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What did the Drought do to my Calving Season?

Memories of the fall of 2016 and its impacts on pasture availability and cow nutritional status are still fresh on most every Alabama cattle producer’s mind.  As fall calving programs move past the breeding season and spring programs focus on this important time, many producers are likely scratching their heads as to what impacts the drought may have on their cowherd’s breeding season success. This is rightly so, as lowered grazing availability likely led to some loss of body condition in many herds, and stand loss may leave some producers without adequate summer forage emergence.

The drought’s effects on your herd’s breeding season can be closely tied to the nutrition you were able to provide your animals to maintain their body condition score (BCS) throughout the calving and breeding season. Cows that calved at BCS lower than five could have experienced poor performance in the breeding season for two reasons:

1. Cows that calve at a BCS lower than five take more time to return to cycling than their BCS 5+ herdmates. Expect thin animals at calving to take an added 20+ days to return to cycling past their appropriately conditioned herdmates.

2.Animals that have a BCS lower than five during the breeding season experience lower pregnancy rates per breeding. Animals of BCS 4 or lower may experience a conception rate 10-30% lower than their BCS 5+ pasture mates.

Follow these two links (link 1, link 2) to learn more about BCS and its impact on pregnancy outcomes in your herd.

These facts are helpful in managing cattle to have a successful breeding season, but if the season has passed and you are questioning exactly what impact the drought had on your operation’s reproductive success, keep this factor in mind:  

You can know the pregnancy status of your herd quickly and economically. It is extremely important to perform annual pregnancy examination in your herd to identify and cull open cows. However if you are resistant to pregnancy check your herd, keep in mind that this year may be the most important year to implement this management practice. If cows became thin during the breeding season and you move forward on “faith alone” until calving time, there is a very high chance that you will experience lower calving rates than you had hoped for or seen in previous years. Pregnancy check cows 60 days after the conclusion of the breeding season or at calf weaning time to gain a true perspective on your herd’s reproductive status. With no pregnancy exam, you may feed open cows for 6-7 months before realizing that there is a problem. Without this information, you cannot manage your herd for profit potential as you look into the near future. Click here to read more about pregnancy exam options and how such knowledge can impact your herd.

Once you know your herd’s pregnancy status, you can make management decisions to increase your profitability outlook. You will also have tools to help you cull appropriate animals if the drought returns.

1. You will know which cows are not doing their job. Regardless of your breeding season existence or length, cows that are not pregnant by the time of traditional  calf weaning are not performing up to par. These animals are keeping you from reaching your profit potential and are consuming resources away from their herdmates. They need to go – even if they may become pregnant after weaning. Keeping such animals will only lower your herd’s overall reproductive performance and slowly suck dollars from you bottom line.

2.You will know what to expect for the upcoming calving season. If the drought led to thin cows at calving and breeding, you may have a higher percentage of late calving animals. Knowing your expected calving distribution will help you divide your manpower at calving time and begin thinking of a plan for calf marketing and how to manage cows to calve earlier in subsequent years.

3. You can combine body condition scoring with pregnancy examination to help identify thin, pregnant cows that may need additional supplementation to improve their condition before calving. Remember, we want cows to calve at a BCS 5-6. Post weaning is the best time to improve condition on thin cows. Evaluate your pasture availability and consider your ability to get weight on thin cows. Keep in mind that cows should gain about 80 pounds to improve one BCS. It is critical to return thin cows to an acceptable BCS before calving to limit the negative impacts of last year’s drought on your herd. If you do not have adequate pasture for such gains, you will need to supplement feed. Thin, pregnant cows with low production records may be a logical culling option if pasture availability is low and you do not have the resources to supplement feed.

If you have a large number of open cows at pregnancy check, you may be faced with hard decisions. There are several options to successfully move past this disheartening news:

1. Evaluate your cowherd. Discover possible reasons for the very low pregnancy rates. What is the herd average BCS? Were many cows of all ages open, or just your 2-3 year olds? What is the bull’s BCS and age? What was your bull:cow ratio? Did the bulls pass a breeding soundness exam before the breeding season?

