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Soil Testing: Why It’s Important and How to Get Started

Did you know there is a simple tool available to help landowners and producers know how much fertilizer to use in their gardens, lawns and fields? This tool is a soil sample test. A soil test first determines the nutrients available in your soil. Then, the nutrient requirements of the forage you wish to grow are considered and fertilizer recommendations are provided based off your soil test. You can use these recommendations to apply the correct amount of each fertilizer component in your pasture. More forage growth is seen because your forages have the correct amount of required nutrients. Additionally, less nutrients (and money) are wasted compared to fertilizing fields with a “best guess” mixture and amount that lacks scientific calculations based off your soil.

Taking a soil test in your pasture is easy. You just need to contact your local Extension Office or Regional Extension Agent. You should collect about 20 samples of soil from various locations in your field. Dig soil 6-8 inches deep, or use a soil probe that can be borrowed from the County Extension Office or Agent. Once samples are collected, mix them well and place 1 pint in a soil sample box to send to the Soil Testing Laboratory at Auburn University. Soil sample boxes, information sheets, and other supplies for soil testing are available from your County Extension Office. More information can be found online at: http://www.aces.edu/anr/soillab/forms/index.php

Your soil test results allow you to properly fertilize your pastures, which leads to better forage growth and less waste. Why guess next time you purchase fertilizer? Get optimum forage growth and increased forage availability for your livestock by performing an easy soil test. For more information on this and other Extension topics, please contact Sarah Dickinson, Animal Sciences and Forages Regional Extension Agent, at 256-537-0024, sed0029@auburn.edu or the Chambers County Extension Office at 334-864-9373. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

The Worms Go Marching: Combating Fall Army Worm Infestations

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Many producers vividly remember their encounters with fall army worms. The discovery of large, later stage army worms in one’s pasture quickly leads to tremendous destruction of valuable forage. Producers generally see the damage of these pests in late July/August through early fall.

Mature fall army worm moths lay eggs that hatch after just 2-4 days. Upon hatching, young army worms begin to feed and grow. Army worm growth occurs in stages, with the worms’ capacity for destruction increasing with each growth stage. Army worms reach full size 2-3 weeks after hatching, and will then burrow into the soil for 10-14 days. Afterward, they emerge as mature army worm moths and continue the life cycle.

A key to managing fall army worms is the understanding of their life cycle and growth phases. Shortly after hatching, small worms are far less destructive than their more mature counterparts. Figure 1 demonstrates the amount of damage observed from worms at each growth stage. Notice that the vast majority of damage occurs during the last growth phase (which occurs 2 weeks after their hatching). Scouting for worms before you notice their destruction allows for one to spray and kill the worms while they are small and in earlier, less destructive growth phases. This reduces their negative impacts on one’s pastures and allows for better control of future infestations since the lifecycle is interrupted.

Fall armyworm

Use a sweep net to scan your pastures for worms. Follow the links to view a video or article on proper sweep net usage. Treatment for fall army worms is effective if worms are found early on. If infestation is discovered too late, major destruction may be unavoidable. This is why it is essential to scout for worms BEFORE you notice their impact on your forages. Once discovered, worms can be killed by spraying. Click here for an article that contains suggestions for fall army worm control.

Also, remember to help your fellow producers know if army worms are in your area by reporting occurrences of fall army worms. Click here to view the updated map of army worm infestation in Alabama, and let us know if you have fall army worms.

More information about fall army worms is available at the Alabama Forages Pest Management website in the Fall Armyworm section.

If you have questions regarding managing fall armyworms, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050


Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Beef Cow Evaluation Tips for Selective Culling of the Herd

In hot, dry years beef cow evaluation and selective culling of the herd can allow for better management of limited resources and enhance the average production per animal to boost herd productivity in future years.

When resources are abundant and calf prices are high, it is tempting to retain cows that are not pulling their weight in adding to your bottom line. While such animals reduce one’s profitability regardless of scenario, utilizing selective culling to eliminate these individuals is of utmost importance for management of the herd in times when climate fluctuations lead to lowered nutrient availability. By culling low producing individuals, the overall herd size is reduced allowing hay and pasture to be better stretched among remaining animals. Furthermore, income from the marketing of culled animals can be used to purchase hay or feedstuffs for the upcoming winter. The following checklist outlines criteria that should be considered when evaluating the cowherd, and may be of special relevance in low resource availability years when stringent culling is necessary.

