of Nitrogen fertilizer. For best results, apply 20 pounds of corn gluten meal per 1,000 square feet and lightly water into lawn. Be sure to not apply these pre-emergent herbicides to areas where you have planted seed or plan to plant seeds. These pre-emergent herbicides are not selective for which types of seeds they stop from germinating.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, post emergence herbicides may be applied any time the weeds are actively growing, the air temperature is 60-80 degrees F, there are no winds, and there is no rain in the forecast for 48 hours. Most effective control of perennial broadleaf weeds is obtained when applied in early fall (August 15-October 15) or in spring (May 1-June 1). For some weeds, repeated application at 20-30 day intervals may be required for control.

For dandelions, use 2, 4-D or a combination of 2, 4-D, MCPP (Mecoprop), and dicamba can also be utilized. The ideal timing for applying these products for dandelion control is September. If your weed control approach is to control dandelions in the spring, apply chemical after they have finished blooming in May. The non-chemical option is to manually dig out the plants. A weeding fork, dandelion diggers may be a couple of options for that task. Get as much of the dandelion root as you can so the dandelion does not start growing again.

For creeping charlie, use a combination of 2, 4-D and MCPP or a combination of 2, 4-D, MCPP, and dicamba. The ideal timing for applying these products to creeping Charlie is in September or autumn once temperatures have cooled to the 60's and 70's. If your weed control approach is to control creeping charlie in the spring, apply chemical while the temperature remain cool and the plant is actively growing in the beginning to middle of May. The non-chemical approaches are to pull the plant out or utilize a dethatching rake. It may be necessary to start over with the lawn if the creeping charlie gets out of control.

Most other broadleaf weeds can be controlled by herbicide applications of 2, 4-D and/or a combination of 2,4-D, MCPP, and dicamba. It is always a good idea to know what you are spraying to be sure that the herbicide will control the desired pest. The herbicide label should list the weeds it will control. Another herbicide option is to utilize a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate. Use of these types of products should only be used when spot spraying targeted weed pests. Drift on to lawns and ornamental plants will injure or kill the desired plants as well as the targeted weed pests.

A healthy lawn is very important to limit the competition of lawn weeds. Work on improving the lawn while trying to slow down and eliminate weed competition. Try to seed grass into bare areas of the lawn, fertilize, and aerate your lawn to help it compete against the weeds. When using chemicals, read and follow all of the directions for using the specific product. If you are looking for further information contact the Extension Office in McLeod County 320-484-4303 or Meeker County 320-693-5275.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Variety Selection

By Janelle Daberkow
Extension Educator, Stearns and Benton Counties

Care in the selection of the vegetable varieties you will be growing is important for many reasons. The selection of the varieties you choose to grow and sell should be taken after considering several different aspects of your production. First, consider what the market and consumer demand is for your area. Are the varieties you are growing popular and well received from your consumers? Are the consumers you are working with interested in something new or different? Next, consider your operation. Are the varieties you are growing performing well under your growing conditions? Are you pleased with how they are performing? Is the production schedule of these varieties suitable for your operation and consumer demands? And finally, consider if the varieties you are growing have any disease or insect resistance.

Certainly growing situations are very different for each grower, each location, and each year's conditions. But now, with advances in technology, we have the ability to extend the growing season by using high tunnels or row covers, select superior genetics in plants that have disease and insect resistance, and ultimately have a wider selection of varieties to choose from. Many vegetables have been bred for disease resistance, with a good example being tomatoes. Tomato varieties have different disease resistance that is identified on the seed package as V= verticillium wilt resistance, F= fusarium wilt resistance, T= tobacco mosaic virus, amongst others.

