A Forest in Western Kansas

A Forest in Western Kansas
Sand hills in northwestern Haskell County, Kansas

In 1891, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, which gave the President the authority to create forest reserves from land in the public domain.

This might not sound like an event with much significance to Kansas, particularly the western part of the state.  But it was.

The person who made the Forest Reserve Act significant to western Kansas was Theodore Roosevelt.  As you undoubtedly know, Roosevelt loved the outdoors and promoted the creation of national parks.  Toward the end of his presidency, he had more than doubled the forest reserve acreage nationwide.

One of the forest reserves that Roosevelt created was the Garden City National Forest, covering 97,280 acres southwest of Garden City.  This forest reserve, established in 1905, was located in the sand hills of the southern Arkansas River Lowlands and represented efforts to make the West resemble the East, a popular idea in that day.  Western Kansas was still being settled at that time, and very slowly, too.  Homesteaders from back east missed the rain and trees of their old homes, and longed to transform Kansas into something similar.  By plowing, they hoped to draw moisture to the region.  By planting trees, they hoped to recreate their ideal of good farmland.

Plantings began in 1906 with 50,000 yellow pines and 30,000 locust, hackberry, and Osage orange trees.  More trees followed the next year, but disaster struck in the form of a prairie fire.  Over 200 acres burned, destroying many of the young trees.

However, the promoters of forestry were not daunted.  In 1908, the Garden City National Forest was renamed Kansas National Forest and expanded to include a total of 302,287 acres.  The forest then included parts of Finney, Haskell, Kearny, Grant, and Hamilton counties and stretched all the way to the Colorado state line.  About 125,000 new trees were planted, as well.  Most of these were pines, but in subsequent years experiments were made with hardwood trees, particularly locust and Osage orange.  Drought hit in March 1911, however, and killed off about 90% of the forest.

For four more years foresters struggled against the elements, but the hot, dry climate of the region prevented the Kansas National Forest from ever thriving.  In December 1915, the forest was abolished.  The land returned to the public domain once more and was gradually settled under the rules of the Homestead Act.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, the strongest trees in the forest were a few yellow pines from the original 1906 planting.  They grew to be two feet tall.

Weather Folklore: Rain or Shine?

Weather Folklore: Rain or Shine?Throughout the years, people have come up with some interesting ways to try to predict the weather. While it is easy to dismiss this fascinating body of folklore as superstition or hasty generalization, some of the old sayings have stood the test of time. The trick is to separate the fact from the fiction.

Over the next few weeks we will take a look at some of the old sayings and see which ones are true and why. We will start by examining ways to predict dry and wet weather.

  • Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.
    Fact. If the sky is red at sunset, the sun is shining on clouds in the east, which have already moved away. If the sky is red at sunrise, the sun is shining on clouds to the west, which are probably on their way.
  • Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning.
    Fact. A morning rainbow appears when there is rain to the west, the direction from which bad weather is likely to come.
  • When halo rings the moon or sun, rain is approaching on the run.
    Fact. A strong, obvious halo indicates that the moon or sun is shining through ice crystals at high altitudes. These high ice clouds usually give way to lower rain clouds.
  • Frost or dew in the morning light, shows no rain before the night.
    Fact. Cool, clear weather is necessary for condensation to form.
  • Short notice, soon to pass; long notice, long will last.
    Fact. A sudden thunderstorm is usually associated with a cold front, which quickly moves on its way. A long period of threatening weather usually precedes a warm front, which may take several days to pass by.
  • Rain before seven, clear by eleven.
    Just depends. If the rain is associated with a cold front, this saying will probably hold true. If the rain is associated with a warm front, however, it could last all day.
  • The higher the clouds, the finer the weather.
    Just depends. High clouds themselves do not bring rain, and may indeed be indicators of fine weather. However, they may also give way to lower rainmaking clouds.
  • Mountains in the morning, fountains in the evening.
    Fact. Mountainous clouds usually turn into thunderstorms.
  • No weather is ill, if the wind is still.
    Just depends. Still winds usually indicate the presence of calm, high-pressure weather. On the other hand, those who have spent plenty of time outdoors know the truth of the phrase “the calm before the storm!”
  • When windows won’t open, and the salt clogs the shaker, the weather will favor the umbrella maker.
    Fact. Windows that stick and salt that clumps together indicate high humidity—in other words, wet weather.
  • When sounds travel far and wide, a stormy day will betide.
    Just depends. Moist air conducts sound better than dry air, so there is an element of truth to this. However, cold air conducts sound better than warm air. This is why sound can carry so far on a clear, still winter day, without any rain or snow following.
  • A coming storm your shooting corns presage, and aches will throb, your hollow tooth will rage.
    Fact. There appears to be a correlation between changes in air pressure and aches and pains. Some scientists dismiss this bit of folk wisdom by suggesting that selective memory may be at play, but the saying has been proven true too many times to ignore.
Helpful Resource

