Thursday, August 12, 2021

Selecting Replacement Heifers

Adriane Good

Many producers have been reducing their herd sizes this year and as you watch trailers full of cows make their way to the auction yard, you may be contemplating exactly which of your heifer calves you should select as replacements and which should be sent down the road with the steer calves.

First of all, there should be some automatic culling reasons no matter the year. If they have a structural fault of any kind, you don’t want them in your herd. Whether that be feet and leg issues, udder or mammary system problems, lack of capacity, or narrow pins, go ahead and put them on the cull list. Another good reason not to keep a heifer is if she had a tough entry to the world. If her dam had calving problems, there’s a good chance her dam will have passed it on to her. In a year like this where feed is short, you may not want to take that risk.

Another thing to think about is the heifer’s birth weight. A birth weight that is not too big and not too small is what you want to shoot for. A heifer calf that had an average birth weight will likely throw calves with average birth weights, which is something to aim for. Too big, and you might run into calving problems. Too small, and you’ll lose precious pounds when you ship.

Looking at the size of your calves may help you make your replacement heifer decisions, but their birth dates are also important. The calves that were born in the first 21 days of your calving cycle are going to mature earlier than the later born calves, which means they’ll get pregnant earlier and calve earlier, helping you to keep the majority of your calves born in that first cycle. These calves were also born to the cows that caught on the first cycle, suggesting that they are the more fertile cows and may pass that on to their daughters.

If you have white faced cows in your herd, it can also be helpful to select the heifers that have pigmentation around their eye. Cows that have white skin around their eyes have a higher risk of pink eye, and in a year where feed is in short supply, it’s just not worth keeping them. Speaking of risk, the heifer calves that are nervous or give you sketchy vibes are also not worth keeping. It can be tough to get rid of those cows and calves with problem dispositions sometimes but adding a hospital bill to your feed bill isn’t a great idea this year.

Other heifers that would be good to keep are those out of your older cows, provided they still meet the previous criteria. If their dams are older and have been part of your herd for a while, the calves will probably have some longevity to them as well.

Finally, you can always look at the genetics of your calves. EPD’s, or expected progeny differences, are the estimated value of your cattle as breeding stock. If the sire and/or the dam of an average calf has good EPD’s, it might be worth keeping the calf as a replacement. Of course, if the calf has a structural fault, EPD’s won’t save it from the cull pen.

Selecting your replacement heifers can be tricky business, especially in years like this. For more information on choosing who in your herd gets to stay and who gets to go on a field trip, contact your local MSU Extension office.

Which of these heifers would you keep and which would you cull?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Summer jobs for youth

Kari Lewis 

    Last week, I made a road trip to Lewistown for Extension meetings.  Along the way, it seemed every place I stopped at had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign.  With so many places hiring, there are some great opportunities available for youth looking for a summer job and to gain some skills for their resume. 

                For a teen looking for a summer job, the Montana 4-H Clover Communications curriculum provides examples of cover letters, resumes, and job applications and tips for interviewing.  These Career Communications resources are available online or by contacting your local extension office.   There are also examples of common interview questions that are great to prep with prior to an interview.

                What about younger kids who may not be able to apply for a ‘real’ job yet?  Here are a few ideas:

·         Sell bottled water or lemonade.  A 24-pack case of water for $2.50 works out to $0.10/bottle.  If those bottles can be resold at $1/each, that is over $20 in profit on just one case of water. 
·         The Farmer’s Market can be a fantastic place for selling baked goods, crafts, homemade dog treats, or craft kits that kids could assemble themselves.  Offering face painting or making balloon animals there could also be a fantastic side avenue.
·         Open class at the fair – Many fairs have ‘Open Class’ divisions where anyone can enter photography, baked goods, crafts, even Lego creations, etc.  For every ribbon that is awarded, there is cash ‘premium money’ given as well.  Kids can earn money through their Open Class exhibits, so start now! 
·         Resell old stuff – Most kids have unused or unwanted toys, video games, clothes that they’ve outgrown, etc. that they could sell at a garage sale or online. 
·         Yard or house care – There is a demand for lawn mowing, weeding flower beds, cleaning up dog messes after winter, washing windows, etc.
·         Sell farm fresh eggs – I know a few kids who did quite well selling eggs over the years.   The Farm Service Agency does have youth ag loans that can be used for purchasing livestock or equipment.
·         Pet care – Whether its pet sitting while folks are on vacation or dog walking, this can be a great option.
·         Babysitting – Babysitting can be a great summer gig, and the Teton county Extension office even has an upcoming babysitter boot camp, call them at 406-466-2491 for more details. 
·         Upgrade items – If a kid is willing to keep an eye out by the dumpsters or pick up things being given away, they can likely clean up and perhaps paint items to resell. 
·         Teach a skill – whether it is giving lessons to another kid or helping an elderly neighbor set up electronics or a social media account, that can be a possibility.
·         With many summer weddings and reunions going on, a kid willing to organize kid’s activities, or serve, do cleanup or provide a photo booth with Polaroids there could be a great moneymaker. Being an entertainer at a kid’s birthday party or doing face painting or balloon animals work too.

