Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Are You Doing Your Bit to be Fit?

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Sunday was a beautiful day here in Chester.  There was a fun run that had been fortuitously scheduled, and even without being involved in that, there were people out in droves walking on the almost completely ice-free streets.  Of those that were out, how many of them were wearing fitness trackers?  Honestly, I have no idea.  However, the question needs to be asked, “Do these fitness trackers help people be more active?”  For me, I have to say “yes” as I walk to work now in almost any weather, just to get my step goal for the day. 
There are pros and cons to having a fitness tracker.  As I mentioned, it has helped me be more active.  It provides reminders to be move throughout the day and when you think about it, it distinguishes an awareness between being busy and being active.  It also helps a person set goals and work on achieving them.

There are negative feelings that can be associated with fitness trackers.  I know when I don’t reach a goal, or obsess about not reaching my step goal, it takes the fun out of being active.  Fitness trackers also monitor many different things, whether it be calories, steps, heartbeat, active minutes.  Sometimes the information that flashes on your fitness trackers isn’t always accurate.  View the information as an estimate.  Along with that, they aren’t sophisticated enough to categorize all types of exercise and movement.  For example, mine does great at measuring walking but I know it is inaccurate when I bike to work.  Lastly, remember that just because they aid in weight loss doesn’t mean that there is nothing more than just calories in and out.  Keep exercising too!
So, how can we make fitness trackers more successful?  Keep it charged and ready to wear.  Remember that small goals lead to bigger results.  As I have found out, fun can make a difference.  Set attainable goals and have fun with them!  Most importantly, listen and know your body as it will tell you what it needs.  These fitness trackers are just one tool in your health and fitness toolbelt. 

For even more information on fitness trackers visit your local county Extension office for a free copy of the latest Lives and Landscapes magazine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Get ready...the ground squirrels are out and ready to multiply!

               Recently I’ve started seeing the Richardson ground squirrels start popping out of their burrows, a reminder that it’s time to begin their control.  The Richardson ground squirrel, which is commonly referred to as a ‘gopher,’ is a medium sized ground squirrel with yellow-tan to gray coloring and typically weighs 11 to 18 ounces.  The Richardson ground squirrel predominately lives east of the Continental Divide of Montana and causes extensive damage in croplands, pastures, and hay fields.  Research has shown hay yields in alfalfa fields infested with ground squirrels have shown a 24% reduction.  Today, we’ll cover a bit on the biology on the ground squirrel, and then cover management next week.  By understanding the ground squirrel’s biology, we can better manage these pests.
Richardson ground squirrels can have up to 14 young
per litter!  By controlling the adults now, there will be
far less to control in May and June when the young
emerge as well.  Photo by Kari Lewis.
                Ground squirrels emerge from hibernation between February and April, depending on local weather conditions and elevation.  The first ground squirrels to emerge from hibernation are the males.  The males establish their breeding territories in preparation for the females that emerge from hibernation 10 days to two weeks after the males emerge.  Once the females emerge from hibernation, again, right about now, there is a short breeding season and then after a three to four-week gestation period, the females give birth to a single litter in April or May.  Ground squirrels reproduce quite prolifically.  Typically, litters average six to seven ground squirrels per litter, but could have as many as 14 per litter.
                When the ground squirrel young are approximately five weeks of age, they emerge from the burrow and begin feeding on grass, crops, etc.  So, if we assume that the adult males emerged from hibernation March 15, that would put the females emerging approximately March 25.  After a short breeding season and an approximate four-week gestation period, they would likely have their litter in early May and by the end of May, their 2 to 14 ground squirrel young have joined them in feeding on crops, rangeland, etc. 
                This biology lesson of the ground squirrel helps illustrate why it is so critical to provide early management control.  By controlling now, in March and April, there are only the adult males and females to control.  By waiting until May or June to provide control (when the ground squirrel damage is clearly visible), there will be a much, much larger population of ground squirrels to control.  
For managing ground squirrels in large areas, such as on rangeland or cropland, toxicants are commonly used.  Toxicants are poisonous items that are designed to kill the animals that eat them.  Zinc phosphide and diphacinone are two toxicants registered for the control of Richardson’s ground squirrels. 
Zinc phosphide bait is most effective when applied early in the spring, shortly after ground squirrels emerge from hibernation, and before spring green-up.  Zinc phosphide should not be applied if moisture is forecasted within two days of application.  Zinc phosphide may be applied by hand baiting or broadcast baiting.  Broadcast baiting may be used in rangelands, pastures, non-crop areas, orchards and crop areas including barley, wheat and alfalfa. 
Ramik Green is an example of an anticoagulant which is a general use pesticide.  Ramik green must be placed in rat-sized tamper-resistant bait stations.  Stations must be maintained regularly to ensure a constant supply of bait for at least 30 days. 
In large acreages, the use of toxic grain bait may be the most cost-effective control method.  Bait should be applied when the entire squirrel population is active and readily accepting grain.  The breeding period, which is going on now, is the ideal time to control ground squirrels.  By controlling now, we can eliminate both adults and potential young as well, to help minimize crop damage.  If we wait to control ground squirrels, vegetation begins to green-up and the ground squirrels’ acceptance of grain bait is reduced.