2.Thin cows can be expected to gain weight at calf weaning if adequate grazing or supplement is available. If calves are still nursing and you are early in the breeding season, consider early weaning to allow cows to gain weight and hopefully avoid the low pregnancy rates we are currently discussing. Follow these two links to learn more about early weaning options (link 1, link 2)

3. If your breeding season is well over, consider the advantages and disadvantages of converting to a spring and fall calving season. In some herds, this management scheme works extremely well. Thin, open cows at this year’s pregnancy check can be moved to the opposite breeding season to reduce culling rates and still maintain a defined calving season. It is important to maintain a strict culling of animals in subsequent years to avoid creating a “reproductively lazy” herd. Using this second breeding season to strategically produce bred cows for sale versus open cull cows is also a viable option.

4.Retain your high standards. If your pasture availability is very low and you need lower stocking rates for your fields to recover, these open cows may be just your ticket. Culling of higher than normal numbers of open cows will lead to an increase in immediate monetary intake while decreasing your stocking rates for the near future as your pasture recovers. Rebuild your herd as your forages recover.

If the drought wreaked havoc on your breeding season, remember that it may take a few years to return to an ideal breeding season length. However, through proper management strategies of correct nutrition, strict culling, and replacing open or late calving animals with early calving heifers or purchased cows you can recover your herd from possible impacts of the 2016 drought.

If you have questions about determining and improving your herd’s reproductive performance, 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

Ph.D. Student – Reproductive Physiology / Molecular Genomics

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

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

Trying New Vegetable Seeds Can Be Fun

Have you ever given much thought to the vegetable seeds you plant? Why do you plant them? Taste? Production? Disease resistance? Recommended from a friend? Many people plant the same cultivars each year and never think of planting anything else. The Extension System has taught many tomato workshops over the years and have a tomato taste test as part of the program. Many gardeners bring in some of their favorite tomatoes. We assign the tomato a number, then slice it up for tasting. Participants eat the tomatoes, not even knowing which one they brought. It is very interesting to see the participants who have grown a particular tomato for years because they thought it was the best, only to actually like several others that they have never grown. There are actually thousands of different tomato cultivars to choose from, and I do not know if someone would ever eat fruit from all of them but they can certainly have fun trying.

One question is where would someone find different tomato cultivars? Nurseries and farm supply stores have many cultivars ready for transplanting, and growing your own transplants is an option as well. Seed starting can be fun, and this opens the door to thousands of cultivars. The Extension System can help you if you have questions about growing transplants.

Tomato plants get several diseases that lower production, and cultivar selection could help decrease some of those diseases. Some of the common problems you can find resistance to include fusarium wilt and nematodes. However, resistance to verticillium wilt, alternaria stem canker, bacterial speck, gray leaf spot, tobacco mosaic wilt virus, and others are available. Tomato spotted wilt virus is common, and cultivars such as Bella Rosa, Amelia, BHN 640, Christa, Primo Red, and others are resistant. Growers can even find heat set tomatoes. Many tomatoes do not set fruit well with temperatures in the 90’s. While tomatoes do not perform well with high temperatures, the heat set tomatoes do better than others. Some of the heat set tomato cultivars include Phoenix, Red Bounty, Redline, Solar Fire, and others. Some tomatoes are more suitable for greenhouse production or high tunnel production than others, and choosing the right cultivar for those locations is very important.

Just check the tags where you purchase plants or seeds, and it will list the plant resistance. Tomatoes are not the only crop in which you can find disease resistant cultivars. If you have questions about disease resistance, seed starting, or most anything else, just call your local Extension office for additional information.

by Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent for Commercial Horticulture

Fertilize Old Pecan Trees to Improve Production

Have you ever wondered why the nuts on your pecan tree are undeveloped?  There are several pests that pecan trees can get.  These pests include pecan scab, downy spot disease, fungal leaf scorch, pecan phylloxera, and black pecan aphids.  These pests decrease the productivity of the tree.  Homeowners can not spray big pecan trees like the commercial growers.  But, planting disease resistant trees, along with proper fertilization, will help your pecan production.

Some of the recommended pecans that are scab resistant are hard to find at nurseries and may need to be ordered a year in advance. Pecan nurseries and much more information on pecan trees are listed on the Alabama Pecan Growers Web site at www.alabamapecangrowers.com.

Cross-pollination should be considered when planting pecan trees.  A particular pecan cultivar does not receive pollen at the same time the tree sheds pollen. Generally, the more different cultivars (types) of trees in the planting, the greater the chance for cross-pollination.

