Conformation (Free Download)

ConformationConformation is a frequently misunderstood topic.  All too often, when people (even livestock breeders) think of conformation, they think of the cosmetic aspect, the eye appeal, of an animal.

The American Quarter Horse Association published a free PDF download on this topic from a different perspective: Conformation: The Relationship of Form to Function by Marvin Beeman, DVM.

As you would expect from a veterinarian, Dr. Beeman’s emphasis is on the way a horse’s physical build and appearance affects the way it moves and performs.

In part one, after a handy explanation of what conformation should mean, he goes on to break down the individual components of conformation and their significance:

  • Balance.
  • Head shape.
  • Ears.
  • Shoulder angles.
  • Legs and hooves.
  • Back length.

This part of the download is more hypothetical, using line drawings to illustrate the point.

In part two, Beeman reveals the proof of what he explained in the first part.  This section of the PDF is liberally illustrated with photos and X-rays of real horses, exhibiting both good and bad conformation.

If you want to understand conformation, this download is an outstanding presentation.  And it’s free!


CarrotCarrots are a garden favorite.  One of the tastiest ways to enjoy them is to peel them, cut them up into sticks, and serve them raw with dip.  They also add a nice touch to stir-fries and soups.

Looking for something a little different?  Try boiling or steaming some carrots and serving them as a side dish.  Or shred them for carrot cake!

One word on peeling homegrown carrots—don’t do it.  These aren’t like store-bought carrots with that tough hide on them.  There is so much flavor and nutrition in the peels of homegrown carrots, and they really are tender.  Clean them up with a vegetable brush under the faucet, but don’t peel them.


Preferred Conditions

  • Cool weather, but will grow in summer if cared for properly (see below).
  • Full sun.
  • Plenty of moisture.
  • Light, deep, well-drained soil.
  • A pH around 6.5, although anywhere between 5.5 and 6.8 is acceptable.



  1. Till the soil deeply, removing rocks, clods of dirt, and all other hard objects as you go.
  2. Plant directly in the garden three to six weeks before the last spring frost.  In Kansas, mid-April to early May is the best time.
  3. Soak the seeds in water overnight.  This step is optional, but will ensure the best results.
  4. Plant two to three inches apart and cover with half an inch of the loosest soil available.  Sand or peat moss will work nicely, too.
  5. Water thoroughly, but be very careful not to wash the seeds away.  Try to keep the ground moist at all times.
  6. Be patient.  Carrots may take as long as two weeks to sprout.
  7. For a continuous harvest, plant a new batch every two to three weeks until the ideal planting time has ended.
  8. For a fall crop, plant more carrots about 12 weeks before the first frost.  In Kansas, mid-July to early August is ideal.



It is very easy to overplant carrots because the seeds are so small.  You may need to thin them periodically as they grow.  Start by pinching the seedlings off when they are about two inches tall.  You want to have them two to three inches apart, as mentioned above.  As the carrots grow their roots, check them occasionally to make sure they aren’t crowding each other.  Pull the offenders to eat.

For best results, you will have to be very careful watering your carrots.  The goal is to keep the ground somewhat damp, but not soggy.  In hot weather, you will probably need to use mulch and water the carrots every day.  Remember, though, that when it comes to carrots it is better to water in small amounts more frequently than to water heavily every once in a while.  Soakings tend to make carrots split open.

Another thing you will have to keep an eye on is the top of the roots.  Any part of the carrot root sticking out above the ground will turn green or purple in the sun.  While “green shoulders” are safe to eat, they don’t taste the best.  Keep the carrot roots covered up with soil or mulch to avoid this problem.


CarrotPests and Diseases

  • Aphids.
  • Carrot rust flies.
  • Carrot weevils.
  • Cutworms.
  • Deer.
  • Mice, voles, etc.
  • Rabbits.
  • Woodchucks.
  • Leaf blight.
  • Root knot nematode.



A carrot can be harvested at any time.  The question is mainly how big do you want to let it grow.  If it is interfering with other carrots, pull it no matter how big or small it is.  Otherwise, just pull a few every now and again when they look the right size to you.