If using a restricted use product, applicators must have a private pesticide applicator’s license prior to purchasing a restricted use product.  Licenses can be obtained through taking the test at your local extension office or attending an upcoming class, such as the one April 25 in Great Falls.  If you have any questions on receiving your private pesticide applicators license, please call your local extension office.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Flood Preparations

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

I have noticed a growing number of articles as well as conversations around the area that are centering on our potential for flooding.  While we have welcomed the moisture that our heavy snowfalls may have, the accompanying rising waters in our water tables, creeks and rivers is not welcome if everything melts off too quickly.  This week I have some tips to pass along to everyone about how to be prepared for flooding in case you find yourself in a potentially wet situation.  These resources can also be found on the Yellowstone County website under their Disaster and Emergency Services site.
Watch for flood conditions that could arise from melting snow and ice. 
Photo courtesy of KRTV News.
In our situations, we need to know what to do before a potential flood.  First, know your evacuation route.  Inside your home, think about moving furniture and belongings to upper floors, especially if you have fears of basement seepage.  Along with that, disconnect electrical appliances or equipment that can't be moved, and keep a stock of food that requires little or no cooking or refrigeration; electric power may be disrupted.  Store drinking water in clean bathtubs and other containers. (1 gallon per day per person.)  For food and water, I would suggest using containers that can be quickly moved or grabbed in case of a hurried exit.  Using regular backpacks or hiking backpacks for each member of the family is one way of accomplishing this in an organized manner.

Outside your home, think about the following ways to be prepared.  If you are on a farm or ranch, move livestock and equipment to higher ground.  Secure or tie down outside possessions.  Keep your automobile fueled - gas pumps will probably lose power.
For overall preparedness, keep first aid supplies on hand.   Also consider keeping a NOAA Weather radio, a battery powered portable radio, emergency cooking equipment and flashlights in working order.  Install check valves in building sewer traps to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of your home.  Finally, think about keeping materials on hand like sandbags, plastic sheeting, plywood and lumber handy for emergency water proofing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Perfect Storm for Scours

With this spring's wet weather, the potential for
calf scours is an increasing concern.  Separating calves
by age and moving pregnant cows to clean calving pastures
is key to reducing scours potential.  Photo by Kari Lewis.

With this wet snow and rain we've been having (or if the weather warms up and our snow-covered pastures turn to soggy, muddy pastures), the potential for calf scours is becoming an increasing concern.  Calf scours is not a specific disease but is a clinical sign that can be caused by various infectious agents and predisposing factors.  Calf scours results in dehydration and potentially death.  Even if calves recover from scours, research has shown those calves have decreased performance throughout their lifetime.  A Colorado study showed calves with scours who recovered still weaned 23 pounds lighter compared to their herd mates that did not have calf scours.

The three main factors that determine the potential for a scours outbreak include the exposure rate of organisms affecting the calf, calf immunity levels, and stress on the calf.  Environmental conditions influence both the pathogen exposure level and the ability of the calf to resist disease.  Temperature extremes and moisture hinder the calf’s ability to resist disease.  Exposure to pathogens may occur from direct contact with other cattle or contact with contaminated environmental surfaces.  Crowded conditions increase the contact between infected animals and contaminated surfaces. 

When treating sick calves, a rancher’s hands, clothing, and equipment can be a source of contamination to healthy calves.  Work with the healthy calves first, and then treat sick calves.  And yes, those coveralls should be washed too!  If you are feeding scouring calves on a bottle or with a tube feeder, that equipment should be thoroughly disinfected before using on the next calf.  Washing equipment in hot, soapy water and soaking in a bleach solution is effective against many agents.  Several hours of bright sunlight is also an effective disinfectant. 

The Sandhills Calving System is likely the best management recommendation for preventing scours.  This calving system was developed in the Nebraska Sandhills to help minimize scours.  In one 900-head beef cow herd in the study there was typically a 6 to 14% calf mortality rate per year due to scours.  After switching to the Sandhills Calving System, they didn’t have any calves die from calf scours in the following years and they estimated a $40,00 to $50,000 per year savings due to the increased number of calves weaned, better calf performance and reduced treatment expenses.  That $40,000 to $50,000 was back in the early 2000’s, so likely would be an even greater number now. 