If you already have an established pecan orchard, fertilization is about the only way to increase production.  Of course a soil test is the best way to know for sure how much to fertilize your pecan trees.  But if you have not had a soil test done, there are some general guidelines to follow for fertilizing your pecan trees.

You should apply the following:  1 pound of 13-13-13 per tree per year of age up to 25 pounds per tree.  Plus, 1 pound of ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) per tree per year of age up to 20 pounds per tree.  Plus, 1/10 pound of zinc sulfate per tree per year of age up to 2 pounds per tree.  Plus, 5 pounds of dolomitic limestone per tree per year age up to 100 pounds per tree.

That may sound confusing.  Basically, if your trees are more than 25 years old you need 25 pounds of 13-13-13, 20 pounds of ammonia nitrate, 2 pounds of zinc, and 100 pounds of lime per year per tree.

For large trees, apply all of the fertilizer in March.  For younger trees, apply all of the 13-13-13 fertilizer, lime, and zinc in March.  Apply half the ammonium nitrate in April and the remainder in June.

The use of a mechanical spreader may help ensure an even application of the fertilizers.  Do not disturb the soil before applying the fertilizer.  Spread it under and around the tree in an area twice the branch spread of the tree.  The dolomite lime is the cheapest, but pelletized lime is easier to spread.

Remember that many pecan trees tend to be alternate bearers.  That means if they produce a heavy crop one year they may produce a light crop the next year.  Fertilizing is very important, but there are other things you can do to increase production.

Overcrowding can be a problem.  When the trees are close together and the limbs begin to overlap you may want to remove a few limbs.  This will increase air circulation and sunlight in the canopy of the tree. Mulching the trees can also help.

Alabama Extension Launches Avian Influenza Website

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has launched www.AlabamaAvianInfluenza.com in response to the recent confirmed cases of avian influenza in Tennessee.

“This website will be Extension’s education portal for consumers, backyard flock owners and commercial operators,” said Dr. Gary Lemme, Alabama Extension director.  “The site features important information on biosecurity measures for backyard keepers in particular.”

The website, www.AlabamaAvianInfluenza.com, features up-to-date information about the current status of Tennessee outbreak avian influenza as well as resource materials including fact sheets and videos.

Alabama is one of the nation’s leaders in broiler chicken production. The state’s poultry industry creates more than $15 billion in revenue and employs more than 86,000 workers in the state.

Farm & Agribusiness Management Services Available

Alabama Cooperative Extension has created a Farm & Agribusiness Management team of regional agents to be a resource for business and economics related questions producers may have. With decisions increasingly tied to analytics and trying to decide what makes sense financially, the farm and agribusiness agents are available to provide information that will help in making those decisions. Information can include:

  • How to create a business plan for new or beginning farmers.
  • Bookkeeping and tax information to ensure records are accurate while being informed and taking advantage of existing tax law.
  • Enterprise budgets for producers to use and plan their year.
  • Assistance with marketing through social media and other strategies to increase awareness of the business.
  • Transition and estate planning information is available and lastly, a specialized farm financial tool that will provide detailed analysis and insight into a producers business.

FINPACK

The farm financial analysis tool is through software called FINPACK, a business application used to examine a farms financial position. This was developed by University of Minnesota’s Center for Farm Financial Management as a way to help producers analyze their current position, plan for the future and have data on the financial health of their operation.

There are several options available to producers who are interested in having a FINPACK review. Not only will the software produce common financial statements such as a balance sheet, cash flow, and income statement. It will run ‘what-if’ scenarios for farms to see how their business could be affected by various situations. For instance, the 2016 drought that impacted much of Alabama, if a producer had their information within the FINPACK system, they could contact Extension and see the effects on their operation for increased feed costs, additional cattle being sold or any other sales or expenditures they are considering. Another example, a producer that has always produced strawberries may be interested to see what would happen if they shifted some of their strawberry production into blueberries, the FINPACK project will be able to run several different scenarios changing parameters such as price, acreage, expense and market conditions. Projections are not guarantees but more information on financials can help producers make informed decisions.