A resource available online for commercial growers has had an update release for 2012. The Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers can be found online at: This is a very useful resource for growers across the Midwest. This is an updated version of an already existing resource that has been created by Extension and University Research stations in from six different states across the Midwest. Another very helpful resource specific to varieties for Minnesota gardeners and growers can be found here:

So what should you do when selecting vegetable varieties? Do your research. Talk with colleagues, seed representatives and local growers and educators to gather as much information as possible about your options. Experiment by growing one or two different varieties or cultivars each year. Look at trying new varieties as an opportunity, rather than a chore. Consider surveying your consumers on their likes and dislikes on your experimental varieties, and ask them what else they would like to see from your products. Develop a relationship with the local seed representative so they can be a reference source for you, and can help to fill in any gaps that are not covered in a seed catalog. Collect and document previous year's data on sales, production, and performance. Information is power, so knowing what your consumer response is to your products, as well as how each variety fared with production and sales has infinite value, and will help to propel you into future years of production. Don't be afraid to take risks from year to year and measure how you fare, rather than being forced to take a huge risk when conditions are forced upon you.

Early Season Pasture Thistle Control

By Jerry Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore and Houston Counties

When the grass started greening up, it also meant other less welcome plants will soon be appearing. Normally, early May is excellent for early season pasture weed control, but if this weather trend continues, consider moving the timing up. Plants that are easily controlled when small and tender become more difficult to control as they mature. Also, early control of pasture weeds allows more grass to grow and the pasture will support additional grazing.

There are a many broadleaf weeds to be concerned with, but Bull Thistle, Musk Thistle, and Canada Thistle seem to be most common. The good news is the process of controlling thistles often controls other broadleaf weeds.

Bull Thistle and Musk Thistle are biennials, which mean they take two years to complete their life cycle. They form a rosette (a flat group of leaves at ground level) and store food in their roots the first year and flower (produce seed) the second year. Control measures, chemical or mechanical, are most effective when applied during the first year's growth. If treatment is delayed until the second year, early season application of herbicide before bloom is important. In most cases you will have both years present in your pasture.

If you have only a minor problem with scattered plants, mechanical control can be effective. The rosettes are too generally too low to be mowed effectively, so digging the first year plants is your most dependable method. The second year growth can be mowed, but multiple trips will be needed to successfully prevent the thistles from producing flowers. Once you have flowers, you have seed. As a perennial, Canada Thistle can be a tougher weed to deal with. It not only produces seeds, it also spreads by underground rhizomes.

If you chose to use herbicide control, a number of choices are available. I counted fourteen options in the Grazing Restriction Table (page 41) in the U of M Extension Publication Plants Commonly Found in Established Minnesota Horse Pastures. Check it out at click on Agriculture, than Horses. Horse pastures have the same weeds as cow, sheep, and goat pastures.

Anytime you use herbicides reading the label is a must. The label will list any precautions and grazing limitations for milk and meat animals. However, many labels do not list horses. Extension Educator Krishona Martinson suggests horses should be excluded for seven to ten days after spraying.

This is another good argument for splitting pasture into multiple paddocks, not only will you increase grazing productivity, you have an opportunity to control weeds in each paddock When the animals are rotated out of a current pasture into a new one use that opportunity to dig, mow, or spray your thistles.

If you are trying to maintain a legume in your pastures, be aware that any of the broadleaf herbicides will eliminate both alfalfa and clovers. Mechanical control or spot spraying will be your only alternatives.

Age Appropriate Tasks for Youth

By Jerry Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore and Houston Counties

Each year, about 100 farm children die across our country as a result of work-related injuries. Sometimes parents overestimate their child's ability to perform dangerous jobs. Before asking your child to perform any task or chore, ask yourself: Is my child physically and mentally prepared to handle the task at hand? Most child development experts suggest waiting until a child is at least age 12 or 13 before you allow them to operate a tractor or perform other potentially hazardous jobs. Even then, kids need adequate training and supervision.

