Tag Archives: Animal Health

Getting Started With Livestock Part 3: Diet

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietKeeping your animals on pasture obviously has financial benefits, and you’ve probably heard of the numerous health benefits, as well. Even nonruminants like pigs and poultry can derive a great portion of their diet from the pasture, although they will need some type of supplemental feed. So how do you make it all work?

Pasture

The key to using pasture as your sole or primary animal feed is to keep it in good shape. This means you can’t let your livestock trample or graze it into the dirt. The best way to avoid this is to ration pasture out just like you would feed—you give the animals a small space for a day or maybe a couple of days and then move them onto a fresh paddock. You keep working your way across your pastures in this fashion.

This is just a very superficial overview of rotational and management-intensive grazing methods. There’s actually a whole art to it, which is way beyond the scope of this post. Check the Helpful Resources below for more information.

Another thing you’ll have to think about is how many animals you can safely keep on your land. Stocking rates vary widely (sometimes even on the same property). Five acres per cow-calf pair seems to be the average in most parts of Kansas.

The cow-calf pair can in turn be used as a standard of measure, known as the animal unit, to calculate stocking rates for other types of livestock. Thus, on our average five Kansas acres, we could place one of the following options:

  • 1 cow-calf pair.
  • 1 stocker calf.
  • 3 ewe-lamb pairs.
  • 5 mature goats.
  • 1 pony (not a full-sized horse).
  • 1 bison.
  • 1 elk.

Stocking rates for pastured pork production have not received as much attention as those for other animals, so be prepared to do your own hands-on field research. A good starting point is to plan on about 10 pigs for every acre. Young, newly weaned pigs can be stocked more densely, while sows with litters will require more space.

Note that there are many variables that will affect your stocking rate. A 1,500-pound beef cow will require 1-1/2 times as much pasture as a 1,000-pound beef cow, for instance. Irrigation can squeeze more forage production out of your land. Also, simple attention to good grazing management will almost certainly raise your stocking rate above that of your neighbors!

Always err on the safe side when it comes to stocking rate. If you have a little more grass than your livestock need, it’s not a serious problem, but if you’re stuck with hungry animals, you’ll find yourself either buying hay or selling animals. Both can be painful, especially in a drought when everybody else is doing the same thing. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have enough experience to look at your land and roughly gauge how many animals you can put on it, you probably don’t need very many animals (at least not yet). Some experienced graziers recommend starting with herds as small as two to five head when learning grazing management.

Even in the winter, you may be able to keep your animals on pasture with proper planning. Stockpiling forage and planting cool-season grasses are two techniques for extending the grazing season and minimizing hay and feed consumption. Some animals, particularly dry beef cows, may even be able to thrive on dormant range grass in the winter with a protein supplement.

Harvested Forages

Of course, winter brings an end to the grazing season. Then what? Fortunately, hay and silage offer grain-free options.

Keep in mind that the quality of your harvested forage is very important. Animals cannot thrive on moldy hay, which can be a problem if the hay was improperly harvested or stored. Furthermore, blister beetles are toxic and can be a major problem in hay, particularly if you are feeding horses, so keep an eye out. Finally, remember that any pungent odors or flavors in hay for dairy animals will end up in your family’s milk supply!

The nutrient profile of the hay will depend on the types of forages that went into it. Legume hay is particularly noteworthy, as its high protein content can be absolutely essential or a needless expense, depending on what types of animals you have in what stages of production. Lactating animals will require more nutrition than dry animals (which is why it’s generally advisable to time breeding so that livestock will give birth when the weather is warm and the pastures are lush).

When it comes to sourcing harvested forage, you have three main options:

  • Harvest it yourself.
  • Have it custom-baled on your land.
  • Purchase it.

Determining which option is best for you is largely a matter of putting pencil to paper to work out the dollars and cents of the question. Also keep in mind that harvesting your own hay offers you more control over the quality but can be very expensive on a small scale. Purchasing hay, provided that it is good quality, offers an opportunity to bring in a natural source of soil fertility from outside, but it can also introduce noxious weeds and similar difficulties.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietFeed

Some animals will need feed to perform well and stay healthy. With these animals, you will have to be careful to keep your costs down without sacrificing the quality of their diet. Poultry and swine typically need some grain for peak health and performance. While ruminants are generally healthier without grain, some genetic lines (particularly among dairy animals) are bred for high production levels and may require feeding to avoid a breakdown. Horses may require supplemental feeding in winter or if working hard on a regular basis.

All this said, many animals are fed far more than is strictly necessary or even healthy. When determining whether or not your livestock will require feed, it is important to take genetics into account. If your goal is to minimize feed costs as much as possible, you will do well to seek out low-maintenance breeds, and low-maintenance genetics within those breeds. Thankfully, every livestock species still has breeds (typically heritage breeds) adapted to rustling their own living off the land.

Also consider your production system. Minimizing feed costs requires good attention to grazing management, and the smaller your property, the more important grazing management becomes. Furthermore, avoiding feed will often require some sacrifices, such as breeding in sync with the climate and accepting lower production levels.

What about growing your own grain for feed? Well, it just depends. Not only can creating a balanced ration be something of an art, the cost of making the feed can quickly add up to more than the purchase price elsewhere. Do the math. Does it make sense financially? Also, can you consistently guarantee the quantity and quality that your animals will need to stay healthy, particularly when first starting out?

Supplements

What kinds of supplements (if any) you need will largely depend on what kind of animals you have and where you live. Two people rarely agree on one magic formula. Many advocates of natural ways of raising all types of ruminants swear by kelp, and free-choice salt is also recommended in many situations. But what if your chickens are laying hens? Then you might want oyster shell or a feed that contains oyster shell. And what if you have dairy animals? You may need to consider a variety of vitamin supplements to keep them in top form. And what if your pastures are particularly poor? You may need a general-purpose stock lick.

The only way to know for sure what supplements will be necessary for your livestock is to do your research and then try it out. See what deficiencies are most common in your area to get off to a good start, but also be prepared to adjust down the road.

Planning a healthy diet for your animals is probably the most critical as far as your finances and their health are concerned, so take your time. Once you have a rough plan to reach your production, animal health, and food quality goals, you are ready to start looking into your breed options.

Helpful Resources

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?
An introduction to meeting the needs of both pastures and animals. Includes plenty of additional reading material.

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course
For those who just want the basics of grazing management, this bulletin packs a great deal of essential information into a concise format.

What are Animal Units?
How to figure out how many animals your land can support.

Vitamins
Our own guide to the functions and natural sources of vitamins, along with symptoms of deficiency and toxicity.

Beef Tenderness and the Shear Force Test

Beef Tenderness and the Shear Force TestTenderness is critical to the meat-eating experience—nobody enjoys sinking their teeth into a tough steak.

A tried-and-true method of testing beef tenderness is the plain old taste test. These days, however, there are ways to objectively measure the precise tenderness of a cut of beef.

The Warner-Bratzler Shear Force Test

The Warner-Bratzler shear force test is named for the two men who worked together to create it. Kenneth F. Warner, a USDA research scientist, invented the test equipment in 1928. Lyman J. Bratzler, a K-State graduate, standardized the equipment and the test procedure a few years later.

The test is very simple. A one-inch-thick steak is collected from the 12th rib of the animal to be tested and is trimmed free of fat and bone. The steak is vacuum sealed and allowed to age for 14 days at temperatures at or just above freezing. After aging, the steak is then frozen for 14 days. Prior to testing, the steak is completely thawed in a refrigerator and broiled to medium doneness.

Once the cooked steak has cooled off, six to eight core samples, each half an inch (1.27 cm) in diameter, are collected for the test. The scientists performing the test measure the pounds or kilograms of force required to shear the cores completely in half using a steel blade specifically design to mimic the action of the human jaw. The mean for all the cores is considered the shear force for the animal.

On the Warner-Bratzler system, beef tenderloin typically has a shear force of around 5.7 lbs. (2.6 kg), while a top round steak has a shear force of around 11.7 lbs. (5.3 kg).

The Genetics of Tenderness

Tenderness is a heritable trait, and it is one that is heavily influenced by breed. Cattle breeds with the gene for double-muscling, such as the Belgian Blue, are extremely tender. At the other end of the spectrum, zebu breeds such as the Brahman tend to be on the tough side. Between the two extremes lie British breeds such as the Angus.

But there is typically some variation within each breed for the tenderness trait. Those seeking to improve the shear force test results of their cattle will do well to seek out bulls with bred-in tenderness genes. A sire’s genetic potential for tenderness can be determined through progeny testing. In the Brahman and Simmental breeds, a shear force EPD can also be used.

 Management Factors Affecting Tenderness

Of course, even the best beef genetics can be ruined by poor management. Tenderness starts with proper nutrition. Tenderness largely depends on intramuscular fat, not marbling. Marbling is only used as a measure of tenderness because it is typically associated with the presence of intramuscular fat, which is microscopic and nearly impossible to measure in the home kitchen. Intramuscular fat is contained in special fat cells that develop as cattle reach early adolescence. These cells must be filled if an animal is to produce tender beef, which means that the animal itself must be steadily gaining weight during the finishing process, whether it is finished on grain or grass. If the cattle lose weight while finishing, this is an indicator that the intramuscular fat levels have decreased and the meat has toughened. Steady weight gains require optimum nutrition, including adequate energy intake and properly balanced vitamin and mineral levels. While grain can fill up the fat cells faster than grass, it is entirely possible to produce tender beef on forage alone with proper planning.

Note that growth hormones do not increase beef tenderness—they simply increase muscle mass.

Younger animals are normally more tender than older animals, as they have had less time to develop connective tissue. However, there is a trade-off here, because younger animals also have had less time to deposit intramuscular fat. A beef animal that has reached the critical balance point between intramuscular fat and connective tissue is considered finished. This is where frame scoring comes into play—a large-framed animal grows slowly and takes much longer to finish than a small- or moderate-framed animal.

One of the most important management factors influencing beef tenderness is the procedure at the slaughter facility, as stress will cause adrenaline levels to spike and muscles to tense. Low-stress transport and a quick, humane kill are necessary for keeping meat at its most tender.

Even after slaughter, the beef carcass must still be handled properly to ensure tenderness. Aging is a key factor, as it allows natural enzymes to begin the process of softening up the muscle. Aging takes place at low temperatures to prevent problems with bacterial growth. The carcass is typically placed in a plastic bag during the aging process to avoid oxidation.

The final step of producing tender beef is left up to the consumer, and that is cooking. As beef is cooked to higher levels of doneness, it becomes steadily tougher. Intramuscular fat is required to keep a steak tender when cooked to well done. Very lean beef and low-grade cuts can still provide an enjoyable eating experience when slow cooked, as this gives the collagen holding the steak together time to melt.

Helpful Resource

Beef Cattle Talk: A Glossary
More information for those unfamiliar with some of the terms used in this post.

Pros and Cons of Deep-Litter Bedding

Pros and Cons of Deep-Litter BeddingWhile allowing livestock of all types to enjoy the freedom and nutrition of pasture is ideal, there are times when animals may need to be temporarily confined. For instance, you might be raising chicks in a brooder, or you might need to isolate an injured animal in a stall.

So how do you keep livestock healthy under these conditions? One common solution proposed is the deep-litter bedding method. Basically, this method keeps animals off the ground by using at least eight inches of carbon-rich bedding, such as straw or wood shavings. More bedding is added regularly to keep things fresh and clean. The bedding is only dug out on occasion, ranging from every couple of weeks for horse stalls to perhaps only once a year for a winter-use-only chicken coop.

Is deep-litter bedding right for your animals? Let’s take a look.

 

Pros

  • Reduced odor. Odor occurs in animal housing when nitrogen-rich manure gives off ammonia gas. Having large quantities of carbon present in the bedding locks up the nitrogen, essentially beginning a composting process that is low in odor. Of course, this benefit is dependent on providing enough fresh, dry bedding regularly.
  • Cheap entertainment for chickens and pigs. If for any reason your chickens or pigs have to be housed for a time, put down a good, thick layer of bedding, and then toss some dry corn around. Searching for the grain will satisfy the natural foraging instincts of these animals (and their rummaging around will keep the bedding supplied with oxygen).
  • Added warmth. Deep-litter bedding encourages composting, which in turn produces warmth. Animals housed away from drafts on deep-litter bedding will stay cozy in winter. (Note that deep-litter bedding may become excessively warm in summer.)
  • Beneficial bacteria. Aerobic decomposition promotes the flourishing of beneficial bacteria. These in turn produce vitamins B12 and K, as well as antibiotic substances that control the growth of the bad bacteria. Chickens that have the opportunity to scratch around in the slowly decomposing, oxygen-rich environment of a layer of good-quality bedding can benefit tremendously from the experience.
  • Reduced nutrient loading. Too much nitrogen in one place is harmful to the pasture. Containing it with bedding can keep your land in good health. This practice also reduces nutrient loading in surrounding waterways by cutting down on manure-contaminated runoff.
  • Quality compost. When you are done with used bedding, it makes an excellent, well-balanced compost due to the fact that it already contains both carbon and nitrogen. In fact, due to the nature of deep-litter bedding, it probably has already started the composting process by the time you are ready to dig it out! One more bonus? If you keep the chickens in a coop over the winter, when you move them out to pasture in the spring, that empty coop can be put to work as a composter.

 

Cons

  • Expense. If you do not have ready access to carbon bedding in abundance, deep-litter bedding can be remarkably expensive. You will want to find a way to source leaves, straw, wood chips, and the like cheaply.
  • Poor suitability for some structures. Some animal housing is not built to handle layers of bedding eight inches or deeper without creating logistical issues. Inspect your animal housing before trying to implement a deep-litter bedding system. You may need to build your own housing.
  • Dead grass. Deep bedding is very much like mulch. If you pile it on the ground in a movable field structure and leave it there for more than a day or two, you will end up with dead grass and subsequently mud and weeds. Deep-litter bedding is more ideally suited for permanent structures.
  • Need for good-quality bedding. No matter how expertly you handle and maintain your deep-litter bedding system, if you start with poor-quality materials, you will end up with poor-quality results. Dusty or moldy bedding is not acceptable here.
  • Potential for anaerobic decomposition. Deep-litter bedding works best in well-ventilated buildings that are good at keeping water out. If the litter gets waterlogged, or if it does not receive enough air circulation, it will begin to decompose anaerobically. Not only does this cause a smelly mess, the ammonia released into the air can cause serious eye and respiratory problems in livestock.
  • Labor requirements. Maintaining deep-litter bedding requires regular inputs of fresh bedding to keep your animals’ living quarters clean, dry, and odor-free. Also, caked bedding needs to be broken up with a fork to reintroduce air. And, finally, digging out the whole building at the end of the year can be backbreaking work!

 

Conclusion

Letting animals enjoy fresh pasture is always preferable, but for those times when housing is a must, deep-litter bedding has much to offer. Basically, by using the science behind composting, deep-litter bedding promotes a healthy environment and prevents manure from damaging the surrounding area.

However, deep-litter bedding does require regular monitoring. Odor is not acceptable—if you smell ammonia, your system has devolved into anaerobic decomposition. Your animals will suffer for it, so be sure to keep this from happening at any point in time. Be proactive in adding fresh, dry bedding of good quality, and fluff it any time it shows an inclination to pack down or cake up.

Once your animals are finished with the bedding, enjoy its benefits in your compost pile, garden, or field!

Johnson Grass

Johnson Grass

Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) grows sturdy upright stems ranging from two to eight feet in height. Some stems are branched and others are not, but one thing can be counted on with this species—there will be quite a few of them packed into each clump! Look for a pink or red color near the base of the stem, if you can comb through the thick clumps well enough to find any bases.

Continue reading Johnson Grass

Beef Cattle Talk: A Glosssary

Beef Cattle Talk: A GlossaryNo matter what type of cattle they raise and in what way, cattle producers speak a slightly different language than everyday American English. To the newbie, this peculiar vocabulary can be baffling.

Allow us to elucidate a few of the most common terms:

 

  • 3 in 1: A pregnant cow with a calf at her side.
  • AI: Short for artificial insemination.
  • All natural: Raised without antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones.
  • Backgrounding: The process of growing a weaned calf to prepare it for finishing. The increase in size that results from backgrounding is primarily due to the development of bone and muscle, not fattening.
  • Base weight: The estimated net weight of a group of cattle on delivery day. Used to calculate final sales price.
  • Body condition score: A measure of the amount of flesh and fat an animal is carrying. Find out how it works here.
  • Broken mouth: A mouth that is starting to lose teeth.
  • Closed herd: A herd into which no outside breeding stock is ever introduced. A closed herd produces all of its own herd sires and replacement heifers.
  • Club calf: A calf bred for showing at 4-H or FFA shows. Eye appeal is a major factor in what makes a good club calf.
  • Composite: A breed formed by combining several other breeds at specific percentages. A more complete explanation can be found here.
  • Concentrate: Highly digestible feed high in energy but low in fiber.
  • Conformation: How well the physical appearance of an animal conforms to a standard, whether that is a formal written show standard or just the commonly accepted views of how cattle should be built for soundness and productivity. By extension, conformation has also come to refer simply to the physical appearance of the animal without any reference to a standard.
  • Corriente: Properly a specific breed descended from Spanish cattle. Sometimes also used to refer to nondescript roping cattle, particularly those of Mexican origin.
  • Cutability: How much lean, salable meat a carcass can produce relative to the amount of waste fat.
  • Dewlap: Loose folds of skin hanging from the bottom of the neck, indicative of zebu influence.
  • Double-muscling: Having a genetic mutation leading to uncontrolled muscle growth, evidenced by an odd, heavy-muscled appearance. Characteristic of the Belgian Blue breed.
  • Dry: Not lactating.
  • Dystocia: Calving difficulties.
  • Easy fleshing: Able to maintain or gain weight readily on only low-cost feed, particularly forage.
  • EPD: Expected progeny difference. How the offspring of a given sire will perform for a given trait compared to others of the same breed. A more complete explanation can be found here.
  • ET: Embryo transfer, not extraterrestrial. The process of removing embryos from a donor cow and implanting them into recipient cows. A technique used to maximize the genetic potential of a cow by enabling her to have more offspring than is naturally possible.
  • Exotic: Typically a Continental breed (see more here). Sometimes also applied to unusual bovines such as miniature cattle, bison, beefalo, or yaks.
  • Exposed: The cow in question was pastured with a bull. She might be pregnant, but there is no guarantee.
  • F1: Stands for “first filial generation.” The first generation of a cross.
  • Fancy: Exceptionally good eye appeal, conformation, and femininity. Also exceptionally expensive.
  • Feed conversion: Units of feed consumed relative to units of weight gained. Also referred to as “feed efficiency.”
  • Feeder calf: A calf that has been weaned but is not yet being finished. A rather loose term, but generally refers to older, larger calves that have already gone through the stocker phase and are now ready to go a feedlot.
  • Finishing: The final stage of feeding an animal destined for slaughter. Many cattle are finished on grain at a feedlot. Grass-finished cattle are finished on forage.
  • FOB: Free on board, or freight on board. The geographical place at which ownership of a group of cattle changes hands. Significant because the new owner is responsible for shipping costs after this point.
  • Frame score: An evaluation of the skeletal size of an animal based on hip height. Frame scores are related to both carcass weight and maintenance requirements. Read more here.
  • Freemartin: A heifer that was born twin to a bull calf. Most freemartins are infertile.
  • Gate cut: A method of equitably sorting cattle if a buyer is not taking the entire group. The cattle are placed in a corral and every third (or fourth or fifth or etc.) animal to come out of the alley goes to the buyer.
  • Genotype: The genetic makeup of an animal.
  • Green broke: Has had some halter training, but is not yet thoroughly trained.
  • Hanging weight: The weight of a beef carcass after the nonedible parts, such as head and organs, are removed.
  • Hard doer: Always in poor health and condition, regardless of management.
  • Harvest: Slaughter.
  • Heterosis: Hybrid vigor. The degree to which crossbred calves excel their purebred parents in performance traits.
  • Marbling: Intramuscular fat. Used to determine the USDA quality grade of a carcass.
  • Mastitis: Infection of the mammary glands.
  • Maternal traits: Traits that make a cow a good mother. Precisely which traits are considered maternal varies per producer, but the idea is that a cow with maternal ability is one that can consistently raise a hefty calf each year.
  • Maverick: An unbranded animal.
  • MiG: Management-intensive grazing. A system of matching animal nutritional needs to changing forage resources. Rotational grazing is a tool used in MiG, but MiG is far more than just rotational grazing. Read more here.
  • OCV: Official calfhood vaccinate. An animal that received a brucellosis vaccination as a calf, generally necessary to ship cattle across state lines.
  • Open: Not pregnant.
  • Pedigree: The family tree of an animal.
  • Phenotype: The visible animal and its performance traits, as distinct from its genetic background. A phenotype is influenced by genetics, but there can be environmental effects affecting the final product, and there might be genes with masked effects. Thus the difference between phenotype and genotype.
  • Polled: Hornless.
  • Post-legged: Having unusually straight back legs. A conformation defect that causes abnormal movement.
  • Prepotency: The ability of a bull to “stamp” his offspring so that they resemble him to a particularly marked degree. Usually seen in inbred bulls with many dominant genes paired together.
  • Progeny test: A method of estimating the genetic merit of a sire by evaluating the performance of his progeny.
  • Proven: Has had offspring. Hopefully good ones, but that depends on the honesty of the person saying it.
  • Reference sire: A bull with a known track record used as a benchmark in progeny testing.
  • Replacement heifer: A heifer that has been chosen to become a producing cow in the herd.
  • Running iron: A branding iron used to draw rather than stamp a brand. Illegal in some areas due to its longtime association with cattle rustlers.
  • Saddle iron: A short branding iron made be carried on the saddle. It does not have a handle, but instead is made to use any stick found along the trail.
  • Scurs: Bony hornlike growths attached to the skin of the head. Read more here.
  • Seedstock: Breeding animals sold as a genetic package as distinct from commercial animals sold for production purposes.
  • Shrink: The amount of weight an animal loses under stress.
  • Sickle-hocked: Having back legs bent at too sharp of an angle.
  • Sire summary: A record of the EPDs for current sires published by a national cattle evaluation program.
  • Slide: A method of adjusting the final sale price based on variation of the actual net weight of the cattle from their base weight.
  • Smooth mouth: A mouth without teeth.
  • Soggy: Deep-bodied, big-bellied, and in average to heavy condition. A sign of an easy-fleshing animal.
  • Springer: A cow or heifer expected to calve soon.
  • Stockers: Weaned cattle in a forage-based backgrounding program.
  • Synchronize: Treat cows or heifers with hormones to synchronize their estrous cycles. This is a convenience when using artificial insemination.
  • Terminal sire: A bull used to raise calves strictly for market, not breeding purposes.
  • Texas gate: A cattle guard.
  • Trim: Having a clean silhouette with no dewlap or other loose, hanging skin and flesh that might indicate zebu influence.
  • Upgrade: Increase the numbers of or introduce desired genes into a pure breed by introducing outside blood and breeding the crossbred offspring back to the desired parent breed. After several generations, the offspring become nearly pure. Read more here.
  • Yield grade: A 5-point scoring system used to measure cutability, with grade 1 being the highest yield of lean meat and grade 5 being the lowest.

11 Applications for an Agricultural Interest Besides Farming

11 Applications for an Agricultural Interest Besides FarmingRunning a farm or ranch is not the only way to cash in on your agricultural interest. These days, there are plenty of fields where a knowledge of agriculture and agricultural sciences can be a plus, and where you will have an opportunity to aid those who have chosen to work the land.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Veterinary medicine. Practitioners experienced with livestock work closely with most large farms and many smaller ones, as well.
  • Inspections. Inspectors ensure that USDA and FDA regulations are enforced. Some work in laboratories, others in processing facilities.
  • Scientific research. Science and farming go hand in hand. The points at which agriculture and science intersect are too many to list here, but just to give you an idea:
    • Soil science, the study of the soil and its management and conservation as it relates to farming.
    • Botany, the study of plants of all types. Botanists may research anything from breeding crops for hardiness to the conservation of native species to new food, fiber, and medicinal uses for familiar plants.
    • Plant biology, the study of how plants work, particularly from a genetic perspective. Plant biology differs from botany in that the former seeks information in the lab while the latter seeks information in the field.
    • Animal sciences, a broad field covering the standard American livestock species plus other farm animals kept around the world. Animal scientists can focus their attention on subcategories including physiology, livestock management, nutrition, breeding/genetics, and diseases.
    • Food science, the study of and experimentation with food ingredients and processing techniques with a view to improving food products.
  • Agricultural engineering. Not the same as genetic engineering. This field involves designing logistical solutions to farming problems and needs. Machinery design is a major focus of agricultural engineering, but some engineers work with livestock housing, processing plants, food storage facilities, dams and reservoirs, or even water quality solutions to minimize pollution.
  • Historical scholarship. Some historians pin their focus on agriculture and rural living, preserving and interpreting the past of farming to aid us in understanding its present and future.
  • Agricultural economists. The study of all aspects of agribusiness, including management, law, policy, and rural sociology.
  • Agricultural meteorology. A specific branch of meteorology that connects weather events with their effects on crops and livestock. Agricultural meteorologists forecast crop yields, animal performance, and enterprise risk.
  • Agricultural communications. This field covers a wide array of talent from PR, advertising, and marketing experts to those who write about farming-related topics in magazines and newspapers.
  • Extension. Extension services provide much of the information beginning farmers rely on to get started.
  • Accounting. Many farms hire accountants and bookkeepers to make sense of those tangled numbers.
  • Trucking and heavy equipment operation. These people do everything from transport food to operate hay balers.

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.

Continue reading Foxtail Barley

Pick-a-Chick

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!