If you would like to have a review, a balance sheet and budget are information agents need in order to be able to complete the analysis. Farm and agribusiness agents are available to help producers create these items to be ready for a review. As with all Extension programs, the information and service is free or low-cost in an effort to provide impactful research-based education to communities. Additionally, all financial information will remain private to the producer and the agents working to complete the review.

Livestock

As livestock producers get ready to file their taxes for 2016, they may consider discussing cattle sales with their accountant. The IRS provides tax relief in events like weather disasters and this past year much of Alabama was affected by the drought. We know because of the drought, producers had to manage animals differently. Either additional purchases of feed were necessary or additional livestock were sold in order to consume fewer resources. If producers decided to sell additional livestock, the IRS provides tax breaks and ACES has information on that. Your local livestock agent, Sarah Dickinson, is a great resource for information to manage the animals or land and your local agribusiness agent, Kevin Burkett, has additional information on taxes and any other items in this article.

Agriculture producers in Alabama may be interested in learning more about Alabama Cooperative Extension’s new farm and agribusiness management team by contacting their local Extension office.

Pasture Management in the Winter-Spring Transition

The time surrounding spring green-up offers livestock producers an excellent opportunity to manage their pastures for success through the spring and summer months.

To maximize forage production through the summer, producers should take this time to establish and begin implementing a plan to:

1)     Evaluate Pastures for Drought Related Damage

2)     Begin Pasture Renovation if Needed

3)     Control Pasture Weeds

4)     Establish Proper Soil Fertility

5)     Set Up Grazing Systems to Reach Success

Let’s talk first about drought related matters…Did you know that sections of Alabama still remain in extreme drought? Furthermore, the northern counties of East Central Alabama are still in a severe drought as of 02/27/2017. To look up the drought status of your county, click here to go to the Alabama Drought Monitor.

Pasture Evaluation and Renovation:

As we enter the spring green up in drought recovery years, pasture assessment can help producers evaluate the impact of the drought on their summer perennial pastures. NRCS has an excellent system for examining pastures, and their Guide to Pasture Condition Scoring can be viewed here. In brief, once summer perennials emerge, you will want to determine what species are present (is this the type of forage you desire, or have weeds taken over?) and how well the forages cover your pasture (what percentage of the ground is covered by plants and what percentage is left bare?), plus other important factors.

If pastures grade poorly, with low amounts of desired summer grasses emerging after green up, you may need to consider pasture renovation. Here is a quick guideline to use when determining the amount of renovation you may need:

  1. If you get a 70% or greater stand of your summer perennial pasture grasses, your pasture is well on its way to recovering without much help. It should recover quickly with proper grazing strategies, weed control, and desired soil fertility. You will want to take care of this pasture as it emerges. Do not allow animals to graze too early, but you should expect good recovery under correct management.
  2. If a 40-70% stand emerges, pastures should still fully recover with weed control, proper fertility, grazing management, and perhaps a bit more patience. Though forage emergence is lower in stands of 40-70%, there are still adequate tillers underground. Between tillers and seed production, pastures should recover by fall. If these pastures are still thin in the fall, overseeding for winter annuals and/or legumes may prove helpful to keep soil covered and provide grazing through winter.
  3. In pastures with a stand <40%, much patience and effort will be needed for pasture recovery. Proper soil fertility and weed control are still important, but you may also need to re-establish desired forages in such pastures or consider utilizing a summer annual in some scenarios. You may also want to utilize winter annuals and legumes until the pasture has recovered. Click here to see the suggested planting dates for Alabama forages, and be wise if you decide to work towards re-establishing lost stands. Remember that newly planted grass will need adequate moisture and proper care to survive. It may not be a good idea to plant new perennial stands immediately if we remain in drought conditions.

Weed Control:

Weed control is a necessary part of pasture recovery. Weeds will compete with desired forage species for soil nutrients and sunlight. If pastures became bare during the drought, weeds were given an ideal scenario for growth. After this, weeds can smother out our already weakened stands of summer grasses as they attempt to emerge post-winter. There are two types of weed control you can do now:

  1. Winter Weed Control: Winter broadleaf weeds may not seem like much of an issue right now. But as we continue into spring, their presence and growth will overshadow desired summer forages as they attempt to emerge. Furthermore, such weeds are stealing valuable nutrients from the soil. Winter broadleaf weeds can be controlled now in most pastures with the usage of products like Sharpen, 2,4-D, Grazon, and Weedmaster. Make sure to read labels for guidelines, and only use herbicides on pastures when and where such products are labeled for use. If you have questions, contact a member of the Animal Science and Forages team and look up weed control options here.
  2. Summer Weed Control: You can treat summer perennial pastures before emergence with pre-emergent herbicide (Prowl H20). Before spraying pre-emergent, it is important to evaluate pasture emergence. Spraying after summer forages have begun to emerge may set desirable plants back. If you use Prowl H20, it is valuable to know that a supplemental label has been released that will allow you to use Prowl on certain pastures post-emergence, in the growing season, after cutting. See supplemental label here.

Soil Fertility:

Proper soil fertility and pH are necessary for optimum production in all years. However, proper soil conditions following drought are essential for pasture recovery. Take a soil test in all pastures today and correct soil deficiencies to allow pastures the opportunity to succeed. Click here for a more in depth discussion of soil testing.

Proper Grazing Strategies:

As summer forages emerge, it is important to correctly manage and graze recovering pastures. Remind yourself that the green leaves of grass are essential for the plant’s overall health and sustainability. Grass leaves catch sunlight that the plant uses to make energy (plant food). If we graze pastures too low, we greatly reduce the amount of leaf available to catch sunlight. This reduces the ability of the plant to make energy, and leads to slower pasture growth and recovery. Now is the time to set up a grazing system to allow you to rotate animals through pastures. Rotational grazing will allow your animals to better utilize the forage available in each pasture, and will increase forage growth since you keep animals from eating specific areas down too low. Healthier pastures will produce more forage, more quickly-allowing your animals better nutrition.

Now is the time to create and begin implementing a plan to allow your pastures to fully recover from drought! Be proactive by taking the steps above to ensure your success.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Regional Extension Agent I – Animal Science & Forages

Ph.D. Student – Reproductive Physiology/Molecular Biology

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

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

Measures of Herd Performance: Weaning Weight

Cow calf producers know that an increase calf weaning weight usually leads to an increase in calf value at weaning. Let’s discuss some different ways to look at weaning weights that may give us more insight to increase potential herd profitability than simply measuring weight weaned alone.

First, we will look at the “easy” measure of weaning performance…

Pounds Weaned: At the end of the day, cow calf producers sell pounds. A good measure of a cow’s performance lies within the actual and adjusted weaning weights of her calves. Actual weight is quite simple; this is the weight of an individual cow’s calf on the day it was weaned. This value is important to us, as it tells us what weight a cow actually generated to be sold. However, to look deeper into a cow’s potential for weaning heavy calves, we should look at the adjusted weaning weights of her calves. This takes cow age as well as calf age, birthweight, and sex into account, and better allows us to determine a cow’s performance potential. Let’s look at an example:

Once we know our weaning weights, we can take steps to improve these numbers through better genetics and management.  It’s important to realize that that both weaning weight measurements are important. Cows with high adjusted weaning weights have the most potential to wean heavy calves in your herd. On the other hand, the cow that calves early each year and weans the heaviest actual weight at weaning may not have the highest adjusted weaning weight. Her value equally important and is best highlighted through her ability to breed early. To move your operation to the next level you’ll want to seek out individuals excelling for both measurements as they’re likely the combination cows that bring home the most profit for you.

Knowing our herd weaning weights and adjusted weaning weights can be a very beneficial first step to increasing profitability. However, we can learn more about our herd’s productivity if we look past weights alone.

Therefore, it’s important to step back and look at a few additional measures of weaning performance…

Pounds weaned per cow exposed: It’s important to know not only our weaning weights, but also the percentage of our cows that actually wean a calf.  Cows that don’t wean a calf are feed-consuming members of our herd for at least part of the year, so we must account for them when evaluating herd performance. To learn the pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed, we look at both our calf weaning weight data and our herd’s ability to become pregnant and raise a calf to weaning. A good goal for beef herds is to wean 90+% of the potential calf crop. This means that if we had 100 cows, 90 of these cows would become pregnant, birth a live calf, and successfully care for it until weaning. As the percentage calf crop goes down, so does your farm’s pounds weaned per cow exposed and profit potential. Let’s look at another example:

We should also consider our cow weights…

Pounds weaned per pound of cow exposed: Your mature cow weights may be eating into your profitability. A mature cow will generally consume an additional 500-550 pounds of dry matter for every 100 pounds of added bodyweight. As the size of the average US cow increases, we need to account for this additional intake and make sure our bigger females are pulling their weight.  An 1100 pound cow that weaned a 500 pound calf has weaned 46% of her bodyweight, where a 1400 pound cow that weaned a 600 pound calf only weaned 43% of her bodyweight. Look beyond the raw weaning weight and ask yourself which cow is doing a better job. Reproductive performance in larger cows may also decline if their higher nutritional needs are not met; this could reduce your percentage calf crop weaned. Let’s look at a final example:

These are just a few ways to re-consider how you evaluate your herd’s weaning weights to add black ink to your profit equation.

Much of the above information is referenced from the following link. Click here to read more about assessing the efficiency of your beef cows.

If you have questions about calculating your herd’s weaning data or other ways 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: 256-825-1050

Email:sed0029@auburn.edu

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

Drought Management Strategies: Preserving Next Year’s Calf Crop

daisy-banner

Alabama counties have experienced increased levels of drought throughout this past summer and fall. To successfully survive drought conditions, producers must develop a plan that considers not only the present, but also the future. Developing a plan to preserve next year’s calf crop is a key part of planning for a successful future. This article will explain the nutritional requirements of beef cows for reproduction and explore management strategies to help preserve next year’s calf crop in the current drought situation.

Requirements for Reproductive Success:

Beef cows should be managed to calve at a minimum body condition score (BCS) of 5 to ensure that they have adequate flesh to return to cycling and establish pregnancy. BCS allow producers to estimate the fat stores on their cattle and range from 1 to 9, with 1 being extremely emaciated and 9 being extremely obese. Cows of a BCS 5 will have a good overall appearance, with some fat covering over their spine, ribs, hips, and around their tailhead. As BCS drops below 5, bones become less and less covered by fat and become more visible. Follow this link for more information and helpful pictures for body condition scoring.

Determining your cows’ BCS and managing animals to maintain a BCS ≥5 is essential to ensuring reproductive success. BCS and nutritional status at both calving and during the breeding season affect reproductive success, so it is important to know where your cows are in their production cycle and manage them accordingly.  Cows’ BCS/nutritional status at calving affects the length of time it takes for them to return to cycling after calving, with cows of low nutritional status at calving taking longer to return to cycling post calving. Once the breeding season is entered, low levels of nutrition and BCS<5 cause reduced pregnancy rates. To survive the drought with next year’s calf crop intact, cows must be fed to maintain their BCS.

Cows require different levels of nutrition at different stages of production. Understanding cow nutrient requirements will help producers meet the needs of their cows to maintain a BCS ≥5. Reference this timely information sheet for more information on your cows’ nutritional needs and how to supplement with varied qualities of hay. Recognize that your cows’ needs are the highest in early lactation. This is the time period when we also need cows to return to cycling and become pregnant. Corners should not be cut during this important time period. Furthermore, note that it’s easiest to put weight on cows after weaning. If you currently have thin, dry, pregnant cows it is a good idea to use this time to allow them to gain weight necessary to increase their BCS to 5. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to gain 1 BCS with each 80 lbs of weight gain in mature beef cows.

Pregnancy examination is essential in all years, but is extremely important this winter as we continue or recover from drought. If cows have not been examined for pregnancy, consider having a veterinarian palpate your cows and cull open cows that have weaning age calves. This will allow for added income and less mouths to feed through the winter and early spring.  As you complete this year’s breeding season, pregnancy check your cows. Since resources were limited, there is a chance that BCS dropped too low and more cows than usual may be open at the end of the breeding season. It is essential to identify and cull these individuals.

Additional Strategies in Times of  Drought:

  1. Pay attention to your heifers- 2-year-old heifers nursing their first calves have higher nutritional needs than their mature counterparts since they are still growing. Furthermore, they are often bucked away from feed sources by older animals. It is a good idea to always manage heifers away from the mature cowherd, however in years of drought and limited feedstuffs it may be essential to allowing them to consume the necessary amount of hay/supplement to maintain their BCS for reproductive success.
  2. Consider early weaning of calves- if cows go into calving thin or become extremely poor while nursing young calves, it may be necessary to wean calves early to allow cows to regain the condition needed for reproduction. Calves 90 days and older can be successfully weaned onto free choice long stemmed hay with correct supplementation. Removing calves may help “jump start” cows to return to cycling and will lessen cows’ nutrient requirements so weight can be gained.

By taking care to manage cattle to nutritional levels necessary for pregnancy success, a producer can preserve next year’s calf crop through drought situations.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science and Forages

Plant Strawberries in the Fall for Spring Crop

Strawberries

No better time than the present to get strawberry plants started in the home garden!   Strawberries established in the fall have a much higher yield the following season. Ordering the plants and actually planting them is the easy part.  Gardeners must take some time and elbow grease on the strawberry patch if you would like good quality berries the following year.

Much like veggies and our other backyard edibles, strawberries should be grown in an area where the sun is present all or most of the day.  Strawberries can be grown in some shade, but fruit quality and yield is usually not the best.  Six to eight hours of uninterrupted sunlight is the best.  The addition of organic material may be necessary to achieve a well-drained soil in highly clayey soils.  Preparation is everything so have a soil test run on new patches (good idea to soil test every 3 years).   Strawberries need a soil pH of 6.0-6.8.  It is hard to work additional lime into the planting area after strawberries have been planted if needed.  Fertilize at planting based on the results.   It is good to know that strawberries are susceptible to a soil disease called verticillium wilt.  For that reason it is not a good idea to plant strawberries where tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and Irish potatoes have been grown in recent years.

Home gardeners may find a few choices when ordering or purchasing strawberry plants.  June-bearing or spring-bearing  types   are generally harvested for several weeks in late spring, early summer.  Examples of spring-bearers would include such cultivars as Earliglow, Camerosa, and Chandler. The June-bearing types of strawberries preform the best in the heat and humidity of Alabama.   Everbearing types of strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season – spring, mid-summer and fall.   Ozark Beauty  and Quinalt are common varieties  of everbearing strawberry.  The name everbearing may be a bit misleading in our area.  They are poorly adapted to the Southern United States producing a scarce amount of berries.  June-bearers are definitely the way to grow. Strawberries flower in response to daylight (photoperiod).   June-bearers produce the short stems and flowers during the cool (and cooler) weather we have in late fall throughout the winter.  During the longer days and higher temperatures, they respond by producing runners – the daughter plants that we love to share!

Daughter plants?  Strawberries ‘run’ during the summer giving rise to new plants.   These plant stolons are commonly called runners.  Runners run horizontally along the ground.  Once a node sends out roots, a new plant develops.   These are called daughter plants as they are clones of the original plant.   For many, the daughter plants become the main crop for the following year, replacing the original mother plant.   Others may keep the mother plants for several years, transplanting and sharing the daughter plants with friends.  Either way, in a home garden, strawberry plants should be renovated every three years because of the diseases and insects.  Commercial growers treat strawberry plants as annuals.

A trip to the nearest pick your own strawberry farm will give you insight into commercial strawberry production – usually finding  strawberries planted into irrigated plastic covered beds.  Home gardeners may use plastic (irrigation has to be used under the plastic) or mulch the bed with pine straw or straw (other mulches will work as well).  Keeping the fruit off the ground will help with fruit rots and slug damage.  Raised rows are also beneficial for good drainage.  Planted a foot apart in rows, you may have 2 rows of strawberries be if the rows are wide enough.  Strawberries also grow well  in raised beds.  Strawberry plants are planted as crowns.  It is very important  to plant strawberries so the crown is slightly above the soil line  when plants are firmed.  Planting too deeply may result in poor growing or dying plants.  Once the strawberries are planted, do not forget the water.  A strawberry is flavored water after all.  An inch of water per week on a well draining soil is sufficient.

If you do not have room for a small strawberry patch, try a strawberry pot. Strawberry pots are the terra cotta or plastic pots you see at garden centers with the urn shape and the holes up and down the sides in odd places. These pots are one of the easiest and most convenient ways to grow and harvest strawberries.

Start by choosing a pot that will hold a reasonable number of plants, and be sure that the pot has good drainage. Holes in the bottom of the pot are necessary to keep the roots from staying too wet and possibly rotting. When choosing the plants you will use, count on one plant per side opening, and three or four for the top.. You should be able to find the pots, the strawberry plants, and the potting media easily at your local nursery or retail garden center. Use a prefertilized, soilless, bagged media, and consider amending it with a good compost or plant food.