  1. Pregnancy Status: Regardless of climate and market reports, cows that do not produce a calf annually reduce profitability and consume resources needed by their productive herdmates. Open cows should be identified and culled following the conclusion of the breeding season. If you do not have a defined breeding season, keep in mind that a cow must conceive within roughly 80 days of calving to maintain a 365-day calving interval. If she’s open for months longer, she’s not earning her keep. Work with a veterinarian to establish dates for pregnancy examination by palpation or ultrasound, or consider utilizing blood samples sent to a diagnostic lab to determine pregnancy status.
  2. Teeth/Eyes/Feet/Udder: Animals with physical limitations may slip through the culling process in high resource availability years. However, animals unable to easily travel and consume available forage are more likely to lose condition and experience reduced productivity than their physically capable herd mates, and animals with poor udder/teat quality may experience calf loss following birth if suckling is prevented. Culling such animals before a fall calving season and the start of winter feeding eliminates candidates for lowered productivity up front, and marketing these animals before rapid weight loss or health decline results in a more desirable final product and higher compensation.
  3. Body Condition Score (BCS): A BCS allows one to determine the condition of the cowherd. Animals are scored through visual appraisal and external palpation, and a score of 1(emaciated) to 9(obese) is assigned.  At calving, beef cows should have a minimal BCS of 5 to allow for maximum productivity. Thin cows approaching the calving season can lead to lowered pregnancy rates in the upcoming breeding season. BCS appraisal at calf weaning, followed by management to improve condition in thin, dry cows allows such animals to gain condition by calving time. On average, a mature beef cow requires 80 pounds of gain to move up one BCS. However, without adequate feedstuffs to allow for proper gain before calving, culling thin cows at weaning minimizes reduced future production of the herd.
  4. Low production record: Cows that wean late and/or light weight calves pull down the overall productivity of the herd. If conditions require additional culling, look to these animals to lessen your total numbers and increase average productivity per animal.
  5. Disposition: Culling animals with flighty or aggressive behaviors may reduce frustration, producer injury, and fence/equipment damage.
  6. Cows calving out of season or that lack uniformity with the herd: Animals that calve in a season differing from the main herd or that differ in frame size, breed composition, or color may be good candidates for marketing in years when low resources lead to necessary reduction of the herd. Producing uniform calves of the same weight, age, and type can pay dividends when it comes time to wean and market calves. Eliminating animals from the herd that prevent such uniformity may improve overall future profitability. Importantly, such animals can be marketed through different avenues than animals culled for the criteria 1-5 listed above to. Quality individuals that don’t calve in your calving season or are not of the same type as the remainder of your herd may fit others’ calving seasons or herd profiles perfectly. Take advantage of value added marketing schemes to reap the full benefit these animals offer.

While each operation differs in goals and objectives, balance usage of the above cow evaluation criteria can help producers make educated culling or selling decisions in times when resources are both bountiful or limited.

See more articles with further information of this type:

If you have questions regarding cow evaluation and culling/marketing strategies to enhance your program’s profitability, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050


Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Sarah Dickinson joins ACES Animal Science and Forages Team

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension System welcomes Sarah Dickinson to the statewide Animal Science and Forages team as a Regional Extension Agent serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa counties.  An Alabama native, Dickinson was raised on her family’s beef cattle operation in Citronelle and became involved in 4-H Livestock project. She exhibited swine and beef market projects in Alabama and beef heifers in state and across the county. Sarah’s heifer projects and utilization of artificial insemination led to the development of her small herd of Simmental influenced females, Sarah Dickinson Simmental Farm.

Sarah earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Auburn University in 2014. She was actively involved in the Auburn Block and Bridle club, Ag Ambassadors, Auburn Collegiate Cattlemen, and American Junior Simmental Association during her college years, and nourished a strong passion for the agriculture community during this time. She then traveled to Columbia, Missouri and was mentored by Dr. Michael Smith of the University of Missouri. There, she recently completed her Master’s degree in Animal Science concentrating on beef cattle reproduction. Dickinson’s Thesis research was centered on increasing AI pregnancy rates in beef cows following a single, fixed-time insemination. More specifically, she examined the effect of ovulatory follicle size on oocyte (egg) competence in beef females following estrous synchronization.

