Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cold Weather Tips For Poultry

The spring and summer are usually easy seasons to manage your chickens, however, winter may offer a few challenges. Here is a few tips to keep your chickens productive and happy.

Chickens actually can do very well in cold weather. Egg production usually will slow down with colder weather. The first instinct people have is to lock their chickens in the hen house or outbuilding. This can cause more trouble than the cold. Chickens should be provided shelter in the winter, but be sure to provide plenty of ventilation. Ventilation should allow air exchange but not allow wind through the house.

If you allow your hens outside in the summer, offer them the choice in the winter. Exercise is important for the health of the birds. To help keep hens warm keep adequate feed for the birds.
The idea of adding heat to the chicken house to increase winter production has been tried and usually doesn’t pay off. To help keep the birds warm add a layer of straw or hay to the floor of the house. Feeding scratch in the evening helps keep chickens busy and keeps their crop full before going to roost.

One of the most important things in the winter is a constant supply of water. It is challenging in the winter to keep non-frozen water supplied to your birds. Many of the traditional waterers are hard to open when frozen, and plastic waterers will freeze and crack. Galvanized waterers work better but still can be damaged if the water is allowed to freeze solid. The best practice is to fill waterers half full in early morning and again in the afternoon. When temperatures are below 15˚ it is best to take the waterers in at night.

In the winter it is best to gather eggs twice a day, especially in freezing conditions. Chickens will naturally lose their feathers, which is called molting. During the molt, egg production will decrease, and the birds will eat less. Production will increase next spring as daylight increases.
The winter is the time of year that you should be on the lookout for predators. Raccoons, skunks and often neighborhood pets will get into chickens this time of year. The best way to avoid predator losses is to prevent them from occurring. Make your hen house and run predator “proof”. Some predators can fit into small openings, while others prefer to dig their way in. Examine your pen to eliminate holes, weak places in the fence, and remove brush and weeds from around the chicken house.
A few simple steps now can help maintain your chicken flock, keeping it productive.

The five P's for winter feeding the beef herd

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

The wind is blowing and the rain has stopped for now, the fall colored leaves are now dropping faster, winter will be just right around the corner. Last winter was a trying time for everyone, but was especially hard on livestock and their caretakers. I think the severity of winter found many people not prepared, I hope this year will be different! Here are some tips to help you prepare for winter.

The first step to take is to inventory your animals, and identify groups that have like nutritional needs. How many cows in middle gestation, these should be bred 5-7 months. Bred replacement heifers, weaned calves, bulls and lactating cows. Typically 1100 lb. gestating cows will need 26.5 lbs. of dry matter daily, this translates to 31 lbs. of hay daily.

The next step is to determine how many days you will be feeding. If you still have some grazing left you can estimate the amount of forage available. A general rule of thumb is that there is 200 lbs. of dry matter yield per acre of inch of forage height. This is a rough estimate and depends on density of the stand. It is common in our area to feed hay, 150 to 180 days.

The third step is to inventory your hay supply. The only way to truly know how much feed value the hay contains is to have it tested. The hay testing costs $10 per sample with the NCDA. If you do not test your forages then you should at least give them an estimate for quality. Most of the hay tested in our area will be 7-10% CP and 45-55% TDN. This quality of hay will feed middle gestating cows and mature bulls providing sufficient nutrients except for some minerals.

Growing and lactating animals need increased nutrition to be productive. The classes of animals with higher nutritional requirements should be supplemented. There are many byproducts of grain processing that meet the nutritional needs of the beef herd. Some of these products are soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, cottonseed, and many combinations sold by feed companies. The extension service can help you develop a feeding plan including a balanced ration.

The fourth step is to examine your feeding system. Do you simply place round bales out in pastures? Are they fed in rings or bale feeders, or are they rolled out on the ground? Research has shown that by simply placing round hay bales out in the pasture, losses can exceed 30%. If you are storing hay outside and uncovered your total losses could easily be 50%. It will not take very long to recoup the cost of a hay ring, to reduce these losses. There should be enough feeder space to prevent lower status cows from not receiving enough hay. The common practice here in the mountains of unrolling hay can be very effective. If this system is only used when the weather is favorable, then losses can be reduced. Unrolling hay also offers the advantage of allowing all cows to eat at the same time, avoiding boss cows becoming overfed and more timid cows not getting enough to eat.
Take the time to do a little planning to insure you have a plan to feed your cows this winter. A little time spent now can help avoid problems this winter, especially if it turns out similar to last year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

State Champ Butternut??