Begin by filling the bottom of the pot. Check to see if the drainage holes need to be covered loosely with broken terra cotta or pea gravel. This will provide drainage without allowing potting mix to fall out. As you reach the holes in the sides of the pot, tuck plants one by one through the outside of the holes, patting them in with potting mix from the inside to stabilize them.

When the urn is full, top it off with three or four plants and then water the media thoroughly through the holes and from the top. Set the plants on your patio in full sun and pick a fresh strawberry while relaxing on the porch.  Sometimes a pot just isn’t big enough!  You can make your own strawberry pot if you would like more plants.  These have been made with great results using barrels or 5 gallon buckets.

by Dani Carroll, Regional Extension Agent for Home Grounds, Gardens, and Home Pests

Understand Sprayer Calibration Before Applying Pesticides

pesticide sprayer calibration

I teach several pesticide education classes each year, and I spend a good bit of time during these classes on sprayer calibration. For this example I will be discussing handgun/wand sprayer calibration, but we have information on boom and boomless sprayer calibration as well. It is extremely important to understand sprayer calibration before applying pesticides.

For farmers and other professionals, the pesticide label will tell you how much of the pesticide to apply per acre. So how much pesticide do you put in a tank? First we need to determine how many gallons of water you are applying per acre, then we can calculate how much pesticide to add to the tank. In this example we will use the 1/128th acre method, but other methods could be used. This method discussed here is for the handgun or wand applicators and does not matter if your sprayer is a handheld sprayer, backpack sprayer, ATV sprayer, or a larger sprayer mounted on a tractor.

First, measure 128th of an acre, which is about 340 square feet or 18.5 feet by 18.5 feet. You can use flags, string, spray paint, etc. to mark the area. Then, with only water in the tank, measure the time required, in seconds, to spray the area. The goal is to apply the water consistently, so try it several times until you determine your average time. Wetting the area more or less will change the calibration rate. The goal is to spray the same way in the field as you did while calibrating.  Then, spray the water in a container and measure the ounces caught. The ounces caught in the time required to spray the 340 square foot area equals the gallons of water the applicator is applying per acre.

In our example, we will say it took 23 seconds to spray the 340 square feet area. Spray is collected for 23 seconds and measured in ounces. If 50 ounces were caught, the applicator would be applying 50 gallons of water per acre. If 15 ounces were caught, you would be applying 15 gallons per acre. If 25 ounces were caught, you would be applying 25 gallons of water per acre. To adjust the gallons of water per acre, you may change pressure at the pump, change or adjust spray tips, or adjust the speed.  Then repeat the calibration process until you are applying the desired amount per acre. Once you are applying the desired volume of water per acre, you do not need to adjust the pressure, tips, or speed.

Once you calculate the area that can be covered with one tank, you can determine the amount of pesticide needed per tank. The pesticide label will give a range of desired gallons of water per acre that is needed to be applied along with the recommended rate of pesticide. Remember to read and follow the label directions before applying pesticides.

On our web site, we have information on pesticides that are labeled for certain crops, such as insects, disease, and weed control in turf, ornamentals, vegetables, fruit, forages, and other areas such as insects in wood structures. If you need more information on sprayer calibration, just contact your local County Extension Office or visit our web site at www.aces.edu and type sprayer calibration in the “Search ” box.

I work several counties in this region of the state in the area of Commercial Horticulture. Commercial Horticulture refers to producing horticulture products and marketing them for a profit as part of a business. Crops that growers commonly produce are nursery crops, turf, fruits, vegetables, Christmas trees, and cut flowers. Commercial horticulture can also involve horticulture services such as landscaping or landscape maintenance.

Other Extension agents work in the areas of home horticulture, forestry and wildlife, money management, animal science and forages, 4-H, agronomic crops, human nutrition, family and child development, community development, and food safety and quality. I grew up working in agriculture, and I was using the Extension System long before I became an Extension employee. I know firsthand how important Extension agents can be, and I encourage anyone to participate in Extension programs when possible and contact Extension agents when needed.

by Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent for Commercial Horticulture