The cattle through which Sarah’s research data was obtained were located at Fort Keogh, a USDA research station in Miles City, Montana. Therefore, she spent two summers in southeastern Montana gathering data and learning about beef cattle production on the high plains. Sarah’s beef production knowledge was also broadened in Missouri by her extensive training in extension work related to beef cattle reproductive management. Here, she became proficient in beef heifer reproductive tract scoring and pelvic measurements, beef cattle estrous synchronization procedures, artificial insemination, palpation, and ultrasonography. Sarah was further mentored by Dr. David Patterson, and gained a strong understanding of principles surrounding beef heifer development through involvement with the Missouri Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program©.

Sarah is housed in the Tallapoosa County extension office, and is excited to make an impact on Alabama’s agricultural community. She states: “I feel blessed to have the opportunity to provide relevant information to help my fellow producers advance their given endeavors. I cannot relay how grateful I am to the talented individuals who mentored me in our state and across the country, and am now excited to put my scientific training, production background, and networking skills to use by helping others!”

Please contact Sarah with animal science or forage related questions, programming ideas for your area, or to discuss agriculture and your operation.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050


Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Pond Weeds


Got pond weeds? There is a plethora of aquatic vegetation that can potentially plague ponds across Alabama. Filamentous algae, duckweed, southern naiad, watershield, and several species of water lily are just a few of the weeds that come to mind. There are several other types of aquatic vegetation that can become a nuisance for pond owners across the state. The first step in dealing with aquatic vegetation is to correctly identify the species you have in your pond. Then you can take proper measures to control and/or eradicate these unwanted plants. There are several options in controlling “pond weeds.” Mechanical, biological, and chemical treatments are the 3 different ways to combat unwanted vegetation.

Mechanical treatment is simply the removal of weeds by hand or with use of machinery. This is a great tool in conjunction with one of the other two methods, especially in small ponds where weeds have covered a large surface area. Rarely is mechanical removal a complete solution, due to seed, roots, or other plant particles being left in the pond, which will eventually allow the vegetation to grow again.

Biological control generally refers to the stocking of grass carp (white amur) to feed on and help control vegetation growth. Correct identification of your pond weeds will tell you whether grass carp will be beneficial. Some weeds in Alabama may not be controlled by grass carp, whereas others may be completely controlled using these fish. It is also important to remember that grass carp will benefit your pond for the first 5 or so years that they are stocked. After that, the fish do not feed as heavily as they do the first few years, thus allowing vegetation to grow back.

Chemical treatment is our third treatment option and can be a very effective method for controlling pond weeds. Again, correct identification of vegetation in your pond is needed to accurately prescribe a herbicide treatment. Based on what “weed” you are dealing with, a professional will then tell you what chemical (active ingredient) you need to control said weed. Some recommendations may suggest a combination of herbicides. It is of utmost importance to ALWAYS READ THE LABEL of any herbicide before applying. Never apply a terrestrial (land use) herbicide in an aquatic setting. Always look to purchase a herbicide that is labeled for aquatic use. There are all kinds of brands and tradenames for herbicides with the same active ingredients. When comparing products, recommend comparing prices while also looking at the amount of active ingredient in each formula and the recommended application rate. This will allow you to find the “best bang for your buck.” For more information on Fish Pond Management including Aquatic weed control, please visit our webpage www.alearn.info, then click on “Recreational Fishing.” Through this website you can also view a list of grass carp suppliers and a list of Pond Management Consultants who can provide herbicide application. For more information on this and other Extension topics, please contact Jordan Graves, Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resource Management Regional Extension Agent, at 334-672-4826, jdg0041@aces.edu or the Chambers County Extension Office at 334-864-9373. The Alabama

Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Everyone is welcome!




A Chambers County landowner recently had an unwelcomed visitor – Cogongrass. Cogongrass is an aggressive exotic perennial grass that was introduced to Mobile, Alabama in 1911. It was used in packing material from Japan. Cogongrass is spreading rapidly across Alabama, reducing forest productivity, destroying wildlife habitat, and encroaching in pasture and hayland acreage. Cogongrass can quickly become the dominant understory plant which can outcompete the desired vegetation. Cogongrass is highly flammable and creates a severe fire hazard, especially in drought conditions and the winter. The extreme temperatures generated when cogongrass burns can kill seedling trees and native plants. Dense stands of cogongrass will also destroy wildlife habitat by out-competing native grasses and forbs utilized as forage.


Cogongrass forms patches in a circular pattern. It grows in full sunlight to partial shade and varies in height from 1 to 4 feet. Leaves measure .5- to 1-inch wide and are commonly 12 to 30 inches long. The whitish upper midrib of a mature leaf is often not centered on the blade. Leaf margins are rough to the touch due to tiny serrations. The leaves appear to grow directly from the soil, but short stems are present. The plant is hairless except where a few short hairs can be found at the node (where the leaf grows from the stem). Seed heads (fluffy, white, plume-like) range from 2 to 8 inches in length and appear in late spring, early summer, or after a disturbance. Each seed has silky, white hairs that are wind dispersed. Rhizomes of cogongrass are white, segmented, branched, and are sharp pointed and often pierce the roots of other plants.

Recommended Control Measures

Tillage can eliminate new patches of Cogongrass if continued during the growing season. Herbicides with the active ingredients Glyphosate and Imazapyr have been used to effectively control established stands of cogongrass; however, the plant often regenerates within a year following a single application. A minimum of two applications per year is needed, with older infestations requiring 2 to 3 years of treatment to eliminate rhizomes. Herbicide labels specify application methods, rates and precautions – which should be followed. Cogongrass is often spread throughout the state by contaminated equipment. To prevent spread of Cogongrass, do not mow, bush hog, or go through the grass when seed heads are present. Do not work in an infested area when soil is muddy, as rhizomes can break off and get stuck on equipment. Do not push roads or fire lanes or grade roads through cogongrass. If you must work in Cogongrass-infested areas, it is important to clean vehicles, equipment, and clothing before moving into an uncontaminated site.

For more information and Cogongrass photographs, please see Extension Publications ANR-1241 at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1241/ANR-1241.pdf and ANR 1321 at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1321/ANR-1321.pdf . If you have further questions or need assistance in identification, please contact your Chambers County Extension office (334-864-9373), Forestry Commission (334-864-9368), or NRCS (334-745-4791, ext. 3) office.

Quality Down the Tracks

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Alabama Angus family 2015 CAB Commercial Commitment to Excellence honoree

Story and photos by Laura Conaway

Jimmy Collins pays no mind to the freight train. Faint in the distance, then all at once overpowering, it demands attention as it bursts through his family’s land several times a day.

Sometimes even the cows take notice.

Way back in the 1850s, long before his family turned a 680-acre cotton farm into a cattle ranch, the train was there. Every day since, it serves as a reminder of life beyond the cattle and comfort of home.

The roads weren’t paved, the land in row crops and highly eroded, but James Smart Collins II wanted cows. Beef cattle to be specific. From Montgomery, Ala., he and his family operated J.S. Collins Dairy through the Great Depression and came to know the land 75 miles northeast of him that had no flowing water but nearly 40 natural springs.

“My grandfather bought the farm in ’43,” James (Jimmy) Collins IV recalls and in the 72 years since, generations of Collinses have raised even more generations of Angus cattle on ground near Cusseta, Ala., that’s sustained them both.

On September 26, the Collinses were presented the 2015 Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand Commercial Commitment to Excellence Award for their dedication to developing the best merits of the breed.

On behalf of the family that includes matriarch Era Claire, Jimmy and wife, Mary, and his son Jim and wife, Jennifer, accepted the award with children Taylor Brown and Jay Collins in the audience.

Gaze across a Collins pasture and it may seem as if Angus cattle have been the only kind to graze it, but the Collinses tried a bit of everything before they settled on the breed that gained them recognition.

“It was about improving quality—building numbers to start with—and then improving the quality of the herd,” Jimmy says. “It’s been a continuous process since then.”

Having “showed many a Hereford steer through high school,” he switched to Angus his senior year and soon after, the herd followed suit.

“We were looking to grow from carcass information and wanted rid of the problems with udders and eyes,” Jimmy says. “Crunching numbers, Angus looked like a better alternative. It’s such a strong breed.”

Those early calculations proved true and it wasn’t long before they were running a purebred operation from 10 bred heifers purchased in 1959, eventually selling nearly 100 bulls a year.

