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Friday, December 13, 2013

Managing Cold Stress in Cattle

By: Mike Boersma, Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Murray & Pipestone Counties

The recent snow and cold temperatures bring with them a host of challenges and special considerations for those with livestock. For cattle producers whose livestock are predominantly outdoors, one of those extra considerations is that animals' energy needs will increase as the temperature decreases. Wind, snow, and cold temperatures have additive effects on the increase in energy requirements for the animals to simply maintain their normal body functions.

As a general guideline, cattle will experience a 1% increase in their energy requirement for every 1 degree of wind chill below 32 degrees F. In other words, if the wind chill is 10 degrees, a cow's energy requirement would increase by 22% (32 minus 10). This increase nearly doubles if the animal is wet.

To take the concept one step further, the Lower Critical Temperature (LCT) of an animal is the lowest temperature that animal can experience before their body needs to burn more energy to stay warm. For a cow with a winter coat, the LCT is approximately 32 degrees. However, that same cow with a wet hair coat will have a LCT of 60 degrees.

Therefore, it is important for producers to take the necessary steps to protect their livestock from adverse weather conditions. While it usually isn't possible to keep them out of the cold, there are many ways livestock owners can protect animals from wind and falling snow. This can be done by providing shelter or windbreaks for the animals. When providing shelter to cattle, make sure that there is still adequate air exchange so that humidity and moisture do not accumulate as these can actually compound the problem by making the animals wet and increasing their Lower Critical Temperature.

At the same time, producers can take steps to increase the animals' energy intake during adverse weather conditions. While the surest way to increase energy is to add grain to the diet, this could cause digestive upsets in animals on a high roughage diet. A more subtle and practical approach for these animals is to save the best quality hay for bad weather and perhaps feed this hay for a couple days after the storm has passed to make up for any weight lost. Remember that any dietary changes must be gradual to avoid digestive upsets.

With the bitterly cold wind chills of the past few weeks, simply supplying enough dietary energy for the animals to maintain normal body function, without needing to burn stored fat, can be a real challenge. Taking steps to reduce the effects of the cold while increasing energy intake should help cattle overcome these environmental stresses of winter.


Mike Boersma is a County Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director with the University of Minnesota Extension in Murray and Pipestone Counties

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bale Grazing Reduces Inputs

By: Mike Boersma, University of Minnesota Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Pipestone & Murray Counties

For beef cow/calf producers, minimizing the use of harvested feeds is a great way to reduce input costs. Doing so will translate to reduced costs of harvesting and transporting forages as well as reduced manure hauling and labor. However, in order to reduce the amount of harvested forages being fed, producers need to find ways to extend the grazing season. This can be a challenge in the Upper Midwest where the end of the grazing season is often dictated by the first significant snowfall.

What if a system existed that would provide a "happy medium"-where forages could be harvested and protected from the effects of snowfall, yet, could be fed in a way that didn't require starting a tractor daily throughout the winter and could also require very minimal manure hauling from the winter feeding area? The idea of bale grazing accomplishes exactly this.
In basic terms, bale grazing involves bales in a field or pasture at the beginning of the winter feeding season. Using a portable electric fence wire, cows are given access to a small number of bales at a time and the fence is moved periodically to allow access to new bales as needed. This system allows feeding to take place in the field or pasture, rather than in a yard or drylot situation. Feeding the cows in the field presents an opportunity for saving time and fuel generally used during daily feeding and manure hauling.

To maximize cost savings, bales can be left in the field right where they were originally harvested. If that isn't an option, however, bales can be hauled to a new field or winter pasture and placed in a grid pattern. In either case, an electric wire is used to grant access to new bales periodically.

The system works best when cows can only access a few days' worth of feed at a time. This will force the cows to eat more of each bale and reduce waste. For producers concerned with needing to move fence posts in frozen ground, try a cordless drill to create pilot holes for small fence posts.

The concept of bale grazing may not fit for all operations. But, if the system sounds feasible on your own farm as a means of reducing fuel and labor costs, I'd encourage you to give it a try.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Be Safe this Fall!