Slow-Moving Vehicle Emblems

By Jerry Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore and Houston Counties

Farmers know the limitations of their machinery. The general public may not! Tractors generally travel no faster than 25 miles per hour. Machines at this speed are identified to motorists on the road with a Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) Emblem. The SMV emblem has a central orange triangle. The orange triangle was designed to be eye-catching during daylight hours. The orange triangle is bordered by red strips of reflective tape. The red strips are visible as a hollow red triangle when illuminated by low beam headlights up to 600 feet. Check your SMV signs this spring before field work begins!

Take a Break

By Jerry Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore and Houston Counties

Research shows that after every two hours of work, we should take a 15 to 20 minute break. This break can relieve stress and increase focus of what we are doing. Data shows that injuries occur more often in late morning or late afternoon after farmers have been working for several hours. A short break in the middle of the afternoon will decrease your chances of having a serious farm accident. After such a break we are more rested and more mentally alert.

Instead of thinking of downtime, think of a nap as a good risk management tool. The average farm accident can cost upwards of $20,000 in medical bills and lost productivity. Operator downtime pays because there are fewer errors, injuries, and even deaths when a body is well rested.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Getting started with chickens

By Wayne Martin
University of Minnesota Extension
Alternative Livestock Systems

As spring approaches, a broad range of enthusiasts, from backyard gardeners to small scale farm operators, begin to think about adding chickens (especially broilers), to their summer production activities. Whether growing for profit or as a source of food for the family, raising broilers can be a rewarding and educational experience for everyone in the family. It's easy to get a batch of chicks started, at relatively low cost, and they grow quickly, ready to be processed and put into your freezer or sold to customers in only 6-8 weeks.
Of course, raising healthy livestock of any type for fun or profit requires some attention to planning and detail, and broilers are no exception. By just following a few basic, general guidelines about the needs of baby chicks and growing chickens it will help ensure that you achieve success with the birds you raise.

When ordering broiler chicks:

  • Hatcheries in MN and around the country can be found online by searching google, or by looking at Poultry U.

  • Plan their arrival around their departure. Broilers typically need 6-8 weeks to reach a market carcass weight of 3.5-5 pounds. You'll need to arrange processing well in advance. If you grow birds for your own consumption within the limits of a town or city, check the city ordinances prior to processing the birds in your backyard. Many towns don't allow backyard processing.

  • You can order cockerels (males), pullets (females), or a straight run (mixed batch). Cockerels typically are a little more expensive, but grow faster. They may weigh one lb more than pullets at processing, at the same age.

  • Consider having the birds vaccinated at the hatchery against coccidiosis. It is cheap to do so, and then you'll very likely have healthy birds throughout their short growing period. This vaccine will help give the birds protection against a very common and costly poultry disease. Doing so can then give you the option of using non-medicated feed throughout the production period.

Preparing for their arrival:

  • Provide a clean space, draft free, protected from predators. That means some sort of fenced-in area, inside the coop.

  • Use bedding—wood shavings or sawdust are best, but if there is a plentiful supply of clean straw, you can't beat free. Straw doesn't absorb well, so it will need to be supplemented frequently with clean, dry straw.

  • Provide a heat source such as heat lamps—chicks need 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit in the first week of life. Gradually reduce temperature over 3-4 weeks to around 70 degrees. Birds are fully feathered at 4 weeks of age, and will need little or no extra heat unless they are being raised in cold weather, such as below 50 degrees. It might be worthwhile to build a small hover to help hold the heat close to the floor, if the room is larger and cold away from the heat bulbs.

  • An infrared bulb only heats the body of the chick, but not the air around the bird. In really cold weather, it's probably better to use a regular incandescent heat bulb, though it does stimulate the birds, making them more active and aggressive.

  • Appropriately-sized feeders and waterers are necessary so that chicks can drink upon arrival. You'll need to dunk each chick's beak in the water trough, so that they'll know where the water is and how to access it.

  • Provide a chick starter feed to give them a balanced ration, that is 20-22% protein or close to it. After about a week or so, switch to a grower ration, but no less than 18-19% protein for the duration.