With the farm not large enough to support all the families, Jimmy took a position with Farm Credit Services upon graduation from Auburn University. Decades later, when he transitioned to a real estate business, he advised the family to transition to a commercial herd.

Living on the farm and commuting to town each day, mornings and late afternoons were spent tending to cattle while workdays went to financing crops, cattle and equipment for neighboring ranchers and later real estate sales. For years, three generations of Collins men worked together with their families to improve their cattle and impress the consumer at the end of the line.

The 350 commercial cows are carefully managed and selected with the same detail as the family’s 50 head of registered stock. Keeper heifers must catch within the first 21 days. Then there are parameters on birth weight, EPDs (expected progeny differences) and results from GeneMax® (GMX) tests to measure gain and grade in non-registered cattle.

The first group for the DNA-based test in the spring of 2013 set a benchmark for the herd, all while helping to identify outliers. GMX scores from 50 heifers showed the top 75% scored 74 or better, compared to the national average of 50. But the Collinses don’t stop with heifers. They run the Zoetis HD50K test on young bulls to increase EPD accuracy. Then they pair that information with GMX Advantage™ scores on all heifer calves to match sires with progeny.

“We try to run a balanced program, rather than chasing outliers,” Jimmy says. “Sure, it’s a slower process, but when you get there, you’re there. We look at growth and carcass quality and strive to be a tier above the industry average.”

Even more, he adds, “We have tried to be more aggressive and balance growth characteristics over time with maternal traits.”

Maternal traits are what keep longtime customers like Omer McCants, Talbotton, Ga., coming back each year.

“I started six years ago and purchased 17 bred heifers and I’ve purchased every year since,” the Army veteran says. “I was impressed with the quality and durability of them. The Collins cows could hit the ground and stay. They didn’t lose.”

Terry Harris, Boston, Ga., can tell of cows he purchased from the Collinses 11 years ago that maintain and reproduce today. Then there are cattlemen new to the business like Jones Woody, Culloden, Ga., who has followed his calves on feed in Iowa and received carcass data showing 81% CAB and USDA Prime.

In an industry that sometimes resists change, the Collins men have embraced it in the transition from complete phenotypic to a combination of genetic and phenotypic selection.

“It’s a matter of surviving really and truly,” Jimmy says. “You’ve got to be productive and you can do what you want, but it better be successful and work for the folks who are going to be consuming the end product.”

Right on down the tracks.

Note to Reader: For a video overview of Collins Farms, visit



Collins 3 Collins 4 Collins 1 Collins Award

The whole family is involved in improving quality. Pictured here from left: (front row) Era Claire Collins, Mary Collins, Jay Collins, Jennifer Collins, herdsman Jim Lane, (back row) Meredyth Brown, Jimmy Collins, Jim Collins and Taylor Brown
The whole family is involved in improving quality. Pictured here from left: (front row) Era Claire
Collins, Mary Collins, Jay Collins, Jennifer Collins, herdsman Jim Lane, (back row) Meredyth
Brown, Jimmy Collins, Jim Collins and Taylor Brown

Jack Tatum, Regional Extension Agent


Chambers County is home to over 12,000 head of cattle. In addition, 4-H youth are very successful in the showing of cattle at the local, state and national level. Also, Chambers County has one of the top Simmental and Simmental-Angus cross sales that generates over $200, 000 in the November sale. Add to that fact that some commercial and purebred breeders generate excellent dollars in purebred and commercial sales throughout Alabama and Florida. Not to be left out is that horses and goats are also scattered throughout the county. With this involvement of livestock, this calls for an excellent forage and hay production process.

As a Regional Extension Agent if is my job to make sure that needs of the clientele are met in Chambers County.

Jack Tatum
Regional Extension Agent

Agronomic Crops


Regional Extension Agent, Christy Hicks, provides the latest University Research and Industry Technology to Row Crop Farmers. She can also diagnosis problems they may have in the field related to disease, insects or environmental factors. Throughout the year, Christy conducts on farm trials to help farmers make the best decisions on variety selection of crops. Production meetings are held in the winter and a Crops Tour is held in the summer. In addition, she also writes monthly newsletter that contain timely information.

For more information on these and other related topics, for contact information, or to view the calendar of upcoming seminars and events, visit the Chambers County Extension Office’s Agriculture page.