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Small Farms news

Starting with Chickens

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

Many farm stores, elevators, and similar businesses are beginning the spring-time tradition of offering chicks for sale. Raising chickens on a small scale is a fun experience for young and old alike. It is a great way to teach youth (and adults) about food production. Also, while not a lucrative business venture, raising chickens is a hobby that will give you something in return for the time and money you invest in it.

Whether raising chickens for eggs, meat, or both, selecting the right breed is one important step to ensuring success. When choosing broiler chicks (those raised for meat production), the most popular breed is a Cornish cross. These chickens are fast growing and will grow from hatch to market weight in as little as six to eight weeks. This breed is known for their carcass characteristics and rapid growth but they can suffer from joint problems if not managed properly.

As an alternative to the Cornish, the Red Ranger and similar breeds tend to grow a little slower but will produce leaner meat with more texture and flavor. These breeds also produce a higher percentage of dark meat. They can be expected to reach market weight in ten to twelve weeks.
When considering breeds of laying hens, there are many more options and varieties to choose from. White Leghorns may be the most popular breed for egg production. They produce between 250-300 white eggs per year. They are a smaller breed, weighing 4.5 pounds when mature. They are good foragers but are not a docile breed; they can be high-strung.

Many small-scale producers prefer more of a "dual-purpose" breed. The females make good layers while the males can be fed for meat production. There is a trade-off with the dual purpose breeds; they won't lay as many eggs as the Leghorns and won't grow as fast as the Cornish. However, their larger mature size helps them be more hardy, more tolerant of our cold winters and they are often more mild-mannered as well.

Popular dual purpose breeds include the Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, Ameraucana, Plymouth Rock and the Orpington. There are a number of hybrids that would be considered dual purpose breeds as well. These chickens come in a variety of shapes and colors and are commonly 6 to 7 pounds when mature. The Orpington is the largest of these and hens will reach about 8 pounds. Many of these breeds lay brown eggs, however, the Ameraucana's eggs are green.

Whatever the goals, choosing a breed that suits your needs will help ensure a successful and rewarding venture. If you are considering raising poultry on a small scale but live within city limits, check with local ordinances since these can vary considerably from one town to the next.

Source: Wayne Martin, Extension Educator, Alternative Livestock Systems

The Small Farms U Program at the University of Minnesota Extension is offering a workshop on basic lambing management practices that will be held on Tuesday evening, April 15, 2014, from 5:30-9:00 p.m. The workshop will be held at the Beef Cattle Barn on the St Paul Campus. The Beef Cattle Barn is located on the corner of Buford and Gortner Avenues.

This workshop is designed for the person who has little experience raising sheep, or is thinking about starting a flock, or who already has a few sheep but feels that more management skills would be a worthy investment. It will be taught by Kyle Rozeboom, Livestock Specialist in the Animal Science Department, Wayne Martin, Alternative Livestock Systems Specialist with Extension, and Sarah Easter Strayer, Veternarian, UMN. Topics to be covered include, but are not limited to the following:


  • Ewe Care

  • Housing/facilities

  • Lamb Management Practices

  • Disease management/Vaccination program


Starts at 5:30 with registration and dinner that will include freshly roasted lamb, sliced for sandwiches, and other goodies to go with it. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged. Cost of the workshop is $20/adult, $30/couple or business partners, and $10/student. Please contact Wayne Martin at marti067@umn.edu , or (612) 625-6224.

Tips for Successful Lambing

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

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

Managing Cold Stress in Cattle

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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.

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

Bale Grazing Reduces Inputs

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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.

Be Safe this Fall!

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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

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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 http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu or http://www.extension.umn.edu/nutrient-management/
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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.

Pricing Corn Silage

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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.

Spring Planting and Care of Trees

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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 http://z.umn.edu/e8m.

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: http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/. 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 http://z.umn.edu/e8n.

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

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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 http://z.umn.edu/cowbalancer. 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 http://z.umn.edu/feedlotbalancer. 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.

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