As a parent, you may also choose to pay your kids a set amount for specific chores or even for every book they read.  If you are able, consider matching their earnings to a set amount.  There are many more ideas online of how children and teens can earn money but hopefully this provides a starting place. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

4th of July Safety Tips

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

It is hard to believe that the end of this week will be the 4th of July.  With everything we have been through the past few months and our uncertain times even now, it doesn’t feel like the year is halfway gone.  With July 4th falling nicely on a weekend this year, it may lend itself nicely to traveling, camping and other recreational activities.  While, of course, this year we are being constantly encouraged to practice safe social distancing, there are other safety precautions we need to take around this festive weekend.
Image courtesy of Consumer Product Safety Commission
The first safety tip that I can give is the one to be safe around fireworks.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 180 people go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries around the time surrounding July 4th.  Of those, 57% of the injuries are burn-related.  So, let’s put the safety tip out there, and never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.  This is a hard sell and I don’t know what to say about sparklers other than if you choose to let your child have sparklers, that would be an excellent opportunity to teach them about keeping a safe distance away from others when the sparkler is lit.  Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees which is hot enough to melt some metals.  When lighting fireworks, never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.  Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.  Once they are spent, make sure they are fully extinguished by keeping a bucket of water or a hose handy to douse them completely.  Last, never try and make your own fireworks.  This is how seemingly a large amount of severe injuries and even death occur when I was looking through reports on fireworks.  Leave the firework making to those professionally trained.  Our job is to enjoy their handiwork, not try and duplicate it.

My second tip is concerning food safety.  Whether you are cooking indoors or outdoors, make sure you clean all surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water.  When grilling, use separate plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat and ready-to-eat foods, like raw vegetables, to avoid cross-contamination.  Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer.  That’s the only way to know it’s a safe temperature.  Remember, burgers should be cooked to 160°F.  Pork should be cooked to 145°F for medium rare and 160°F for medium, with poultry needing to be cooked to 165°F.  Last, chill raw and prepared foods promptly if not consuming after cooking.  You shouldn’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F, so if you’re away from home, make sure you bring a cooler to store those leftovers.
Have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Irises to Beautify Your Garden

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

The yard I grew up with was a fenced oasis among the weeds and native plants of southeastern Washington.  I remember a lot of perennial flowers in the yard, but what I remember most were the irises that lined one side of the yard in its length, along with a small patch by the storage shed.  The irises came in yellow, white and purple.  They are largely gone now, part of the cycle of life as my parents simplified the lawn landscape and plants aged and died.  However, my memories of those irises have made that flower a favorite of mine in our garden here too.  
Irises come in all shapes, colors and sizes!
There are several types of iris out there and each person will prefer something different.  For all intents and purposes this week, we’ll divide them up into bearded and beardless.  Your stereotypical iris is a bearded iris.  What does that mean?  The beard is a fuzzy patch at the base of each falls petal.  A falls petal, of which there are three, is the petal that hangs downward.  The other three petals, of which there are also three, stand upright and are called standards.  Locate the falls petal and look at it near the center of the flower.  The beard is usually quite distinct, and you can feel the fuzzy hair-like feature.  A beardless variety lacks this beard completely.  Now, to make life confusing there are crested irises.  These lack beards but instead have a crest located in the same spot as a beard.  It has been described as a ridge or cockscomb. You can see and feel the higher crest but it will not be fuzzy.  That’s all I’ll say about crested irises for the time being.