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather NotebookThe Old Farmer's Almanac Weather Notebook
A good way to track the accuracy of weather sayings. Includes a daily dose of folklore. Read our full review.

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Weather FolkloreWeather Folklore


Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens

Storey's Guide to Raising ChickensAre you considering raising chickens for the first time?  Are you a beginner with a brand-new flock?  Have you been keeping chickens for a few years but still have some problems to solve?

If you can identify with any of these questions, one book you should consider reading is Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.  This guide can be an incredible help right from the start, but it can also help you with troubleshooting later on.

Topics include:

  • Buying chickens.
  • Housing.
  • Feed.
  • Predators.
  • First aid.
  • Egg production problems.
  • Breeding chickens.
  • Raising chicks.
  • Raising meat birds.

And this is just the beginning!

Although there may be times when you would want to delve deeper into a specific topic, such as the particulars of building a coop or solving a health problem, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens is a handy resource to have on your shelf.  It covers all of the basics in an easy-to-understand manner.

A good starting point, but equally handy for answering questions later on.  Highly recommended!

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is critical for animal health because it is involved in a vast number of chemical reactions within the body.  Besides turning fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy, vitamin B5 interacts with other vitamins to perform necessary functions.  For example, it works with vitamin C to maintain the health of the adrenal glands.

Pantothenic acid plays in important role in the immune system, helping it to remove toxic substances from the body.  This vitamin also assists in the production of hormones, the transmission of signals along the nerves, and the creation of blood cells.  Not surprisingly, vitamin B5 is important for proper reproduction and growth.


Natural Sources

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

Grazing animals can manufacture their own vitamin B5 when provided with well-grown green forages, especially alfalfa.

Swine and poultry must receive vitamin B5 in their diet.  Good sources include whole barley, wheat bran, peanut meal, condensed fish solutions, molasses, and yeast.

Pets can obtain vitamin B5 from almost any source, including vegetables, brewer’s yeast, peanut meal, whole wheat, wheat bran, and rice bran.  The best sources, however, are eggs, beef, organ meats, saltwater fish, and dairy products.


Causes of Deficiency

Pantothenic acid deficiency is relatively uncommon in pets and livestock.  It is most likely in swine and poultry and almost always signals an unbalanced diet.  Vitamin B5 deficiency appears to be more prevalent in swine fed swill that consists largely of bakery waste.


Symptoms of Deficiency

  • Overall poor health.
  • Inability to fight infection.
  • Nervousness.
  • Stress intolerance.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Hair loss.
  • Premature graying.
  • Dermatitis, especially at the corners of the mouth.
  • Ruffled, brittle feathers.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Incoordination.
  • Goose-stepping gait in swine.
  • Posterior paralysis in swine.
  • Marked drop in hatchability with mortality peaking in late incubation.
  • Reduced growth (may be the only symptom noticed in ducks).
  • Sudden death.


Symptoms of Toxicity

Because vitamin B5 is water-soluble, it is considered safe for most pets and farm animals.


Medicinal Uses

Research on the benefits of pantothenic acid is still in the early stages.  Because of the role this vitamin plays in aiding the immune system, it may be helpful in treating infection and for combating the effects of stress.  It may have a positive effect on the nervous system and on reproduction, as well.

Studies have suggested another interesting use for vitamin B5.  It appears that when swine are supplemented with pantothenic acid, they put on a higher proportion of lean meat than they would otherwise.


Content regarding medical conditions and treatment is provided for general information purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal, medical, or professional advice.  Please consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your specific animal’s needs.


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An Introduction to NPK

An Introduction to NPKNPK is an acronym you will frequently run across when dealing with plants, particularly field crops.  The three letters are merely the chemical symbols of three nutrients:

  1. Nitrogen (N).
  2. Phosphorus (P).
  3. Potassium (K).

So why is there so much emphasis on N, P, and K?  Each of these nutrients is essential to plants because they serve vital functions.