Do not pull carrots up by the tops or the leaves may break off, leaving you with a root buried somewhere in the ground.  If the soil is loose enough, dig around the carrot with your finger until you can get a good hold on the upper part of the root.  Gently rock the carrot from side to side and work it out of the ground.  If your soil is heavy, you may have to loosen it with a fork or trowel, but be very careful not to hit the carrots.



For short-term storage, put the carrots into the refrigerator with their tops on.

For long-term storage, pull them before a severe frost, cut all but an inch of the tops off, and store in a root cellar in sand or sawdust.  Another option is to leave the carrots in the ground during the winter under hay bales or really thick mulch.  Finally, carrots can also be canned or frozen.


Saving Seeds

  1. Store the carrots during the winter in the garden or in a root cellar as described above.
  2. Replant them in the spring, if necessary, giving them plenty of TLC since they take a long time to reroot.
  3. Separate from other carrot family members, including Queen Anne’s lace, by half a mile.  If this is not possible, place a protective cage over the carrots when they flower.
  4. Use a soft bristle brush or the palm of your hand to transfer pollen from one set of flowers (umbels) to another periodically.
  5. Allow the umbels to dry on the plant.
  6. Crumble the pods.
  7. Screen the seeds to remove debris.
  8. Store seeds in a cool, dry place.  They should last for up to three years.


Helpful Resource

Carrot Factsheets
Find out more about powdery mildew, leaf blight, and root-knot nematode.


Complete Series



How the Carbon Cycle Works

How the Carbon Cycle WorksThe law of conservation of mass teaches us that matter cannot be destroyed.  It can only change forms.

This principle has many practical applications.  Some of them have to do with agriculture.  For example, the carbon cycle.


How It Works

  1. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis.
  2. The carbon dioxide is converted into plant cells.
  3. Animals and humans eat the plants and thereby take in carbon.
  4. This carbon is then exhaled and released back into the atmosphere for plants to use again.
  5. If the plant dies without being eaten, it decomposes and its carbon goes into either the soil or the atmosphere.
  6. Carbon in the soil may eventually be returned to the cycle through ingestion and respiration by microorganisms.
  7. Soil carbon may also enter the water supply through erosion, eventually making its way to the ocean either to be returned to the atmosphere or to feed marine plants and animals.
  8. Some of the carbon in the soil remains in place for many years, however.  Depending on conditions it may be converted to coal, oil, natural gas, or sedimentary rocks.
  9. At this point, the carbon can be returned to the cycle either through volcanic activity or human intervention in the form of burning fuel.  In either case, the carbon once again returns to the atmosphere to start the cycle over again.


What This Means to the Farm

As you probably guessed, the carbon cycle is very important to the farm.  It is necessary to support plant life, which in turn is necessary to support animal and human life.

Part of stewarding the carbon cycle is capturing its full potential.  For example, most farmers try to avoid soil erosion, which moves valuable carbon off of the farm.  It will not go to waste (conservation of mass, remember?), but it will be lost to the farmer in question, reducing his ability to grow the plants and animals that make up his livelihood.

Another example of making use of the carbon cycle is composting.  In composting, gardeners take dead plants and allow them to decompose in a place where their carbon and other nutrients can be collected for later use.

This is also part of the principle behind the viewpoint that sees a pasture as a solar panel.  A swath of grass containing carbon is grazed by livestock, who then exhale the carbon they consumed.  This carbon is returned to the carbon cycle where it can go on feeding that pasture full of plants.

Nature is full of checks and balances.  Keep your eyes open for them.  You’ll be amazed at the useful information you will gather for your farm.

Big Predators Return to Kansas: Gray Wolves

Big Predators Return to Kansas: Gray Wolves
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The gray wolf was once a resident of much of the United States, adapted to a wide range of habitats.  It was common in Kansas, except perhaps in the very southeastern corner of the state.  Explorers once recorded its presence in both prairie and forested habitats.