By: Nathan Winter, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, McLeod & Meeker Counties

Recently, there have been a number of local injuries and fatalities in the agricultural sector. These injuries and losses are unfortunate and are difficult on all family and friends involved. Be sure that you and your family practice farm safety to ensure everyone's safety!

Although farm accidents have lessened in recent years, it is still a common occurrence for farm accidents to take place for farmers and farm workers. Agriculture ranks amongst the most hazardous industries according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Approximately 476 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injury in 2010 and 9,955 from 1992-2010. The leading cause of death for farmers and farm workers from 1992-2009 was tractor overturns. Approximately 243 agricultural workers suffer lost work-time injury every day.

According to NIOSH, an average of 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries (1995-2002) The majority of those that die annually are youth between 16-19 years. The most common source of fatal injuries to youth is machinery (includes tractors), motor vehicles (includes ATVs), followed by drowning. There were 16,100 children and adolescents injured on farms and 3,400 due to farm work in 2009.

Sadly, most of these farm related accidents could have been prevented if appropriate safety measures would have been taken. Often, nature does not leave a big enough time period to get the work done so farmers and farm workers feel the need to hurry. Be sure to slow down and think about the safest ways to go about your work. Be sure that all safety equipment is working properly and that you follow safety procedures during operation.

Those at risk working on the farm range from young children to senior farmers. Nobody is left out and considered safe when working on farms. Quite often youth work at a very young age with very little supervision. These youth can also be innocent bystanders or passengers on farm equipment. Be sure to look out for their interests by keeping them safe. Youth should be given appropriate tasks that they are able to perform safely. Always think of how to safely operate the machines and equipment you are running before you start and be sure to show and tell the youth as well.

Those not engaged in agricultural activities also need to be safe on our rural roadways. Be sure that you are safely operating vehicles on these roadways to avoid collisions with farm equipment or other vehicles.

Good luck with the fall harvest and please remember to take things slowly and exercise safety in your daily work!

Fall Soil Testing is a Good Investment

By: Jerrold Tesmer, University of Minnesota Extension in Fillmore & Houston Counties

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 office can provide area residents with their specific soil conditions, and ultimately offer more accurate advice and consultation to their questions.

Soil testing kits, which include sample bags, collection recommendations and a soil sample information sheet, are available at both the Fillmore and Houston County Extension Offices. Instructions for sampling soil in both small and large landscapes are also offered. After the sample has been collected and mailed to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, located on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul Campus, the results are processed within three to five days and returned to the landowner.

Along with the returned soil test results, recommendations are provided for nutrient application. Please contact me in Caledonia or Preston, at either Extension office, if assistance is needed to interpret the recommendations or soil test results.

More information regarding soil testing through the University of Minnesota can be found at or
Fertilizer recommendations in Minnesota are based on "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.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pricing Corn Silage

By: Jerrold Tesmer, Extension Educator, Fillmore & Houston Counties

Due to the late planting dates and a cooler than normal growing season this year, many corn fields will probably be harvested for silage. There is potential for corn in these fields to be too immature for proper corn silage harvest. How should the value of corn silage be adjusted for immature corn? Typical calculation methods for pricing normal corn silage include:

Relative feed value of known forage market.
Silage ($/T) = ¼ to ½ value of hay
Silage ($/T = 8 times the price of a bushel of corn. If already harvested, then 10 times.
Feed replacement or substitution costs
Use market prices for energy, protein, and digestibility (NE of corn, soybean meal, hay)
Contracted price above the cost of production (280 - 320 $/A).

If the corn is immature a quality adjustment factor for maturity might be necessary. Some University of Wisconsin work suggests: Pre-tassel = 90%; Silk = 80%; Soft dough = 85%; Early dent = 90%; ½ kernel milk line = 100%; and Black layer = 90%

Two "quick and dirty" ways to estimate corn silage yield are:

Based on Grain Yield...for stressed corn, about one ton of silage per acre can be obtained from each 5 bushels of grain per acre. For example, if you expect a grain yield of 50 bushels grain per acre, you will get about 10 ton/acre of 30 percent dry matter silage. For corn yielding more than 100 bushels per acre, about one ton of silage per acre can be expected for each 7 to 8 bushels per acre.