I'm pretty certain that Watauga County can add a state champion butternut (Juglans cinerea) to its list of champion trees.  On the way out to a site visit at David Yates' property in the Cool Springs community, Soil and Water Technician Brian Chatham mentioned that Mr. Yates had a big butternut on his property. He wasn't kidding!! The tree measured 22 feet in circumference at chest height and has a crown spread of over 100 feet. PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.  Unfortunately the picture doesn't really do it justice. We will definitely be nominating the tree into the North Carolina Champion Big Tree program. Currently Watauga County holds claim to the state champ sugar maple and weeping willow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lingering Chores for Landscapes

For die-hard gardeners, it can be a bittersweet experience to have the dormancy and cold of winter rapidly approaching.  To ensure that your gardens and landscapes weather through the upcoming season there are a few helpful reminders to act upon while ground is still visible!

Mulch, mulch and more mulch
Mulch helps insulate plant roots from the cold and also helps to reduce soil moisture loss.  A properly applied mulch layer can also help reduce the likelihood that plants will be uplifted from the soil during freezing and thawing over the course of the winter.  But don’t go overboard… huge piles of mulch around tree trunks and branches can actually lead to rot and other problems.  Usually a 2-3” layer of mulch is ample for winter protection. 

Mulch is also a great cover for chipmunks, mice and voles that can easily girdle young trees and shrubs.  Pull the mulch away from tree trunks and branches, leaving several inches between the plant and the mulch layer.  This open space makes critters more visible to predators and can help you visibly detect if you do have rodent pests sneaking around your plants. 

Water well
Water is essential for plant growth and survival.  With evergreen plants that hold onto their leaves and needles throughout the winter, water is a necessity for making it through to spring.  Desiccation, or the drying out of foliage, is a common culprit for plant death in the winter.  Drying winter winds coupled with intense winter sun causes plants to transpire and that lost moisture cannot be adequately replaced if the ground is frozen below the plants root system.   It is important to water plantings well during a dry fall to ensure that plants can access suitable moisture reserves.  A long deep soaking of the soil can help to ease the stress of winter conditions.  It is also not uncommon to water landscape plants during warm spells throughout the winter, to help replace some of the lost moisture. 

Wind barriers
For small evergreens that are in exposed locations you can create a seasonal windbreak to protect them from harsh, drying winter winds.  For most plants, it’s best to use metal stakes or other available materials like pallets, to first build a frame around the plant and then wrap materials like burlap or canvas around the frame.  Avoid using black plastic as a wrapping material as this can cause alter the ambient temperature around the plant and lead to problems.  While it may not look fabulous, this method can save young evergreens and help them to weather through the winter.  Anti-desiccants are also used as a foliar spray on evergreen foliage, however frequent application is required and UV light can degrade them so quickly that they often are not successful. 

So enjoy these last few opportunities to be outside in your gardens and spend the winter dreaming of the new plants you’ll add next year!

High Country Local Food Summit

The second annual High Country Local Food Summit aims to connect community members in the High Country interested in maturing the region’s local food system.   Local government officials, farmers, restaurants, grocery store managers, entrepreneurs, land trusts, advocacy groups, students and consumers are invited to attend the day and a half event focusing on education, collaboration and inspiration.  The 2010 theme will be Sustaining Communities: Bringing Economy, Ecology and Equality to the Table.

Key issues of economy, ecology, and equity within our local food system were defined during last years' Summit. This years' Summit will provide ample opportunity for networking, planning and problem solving through a mixture of expert panels, working groups, and lively facilitated discussion as we work toward a more sustainable community in the High Country. The Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Program at Appalachian State University and the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Service present this event with generous support from Mazie Jones Levenson.  The Summit will be held at the Valle Crucis Conference Center in beautiful Valle Crucis, NC on Friday and Saturday November 12-13, 2010

No matter what your interest— farming, government policy, land use, community service, entrepreneurship, social justice and equity, youth engagement, healthy eating and wellness, or natural resource conservation— we all stand to benefit from the multiple opportunities this year's Food Summit has to offer.

The summit fee of $25 will cover any materials and meals during the Summit. All food will be locally produced.  Panel and working group session topics include:

Farm Finances and Grant Monies, Food Security and Hunger, Sustainable Forestry, Possibilities for Local Meat Processing Facilities in the High Country, Farmer Access to Appalachian Food Services at ASU, Direct Marketing, Land Access for Older and Newer Farmers, and Overcoming Obstacles for Farm Profitability.

Seating is limited, so reserve your space now!  Visit to register.  