This much-feared animal was frequently shot on sight by settlers.  The last wolf in Kansas was seen in 1905.  Most of the population was restricted to Mexico, Canada, and the Great Lakes—until recently.


Recent Report

  • December 2012.  Male shot in Trego County.


Where Did It Come From?

Genetic testing revealed that the gray wolf shot in 2012 was full-blooded and belonged to the Great Lakes population.  It appears that young male wolves from the Great Lakes have been dispersing to other states, including nearby Missouri, in search of new territory.

So far the record above is the only confirmed wolf sighting in Kansas since wolves were extirpated from the state.


How to Identify a Wolf

Wolves can readily be told apart from coyotes by a number of characteristics:

  • Large size.  One of the first things that strikes people who have seen wolves is their size.  They are significantly larger than coyotes.
  • Head.  A coyote has a slender, pointy face.  A wolf’s head is broader, more like a dog’s.
  • Ears.  A coyote’s ears are huge and pointy.  A wolf’s ears look proportionately smaller and are rounder at the tips.
  • Big feet.  A coyote’s feet are small and look almost dainty.  A wolf has big paws.

Telling a true wolf apart from a wolf-dog hybrid is extremely difficult.  There is no reliable way to distinguish the two visually.  Genetic testing is the method of choice.


Helpful Resource

Canid Identification: Wolves, Coyotes and Dogs
How to tell a wolf apart from other members of the dog family.  Also includes a diagram of tracks.

The First Book of Farming

The First Book of FarmingInterested in taking a scientific approach to farming?  Give this oldie a try: The First Book of Farming by Charles L. Goodrich.

Although not entirely up to date, The First Book of Farming nevertheless contains many sound principles.  It explores the needs of a plant, examining each of its parts in turn:

  • Roots.
  • Seeds.
  • Leaves.
  • Stems.
  • Flowers.

Simple experiments encourage the reader to observe for himself the way plants function.  Along the way, practical conclusions are drawn about such things as tilling, cultivation, soil fertility, and more.

The First Book of Farming appears to have been written for older students, but it will provide food for thought for adults of all ages, as well.  Best of all, it’s available free online!



Beets are one of those things that you either love or hate.  If you hate beets, there is no recipe in the world that can make them appetizing.  If you love beets, however, you may enjoy exploring some of their possibilities.  The greens can be used in salads or lightly cooked.  The roots can be boiled, steamed, baked, pickled, or shredded and then sautéed.

Preferred Conditions

  • Cool temperatures.
  • Partial shade or full sun (depending on the temperature).
  • Well-drained soil free of rocks and other debris.
  • Plenty of potassium.
  • A pH around 6.5.


  1. Before planting, make sure that all rocks have been removed from the top four inches of soil.
  2. Plant directly in the garden up to a month before the last spring frost, the earlier the better.  In Kansas, the ideal planting time is late March into April.
  3. Each beet seed is really a cluster of seeds.  Buy fragmented seed, fragment your own seed with a rolling pin, or be prepared to thin the seedlings later on.
  4. Soak seeds in water for at least 12 hours before planting.
  5. Plant half an inch to an inch deep.  Spacing is two inches for fragmented seed and four inches for unfragmented seed.
  6. Lightly mulch in hot weather.
  7. For a continuous harvest, plant more beets every two or three weeks until the ideal planting time has passed.
  8. For a fall crop, plant more beets roughly 10 weeks before the first fall frost.  In Kansas the ideal time is from mid-July to mid-August.


As the beets grow, it is important to thin them periodically so that they don’t crowd themselves.  If you did not plant fragmented seed, start thinning right after the beets sprout by pinching or snipping off all but the strongest seedling from each cluster.  Beets from both fragmented and unfragmented seed should be thinned periodically after they start to form roots.  Try to leave at least three inches between each plant.  Save the thinnings to use in a salad if you like young beet greens.

The other major requirement of beets is a steady supply of water.  Periodic deluges are not helpful; they just promote rot.  A light watering every day is much more productive.