Based on Plant Height...if little or no grain is expected, a rough pre-harvest estimate of yield can be made by assuming that one ton of 30 percent dry matter silage can be obtained for each foot of plant height (excluding the tassel. On this basis, "waist-high" corn 3-4 feet tall will yield about 3 to 4 tons per acre of silage at 30 percent dry matter.
Sample Weight Method...A more accurate way to estimate yields is to weigh the corn plants from a portion of an acre (1/100th) in several spots of the field. To do this, determine row width, then cut corn plants in one row for a certain length according to row width in the following table:

Row Length Row Width
32.50 ft. 30"
28.75 ft. 36"
27.50 ft. 38"
26.25 ft. 40"

Next, weigh the amount of whole corn plant material cut in pounds. Divide the pounds harvested by 4. That's the estimated tons produced per acre. Follow this method for several areas and average the results.

In order to obtain actual tons harvested, weigh each wagon load or count how many feet of silage went into a silo after settling. If you know the silo size, how many feet of silage was put up and what the moisture was, silo charts can be used to calculate tons stored. Dividing stored tons by acres harvested will give you the yield per acre.

The information above was obtained from work done by University of Wisconsin Corn Agronomist Joe Lauer, and UW-Extension Agriculture Agent Greg Blonde.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Spring Planting and Care of Trees

By: Nathan Winter, Extension Educator, McLeod & Meeker Counties

Trees are often enjoyed more by people that come after those that planted the tree. Trees help define how a yard in the city will look and the type of landscaping that can be done by determining shade or full sun types of plants. Businesses and city municipalities also use trees to help make areas more astatically pleasing to those that are working within in those areas as well as those that are using those areas for recreation. In rural country settings, trees serve many purposes, but one of the core purposes is protection from the weather elements.

We need to know when and how to plant trees to get them started off in the right direction. 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, obtain a copy of the U of M publication called "Planting and Transplanting Trees and Shrubs", which can be found at

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.

Water newly watered trees over the root zone of the tree. Established trees should be watered around 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 wet 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 rains are averaging one inch every week, watering will probably not be necessary.

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. U of M Soil Test Kits can be picked up at most U of M Extension Offices or by contacting the U of M Soil Testing Laboratory: Often, the tree has sufficient amounts of nutrients available if the lawn is already being fertilized regularly. To learn more about fertilizing trees, obtain a copy of the U of M publication called "Tree Fertilization: A Guide for Fertilizing New and Established Trees in the Landscape", which can be found at

Do the best you can to educate yourself on caring for those beloved trees properly. Proper care will help increase the longevity of your landscape trees and give you and others years of enjoyment and admiration for the trees.

Forage Testing Saves Money

By: Mike Boersma, Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Murray & Pipestone Counties

Forages are a major dietary component for many species of livestock. With widespread drought for the past couple of years and a slow start to the spring growing season, forages are in short supply. This shortage has translated to record-setting prices this spring.

With forages becoming a very valuable commodity, testing hay and silages for nutrient content becomes critical. Matching the nutrient content of forages with the animals' nutrient requirements is equally important.

When testing forages, it is important to remember that the results are only as accurate as the sample submitted. When sampling bales of hay, it is best to take core samples from a large number of bales, mix the samples, and then collect a sub-sample for submission to the lab.

Also, collect samples that will best represent the entire bale. Core samples should be taken from a cross-section of the bale. This means the corer should enter the rounded side of round bales or the end of square bales. Also, select bales from various locations within a row or pile to ensure the most accurate representation of the entire lot of hay. Finally, if possible, analyze separate samples for each cutting of hay, as each cutting will be harvested at a slightly different stage of maturity and under varying conditions.

When sampling silages, it is again important to select representative samples. Obtain multiple samples and sample each storage structure (bunker, pile, bag, etc.) separately.