Nitrogen (N)

Gardeners generally think of nitrogen as the nutrient that makes beautiful leafy vegetables.  But nitrogen has many other essential functions, as well:

  • Making chlorophyll.
  • Giving cells their structure.
  • Assisting plant growth and reproduction.
  • Helping the plant synthesize and use energy.


An Introduction to NPKPhosphorus (P)

Gardeners tend to think of phosphorus as the “fruit nutrient,” the element which helps an apple or a tomato grow and ripen properly.  Phosphorus does serve in this role, but it also has other purposes:

  • Assisting in photosynthesis.
  • Giving DNA its structure.
  • Enhancing plant growth, particularly in the roots.
  • Providing the plant with resistance to diseases, challenging weather conditions, and other sources of stress.


Potassium (K)

Gardeners typically associate potassium with (you guessed it) roots and tubers because these types of plants tend to feed heavily on potassium, providing the nutrient to the humans who eat them.  All plants, however, use large amounts of potassium; root crops simply have a special storage mechanism.

Plants feed heavily on potassium because this nutrient is involved in so many critical functions:

  • Activating enzymes.
  • Enhancing fruit quality.
  • Providing disease resistance.
  • Maintaining proper ion balance.
  • Helping roots take in water by osmosis.
  • Regulating water pressure via small openings in the leaves.


Beyond NPK

An Introduction to NPK

Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium can justly be considered the building blocks of plant nutrition because they are so essential.

Unfortunately, farmers and gardeners all too often focus exclusively on providing their plants with NPK and forget about the trace minerals (also known as micronutrients) that plants need, as well.  Plants rarely show signs of a zinc, manganese, or molybdenum deficiency.  When animals and humans eat crops or forages that have been grown on micronutrient-deficient soils for extended periods of time, however, their health may suffer.

But there’s good news!  You don’t have to be a chemist to understand what your plants need to eat.  By regularly feeding the soil with organic matter and green or animal manures, you will not only keep NPK levels high, but you will enrich the soil with trace minerals, as well.

What is Hybrid Vigor?

What is Hybrid Vigor?Hybrid vigor, technically called heterosis, is a phenomenon that occurs in the offspring of unrelated parent plants or animals.  These hybrid offspring are generally considered to posses a number of superior traits.  For example:

  • Hardiness.
  • Longevity.
  • Fertility.
  • Rapid growth.

The term hybrid vigor is typically applied to the offspring of crosses between entirely different breeds or varieties.  However, it can also be applied to the offspring of a cross between two family lines within the same breed, a common practice when breeding commercial White Leghorn hens.  In some cases it can even refer to the results of a cross between two different species, such as when a horse and a donkey are crossed to produce a mule.


Causes of Hybrid Vigor

There are two traditional theories about the causes of hybrid vigor:

  1. Beneficial genes from one parent mask the harmful genes from another.
  2. Certain combinations of unlike genes just naturally work well together.

While plant and animal breeders have used these basic principles to their advantage for centuries, scientists are just beginning to realize that hybrid vigor is quite complicated.  MicroRNA, very small molecules of RNA, appear to be involved in determining which genes are allowed to control the characteristics of the hybrid and to what extent; and it appears that other factors are at play, as well.

So although we know that the two basic principles above are true to some degree, at present we have to admit that we simply don’t have a full understanding of what causes hybrid vigor.



What is Hybrid Vigor?
Cornish cross broilers

Hybrid vigor is not unchallenged by skeptics.  This is partly because some adherents to the theory have used it as an excuse to keep inferior breeding animals.  If an animal that is deficient in health, temperament, or performance traits is mated to an unrelated animal, the offspring will nevertheless be superior, right?  Not necessarily.  The results are much more predictable and desirable when the cross is made between two good-quality parents.

Another common objection is that hybrid vigor is not sustainable.  An Angus and a Hereford can be mated to create a Black Baldy with its associated benefit of hybrid vigor, but then what can you do with the Black Baldy besides finish it for beef?  Some people create complicated breeding plans involving crossing hybrids back to first one of the parent breeds and then the other, but it is generally recognized that hybrid vigor mostly occurs in the first generation.  This is why most of the hybrid seeds for sale are categorized as F1 (first-generation hybrid).