Pests and Diseases


  • Aphid.
  • Cutworm.
  • Leafhopper.
  • Leaf miner.
  • Slug.
  • Snail.
  • Deer.
  • Rabbit.
  • Woodchuck.
  • Cucumber mosaic virus.
  • Leaf spot.
  • Root rot.


Greens can be cut any time that the plant looks big enough to support the loss.  Only snip one or two leaves from each plant, however.

Beets are best harvested when the root is about the size of a ping-pong ball.  Check them periodically by poking around them with your finger.  When it comes time for harvest, carefully pull the beet out of the ground.  Don’t dig it up, since there’s too much risk of hitting the beet with a shovel and ruining it.


Fresh beets will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

To put away some beets for the winter, you have several options.  The first is to twist off the tops and layer them in sand in a root cellar.  The other is to leave them in the garden buried under hay bales or a very thick layer of mulch.  Of course, you can also can, pickle, or freeze beets to store them.

Saving Seeds

  1. At fall harvest time, leave some plants in the ground to overwinter.  (You should be able to safely take a few leaves from these beets for salads early on.)
  2. Another option is to dig up the roots before the first killing frost and store them in the root cellar as described above, then replant them in the spring.
  3. Separate beets and Swiss chard by two to five miles to avoid cross-pollination.  If this is not possible, shelter the plants in windproof cages in groups of six to ten.
  4. Shake the plants together regularly to pollinate.
  5. When the beets have stopped flowering, the cage can be removed.  You may want to prop up the stalks, however.
  6. Allow the seeds to fully dry on the plants.
  7. Harvest when the seed clusters have turned light brown.
  8. Either pull off the seeds or cut the stalks.
  9. If you cut the stalks, allow them to dry further, then put them in a bag and stomp on them to thresh.
  10. Winnow the seeds with a screen or fan.
  11. Store seeds in a cool, dry, dark place.  They should keep for five to six years.

Helpful Resource

Beet Factsheets
Information on root rot and nematodes.

Complete Series



What is a Hair Sheep?

What is a Hair Sheep?All types of sheep have wool.  But not all sheep growl curly masses of it all over their bodies.  Some sheep grow mostly hair.

Every sheep has two kinds of hair:

  1. Coarse outer guard hairs.
  2. Soft, wooly undercoat hairs.

The difference between a wool sheep and a hair sheep is the proportion of each that a sheep grows.  A wool sheep grows a disproportionate amount of undercoat.  A hair sheep grows mainly hair.


Why Would You Want a Sheep Without Wool?

In some climates, wool is a hot, heavy encumbrance to a sheep.  It has been estimated that 90% of the world’s hair sheep population comes from Africa.

Of course, you can’t shear a hair sheep.  It has an entirely different purpose—meat.

Hair sheep are preferred to wool sheep for meat purposes for a number of reasons:

  • More mild-flavored meat.
  • No need for shearing and tail-docking.
  • Better vigor.
  • More economical to fatten.

Hair sheep can also produce leather as a useful byproduct.  Because of differences in numbers and kinds of hair follicles, leather from hair sheep is far superior to that from wool sheep in texture and appearance.


Examples of Hair Sheep Breeds

  • American Blackbelly.
  • Barbados Blackbelly.
  • Dorper.
  • Katahdin.
  • St. Croix.


Helpful Resource

Hair Sheep Breeds
Find out more about hair sheep breeds from Oklahoma State University.

Big Predators Return to Kansas: Mountain Lions

Large predators such as mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears were once a regular part of the great Kansas outdoors. They’re gone now, though, right?

Maybe not. In recent years, all three of these species, once thought to be extirpated from our state, have shown up within Kansas borders.

Over the next three weeks, we’ll take a look at the confirmed reports of mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears in Kansas. First up, mountain lions.

Big Predators Return to Kansas: Mountain LionsMountain lions (more properly known as cougars) once roamed across much of the United States. Hunting and a decline in available prey, however, slowly pushed them out of the Midwest and into the Rocky Mountains and the Black Hills of South Dakota. The last mountain lion in Kansas was seen in 1904 in Ellis County.

Now they’re back.