Questions?  Email or call 828-262-7248. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

NCSU River Course comes to Banner Elk

Track hoes are digging, vegetation is being planted, and fish are finding a new home in Shawneehaw Creek this week.  The Banner Elk town park has been instrumental in demonstrating stream restoration projects over the years with the final phase being completed this week.  Over 30 workshop participants observed the contractors and designers performance during the  NCSU Biological and Agricultural Engineering River Course training in conjunction with the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Northstate Environmental, Blue Ridge Environmental Consulting, the Town of Banner Elk, and the Cooperative Extension.  Folks got to see first-hand the installation of trout habitat structures, bioengineering techniques, and the use of a pump around system to reduce sediment and stress on "critter" populations.  During this two day, professional development workshop environmental professionals, including engineers, ecologists, biologists, hydrologists, geomorphologists, landscape architects, planners and natural resource program managers,  had "hands-on" learning experiences with field work in small groups, data analysis, design case studies, and site tours.
For more information on River Course Programs go to

Watching "Mosquito Hawks" at the Constructed Wetland

As they peered through their reliable binocular lenses, they watched the
defenders of the pond put on a show of aerial acrobatics.  John and
Jeannette Murray have been identifying the different species of
dragonflies and damselflies that have moved into the newly constructed
wetland in Boone this summer.  The couple have been regular visitors to
the wetland and said they enjoy unwinding with a stroll around the ponds
observing the hovering, spinning, fascinating show the insects choreograph. 
Since July 2010, they have counted 15 species of dragonflies and 5 species
of damselflies.  (see below for list of species names)

You may be wondering how to tell the difference between a dragonfly and
damselfly?  The best way is to look at their wings when they are at rest.
Typically dragonflies keep their wings out to the sides flat at rest. 
Damselflies have most of the same body parts as dragonflies but keep their
wings closed above their body when at rest.  The damselfly is also a
predator but they typically aren't as fierce and quick as the dragonfly.

Observing this many species at the wetland is a wonderful sign, it exhibits
a thriving ecosystem.  The dragonflies are sometimes referred to as
"mosquito hawks" because of the amount of pesky mosquitoes they consume. 
Some species mouths are big enough to devour mosquitoes in mid flight,
while others will catch their prey mid flight and fly to a leaf to eat.
Not to worry because rarely are their mouths big enough to bite humans.

One of the most interesting aspects of these insects is the way they spend
the first part of their lives.  Female adults will lay eggs in water
edges, wet plant material, and depending on species they will hatch
anywhere from a few weeks to a few seasons.  Once the larvae is in the
water they swim and hide and wait for prey to swim by.  Throughout spring,
summer, and fall, exuvia can be found lingering on plant stems which is
the leftover exoskeleton that is left behind after the larvae splits and
the adult pushes itself free.

The numbers of dragonflies and damselflies are starting to dwindle with the
cooler temperatures this fall, we are all looking forward to observing these daring 
stunt fliers in 2011. If you are interested in learning more about these 
captivating insects, a guide book has recently been produced by Giff Beaton, 
Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast.   
List of Odonates found at the wetland Summer 2010 (thank you to 
John and Jeannette Murray for the list compilation)

Common Whitetail
Widow Skimmer
Eastern Amberwing
Twelve Spotted Skimmer
Golden Winged Skimmer
Eastern Pondhawk
Common Green Darner
Blue Dasher
Slaty Skimmer
Swamp Darner
Wandering Glider
Black Saddlebags
Autumn Meadowhawk

Ebony Jewelwing
Familial Bluet
Blue Fronted Dancer
Powdered Dancer
Eastern Forktail

Monday, October 4, 2010

NC 4-H Youth Development announces the “Hungry to Help” initiative

We’ve all heard the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, it’s true – nutritious food is good medicine. Food is one of our most basic needs. Along with oxygen, water, and shelter, it is necessary for human survival. In a nation as affluent as the United States, no child should go hungry. Yet everyday hunger disrupts the lives of 1 in 5 children in North Carolina. 

Hunger is a problem hiding “in plain sight” in North Carolina. Whether it involves skipping meals, eating less than is needed to live a healthy life, or making do with foods that are filling but not nutritious, hunger’s effects can be devastating, especially among our more vulnerable citizens, including children and older adults.

To combat hunger the NC 4-H Youth Development program and the Food Banks of North Carolina, all of which are affiliates of Feeding America our nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, have teamed up to promote awareness of hunger in North Carolina and to make an impact in local communities through a new hunger awareness initiative entitled “Hungry to Help.” 

The Agricultural Conference Center is serving as a “drop-off” location for canned food donations, so leave an item when you visit.