The Sandhills calving system is based upon two concepts – 1) Separate calves by age to prevent direct and indirect transmission of pathogens from older to younger calves and 2) Routinely move pregnant cows to clean calving pastures to minimize dose load and contact time.  Each week the cows that are still to calve are sorted out and moved to a new pasture, with the pairs that have calved being left behind in the original pasture.  If cows are calving in barn or shed situation, potential for contamination is increased and it is critical that clean, fresh bedding be supplied. 
Lastly, I know hay is costly, but don’t short your cows now.  I know there’s a hundred things to do this time of year but take the time to put the mineral out.  The cowherds that have been on a strong nutritional program with a consistent vitamin and mineral package and that are on a complete herd vaccination program are going to come through this winter and spring in much better shape. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Still Trying to Get Rid of the Ice?

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Our day time temperatures have been warm enough recently that ice and snow are starting to melt off driveways and sidewalks.  However, if your house, like mine, has a north facing driveway, there is still a thick layer of ice that won’t come off without much more time and heat.  So, if you want to get that ice off quicker, what are your options? 

According to Extension sources, careless use of deicing products can damage both the home and the environment.  For example, overuse of some deicers can accelerate the freeze-and-thaw cycles that damage concrete, taking years off the life of a sidewalk or driveway.  Some deicers corrode metal, causing damage to cars and aluminum siding.  Chemicals in many deicers can damage plants and shrubs near where the deicer is used if applied in large quantities.  To prevent damage to your home and the environment, choose a deicer carefully.  Damage to yard plants and trees can be manifested later as poor or stunted growth in the spring which commonly occurs with grass next to walks, driveways, and streets; dieback on evergreens; and marginal leaf browning or leaf scorch on deciduous trees and shrubs.
The best deicer for landscapes that is readily available to homeowners is calcium chloride.  It works at lower temperatures than other products and won’t harm plants, if excessive amounts are not applied.  Calcium chloride has a low temperature threshold, working to -25 degrees F.  It generates its own heat as it is mixing with water and dividing into calcium and chloride, so it can be effective at lower temperatures.

Excessive amounts of deicers on driveways can harm more plants and
 your driveway.  Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin Extension.
Sodium chloride, commonly known as rock salt, is sometimes mixed with sand or other materials.  It is the most widely available and often the least expensive.  Sodium chloride is only effective at melting ice when temperatures are 12 degrees F or higher.  When temperatures get lower than that sodium chloride products will not be able to do the job.
Magnesium chloride products are effective to 5 degrees F, while potassium chloride salts are the least effective, melting only to 20 degrees F.  Regardless of the product, use just enough deicer to get the job done because all of the chloride-based products can be toxic to plants and animals.

If you need to remove thin layers of ice on small areas such as the house steps consider a couple possible ideas such as applying warm water mixed with table salt, water conditioner salt, or the brine backwash from a water conditioner.  Alternatively, use sand, ashes, or kitty litter to improve traction on icy areas.  These don’t necessarily remove the ice but they will make it easier and safer to walk on.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Idling Your Car...Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

I entered into an interesting conversation yesterday with someone at church about whether it was necessary to warm your vehicle up or not in the cold weather.  While I find it nice to get into a warmer car in the cold months of the year, the question that I really have to ask myself and perhaps you need to ask too is, “Is it helping the engine in my car?”  The answer is, probably not.

The basis for this thinking extends to when car engines relied on carburetors.  Before 1980, carburetors were the heart that kept car engines pumping.  Therefore, if your gasoline was too cold, your car wouldn't run rich, it would simply stall out.  In those days, it was important to get the carburetor warm before driving.  From the 1980s on, however, electronic fuel injection took over and is still what powers today's car engines.  The key difference is that fuel injection comes with a sensor that feeds the cylinders the right air-fuel mixture to generate a combustion event.  Does this happen right away?  Not exactly.  As I said, engines with fuel injection have sensors that compensate for the cold by pumping more gasoline into the mixture.  The engine continues to run rich in this way until it heats up to about 40 degrees.  By idling for longer periods of times you're putting extra fuel into the combustion chamber to make it burn and some of it can get onto the cylinder walls according to the experts.  Gas can wash oil off the walls if you run it in those cold idle conditions for an extended period of time 
Driving your car is the fastest way to warm the engine up to 40 degrees so it switches back to a normal fuel to air ratio.  Even though warm air generated by the radiator will flow into the cabin after a few minutes, idling does surprisingly little to warm the actual engine.

Both the EPA and say a car should not idle for more than 30 seconds at a time.  Not only is it more environmentally friendly, but also cost-effective.  Idling for 30 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the car. 
Photo courtesy of Country Living
Of course, hopping into your car and gunning it will put unnecessary strain on your engine.  It takes 5 to 15 minutes for your engine to warm up while driving, so take it nice and easy for the first part of your drive.

So, my advice for myself and everyone is to put on those gloves, take a minute to scrape the frost off the windows and take a few extra minutes to drive at a prudent speed to your destination.