Note the orangish beard on the iris above. 
With irises in our area either already done blooming, or close to it, how do we manage them the rest of the time?  As soon as bearded irises are done blooming, remove the spent flowers.  You can cut those flower stocks down to the base or where they join the leaves.  Removal of the spent flowers improves the appearance of the plants and prevents seed pod formation.  Bearded irises otherwise require little care during the summer months.  In late fall or early spring, remove the dead iris leaves.  It is important that you don’t cut the leaves back until the fall.  If you cut them back right after they are done blooming you are denying that root system of the nutrients it needs to grow and develop.  It usually takes several weeks for iris leaves to completely die back.  By early fall, the leaves are usually ready to be cut back, according to Utah State University Extension.  Leaves should be cut back to about 6 to 8 inches above the ground.  Then, wait until after the first hard frost.  This will kill off the remaining foliage, at which point you can remove it to the ground. If you can't stand the look of yellowing foliage, you can trim it a little at a time as it turns yellow or fold the leaves back so that the yellow parts are hidden from view.

To close for this week, bearded irises should be divided every three to five years, as the plants quickly become overcrowded and don’t bloom well.  July or August is the best time to dig, divide and transplant bearded irises. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Beware the Creeping Bellflower!

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

When we moved into our home, our yard overwhelmed us.  Honestly, it probably does still overwhelm us but maybe we’re used to it by now.  The previous owners, and I think the owners before them, spent their summers in the garden and yard, making the yard a beautiful thing.  We lead active lives where generally we try and keep up with the weeds and the lawn, yet it will sneak up on us.  That is one benefit of this year and the cancellation of meetings, events, etc.  We have actually done a better than average (for us) job of mowing, fertilizing, weeding and planting.  One weed that has plagued us since we moved in and ever since was mistakenly seen first as a tall, pretty plant with purple, bell-shaped flowers.  After about the first year, it became apparent that it wasn’t just a flower but a rapidly spreading menace, aptly named creeping bellflower.  It appeared to be pulled out easy enough, until we later discovered we weren’t getting the true roots.  Turns out we missed the large, carrot-like rhizomes that bury themselves deep in the soil.  Now, we work diligently to try and contain, if not eradicate, this weed that has become the bane of our garden. 

Photo courtesy of University of Arkansas Extension.
Creeping bellflower is a tough weed and it seems to out-compete anything in your flowerbed.  This plant has two very powerful means of reproduction.  First, as I mentioned before, it has thick, fleshy roots called rhizomes which spread and mat and crowd out other plants.  Secondly, each plant produces about 3,000 seeds in a growing season which remain viable in the soil for many years.  What are our management options, then?
 If nothing else, pick the flowers so they don’t go to seed and throw them away, far, far away from your yard and garden.  If digging them, as we tend to do, loosen the soil and remove as many roots as you can.  Rototilling them is discouraged as every tiny bit of root will result in a new plant.  Persistence each year in weeding is another tool that shouldn’t be overlooked.  We will probably have to continue to remove roots and plants for several years.  After weeding consider applying a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil.  Seeds need light to germinate and a thick layer of mulch will help prevent germination.  However, these roots will sometimes send up leaves even through mulch.  Stay on top of that and remove the leaves as soon as possible.  No leaves mean no photosynthesis and that will weaken the remaining roots in the soil.

Herbicides can help control creeping bellflower but quite often the initial control rate of herbicides containing glyphosate, dicamba, or picloram don’t prove 100% effective and subsequent sprays are even less effective.  2, 4-D appears to have even worse results unfortunately.  According to resources such as the University of Saskatchewan, you will have more success by removing roots, mulching and weeding new growth.
If you do happen to find creeping bellflower in your lawn, the best options are to dig it out and re-seed, or keep it mowed to prevent it from flowering.  Please contact your local county Extension office if you think you have creeping bellflower and you would like to have it confirmed

Friday, June 12, 2020

Pollinator Friendly Gardens

Creating Pollinator Friendly Gardens
Adriane Good, MSU Extension Pondera County

I’m sure most people by now have heard about the recent declines in bee numbers and how worried many people are about the loss of pollinators. A common source of blame for the loss of pollinators is the destruction of their habitat. The good news is, you can help create more habitat for pollinators relatively easily!

Before you go creating pollinator habitat, it’s important to know what qualifies as a pollinator. Many people only think of bees as pollinators, but butterflies, birds, and bats also do the important work of pollination. You can encourage all of these helpful flying creatures to come visit by doing a few things: using integrated pest management, providing food, and providing a place for them to nest.

Using integrated pest management on the nuisance insects on your yard will help keep the pollinators happy. This includes applying insecticides in the early morning or late evening when pollinators aren’t as active and using other non-chemical methods of pest control. This can be as simple as removing food sources for the nuisance bugs or as complicated as finding their native enemies and releasing them.

