Monday, March 30, 2020

MSU Extension COVID-19 Ag Resources

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

MSU Extension is a great resource for research-based, factual information.  One resource that has become vitally important over the past month has been a section that can be accessed from the website under a heading titled, “MSU COVID-19 Resources for You and Your Family.”  There are different subsections after you click on the link and I would like to share one resource about agriculture.

COVID-19 spreads through relatively close contact but doesn’t survive long outside of the host.  Contacting respiratory droplets from someone sneezing close to you or picking up the virus from handling a doorknob that is contaminated with mucus from an infected person, can spread the disease.  The good news is that coronaviruses can be killed by many disinfectants and normal handwashing procedures, as well as environmental exposure.

For agricultural producers, it’s important to note that there is no current evidence that this outbreak is affecting livestock or any species besides humans.  The recommendations that follow apply to general precautions against introducing or spreading disease on the farm or ranch, which are excellent practices to follow at all times.
Keeping barns and other farm buildings clean is one of the keys 
to reducing potential disease spread.

Be sure your farm and family biosecurity is strong.  Keep all visitors to your farm, wildlife and new livestock out of direct contact with your animals, as well as their feed and water.

Use good management to keep your family’s and your animals’ innate immunity strong.  Good nutrition, housing, ventilation, water and general hygiene will strengthen immune defenses and reduce the chance of serious disease of any kind.

Be a good observer.  Report serious illnesses to your veterinarian as appropriate.  It’s always good to discuss how to best address illnesses on the farm.  Usual occurrences of disease and losses will occur on farms but shouldn’t be confused with more serious disease.

Keep enough resources on hand to be able to manage if backups are needed.  You should have replacements for essential items at the farm, as well as at least two weeks’ worth of supplies.

So, what about cleaning and disinfecting?  The Centers for Disease Control suggests simple environmental cleaning and disinfecting if respiratory disease is present.  These reasonable steps for both in the home and on the farm include cleaning doorknobs, as well as kitchen and bathroom handles and surfaces.  Surfaces should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.  Diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.  Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface you are cleaning.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation.  Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date.  Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.  Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.  Prepare a bleach solution by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Antibiotic Use in Livestock - Does it Cause Antibiotic Resistance in People?

Adriane Good

As I was scrolling through Facebook last week, I saw a very interesting article in the Canadian Cattlemen’s magazine. It was titled ‘Study finds Enterococcus bacteria resistance in people not related to antibiotic use in cattle’. This is a finding of huge importance to the livestock industry, so of course I had to read more.

Dr. Tim McAllister, a researcher at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research and Development Center in Lethbridge, is one of almost two dozen multi-disciplinary scientists in Canada involved in a series of research projects looking at whether antibiotic use in livestock is increasing antibiotic resistance in humans, and if so, what we can do about it. While this is a Canadian research initiative, antibiotic resistance is a global issue, so this research applies here too.

To back up a little bit, antibiotics are used in livestock production in a variety of methods. Livestock producers use antibiotics to treat illness in their animals. Nobody wants to see a sick calf, so ranchers treat those sick calves with antibiotics to bring them back to health, just like we do with people. The use of prophylactic antibiotics is lesser known. In some cases, livestock will be given a dose of antibiotics to prevent disease. This occurs when there is a high risk of animals getting sick. For example, a feedlot might give antibiotics to a group of new calves coming in if they’re looking especially stressed and a little sick. Stressed animals get sick much easier than animals that aren’t stressed, and mixing calves with other calves is a great way to spread disease. Sometimes with stressed cattle, the first sign of illness you see is death, so treating them before you see signs keeps them alive. One of the most commonly used antibiotics in livestock production are ionophores. These are used to treat coccidiosis and modulate the rumen environment in cattle. Altering the rumen environment not only increases feed efficiency, but also decreases the amount of methane cattle produce.

Antibiotics are classified into 4 categories – low importance to human health, medium importance, high importance, and very high importance. In all of livestock production, antibiotics that are of very high human importance are used less than 5% of the time, while they are used 30% of the time in human medicine. Antibiotics that are of low and medium importance to human health make up almost 80% of the antibiotic use in livestock but make up less than 10% of antibiotics used in human medicine. This shows that livestock production is using the lower importance antibiotics that human medicine doesn’t rely on.

Antibiotic use by category of importance. From

Dr. McAllister’s study focused on beef cattle and looked specifically at enterococcus bacteria species found in cattle and humans. They sequenced the genome of these bacteria and found that the species of bacteria that pose a threat to human health are not the same species found in cattle. They also discovered that the genes responsible for antibiotic resistance in the enterococcus bacteria in humans are associated with antibiotics that are not used in beef production. This suggests that antibiotic resistance in humans is caused by antibiotic use in humans, and antibiotic resistance in cattle is the result of antibiotic use in cattle.

Of course, we still can’t be too cautious. Antibiotics are a very important tool for human health, just as they are for livestock health. While this research is encouraging, it’s important that we use antibiotics responsibly in both human health and livestock health. For livestock producers, make sure you’re reading and following the label when giving antibiotics. Having a good veterinary client patient relationship will also help as your vet can help you make sure you have diagnosed problems properly and are treating them with the right product. It’s also a great idea to minimize stress on your animals, keep up to date on vaccinations, ensure adequate nutrition, and use biosecurity practices to minimize the chances of animals getting sick.  