Management steps to help them thrive:

  • Give them clean water twice daily.

  • Full feed for the first week, then remove the feed at night for the next 3 weeks. This will help prevent Flip Disease, which is a heart attack from overeating. It's not unusual to lose 1-2% of the flock to this disease, and almost always the biggest, fastest growing birds are the ones that succumb. Be sure to have plenty of feeder space during this period of feed withdrawal, because in the morning the chicks will be hungry and will run over each other to eat.

  • Clean bedding around the waterers frequently. Otherwise there will be ammonia buildup in the room. Add bedding as needed to keep the chicks clean and dry.

  • Keep the area as bio-secure as possible. Don't let visitors into the pen are where the chicks are.

  • Finally, in hot weather, when the birds are in the final 4 weeks of growth, and it's over 85-90 degrees, pull the feed during the hottest part of the day. Birds can be stressed by the heat and die during this period, especially if they eat heavily during the heat of the day.

If you have questions, please call me at 612-625-6224 or send an email to

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

University of Minnesota Extension Offers Workshops for Small-farm and Acreage Owners

By Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, McLeod and Meeker Counties

Do you have the dream of owning acreage in the country? Do you have an existing acreage that is need of a plan and strategies for the best possible results? The Living on the Land Workshop Series, offered by University of Minnesota Extension, will equip you with the education and resources to be successful.

The eight-week course is designed to arm landowners with agricultural information to enable them to be good stewards of their land. The course will begin with goal-setting and individual property inventory, then address soil, plant and water basics.

The Living on the Land curriculum addresses a growing need for information regarding small acreages. The series incorporates knowledge and experience from a team of instructors to address topics including: what do you have and what do you want, what you can do with your land, water quality, protecting household drinking water, how plants grow, what to do about weeds, lawn and pasture maintenance, getting down and dirty with soils. The series also includes a farm tour.

The series will be taught by Extension educators and natural resource professionals at two locations. Both workshop series will be held on Thursday evenings from March 8 - April 26 from 6-9 p.m. One location will be in Hutchinson at the McLeod County Fairgrounds 4-H Café and the other location will be in Mankato at the Historic Courthouse in the Conference Room.

Early registration is $175 until Friday, March 2 and all registrations received afterwards will be $200. The registration fee includes participation of two people, for example a husband and wife team or two siblings, who may attend together and share materials. Benefits include useful educational publications, an educational farm tour and dinner, a site visit/consultation from a University of Minnesota Extension educator in your area, as well as the tools to help you succeed with your goals and dreams on your country acreage.

Register now because space is limited at each location. Contact Nathan Winter for a hard copy of the brochure and other questions regarding the Hutchinson Location at 320-484-4303 or by e-mail at Contact Diane DeWitte at 507-304-4325 or by e-mail at for more information on the Mankato location and registration questions.

View the 2012 Living on the Land Workshop Series Brochure.

Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line:
Nathan Winter is an agricultural production systems educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

Fertilizing Grass Pastures

By Jerrold Tesmer
Extension Educator, Fillmore and Houston Counties

Are you looking for ways to get more out of your pasture? Have you ever soil tested your pasture? Do you treat your pasture like a valuable crop?

As with other crops, adequate fertilizer is needed for optimal economic production. This might mean being able to increase the number of animals grazing a particular pasture or have pastures last longer into the summer or fall. Soil testing is particularly valuable for determining phosphate and potash needs.

Nitrogen is usually the first nutrient we think of for grasses and grass mixtures. Grasses grown for pasture are a perennial crop. Nitrogen fertilizer guidelines are based on expected yield. The expected yield will vary with such factors as intended use, management intensity, and soil texture.

Nitrogen Guidelines for grasses and grass mixtures in Minnesota.

Nitrogen Table.bmp

Expected yields of 4 or more tons of dry matter per acre are reasonable for situations where soils have good water holding capacity and intensive management practices such as rotational grazing.