Pollinators also need a place to nest if they are going to come live in your yard. For most of our native pollinator insects, they live alone instead of in a hive. Most of them like to nest in undisturbed soil or rotting wood. Leaving patches of your garden undisturbed provides a home for those ground nesting pollinators, while leaving some brush piles laying around will provide a place for those that like building nests in wood. Brush piles don’t match the aesthetic of your yard? Instead, you can use untreated wood for your fences and lawn furniture to provide a place for pollinators to live.

And finally, a food source is important. While all flowers provide some sort of pollen and nectar, the ones that have lots of small blooms provide much more. These ones will attract much more pollinators. It’s also important to provide a variety of flowers for the pollinators to sample. You should aim to have flowers blooming all season long, from May to September. Having a variety of early and late bloomers, and a variety of flower sizes and colors will attract the greatest variety of pollinators. You also will want to plant your flowers in groups and make sure you have more than one of each kind. When you think about flowers in native prairie, you rarely see just one solitary buffalo bean, you see several all over the place. This is the way flowers naturally grow and it is better at attracting pollinators. Planting your flowers in drifts of at least 3 of each variety will help keep the pollinators coming back for more.

While a large variety of flowers is important, avoid planting noxious and obnoxious weeds. Some noxious weeds can be quite pretty and probably attract some pollinators, but they spread very quickly and are incredibly difficult to get rid of. Make sure you are checking to make sure you’re not planting something that your neighbors will get quite mad at you for. For this reason, pre-made wildflower packets can be dangerous. If you are planting a wildflower mix, make sure the weed seed percentage is low and the species listed are all acceptable to be grown here. I happen to have some wildflower packets in my office that came from Lake County Conservation District and have all native flower species in them. If you would like one of these packets, feel free to contact our office at 271-4054!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Overcoming Problems in the Garden

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

A lot of gardens are in now, and with a little luck, some good weather and a lot of hard work, people will be rewarded by the fruits of their labors at the end of the season.  With many of those garden plants being broad-leaf vegetables and with many of our other garden plants actively growing and blooming there are occasional problems that pop up. 

Sometimes, when we add amendments, like compost to our soils and gardens, we might see some oddball things start to happen to our plants.  Other times, we might be a little overzealous with our desire to keep broadleaf weeds out of our yards and gardens and spray herbicides far and wide.  At other times, our neighbors or various entities might get a little careless with their use of pesticides, and combined with some wind, you end up the recipient of their pesticide use.  All three of these scenarios result in garden and yard plants exhibiting signs of distress and various growth habits, like twisting, cupping and curling, that otherwise aren’t part of their normal growth patterns. 
Photo courtesy of University of Maryland Extension
With any of these scenarios, there are MSU Extension publications that detail how to overcome these preventable occurrences.  One way to stop herbicide injury from occurring in your garden is to know not only where your compost or garden amendments came from, but what was sprayed on them previous to their coming into your garden.  This is applicable when talking about adding composted manures from someone’s farm.  If the farm sprayed an herbicide on plants before animals ingested plants, it would work its way through the digestive system into the manure.  If enough time hasn’t passed to allow for herbicides to break down in that manure, it will find its way into your garden through the compost.

Photo courtesy of Clemson University
If you or your neighbor have sprayed too heavily, or too close to susceptible plants and your plants are looking poorly, the first step is to be more careful in the future.  If you are unsure what has been sprayed, or how much or when, then I would suggest a couple strategies.  First, if you suspect an herbicide residual exists in your garden, you can try a soil bioassay test.  This sounds daunting but it involves digging some of the soil that is suspected of having herbicide residue, planting it in some small pots, planting some seeds in the pots, and observing.  If you want to see a specific difference, have one of the small pots be a control with soil that you know isn’t suspected of having herbicide residue.  If you don’t see a difference in the plants between the control and other pots, then your plants and soil are ok.  Alternatively, if your plants come up a certain amount and then have a distorted appearance or die, you know that your soil is impacted and you’ll either have to wait a year to plant in that spot or bring in fresh soil.  To help expedite herbicide breakdown, try keeping the soil moist, growing a grass-type crop there, turn the soil to increase aeration and provide non-contaminated organic matter to support soil organisms. 
I know that there is much more to cover on this topic and so I would encourage you to stop by your local county Extension office for the free publications on this topic.