For the original article in Canadian Cattleman's, check out:

For more information on antibiotic use in beef cattle and antibiotic resistance, go to:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Soil sampling for lawn or garden

Kari Lewis

With March here, we have more folks thinking of gardening and lawn work in the upcoming spring and now is the time to be potentially thinking of doing a soil test on that lawn or garden. Many homeowners do not soil test but use standard fertilizer rates which are given on fertilizer bags.  If this is your practice and your plants appear healthy, this is an appropriate fertilizer regimen to continue.  However, if your plants are not thriving or producing well or you suspect a potential nutrient deficiency or toxicity, soil sampling for the lawn or garden is recommended.  Gardens can have excessive nutrient levels due to high inputs of compost and/or fertilizer.  Excessive levels of fertilizer are not only a waste of money but can be harmful to your plants and the environment.
Now is a good time to collect a soil sample for the lawn or
garden if plants haven't been thriving or you suspect a
potential nutrient deficiency or toxicity.  

To obtain meaningful and accurate soil test results, it is important to correctly collect soil samples from multiple locations within your yard and garden. A minimum of ten samples should be collected and mixed from your garden, or from each 1,000 square feet (sq ft) of lawn to obtain a representative sample. Be sure to remove any mulch or lawn thatch before collecting your soil samples. If there is a visual or textural difference from one side of your garden or lawn to the other, submit separate samples.

Soil samples are best collected using hand probes or augers, available from your local Extension Office. An alternative tool to collect a 0 to 6-inch soil sample is a bulb planter (available at most gardening stores). Tools should be cleaned between each garden or area sampled and stored away from fertilizers to prevent contamination. Soil samples are generally a 6-inch-deep core from the soil surface.  Samples may be submitted moist or dry. They should be enclosed in a Ziploc bag, sealed, and labeled with your information.

You should schedule soil sampling to allow adequate time for soil analysis (~one to two weeks) and fertilizer application, if needed, prior to seeding or planting time. Also, soil tests are representative of current nutrient levels and do not necessarily reflect future conditions. Therefore, soils are ideally sampled yearly in the spring to best estimate growing season nutrient availability.

The MSU Extension publication, “Home Garden Soil Testing& Fertilizer Guidelines” available free online or from your local Extension Office, includes a list of labs where you can send your soil sample for analysis.  By communicating to the lab any concerns and what you plan to grow in the soil, for example squash, potatoes, and carrots, they can provide specific recommendations for your scenario in terms of nutrient needs.  Tests can range from $20 - $50 and typically take one to two weeks to receive results back. 

This material was taken from the MSU Extension MontGuide "Home Garden Soil Testing & Fertilizer Guidelines."

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Financial Basics and the Tax Refund

Kari Lewis

I recently had the opportunity to present a basic financial class and thought I would share some of that information today.  For many folks, it’s Tax Refund time, but we want to be strategic in how that money is potentially spent.  Whenever money comes in, we have three options – Save it, spend it, or Give it away. 

We want to first put any extra money towards any necessities (not wants) that we need, such as housing, food, transportation, and utilities. 

MSU Extension Credit Card sliders provide
a great visual for the real cost of credit cards.  
The tax refund is a great place to sock away some savings for future expenses.  In the workshop we looked at John and Sally who have four kids and when August rolls around the school supplies, school clothes, and sports fees pile on so they put the $2,000 in “unexpected expenses” on their credit card.  They will end up paying a total of $3,654 for that $2,000 charge due to the $1,654 in interest charges and will be making minimum payments for 11 years!  This illustrates how critical it is to save for purchases instead of using credit cards. 

According to research, 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.  Building up a $1,000 emergency fund is a critical piece of a basic financial plan.  An emergency fund should be saved for anything that is truly an emergency.  If you receive a tax refund, be sure to save at least $1,000 for a starter emergency fund.  This should be placed somewhere where you’re not tempted to use it for anything other than a true emergency.

After building the $1,000 emergency fund, any debt should be attacked.  Make a list of all debts, smallest to largest and begin throwing as much as possible towards the smallest debt while continuing to make the minimum payments on the other debts.  Once the smallest debt is paid off, move to the next debt, throwing as much money as possible at it, this is called the ‘Debt Snowball Method.’ 

Lastly, if considering making a purchase, think about any potential upcoming expenses that should be saved for such as summer daycare, camp for the kids, graduation or wedding gifts, back to school supplies, etc.  These dollars can be stretched by purchasing at thrift stores, on the online yard sale, at cash and carry sales, etc. 

Any purchases should have a long-term benefit.  For example, this may be the time to purchase an upright freezer to take advantage of frozen fruit and vegetable sales, purchasing a used vehicle if needed, a washer and dryer versus using the laundromat, etc. 

In the class, we looked at two couples who both received a $2,000 tax refund.  The first couple purchased new smartphones, a new flat screen TV, some PS4 games, and enjoyed a weekend in Great Falls at a hotel, eating out, and doing a little shopping.  The second couple put $1,000 towards an emergency fund, purchased a 7 cubic foot chest freezer and filled it with a processed hog they bought.  They then set aside the remaining funds for summer swim lessons for the kids, a family summer swimming pass, back to school supplies and clothes.  Both couples received the same amount of money, but one family chose to make long lasting decisions while the other family’s tax refund was gone within a weekend. 

Before beginning to spend, consider where you want to be financially in 1, 5, and 20 years, and then make your decisions.