The time for nitrogen fertilizer application should match the growth pattern of forage grasses. The majority of grasses found in Minnesota are cool season grasses. With cool season grasses, the majority of growth takes place in late spring and early summer. Therefore, early spring application is suggested for these grasses.

Split application of nitrogen fertilizer is an option for intensive management situations when expected yields are greater than 4 ton per acre. If split application is an option, 75% of the nitrogen should be applied in early spring and 25% in late August.

The listed rates for rates for phosphate and potash can be taken from the results of your soil test. The needed fertilizer should be broadcast to established pastures in early spring for cool season grasses.

Phosphate fertilizer guidelines for grasses and grass mixtures.

Phosphorus Table.bmp

Potash fertilizer guidelines for grasses and grass mixtures.

Potassium Table.bmp

In some field crops, other nutrients have been found to be of value. Research trials in Minnesota have shown that forage grasses and grass mixtures have not responded to application to other nutrients in a fertilizer program. Therefore, none are suggested.

For more information on fertilizer recommendations in Minnesota consult "Fertilizer Guidelines for Agronomic Crops in Minnesota" BU-06240-S Revised 2011, Daniel E. Kaiser, Extension Soil Scientist; John A. Lamb, Extension Soil Scientist; and Roger Elieason, Director, University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory. For more information, visit online:

Lambing Preparation

By Mike Boersma
Extension Educator, Pipestone and Murray Counties

Lambing season is quickly approaching for many sheep producers and this can be an exciting and challenging time of year. Adequate preparation is essential and will make lambing season more successful and less stressful. Here are a few points to keep in mind as lambing season approaches.

First, is the lambing barn ready? No two lambing barns will be identical and there is no "correct" set-up, since each operation will have slightly different needs and resources available. However, regardless of the type of facility, producers should make every effort to create a relatively warm environment free from cold air drafts on the animals. There is a fine line between creating a warm environment and creating a place with poor air exchange and high humidity. The lambing barn still needs to have a level of fresh air exchange-the key is to provide the fresh air without creating drafts directly on the animals.

Another consideration is to be sure the lambing pens are ready. Lambing pens should consist of a mostly enclosed area that provides about 25 square feet of space for the ewe and her lambs. These pens should be clean and free of manure and should have a heat lamp or other supplemental heat source in one corner for the newborn lambs. The ewes should be kept in these pens for 1-3 days, or until their lambs have nursed and are able to get up and going on their own.

Producers should also prepare themselves to deal with sick or weak lambs. Attentiveness is key here, as weak or chilled lambs can recover much sooner if caught early. The longer the lambs are cold and/or the longer they go without adequate colostrum (first milk) intake, the less likely they are to make a full recovery.

In an ideal situation, the lamb should nurse within the first hour after birth to receive the full benefits of the colostrum from the ewe. If the lamb is unable to nurse, it may be necessary to tube-feed the lamb, which can be done with a clean syringe and a small hose. However, tube-feeding should only be performed by skilled producers, since improperly inserting the tube could pose serious risks to the lamb. It is important that producers prepare ahead of time for weak lambs by having frozen colostrum and milk replacer on hand.

In addition to these simple practices, it is also important that sheep producers work with their veterinarian to develop a proper vaccination and lamb health program. Have the necessary vaccines and antibiotics on hand at lambing time, along with syringes and other equipment. If producers take the time to prepare these few things in advance, their foresight should be rewarded with a successful lambing season.

Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line:
Mike Boersma is an agricultural production systems educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

Preparing for Kidding Season With Dairy Goats

By Laura Kieser
Extension Educator, Carver and Scott Counties

It is s a sure sign that spring is on its way when baby goats start arriving. Because goats are seasonal breeders by nature, we usually see most kids born February through April. Some producers in MN have already started kidding season with kids being born in January, and some herds have kids born as late as June. The two months prior to kidding/parturition is an ideal time to deworm and hoof trim does. Parasite control during the dry period will help prevent high levels of parasite exposure for newborns as well as the doe. It is also important to check and treat any external parasites. Hoof trimming is very important and helps the doe to be more mobile and comfortable as she walks around with her ever-growing kids en-utero. By trimming the hooves during the dry period, less stress is placed on the doe when it is time to give birth.

