Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Death Camas in Glacier County

Kari Lewis, MSU Extension - Glacier County
The death camas plant is a
perennial bulbous native
forb in the lily family. 
Photo by Kari Lewis.

This morning I had a sample of the death camas plant come into the office, and our range specialist, Dr. Jeff Mosley has confirmed that this is, “another big year’ for death camas across Montana.  Death camas is a toxic rangeland plant that resembles wild onion (and can cause severe illness in humans if mistaken for wild onion).  In my producer’s case, they have lost two healthy calves presumably to the death camas, so I wanted to take some time to alert producers to plant.

Death camas is a perennial bulbous native forb in the lily family.  Plants have linear grass-like leaves and the flowers are in panicles with creamy white petals.  It does somewhat resemble a shorter version of Beargrass, which you commonly spot in Glacier National Park. 

Death camas is highly toxic to cattle, sheep and horses.  The entire plant is toxic, but especially the bulb of the plant.  When soil is moist, such as after a rain like we’ve had, the bulb is much easier for livestock to pull out of the ground and ingest.  Sub-lethal doses of death camas can also decrease animal weight gain, milk production, and inhibit reproduction. 
The death camas bulb resembles wild onion.  Photo by Kari Lewis.

Death camas greens up early in the season so it is more palatable than other plants.  As the death camas matures, it will become less palatable and hopefully livestock will instead prefer grass. 

The death camas flowers are in panicles
with creamy white petals. 
Photo by Kari Lewis.
So, why are we seeing death camas this year?  Following a drought year, there is less carryover grass from the previous growing season so there may be less other forage available to buffer a toxic plant.  In addition, some research suggests that death camas is more toxic to livestock during cool, stormy weather, such as we’ve had these past few days.  As the barometer drops, the chemical structure of the toxins in death camas actually becomes more toxic which increases the chances of livestock poisoning as they have to eat even less of it to consume a lethal dose. 

If you do have death camas in your pastures, there are a few recommendations:

  • Delay turn-out to those pastures to allow the death camas plant to mature and to allow the grass to grow more.  Toxicity is most common if grass is in short supply or there is little residual grass from the previous year.
  • Graze death camas pastures lightly.  If livestock are short on available forage, they are more likely to consume plants such as death camas.  You may consider grazing those pastures very lightly, and then coming back to them later in the season after the death camas has matured and is less palatable.
  • In terms of chemical control, 2,4-D can be used early in the growing season before the flowering stalk appears.  Likely we are past that control window now, but producers could flag or GPS spots where death camas are so that control can be applied next spring. 

If you have plants you believe to be death camas, you can bring them into your local MSU Extension Office for confirmation.

Additional Resources regarding death camas:

Monday, June 18, 2018

Soiled Briefs

The other day I was surfing Facebook and I came across an interesting photo, 3 pairs of underwear hanging on the line, one fully disintegrated, one partially disintegrated and the last fully intact. This was a rather intriguing photo so I wanted to further investigate. I discovered that farmers in South Dakota have been planting their tighty whities to check their soil quality!
Photo taken from the original article at
They start out with a few pairs of 100% cotton briefs and bury them a few inches in the soil and dig them up about six weeks later. If the soil quality is poor, the cotton underpants will remain fully intact, but if you have a healthy, high quality soil, then the briefs will begin to disintegrate leaving only the elastic band! This is a very visual representation of soil health for farmers and ranchers!
The scientist that began this silly test is Dennis Hoyle of Roscoe, South Dakota. He stated that “We need to keep the roots and residue on the soil so that we have more activity to eat up the cotton (carbon) in the underwear,” explained Hoyle.  “Tilled land does not have enough of the biology to “eat” the tighty whities,” he said. “When you are tilling the land, it’s like you are creating a tornado in the soil and removing much of what’s hungry for carbon.”
Eric Barsness, the Natural Resources Conservation Service Agronomist,  in Brookings, SD said “With proper management, the ground beneath your crops should teem with millions of tiny lifeforms—bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, earthworms—all eating and decomposing organic material, such as the carbon in the briefs.”
You can try this soil test on your fields at home with 100% Cotton briefs or you can always stop in to your local County Extension office to get a soil test done as to not soil any clean underwear.

Kim Woodring
Toole County Extension

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ice is a Ready to Eat Food! Avoid a bummer summer when handling bagged ice.