For this reason, critics of hybrid vigor would argue that crossbreeding is a “quick fix.”  To maximize hybrid vigor, some breeders have to raise purebreds anyway.  Why not focus on breeding desired traits into the purebreds?

The fact remains, however, that hybrid vigor is a real phenomenon.  Farmers buy hybrid seeds that are particularly adapted to meet the challenges of their unique growing conditions.  Hybrids also dominate the livestock industry, with Baldies reigning in the sale barns, Cornish crosses in the poultry realm, and various combinations of chickens in the egg-laying business, all because of their superior ability to produce.

Kansas Barns

Kansas BarnsHave you ever driven along the back roads of Kansas and wondered about the stories those old barns could tell?

Whether you love barns or are just an all-around Kansas history buff, you will probably enjoy Kansas Barns and Kansas Barns II by Martha Knudsen. The two-volume set features at least one barn from every county in Kansas, each sketched in accurate and intricate detail by the author. Many of the barns are also accompanied by a brief description and a little historical background.

Kansas BarnsThese attractive books can be an interesting source of information if you happen to spot a barn somewhere in rural Kansas, or they can sit on the coffee table for perusal on those rainy days. They also make excellent gifts.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is a key part of the metabolism, helping the body process fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids.  This translates into a number of vital roles.  Niacin is essential for the health of the skin, bones, joints, mucous membranes, digestive system, and central nervous system.


Natural Sources

Grazing animals can synthesize their own niacin when provided with forage-based diets.  Alfalfa and timothy hay are especially beneficial.

Other types of animals must consume vitamin B3 in their diet.  Here arises a great deal of confusion.  Cereal grains such as corn are high in niacin, but one sometimes overlooked fact is that animals cannot always use the form of the vitamin found in these grains.  For swine and poultry, therefore, better sources of vitamin B3 would include fish meal, wheat bran, and brewer’s yeast.

Although dogs can manufacture their own niacin, dietary sources appear to be more efficient, and cats absolutely must receive niacin in their diets.  Yeast, fish, and poultry are good sources.  While dogs are able to convert nutrients in nuts and leafy vegetables to niacin, cats are strictly dependent on the niacin found in animal proteins.


Vitamin B3 (Niacin)Causes of Deficiency

As you might expect, niacin deficiencies are very rare in grazing animals.  When they do occur, they can usually be attributed to either antibiotic treatment or a highly concentrated diet with little natural forage.

In swine, poultry, and pets, another possible cause of a deficiency is feeding forms of vitamin B3 that the animals cannot use.  There is some speculation that niacin deficiency may be caused by excessive amounts of leucine, an amino acid found in soybeans, but experts are not in agreement on this theory.  Also, feeding vegetarian diets to cats is likely to cause a vitamin B3 deficiency.


Symptoms of Deficiency

  • Weakness.
  • Dementia in pets.
  • Bad breath in dogs.
  • Increased salivation.
  • Inflamed tongue and oral cavity in chicks and dogs.
  • Oral ulcers in cats.
  • Dermatitis/poor feathering.
  • Leg problems in poultry.
  • Anemia.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Reduced cold tolerance.
  • Severe metabolic disorders.
  • Reduced egg production.
  • Drastic drop in hatchability.
  • Poor growth.


Symptoms of Toxicity

Because vitamin B3 is water-soluble, toxicity is highly unlikely in most farm animals.

Niacin is not considered quite as safe for pets, however.  Extremely high doses can cause skin rashes, ulcers, and liver damage.


Medicinal Uses

Niacin has been the subject of numerous studies in recent years, and is probably one of the more frequently supplemented vitamins, particularly in the swine and broiler industries.

In broilers, vitamin B3 is used to partly correct leg problems while still maintaining rapid weight gains.

In swine, niacin supplementation before slaughter appears to improve pork quality.

In dairy cattle, vitamin B3 has a number of beneficial effects.  It improves digestive health, which can lead to better body condition and may prevent metabolic disorders.  Niacin also appears to increase the fertility of dairy cows and may increase milk yield in the early stages of lactation.

In dogs, vitamin B3 is often prescribed to treat discoid lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease in which the body becomes allergic to the skin, resulting in crusting, sores, and pigment loss around the nose, eyes, ears, and paws.  Niacin has also been used with success to treat seizures.


Content regarding medical conditions and treatment is provided for general information purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal, medical, or professional advice.  Please consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your specific animal’s needs.


Complete Series