Once testing results have been obtained, using this information to accurately meet animal requirements, without over-feeding and wasting an expensive resource, can save money. Producers should work closely with their nutritionist to accurately determine nutrient requirements of their livestock.

The University of Minnesota Extension has valuable tools that will also assist in this process for beef producers, specifically. The U of M Beef Cow Ration Balancer is available for free download at This tool includes valuable information for feeding the beef cow herd and includes a table of nutrient requirements and information on assessing the body condition score of the animals in the herd. The second tool available is the U of M Feedlot Ration Balancer, available at Here, producers will find information to assist in meeting nutrient requirements of growing calves for backgrounding or feedlot situations.

Performing a nutrient analysis on your forages is the best way to know what you are feeding. With today's high prices, the potential cost associated with not meeting the animals' needs or over-feeding expensive nutrients is much greater than the costs associated with obtaining an accurate forage test. For more information on forage testing, contact your local Extension office.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Still Time to Prune Trees

By Nathan Winter
Extension Educator, McLeod and Meeker Counties

The spring time weather will soon be heading our way with April only weeks away. The winter period has been the time for meetings and the spring brings outdoor activities and scratching of the soil for planting. From recent phone calls in the McLeod and Meeker County Extension Offices, I can tell people in the community are thinking ahead to spring. They are wondering what they should plant and how soon they can start? Often, many of the common questions revolve around tree management. For example, when should I prune my apple trees? Well, if you have not already, there is still some time for certain species of trees.

Prune apple trees, including flowering crabapples, mountain ash, hawthorns and shrub cotoneasters in late winter from February to early April. Spring or summer pruning increases chances for infection and spread of the bacterial disease fireblight. Autumn or early winter pruning is more likely to result in drying and die-back at pruning sites. Oaks, ash, and elm trees can also be pruned this time of year.
Pruning approaches include crown thinning, crown raising, and crown reduction. Crown thinning is primarily used in hardwoods to increase the amount of room for light and air to penetrate the tree. You still will want to maintain the trees natural shape, and form.

Another form of crown thinning is to make sure there is only one dominant leader instead of two or more co-dominate leaders on the tree. Crown raising is cutting off some of the bottom branches to permit travel underneath the tree. This could be for lawn mowers, people, and vehicles. Be sure not to raise the crown of the tree too high to avoid an excessively high crown.

Crown reduction is another approach to pruning. This method should be used only in a last resort when the tree has outgrown its permitted space. This approach should not be used on trees with a pyramidal growth form.

Topping and tipping pruning practices do more harm to trees than they help. Topping is pruning large upright branches between the nodes and is sometimes done to reduce the height of the tree. Tipping is pruning lateral branches between nodes to reduce the crown width. These practices result in sprouts and dead branches that will reduce the life of the tree. Use the crown reduction method as a last resort and avoid topping and tipping.

What about treating the wounds? Most of the time the tree sap, gums, and resins naturally work to decrease pathogens invading the trees. Therefore, there are very few circumstances when wound dressings are needed for pruning cuts. Often, they create more problems than they avoid.

The University of Minnesota Extension Website contains a vast amount of information. The website has further information pertaining to pruning other types of trees. Following is a great link to learn more about pruning trees and shrubs:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Calving Season Preparations

By: Mike Boersma, Extension Educator & 4-H Program Director, Murray & Pipestone Counties

Calving season may be a couple months off for some beef producers, but it is already underway for many others. In either case, as the 2013 calf crop arrives, many producers will be searching for ways to keep newborn calves warm and dry.

A healthy start for newborn calves is crucial. And, the first step to having healthy calves is finding a place where they can be warm, dry, and comfortable. At times, finding a warm, dry place at calving time may seem like a daunting task. In addition, no matter how much advanced planning and preparation go into calving season, there will inevitably be those couple of calves that find themselves in less than ideal conditions at a young age.

Two of the most important things for calves born in these conditions are proper naval care and adequate colostrum intake. Proper naval care involves treating the naval by dipping or spraying it with iodine or another disinfectant solution to prevent infection. This should be done to all calves soon after birth but becomes more critical to calves that may be born in wet conditions because the risk of infection is much greater.