Late pregnancy is also an ideal time to give yearly booster shots of vaccines utilized in the herd. Vaccines give protection to the doe as well as ensure high levels of antibodies in the doe's colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk produced by the doe, critical for the kids to consume to provide passive transfer of antibodies. The most common vaccines would be for enterotoxemia (also known as overeating disease) and tetanus. Enterotoxemia is caused by Clostridium perfringens types C and D. A tetanus booster can be combined with the Enterotoxemia vaccine.

Additional selenium and Vitamin E may be given during late pregnancy if the soil in the area is selenium deficient. This will provide the doe sufficient levels for her needs and prevent white muscle disease in the developing kids. It is necessary to consult your veterinarian to obtain injectable selenium and vitamin E.

Nutrition needs to be continually monitored during late pregnancy. The doe should maintain her condition and weight. The developing kids grow rapidly during the last several weeks of pregnancy, as do the metabolic demands on the doe. It is important during the early dry period to provide good quality roughage to supply the dry doe's metabolic needs while ensuring an active, normally functioning rumen. Two to three weeks before freshening, her metabolic needs change dramatically and the doe requires more concentrated forms of energy, such as grain in addition to the good quality forage.

Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line:
Laura Kieser is an agricultural production systems educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

Breeding Heifer Development

By Mike Boersma
Extension Educator, Pipestone and Murray Counties

Proper management of replacement heifers is one aspect of cow/calf production that is easy to overlook. But, research shows that heifers calving early in their first calving season will generally continue calving earlier in subsequent breeding seasons. This will result in cows that wean heavier calves when compared to their later-calving counterparts.

There are differing opinions regarding pre-weaning management and how these factors affect heifers later in life. Many experts believe that heifers receiving one growth-promoting implant at 2-3 months of age will not be negatively affected as cows. However, heifers receiving high potency implants or multiple implants tend to experience poorer reproductive performance later in life. So, if replacement heifers can be selected at a young age, it may be best to not implant heifers that will be used for replacement. If heifers are implanted, aggressive implant strategies should be avoided.

Creep-feeding of potential replacement heifers is another subject that tends to stir up debate among beef producers. In general, avoid feeding large amounts of grain-based creep feeds to potential replacements as these calves will tend to store excess fat in their udders. This excess udder fat has been shown to negatively affect future milk production. On the other hand, feeding smaller amounts of a low-starch creep feed can benefit calves by increasing weaning weight and training calves to eat from a bunk prior to weaning. The key is to monitor body condition of the calves and avoid adding excess body fat at an early age.

A good rule of thumb is to ensure that replacement heifers weigh 60-65% of their mature body weight by their first breeding and 80-85% of their mature body weight by their first calving. So, a heifer that will weigh 1300 pounds when mature should weigh 780-845 pounds at her first breeding and between 1040-1105 pounds when she has her first calf. Proper management and planning are important to ensure that heifers gain weight steadily during this time and are not rapidly gaining or losing weight just prior to or during breeding season as that negatively affects pregnancy rates. Likewise, rapid weight gain or weight loss between breeding and calving can result in unhealthy calves, calving difficulty, and other complications.

Keeping these basic heifer development principles in mind should result in heifers becoming pregnant earlier in the breeding season. This will result in earlier calving in the first calving season, earlier re-breeding, and heavier weaning weights over the life of the cow. Given the climate of today's marketplace, properly managed replacements can be a very valuable asset. On the other hand, mismanaged replacements are more costly to an operation than ever before.

beef cattle.jpg

Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line:
Michael Boersma is an agricultural production systems educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

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