On average, American consumers buy four bags of packaged ice each year, usually in the summer months. 
Locally we see packaged ice in cubes and blocks.  But no matter what the shape or the source, ice is considered a food by the FDA  or Food and Drug Administration. If it is made in one state and sold in another, packaged ice is regulated, as a food. FDA rules require that packaged ice must be produced with properly cleaned and maintained equipment from water that is safe and sanitary, and that it is stored and transported in clean and sanitary conditions.  That’s just the first step.
To avoid a summer bummer, make sure you handle packaged ice safely and treat it like it's a food. That is the second step.  Here are some tips:
At Home - Use clean, non-breakable utensils to handle ice, such as tongs or an ice scoop.  Avoid touching ice with unwashed hands or using a clear glass to scoop the ice. There is a chance for the glass to break and leave pieces of broken glass in the ice that can hurt someone.  Scooping ice with dirty hands also transfers germs to the ice and that that can make people sick.

Store ice only in clean and sanitized containers that are safe for storing food.  If you have an ice maker in your refrigerator, wash it out a couple times during the year, more often if people reach into the ice maker with unwashed hands.

For Picnics or Parties make sure your cooler is cleaned with soapy water and rinsed with a sanitizing solution made with one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of lukewarm water. Let the container air-dry or pat it dry with fresh paper towels.  Do this after every use or before using if the cooler has been in storage.

When raw foods are packed with loose ice in a cooler the food should be wrapped securely to prevent water from the melting ice from cross-contaminating the foods in the cooler.  For example, juices from raw meat could be carried to vegetables or fruit that will be eaten raw.  Pack food like raw meat that has the highest risk of contaminating other foods at the bottom of the cooler.  Pack the ready to eat foods like raw veggies, fruit, pre-cooked meats, salads and canned drinks near the top of the cooler. 

Two other important tips to remember:  1) if you are planning to use ice in drinks, put that ice in a separate bag in a separate cooler and then use ice scoops or tongs so that dirty, unwashed hands are not introducing bacteria that can make people sick into the ice.  This is especially important if you have young children, the elderly or people who are immune compromised attending the picnic or party.
Never use ice from a cooler that is used to cool raw foods, canned or bottled drinks where people touch ice with unwashed hands.  2) Avoid dropping the bagged ice on a dirty floor, cement or the ground because it creates holes in the bag which can introduce harmful bacteria.  Dirt can get on the outside of the bag and when the bag is emptied into a cooler, the dirt can fall off the bag and contaminate the ice and whatever else the ice touches.  Or dirt and germs can get to the ice through the little holes that are made when the plastic breaks open when it is dropped.  The ice can also be contaminated this way and people do not realize that. 

People who are at risk the most for food borne illnesses include: 
*Young children - 9 years and younger
*the Elderly - 65 years and older 
*People who are Immunocompromised: chronic illness, diabetic, pregnant or nursing, going through cancer treatment, recovering from surgery...  Since it is hard to really know for sure, the best bet is to simply treat everyone as if they are at risk for food borne illnesses and take all the precautions you can.

If you have any questions about summer food safety, call Wendy Wedum at the Pondera Extension office at 271-4054.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Pythium Root Rot

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

There have been various reports recently, on a local and a statewide level, of some yellowing in winter wheat.  While this is nothing that is out of the ordinary for our springs, I wanted to address one possible cause of the yellowing this week.
Pythium root rot has been confirmed on winter wheat in counties near us.  Pythium is favored by very wet conditions and cool soils.  It usually infects plants in the spring and is caused by a water mold pathogen that produces spores that move in soil water. 

Symptoms include black mushy roots, a lack of fine root hairs, a constriction at the soil line, and roots that can be ‘stripped’ off the center vascular tissue.  These symptoms can be difficult to diagnose if the plant is simply pulled out of the ground.  For this reason, I would encourage anyone worried about their yellowing wheat to dig a sample out of the ground so that a more accurate diagnosis can be made.  As mentioned, fields will be a yellow color, like a nutrient deficiency, and have patches in lowlying areas or where water flows that have more severe symptoms associated with reduced root mass. 
Characteristic circular pattern of root rot at the tillering stage - in this case, a combination of
 Pythium and  Rhizoctonia. Photo courtesy of Mary Burrows.
Pythium is common in Montana soils and survives for years as a structure called an oospore.  Crop rotation is not effective as the pathogen will infect most crops.  Many of the cases that have been seen this spring have also been associated with environmental stress including extended snow cover, freeze/thaw cycles with excessive water, and nutrient deficiency.  

Infection of plants by Pythium can be managed by applications of metalaxyl or mefenoxam at planting.  Since seed treatments last approximately 2 weeks, fall planted and perennial crops are susceptible at this time.  Most of the wheat in the diagnostic lab has low levels of Pythium and the overall root system is healthy.  Plants should recover and seed treatments should be used on future crops.
If you have questions about your crop, or see it yellowing please give contact your local county Extension office.  There are also over small grain root and crown diseases that might be affecting our crops.  For further information, there is also a MontGuide titled, “Small Grain Root and Crown Diseases” that is able to be downloaded from or picked up at your local county Extension office.