Recent Reports

  • November 7, 2007: Young male shot near Medicine Lodge in Barber County.
  • March 2009: Young male raised at a wildlife rehab facility near Estes Park, CO, wandered across western Kansas for nearly a month, mostly following the Smoky Hill and Arkansas rivers. It was tracked by a GPS transmitter collar that it was wearing. It eventually left the state and traveled to New Mexico.
  • October 29, 2009: Photographed northwest of WaKeeney, Trego County.
  • October 19, 2010: Photographed in Courtland, Republic County.
  • December 7, 2010: Photographed in Nemaha County.
  • December 15, 2010: Carcass of male mountain lion taken or reported in Osborne County.
  • November 9, 2011: Photographed in Atchison County.
  • November 14, 2011: Tracks found in Atchison County. These were probably from the same mountain lion photographed a few days before.
  • January 18, 2012: Tracks found in Washington County.
  • October 31, 2012: Photographed in Stafford County.
  • October 22, 2014: Photographed in Labette County.
  • August 3, 2015: Photographed near Webster in Rooks County.
  • August 15, 2015: Photographed near Hays in Ellis County. Experts believe that this could the same animal that was reported in Rooks County, based on travel distance and direction.
  • August 23, 2015: Photographed near Great Bend in Barton County. Possibly the same animal reported in Rooks and Ellis counties.
  • September 24, 2015: Photographed near Argonia, Sumner County. This could be the same mountain lion photographed several times in August. The family had reported seeing tracks and the actual animal prior to capturing the photo on a trail camera.
  • October 23, 2015: Young mountain lion found dead in a shed near Dodge City. Although it was found with its head caught in a tiller, it appeared to be in extremely poor health prior to the incident.
  • Mid-September, 2016: Photographed by a hunter’s trail camera in Rawlins County.
  • November 9, 2016: Photographed by a hunter’s trail camera at Fort Riley.
  • November 20, 2016: Photographed by a hunter’s trail camera in Shawnee County.
  • November 24, 2016: Treed by coonhound and videoed by hunters in Wabaunsee County.
  • January 31, 2019: Reported in Rooks County by upland game bird hunters as found dead to a Kansas game warden. Subsequent investigation revealed that it was shot by the hunters after it had threatened the group and their dogs. Although initially reported by KDWPT as female, necropsy revealed that the mountain lion was actually male.

Where Did They Come From?

Most of these sightings have been young males, probably looking for mates after being displaced by older, more dominant males. It is currently thought that an increase in mountain lion populations in the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains has contributed to the recent sightings in Kansas. A few biologists, however, maintain that the mountain lions could actually be coming from the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.

So far there are no reports of mountain lions breeding within Kansas. Still, experts now acknowledge that given the state’s sizable deer population and areas of suitable habitat, at least along streams, it is possible that cougars could expand their range and once again establish a small but permanent presence within our borders.

How to Identify a Mountain Lion

It’s hard to believe that anyone could mistake a mountain lion for anything else, but it happens frequently. More than one person has seen a house cat, bobcat, large dog, or deer and identified it as a cougar. If you think you’re looking at a mountain lion, check for the following:

  • Large size. Compare the animal in question to surrounding objects to gauge its height and length. The mountain lions seen in Kansas tend to be young and therefore a little on the small side, but they are still much larger than bobcats or house cats.
  • Uniform color. Mountain lions are tawny all over, while bobcats have spots and streaks.
  • Long tail. One look at that distinctive tail can separate the mountain lion from all other similar animals.
  • Unique tracks. The mountain lion leaves clawless tracks like other felines. However, it can still be distinguished from the bobcat by its unique track shape. For one thing, a mountain lion’s tracks are much larger. For another thing, its heel pad is lobed, unlike the round heel pad of the bobcat.
Helpful Resources

Confirmations Map
Although this interactive map has not been updated for a few years, it does help you see mountain lion sightings at a glance.

Mountain Lion Confirmed in Labette County
Includes a photograph.

Mountain Lion Signs
How to identify a mountain lion without seeing it by examining tracks, sounds, and kill evidence.