Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy CourseLooking for an easy introduction to the complex topic of grazing management? Give this bulletin a try—Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course by Burt Smith.

Intensive Grazing starts with information, introducing the three necessities of grazing:

  1. Objective.
  2. Flexibility.
  3. Control.

Next comes the basics of the four tools that are used to balance the three necessities:

  1. Density.
  2. Animals.
  3. Residual.
  4. Time.

Once these principles are discussed, the beginner is given the opportunity to practice using them in the field. The included exercise walks the grazier through the process of starting a very simple intensive grazing system—from choosing a site, a small herd, and some electric fencing to accurately managing grazing to leave a consistent amount of grass behind.

But there is still more! Next comes some math. A sample problem is provided to teach beginners how to calculate:

  • The average area required for the herd for one day.
  • The growth rate of the forage.
  • The time it will take to replace the grass consumed.
  • The number of paddocks that will have to be made before the first one can be grazed again.
  • The amount of land required to graze the herd one full cycle.

Then the grazier gets to substitute his own numbers from the field exercise, making the lesson still more practical.

Finally comes a quiz to assess progress on the course, plus a grazing glossary.

This power-packed bulletin condenses the most important points of management-intensive grazing into less than 20 pages. But don’t think for a minute that the topic gets short shrift! This is an extremely well-organized resource with a hands-on bent. Think of it as an essential crash course in grazing.

Big Bluestem

Big Bluestem

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is one of the most iconic plants of the tallgrass prairie. Its sturdy, upright stems are usually covered with a blue, waxy coating, giving it its name. These stems grow in clumps and vary dramatically in height depending on the environment. Big bluestem can be a modest three feet tall, but it can also reach an amazing nine feet in height. The scale of the stems pale in comparison to the root system, however, which may probe as deep as 13 feet below the surface of the ground!

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What is a Composite Breed?

What is a Composite Breed?
Composite sheep; photo courtesy of USDA ARS

Composite breeds are growing in popularity across the United States. This trend seems to be the most advanced among beef cattle producers, but has gained some attention among sheep and goat breeders, as well.

In the development phase, creating a composite breed involves crossing two or more pure breeds until a desired ratio is achieved. This may sound simple, but to create a sizable population free from inbreeding problems requires dozens of sires and potentially hundreds of females. The crossbred offspring of this initial foundation have to be crossed and preferably recrossed until the population stabilizes with each breed contributing to the overall genetic makeup in the desired proportion.

Once the composite breed is established, however, management becomes extremely simple. A composite is mated like a pure breed. In other words, composite animals can be freely bred to each other without concern about losing consistency. Also, only one breeding group is required, unlike long-term crossbreeding systems that maximize hybrid vigor through the maintenance of several herds, each of a different breed or cross thereof.

As you might have noticed, a true composite breed is essentially a pure breed in its infancy.

A few populations are referred to as composites or “open” composites, but are maintained with regular influxes of new genetics from other breeds. While this guarantees that inbreeding will be avoided entirely, it once again adds an element of inconsistency into the population. Open composites tend to fluctuate wildly in performance unless managed carefully and deliberately.

Examples of Composite Breeds

There are many different composite breeds available in the beef cattle world today. Examples include:

  • Balancer.
  • Beefmaster.
  • Brangus.
  • Braford.
  • LimFlex.
  • MARC II.
  • Santa Gertrudis.

In sheep, one of the most common composites is the Polypay, designed to excel in both lamb and wool production. Goat keepers can take advantage of the TexMaster, a meat breed.

Why Use Composite Breeds?

There are several reasons people might opt to use a composite breed or sire:

  • Predictability.
  • Consistent levels of hybrid vigor—very difficult to maintain in both long-term purebreeding and crossbreeding programs.
  • The ability to combine desired traits of several pure breeds, thus quickly creating an animal population ideally suited to a given set of environmental or economic circumstances.
  • Ease of management; other types of crossbreeding rotations can become painfully complicated, particularly where the land base limits the number of separate herds or flocks that can be maintained.

Disadvantages of Composite Breeds

Composite breeds have one major disadvantage compared to crossbred animals, and that is a somewhat lower level of hybrid vigor. However, this is only a problem in the short term. Hybrid vigor is maximized in the first generation of a cross, or when the crossbred population is initially created. It is lost in subsequent generations (see the explanation in The Breeding Toolbox series). Complex rotational crossbreeding systems can be created to maximize hybrid vigor over time, but taking advantage of a composite breed is much easier. Of course, where young animals are raised solely for production and not for breeding purposes, crossbreeding may be considered as a way to maximize immediate levels of hybrid vigor.

Care must be taken to avoid high levels of inbreeding, even when raising composite livestock. If replacement breeding animals are raised within the herd, inbreeding is a real threat, particularly in a small operation. This problem can be avoided by periodically introducing a new sire of the same composite breed.

And, of course, it must be remembered that no composite breed is a silver bullet. If inferior animals go into the gene pool of the composite population, inferior animals will likely be the result. Composite breeding is not an excuse to avoid selection and culling of breeding stock.

But for those seeking a balance between consistency and hybrid vigor and those who cannot otherwise find the best genetics for their situation, a well-bred composite may be the answer.

Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Are composite cattle right for you? This book will help you determine just that, and will help you compare composites to industrial stocks, standardized breeds, landraces, and feral populations, too. Learn more here.

K-State Entomology Newsletter

K-State Entomology NewsletterWhat bad bugs are invading your area? The K-State entomology newsletter may have the answer.

This newsletter keeps Kansans informed about the comings and goings of a wide range of insects of economic importance, particularly those that impact field crops. Pests of corn, soy, wheat, sorghum, sunflower, and alfalfa are regularly discussed.

However, this newsletter also can assist you in the garden or even around the house. Topics of interest from past issues include:

  • Cabbageworms on cole crops.
  • Japanese beetles on roses.
  • Sawflies on pines.
  • Scales on landscape trees and shrubs.
  • Clover mites in dwellings.
  • And even desirable insects, such as painted lady butterflies.

As you might expect, chemical control methods are the emphasis in the K-State entomology newsletter. But no matter what practices you rely on, you will find valuable assistance in insect identification in each issue.

You can subscribe to the K-State entomology newsletter via email, or you can regularly check their website for PDF versions of new issues. The newsletter comes out roughly weekly, but the schedule is dependent on insect activity across the state.

Foxtail Barley

Foxtail Barley

Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum) receives its common name from its unique bushy inflorescence, or flower, which is similar in shape to the tail of a fox. This flower averages about two to five inches long and is soft and greenish or purplish. Its fluffy appearance comes from the awns, which can measure up to three inches long. Each yellowish-brown seed typically has four to eight awns, and it is also armed with tiny barbs along the edges.

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How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks

How to Welcome Your Mail-Order ChicksSpring brings new chicks!

If you will be receiving baby chicks in the mail this year, it’s best to be prepared. There isn’t a tremendous amount of work required to get ready for chicks, but you certainly don’t want to bring them home only to discover that you forgot something critical. We recommend creating a checklist to refer to in future years.


You Will Need

  • Brooder (we recommend a deep metal stock tank as a roomy and draft-free solution).
  • Cover for brooder (e.g., part of a wire dog crate).
  • Heat lamp.
  • Spare light bulb for heat lamp.
  • Thermostat for heat lamp (optional).
  • Pine shavings (NOT cedar, which contains toxic oils).
  • Newspaper or similar paper (e.g., torn from a brown paper feed bag).
  • Small waterer.
  • White sugar.
  • Small feeder.
  • Chick feed.



  1. Before your chicks arrive, you will want to prepare the brooder. First, find a building where you can put it so that the chicks are not exposed to rain, drafts, or predators. The building will also need to be supplied with electricity.
  2. Spread a deep layer of pine shavings evenly across the entire bottom of the brooder.
  3. Cover the shavings with paper so that none are exposed. This is to prevent the chicks from eating the shavings before they learn what their food looks like.
  4. Set the wire cover on the brooder to keep chicks in and predators (such as cats) out.
  5. Hang the heat lamp from the wire. If for some reason this is not possible with the cover you have chosen, set a lightweight board across the top of the brooder and hang the heat lamp from that. You are now ready for chicks!
  6. When your chicks ship, the hatchery should provide you with tracking information. Although your post office should call you when the chicks arrive, accidents do happen, so track the package yourself.
  7. The day you expect to receive chicks, fill up the waterer with fresh, clean water, mixing in one teaspoon of sugar for every quart. Set the waterer in the brooder, but not directly under the heat lamp. Chicks do not like hot water.
  8. Fill the feeder with chick feed. Also sprinkle some feed across the paper so that it catches the attention of the chicks.
  9. Turn on the heat lamp. If you have a thermostat, set it to 95°F.
  10. As soon as the chicks reach the post office, drive over and bring them home immediately.
  11. Do not release all the chicks into the brooder at once. Remove them from their shipping carton one at a time, dipping the beak of each individual bird into the water first so that they know where to find it. Make sure you actually see each bird drink before you release it.
  12. Verify that the temperature is comfortable for the chicks (you will want to do this again later in the day). If they are huddled together directly under the light, they are too cold. If they are sitting along the edges of the brooder away from the light, they are too hot. Adjust the temperature by raising and lowering the light.
  13. Over the next few days, monitor the chicks for signs of shipping stress. Continue to put sugar in their water for a little while if you see droopy chicks that fail to thrive. Pasty rear ends may need to be very gently cleansed with a clean rag moistened in warm water.
  14. After one to three days, once the chicks have started to eat their feed, throw away the paper and give them access to the shavings.


Caring For Your Growing Chicks

Following these directions will ensure that your chicks get off to a good start. It is important to note, however, that not all variables are under your control. Shipping is stressful. In any given shipment, one or two chicks may fail to thrive, and there will be little that you can do besides making sure their basic needs are met. In particular, make sure they have continual access to cool, fresh water, supplemented with sugar if signs of stress are present.

As your chicks grow, they will need less and less heat to stay comfortable. If you have a thermostat for your heat lamp, turn the heat down very slightly every day so that the temperature drops about five degrees per week. If you do not have a thermostat, you will have to monitor the chicks and raise the light as needed. By the time the chicks are six weeks old, they should not require the heat lamp any more, provided that the weather is mild.

Once your chicks are accustomed to the natural outdoor temperatures, they will be ready to move out of the brooder and into their new home. Choose a warm, sunny day to move them to their permanent housing. If you already have adult chickens outside, however, you will need to introduce the two groups gradually.

Enjoy your chicks!


ToggenburgThe Toggenburg is yet another ancient Swiss dairy goat that has enjoyed success wherever it has traveled. This breed took its name from the Toggenburg region in the eastern part of its native country and has been known there for centuries. It has been registered and recorded since the 1600s, but definitely traces back considerably further.

The Togg, as the breed is commonly known, began to spread across the world in the late 1800s, reaching England in the first half of the 1880s. The American population is descended from the Toggenburgs of England, the first four goats having arrived in Ohio from the latter country in 1893.

More importations to the United States followed. By 1921, there was a solid foundation and registration of the breed began, giving the Togg the distinction of being the first goat breed registered in our country. Its dairy qualities and its regular appearance at state fairs gained it further notoriety, which it has enjoyed in America ever since.

The modern Toggenburg has been bred for greater size. However, for those who prefer a smaller goat, the Miniature Toggenburg has been created through the introduction of Nigerian Dwarf blood.


The Togg is strictly a dairy breed best suited to fluid milk production. Its milk has low butterfat levels, so it is less desirable than other breeds for making value-added dairy products such as butter and cheese. However, when placed in a herd of goats of other breeds, it will contribute to cheese production by adding a strong but sweet flavor to the finished product.

The Miniature Toggenburg may be slightly more versatile due to the higher butterfat and protein content of its milk.


The Toggenburg is not lacking in personality. While perfectly friendly and affectionate, it is a free spirit with a cantankerous streak. It is not above domineering people and other goats, and has been known to tackle a coyote and win. It is always on the lookout for something exciting to do and seems to spend a good part of its day finding new ways to escape.


Overall, the Togg is built to last. It is constitutionally hardy, structurally sound, and dispositionally tough. Be aware, however, that it is best adapted to cooler climates and may suffer somewhat in the heat.

Pat Coleby’s experience suggests that the Toggenburg may have higher copper requirements than other breeds. A copper deficiency will initially present itself by a bleached coat.

Finally, a note on breeding Mini Toggs: Because this version of the breed is very scarce, some goat-keepers like to raise their own by crossbreeding a standard Toggenburg with a Nigerian Dwarf. Keep in mind that the dwarf goat used to produced this cross needs to be a buck—breeding a full-sized Toggenburg buck to a diminutive Nigerian Dwarf doe is a recipe for disaster.


  • Suitability for cool climates.
  • Some level of resistance to predators (always play it safe with good fencing, however).
  • Natural foraging instinct.
  • Low feed requirements.
  • Hardiness.
  • Easy kidding.
  • Strong mothering instincts.
  • Long lactations, lasting from 18 to 20 months.
  • High milk production.
  • Sweet milk flavor when not allowed to consume aromatic weeds.


  • Scarcity of Miniature Toggs.
  • Difficult temperament for beginners to handle.
  • Considerable ability as an escape artist.
  • Reduced heat tolerance.
  • Low butterfat levels (higher in the miniature version).
Complete Series

Goat BreedsGoat Breeds


3 Reasons to Mulch Your Garden

3 Reasons to Mulch Your GardenIf you are new to gardening, you definitely need to give mulch some consideration. There are good reasons that many experienced gardeners use mulch. In short, mulch is good for both you and your plants. Here’s why.


Reason #1: Mulch Keeps Weeds in Check

Mulch covers up bare soil and keeps weed seeds from germinating. If any weed does manage to sprout, it stands a good chance of being smothered. And as for those few weeds hardy enough to poke their leaves up through the mulch, they will be spindly and rooted in moist, loose soil, and therefore easy to pull.

For this reason, mulch is a must around and in between all garden plants. However, it is important that by mulching you don’t introduce the very problems you are trying to solve. Choose a quality source—hay with weed seeds in it, for instance, is likely to give you a headache in the long run. Whatever type of mulch you choose, apply it thickly. A dense mulch such as wood chips can be spread on 6 inches deep; a light, airy mulch such as dry straw will need to be a foot deep to be effective.


Reason #2: Mulch Improves the Soil

Bare soil is typically not healthy. If it contains any clay in it, lying exposed to hot suns, drying winds, and pounding rains is a sure recipe for hardpan. In fact, the weeds that spring up on bare soil are nature’s tools for healing it and providing it with a protective cover.

Mulch works to improve the soil in both the short term and the long term. In the short term, it prevents the soil from hardening into a brick, thus providing an immediate improvement in soil structure and aeration. It also moderates the soil temperature, creating a more friendly habitat for garden plants and soil-building earthworms.

In the long term, mulch decomposes and adds vital nutrients and organic matter to the soil. It is staggering how much healthy soil can be built over one gardening season just by the use of mulch and compost. As your soil grows and improves, your plants will become healthier and more vibrant, better able to ward off the attacks of insect pests.


Reason #3: Mulch Keeps Soil Moisture Even

In wet weather, mulch is a useful tool to keep your plants from being drowned. As rain falls, the mulch intercepts the drops, preventing them from compacting the soil and forcing them to trickle down slowly to root level. In the process, the mulch itself will absorb some of the excess moisture. The organic matter added to the soil by decomposing mulch will also help out by allowing any surplus rainfall to drain away from the level of the roots, ensuring that the plant has adequate oxygen.

In dry weather, mulch is a must because of its water-conserving properties. Mulch protects the soil from rapid drying due to sun and wind. Without mulch, you may have to water your entire garden every day in the summer. With mulch, you can water less frequently, promoting deeper root growth that will in turn make your plants even more drought-hardy.


Are You Sold on Mulch?

Give it a try for one gardening season—you won’t go back!

For best results, we recommend cedar mulch around perennial plants, such as berries, asparagus, and some flowers. In parts of the garden where you will be rotating crops frequently, such as in the vegetable beds, use weed-free wheat straw.

And remember, apply your mulch six inches to a foot thick for best results.


Pick-a-ChickLooking for the best breed of chicken to raise this year? How about a heritage breed?

Heritage chicken breeds may not reach the egg or meat production levels of commercial hybrids, but they are often healthier and hardier, not to mention more attractive. For a free-range situation, heritage breeds can’t be beat.

The Livestock Conservancy has a very helpful and accurate chart to assist new poultry keepers in choosing the best breed for their circumstances. This chart displays key characteristics of each breed in an at-a-glance format:

  • Origin.
  • Conservation status.
  • Purpose.
  • Weight.
  • Egg color.
  • Egg size.
  • Rate of lay.
  • Temperament.
  • Brooding instinct.
  • Recommended experience level.
  • Climate preference.

Additional information is also provided on important considerations, such as hardiness, predator savvy, foraging instinct, mothering ability, meat characteristics, and genetic challenges that breeders may face.

Breeds range from the hardy Ancona to the ornamental Yokohama and include everything in between, such as traditional American favorites like Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, and Plymouth Rocks.

Great resource for beginners and seasoned chicken keepers alike!