Undoubtedly, the most important factor in newborn calf survival is colostrum intake as soon as possible after birth. Colostrum contains important nutrients and antibodies to give calves energy and to fight off disease and infection.

There is no specific recommendation for how soon the calf needs to receive colostrum, because sooner is always better in this case. A calf's digestive system has specific receptors that aid in digestion and absorption of the antibodies in colostrum and these receptors begin to shut down soon after birth. In fact, just 12-18 hours after birth, many of these receptors have already shut down and it becomes increasingly difficult for antibodies in colostrum to be utilized by the calf.

There are a few practices that will help to ensure all calves receive colostrum. First, calves with a difficult birth will generally be slower to recover and may need to be bottle-fed stored colostrum. While it is best to use the mother's colostrum or frozen colostrum from a cow in your own herd to ensure the "right" antibodies for your farm, this is not always possible. If this is the case, colostrum from your neighbor or from the dairy farm down the road or a commercially available supplement is definitely better than nothing at all. Also, calves with no apparent health problems may not nurse a cow with a dirty udder. So cows should be kept as clean as possible prior to calving and as they calve, be sure to monitor the cleanliness of the udder to give the calf the best chance of nursing.

While there may not be any magical cure for calves in cold or wet conditions, paying attention to the details is beneficial. Remember the basics of newborn calf care and realize that these basic practices are even more important in challenging environments. Now is the time to plan ahead. Check your calving supplies to make sure you have everything on-hand, including either frozen colostrum or a suitable commercial supplement. A little preparation now could help reduce sickness, infection, death loss, and stress in the coming months.

Keeping New Lambs and Kids Warm in Winter Weather

By: Laura T. Kieser, Extension Educator, Carver & Scott Counties

January, February and March are typical months for sheep and goat farms to be welcoming new additions to the herd. The benefits of lambing or kidding in the early months of the year include higher rates of gain, lower disease incidents, and increased profits from spring and Easter markets. In order to take advantage of these benefits, producers have to make sure to keep these new babies clean, dry warm, and draft free. Common methods for assisting in keeping young small ruminants warm include: heat lamps, blankets or coats, extra bedding, and barn winterization.

Heat lamps are perhaps the first option that comes to mind when thinking about keeping new lambs or kids warm. Heat lamps provide heat similar to radiant heat, much like the sun's rays. Many supply companies offer options for safe heat lamps in barns. It is important to consider the risks of heat lamps in your situation. Lamps should be protected from hay and straw. Cords from lamps need to be protected from the animals as well. One popular method to use a heat lamp is to mount the lamp in the top of an empty 55-gallon drum. Then a hole is cut in the side of the barrel to allow lambs or kids to go in and out. In effect, this makes a small warming house for the young animals. When using a heat lamp it is important to use the proper sized bulb (usually 175 watts) and to keep the bulb at least six inches higher than the lamb or kid can reach.

Blankets or coats for small ruminants are available for purchase from various supply companies. Coats can also be made at home as part of a 4-H project. Some people use dog or puppy coats for kids. Others use fleece or water resistant material. It is important to make sure to size a coat correctly for a lamb or kid. Straps or material can become a hazard if the young lamb or kid can get tangled in it. It's helpful if coats can be made of washable materials. This makes the coats re-usable throughout the current year and into future years.

If producers are not comfortable with using heat lamps or coats, the remaining options are management decisions. To decrease drafts around young lambs and kids, be sure to provide and refresh bedding often. By refreshing straw, you are keeping the animals dry, and also increasing a layer of insulation. Consider evaluating the barn that lambs or kids are housed in. Make sure that the structure is draft free at the animal level, but at the same time has proper ventilation to allow air exchange and decrease humidity. If barns are closed up too tightly, lambs and kids can be susceptible to respiratory diseases.

In general young lambs and kids will thrive when born in January, February and March when their environment is kept dry, clean and draft free. These conditions will allow producers to have lambs and kids that grow rapidly, are healthy and meet marketing goals.

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