University of Minnesota Extension
Menu Menu

Extension > Small Farms News > June 2012

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.

  • © Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy