Dec 2012


Another year is drawing to a close! This month features more information on windbreak design, attachments for your compact tractor, and soups to warm you in the winter months..

Jan Hygnstrom, University of Nebraska Extension, continues with Windbreak Design, Part 2, with help from Dennis Adams, Nebraska Forest Service, and Jay Seaton, Lower Platte South Natural Resources District.


Thinking about a holiday gift to go with your compact tractor? Jan Hygnstrom tells of 10 attachments that may be useful. 


Nancy Urbanec, UNL Extension suggests gifts from the kitchen for the holidays.

Recognizing Healthy and Unhealthy Animals
By Steve Tonn, UNL Livestock Educator

Image of sick goatA sound management program to keep animals healthy is basic to production of any livestock. Producers must observe animals closely to keep individual animals and the whole herd or flock healthy and productive. If the health status of a herd is compromised, that operation will not be as efficient as possible.

To recognize clinical signs of diseases common to livestock, it is important to be familiar with what is normal or healthy.

Producers should assess the herd or flock's general health, on a regular basis, including vital signs, body condition and coat.



Image of healthy goats

Signs that Indicate Healthy and Unhealthy Animals
Healthy Livestock:  Unhealthy Livestock:
Alertness Lethargic/listless
Chewing cud Ruminants not chewing their cud
Sleek coat Rough hair coat
Bright eyes and pink eye membrane Dull eyes
Normal feces and urine Abnormal feces and Discolored urine
Normal temperature High temperature
Gait steady, no limping Limping
Normal respiration Labored breathing/coughing
Stays in herd or flock Separates self from herd or flock
Eats and drinks normally Loss of appetite
Contentment Runny nose
Normal pulse rate Swelling on any body part

 Resources to explore:




What is Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST or bST)
By Lindsay Chichester, UNL Extension Livestock Educator

The use of recombinant bovine Somatotropin (rbST or bST) was approved in 1994 by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) for use in lactating dairy cattle. rbST is a naturally occurring protein hormone produced in the pituitary glands of ALL cattle, including those raised to organic, all-natural, or grass-fed standards. bST is one of the hormones in cattle that is responsible in normal growth and development of the mammary gland and milk production. The presence of bST in cow's milk is normal and natural!

How does bST increase milk production?
During supplementation with bST, the cow's mammary gland takes in more nutrients from the bloodstream - producing more milk. To support this, the cow will consume more feed and water during the supplementation process. Cows generally do not receive bST for their entire lactation period, instead it is only used after peak lactation times and before they enter their dry period. The administration of bST has been shown to increase milk production by an average of 10 - 15 pounds per cow, per day over the lactation period, or as long as the bST supplementation occurs.

Image of milk labelWhat is the effect of rbST on humans?
rbST is species specific - meaning that it will only work on its own kind (other cows in this case). With that in mind, growth receptors in the human body do not recognize bST, and it will not trigger a growth response. The hormone bST is a protein, not a steroid, so it is biologically inactive in humans; and can be harmlessly digested in the human stomach like other proteins. In addition, 90% of rbST and bST is destroyed during the pasteurization process. Remember, ALL cow's milk has always contained small amounts of bST - as it is naturally occurring.

How is bST milk labeled?
The FDA has banned the dairy industry from labeling products as "bST free" since bST is naturally occurring. The labeling "bST free" violates the truth in labeling provisions of the federal law. In addition, persons against bST supplementation believe that products from cows treated with bST should be labeled. However, the U.S. food labeling law says that the presence of an ingredient or substance may be identified on a package label only when that ingredient or substance changes the food from its natural state. Since supplemented bST is indistinguishable from naturally occurring bST (even at the molecular level), the FDA ruled that milk from supplemented cows is not different from milk produced by non-supplemented cows.

rbST General Information, Cornell University
bST and Milk, North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension
Recombinant Growth Hormone, American Cancer Society
What Is rbST and How Does It Work?, Global Dairy Innovation



4-H Animal Science Project Ideas for Acreage Youth
By Kristine Spath, UNL 4-H Program Manager

Many families have a dream of living on a rural acreage. Beyond the beauty of the landscape, open spaces and tranquility, this dream provides many 4-H opportunities for youth interested in animals. From chickens to cattle, many 4-H animal science projects can flourish given the extra space and flexibility of acreage living.

When considering animal science projects for youth living in the country on small acreages several items should be considered. First and foremost, the type and size of animal the young person is interested in should be identified. Options of animals which work well in acreage situations include: cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, llamas, alpacas, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. If there is interest in a larger animal but space is limiting, there may be a miniature option. For example: miniature cattle breeds, pigmy goats and ponies are available and may be a more comfortable and safe option for a young person to work with.

4-H kids preparing sheep for fair

Young 4-H members may enjoy getting a sheep prepared for exhibition. Bath time can be a great experience for both animal and child on a hot summer day!

Keys to a successful animal project include a healthy and clean environment, appropriate amount of space, access to fresh water, the proper kind and amount of food, and proper shelter from the elements. Other considerations should include the amount of pasture available for a grazing animal, the availability of fencing for both large and smaller animals, and the ability to dispose of animal wastes. Additionally, acreage owners should check the local zoning regulations to determine which animals are suitable for their property. Families should also take into account the time commitment of various species of animals may require.

As families consider species of animals to raise on an acreage, the size, age and ability of the child should be considered. Children under the age of eight may lack the strength, balance and mental capabilities to handle a large animal such as a horse or a market steer. It is recommended that children in this age range are involved with animal projects where the animal is no older than six months of age and less than 350 pounds. Examples of such projects include first year bucket calves, miniature calves, pigs, sheep, alpacas, goats as well as small and companion animals.

An animal project is not something a family should get into without doing some research. Your local UNL Extension office as well as online extension resources can help answer some questions regarding required space, food sources, shelter and numerous other animal ownership topics. Youth interested in animals as a 4-H project should check with their Extension Office to see which clubs in their area may be specialty clubs focusing on a type of animal. Clubs offer support to families who may be new to raising animals.

For those with the dream of a mini version of country life; do some research and try your hand at raising animals as a 4-H project!



Innovative Youth Corn Challenge Banquet Approaching
By Brandy VanDeWalle, UNL Extension Agriculture Educator

Image of farm kidsToday's agricultural world faces several challenges, one of them being the decline of our most valuable resource, the future workforce. Keeping youth in rural communities and involved in production agriculture is important to the agricultural industry. With the global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, there is and will be the need for more young people to engage in agricultural careers to feed the world.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension and the Nebraska Corn Board have teamed up to offer the First Annual Innovative Youth Corn Challenge contest. This contest was open to 4-H members or FFA members and challenged them to create an innovative, yet economical way to increase yields in their own corn plot. As a team youth were challenged to implement a production practice different than normal to determine if they increased their yield. Yields, cropping history, and production information is being gathered by participants.

Six teams completed proposals and projects in this pilot year. Teams are the Super Strong H's 4-H club from Polk County, Humphrey FFA, Wrangler's 4-H Club from Platte County, Fillmore Central FFA, David City FFA, and the Pioneers 4-H Club from Madison County.

Cash prizes and plaques will be given to the first, second, and third place teams at the Corn Yield Challenge Banquet set for December 5, 2012 at UNL's East Campus.

2nd Innovative Youth Corn Challenge Participation Deadline Approaching

This contest, open to 4-H members (age 10 & older as of Jan. 1st) or FFA members (in-school members), will guide youth through all aspects of corn production, as well as agricultural careers related to corn production. As a team, youth will be challenged to implement a production practice different than normal to determine if they increased their yield. Economics and sustainability of the practice will also be considered. Yields, cropping history, and production information will be collected in the Corn Yield Challenge management summary.

Goals of the contest are: achieve new, innovative, and economically feasible crop production methods to improve yields; provide research data for producers to implement in their operations; distribute data to corn producers, researchers, and agri-businesses for decision making purposes; introduce youth to a variety of agronomic professionals, including corn producers.

As a team, youth will work with an adult mentor throughout the process. Mentors can be extension faculty, ag teachers, or other qualified agronomy professionals.

Cash prizes and plaques will be given to the first, second, and third place teams. First place will receive $1,000, second place will receive $500, and third place will receive $250. A data completion and innovation award will also be given. Faced with a persistent drought, an addition this year will be a "limited resource" award which will be based on participants achieving a higher yield with limited inputs. This could be limited water, management practices, fertilizer, other inputs, etc.

To participate, youth must complete and return an entry form by March 1st to the Fillmore County Extension Office in Geneva, NE. Forms can be downloaded at

For more information, contact Brandy VanDeWalle or Aaron Nygren.



Research on Controlling Woodpecker Damage to Homes
By Stephen Vantassel, UNL Wildlife Damage Project Coordinator

Image of pileated woodpeckerIn a 2007 article "Assessment of Management Techniques to Reduce Woodpecker Damage to Homes" published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, Emily G Harding, Paul D. Curtis and Sandra L Vehrencamp provide some interesting information for homeowners struggling with woodpecker damage.

Their study took place around Cornell University in the Lakes region of New York. In that part of the country six woodpeckers are commonly implicated in damaging homes namely: 

  • the pileated woodpecker,
  • Northern flicker,
  • red bellied woodpecker,
  • Harry woodpecker,
  • downy woodpecker,
  • and yellow bellied sapsucker.

Interestingly they explain that some researchers found that the average homeowner who suffers from woodpecker damage sustains about $300 worth of damage to his/her home.

It is no surprise that given the damage that woodpeckers cause there are a number of tools and techniques used to control the damage. The problem is little research has been done on the relative effectiveness of these techniques. Their focus was on those techniques that can be left in place rather than something that was temporary, such as spraying the woodpeckers with water. As a side note, their literature review revealed that applying methyl anthranilate to wood is not effective on woodpeckers because woodpeckers don't eat the wood.

For our purposes, I will focus on their findings for the use of Irri-tape™, Bird Pro sound system with a hawk call, and suet feeders. The point of the suet was to see if offering woodpeckers food would distract them from damaging the house. Unfortunately the study was rather small involving only 16 homes with active woodpecker damage. The results however are still important as they may be helpful for others to determine what their first line of attack should be when woodpecker problem arises.

  • Results were that Irri-tape resolved 50% of the damage complaints where was used. It was by far the most effective device.
  • The suet feeders and Bird Pro sound system placed second and third, respectively.

They also observed that earth-tone colored homes were almost twice as likely to suffer damage as pastel or white colored homes regardless of their siding.

Their study did not answer the question of whether a more rapid initiation of control would have had better as all these homes had established damage when the study began. Nor did the researchers answer what effect using multiple control techniques would've had on resolving woodpecker damage

Bottom Line: Irri-tape™ worked the best. But I want to warn you that in their study, strips were hung every several feet from a rope. Homeowners with high sensitivities to aesthetics may find this problematic.



How Often Should A Septic Tank Be Pumped?
By Sharon Skipton, Extension Water Quality Educator and Jan Hygnstrom, Extension Project Manager

Image of pumping a septic tankRural homeowners often wonder how often they should have their septic tank pumped. Unfortunately, we can't give them a number or formula because it depends. The pumping frequency required will depend on the size of the tank and how many solids go into it. A larger tank will have a longer time interval between pumpings than a smaller tank. More importantly, the tank will have a longer interval between pumpings if the amount of solids going into the system is minimized.

Heavy solids fall to the bottom of the tank where they form a layer of sludge. Lighter solids float to the top of the tank where they form a layer of scum. The tank must be pumped before the sludge and scum layers become too thick, reducing the effectiveness of the system. When sludge and scum build up, the effective tank volume is reduced. Wastewater moves through the tank more rapidly and receives less treatment. In addition, solids can be carried to the drainfield, causing it to clog.

We recommend the following to determine the pumping frequency for your tank. Have the tank pumped by a certified Nebraska pumper. Then, have a certified pumper or installer check the tank annually to measure the sludge and scum depths. Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality regulations (Title 124) define the maximum volume of sludge and scum allowed before pumping is required. Your certified pumper or installer will be familiar with the regulations, which state that a tank must be pumped when the bottom of the scum layer is within 3 inches of the bottom of the outlet baffle, the top of the scum layer is within 1 inch of the top of the outlet baffle, or the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the bottom of the outlet baffle. They also will know how to measure the sludge and scum using a specifically designed measuring tool or a two-stick method. With this information, your certified professional will be able to determine if the volume of sludge and scum in your tank is approaching the point at which pumping is required.

Have the tank pumped when the sludge and scum depths require it. How many years passed since the initial pumping? This will be the pumping interval for your tank as long as your wastewater generation remains the same. Repeat the process or adjust pumping frequency if wastewater generation changes.

You can do some things to minimize solids entering your tank. First, do not use a garbage disposal, or use one sparingly. Studies have shown tanks need to be pumped twice as often when a garbage disposal is used. Other tips include:

  • Do not flush cigarettes, diapers, feminine hygiene products, paper toweling, facial tissue, or "wipes." They may not break down readily and will contribute to the scum or sludge layers. Dispose of these items with other solid waste.
  • Do not put grease or oils down the drain. Grease and oils from cooking, frying, and skin lotions increase the scum layer in the septic tank.
  • Use liquid detergents instead of powdered detergents. Powdered detergents have "fillers" in them that add to the sludge layer.
  • Use toilet tissue that breaks down rapidly. Test by placing a tissue sample in a jar of water, covering the jar opening, and shaking vigorously. The toilet paper should fall apart rapidly when the jar is shaken.
  • Install a filter on the washing machine water discharge line to trap lint. Clean according to manufacturer's directions.
  • Install an effluent filter at the outlet of the septic tank to help prevent solids from flowing into the drainfield. Have it cleaned according to manufacturer's directions.



Trees and Storms
By Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of heavy snow load on evergreen treeTrees and shrubs can face a test of strength and flexibility during winter storms. Here are a few tips from the Nebraska Forest Service and Kansas State Extension on dealing with snow and ice on woody plants.

When snow or ice builds up on the branches of trees and shrubs, do not hit the branches to knock the accumulation off. Snow can carefully be brushed off snow-laden branches but ice should be left to melt naturally. Trying to knock ice off may result in branches breaking. This is also a safety hazard.

When a storm damages a tree, one may wonder if the tree can be saved or not. A tree can appear ruined, but some recover in time with a professional pruning job. To help determine if a tree is salvageable or not, Charles Barden, Forester with Kansas State University Extension, says "the make-or-break factor is whether the damage has harmed the tree's basic structure".

Barden says a tree may not be salvageable if the trunk has split; heavily split bark is exposing the trunk's underlayer; or if more than half of the tree's crown is gone. The Nebraska Forest states if a tree is uprooted, the trunk has completely failed, or more than 50 percent of the branches are broken, the tree is not salvageable because structural integrity is compromised and future growth affected.

Barden reminds us the larger the tree, the more important it is to use a professional arborist to remove or prune the tree. To hire a professional arborist, contact an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) or NAA (Nebraska Arborists Association) Certified Arborist. Contact them at: ISA or NAA.

When pruning large trees, safety needs to be the first concern and large, broken branches need to be removed safely and quickly. Due to the need to take care of these safety hazards as soon as possible, branch stubs may temporarily be left in a tree.

If time does not allow branch stubs to be removed when the branch is removed, be sure to return to the tree to remove stubs fairly soon. Doing this by next spring would be ideal. If you hired a tree service; call them and ask when they will return to remove the stubs.

It is important to properly remove damaged or broken branches where they attach to the main trunk or another branch. If a branch stub is left, it will decay and this decay can spread into the tree trunk or other large branches resulting in a hazardous tree down the road.

If a branch is pruned flush with the trunk or a larger branch and the branch collar is removed, the wound may not callus over and decay could also become an issue. After pruning, do not treat wounds or pruning cuts with any kind of wound dressing or pruning paint.

Deciduous shrubs that sustain many broken branches during an ice storm usually recover. Prune the broken branches close to the ground or where they attach to another branch. If many of the branches are broken, the shrub can be pruned to about one foot tall.

If branches of evergreen trees and shrubs become heavily weighted down with snow, this too should be carefully and slowly brushed off with a broom. When it comes to ice, remember to let nature melt ice naturally. As long the evergreen branches are not broken, they usually return to their normal position in time.

For more information on dealing with storm damaged trees, go to the Nebraska Forest website and click on "Publications."



Christmas Tree Selection & Care
By John Wilson, UNL Extension Educator

Image of a Christmas TreeWith the popularity of fresh trees for the holidays, it is important to select one that is fresh and take steps to prevent it from drying out before the holiday season has passed. This reduces the potential for fires, aids in cleanup... and makes it more pleasant for whoever has to crawl under the tree to distribute the gifts found there. (OK, the last one is a family tradition and since I have the profile that most closely resembles Santa Claus... never mind!)

Follow these steps to assure the tree you are buying is fresh:

  • Gently pull on the needles. They should be tightly attached to the twig.
  • Shake the tree vigorously or bounce the butt on the ground. If green needles fall, look further. Dead, brown needles falling from inner parts of the tree may have been shed years ago and are less of a problem.

Once you have chosen a fresh Christmas tree, do your best to keep it fresh. A tree can stay fresh and healthy for several weeks if it is well cared for.

  • When you get home, cut about an inch off of the butt end (preferably at an angle) to aid in water absorption. Get the cut end in a container of plain water quickly.
  •  If the tree will not be put up right away, store in a cool shady place outside with the butt submerged in water.
  • Mist the needles daily until the tree is decorated.
  • When the tree is brought in the house, saw the butt end again with a square cut. This will help the tree stand up and will also aid in water absorption.
  • Use a sturdy stand with a large water reservoir so it won't dry out. A fresh tree can use one quart of water or more a day, so water daily. A tree is beginning to dry out if its water use slows or stops.
  • Keep the tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, TVs, radiators, and air ducts. Never use lighted candles or have open flames near your Christmas tree.

Following these guidelines on selecting and caring for your Christmas tree helps ensure a safe and happy holiday. And after the holidays, your tree can still serve a useful purpose...Decorate a Christmas Tree for the Birds.



Using Anti-desiccants
John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Evergreens can be a big asset to any landscape. In fact, most landscape designers suggest that no design is complete without specifying at least one, and more likely a grouping. In the Midwest, where acreage family members and holiday party go-ers frolic in the house and look out at a grey, drab winter landscape, masses of green are a welcome addition. Of course, all sorts of evergreens can be used from foundation plantings to shrub screens to specimen trees and windbreaks.

The cold winds of winter can be rough on pines, hemlock, boxwood, holly, spruce, firs and the like. They remove essential moisture from tree needles, moisture that cannot be easily replaced by a frozen root system. When this occurs, the tree is left with a drab, lifeless color, one that is much lighter than the healthy hue. Severe cases leave the needles with no inner moisture at all, which kills the needles and starts a weakening of the tree, leading to susceptibility to other maladies. The use of an anti-desiccant can dramatically reduce moisture loss.

These products are designed to coat the outer needle surfaces with a lightweight glue-like substance, which serves to keep precious internal water from leaving the needle. In general, they last about 5-6 weeks before the sun and wind render them ineffective. Applications should be made about 6 weeks apart to keep valuable trees protected. They are designed to be used on cool days, above freezing, so that the liquid will dry on the leaf surface before it freezes, allowing for a better residual.

One word of caution, be sure to clean out your sprayer after making an anti-desiccant application. After all, this is a glue-like substance, and will harden in the linings. A simple soap and water solution flush will prevent damaging your equipment.



Decorate a Christmas Tree for the Birds
By John Wilson, UNL Extension Educator

Image of Christmas tree for the birdsBefore taking your Christmas tree to the recycling center or burn pile this year, consider creating a backyard habitat for birds. If you have an artificial Christmas tree, you can do the same things with an existing tree or large shrub. These tips are especially effective in evergreens (cedar, pine, spruce, fir, etc.), but can also be used in broadleaf trees as well. Broadleaf trees and shrubs make bird watching easier, but they don't provide the same level of shelter as an evergreen.

To attract birds to your backyard, you must provide their three basic needs... food, water, and cover or shelter. Your old Christmas tree will provide excellent shelter for birds, providing protection from wind and predators. It can also serve as a feeding station, where you provide a buffet of food that our native birds love.

Before taking the tree outside, remove all decorations and lights, including tinsel. To provide the most shelter possible for the birds, place the tree on the south or east side of the house, sheltered from winter's harsh north and west winds. Anchor the tree securely by setting the stump into the ground or a large bucket of damp sand, and securing the top of the tree with twine to nearby buildings or trees.

Decorate your tree with strings of popcorn, cranberries or raisins. Apples, oranges, leftover breads and pine cones covered with peanut butter then dipped in birdseed can also be added. For best results, push the edible ornaments well into the tree. Popcorn will be attractive to cardinals, finches and grosbeaks. Cranberries and raisins should attract cedar waxwings, finches and any robins wintering in the area.

Press suet into the branches or hang it in mesh bags such as those that contain onions and fruit in the supermarket. It is best to keep suet balls in the shade so they don't melt. Also, keep them high enough in the tree that dogs can't reach them. Pre-made suet mixtures, which include suet, bird seed and a variety of dried fruits, are available at most nurseries, garden centers, pet stores, and hardware stores.

To make your own suet seed balls, purchase suet from the meat department of your local grocery store. Mix birdseed and a small amount of peanut butter with suet while the suet is warm enough to be molded. One seed combination that is attractive to a wide range of desirable songbirds is: 50% sunflower seeds, 35% white proso millet and 15% finely cracked corn. Mold the mixture around a wire hook that can be used to attach the suet seed ball to the tree, or fill empty orange rind halves with the suet mixture and attach them to the tree.

Suet is especially attractive to insect-eaters such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches and is a good winter energy source. Suet seed balls will attract juncos, chickadees, finches and native sparrows.

If you decide to start feeding the birds, be consistent with your feeding. Feeding birds in the winter results in their reliance on you for part of their diet. Lack of this food during a severe cold period or storm could result in the birds starving to death before they can find another food source.

Even in winter birds need water to drink and to keep their feathers clean. A birdbath with clean water will attract many birds if the water is not frozen. Commercial immersion heaters will keep the water in birdbaths from freezing. They are available from many nurseries or bird supply stores. Providing for the winter needs of birds can result in many hours of entertainment, spent watching these beautiful creatures.