Healthier Holiday Eating Tips
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist

Image of a holiday meal. If holiday eating leaves you worried about foods high in fat and calories or overeating in general, here are some tips to help enjoy the holidays without increasing your waistline. Making recipes healthier may be easier than you think. Make simple ingredient substitutions or adjustments to create healthier recipes without sacrificing flavor and enjoyment. Many of the traditional foods served during the holidays start out healthy. It's what is added to them and how they are prepared that add extra calories and fat.

Healthier Holiday Eating Tips: 

  • Lower the fat. Use half the butter, shortening or oil in baked goods and replace the other half with unsweetened applesauce, prune puree, or mashed banana. If the recipe calls for regular sour cream or mayonnaise, replace them with reduced-fat versions. For dip recipes, try using plain, low-fat or non-fat yogurt in place of mayonnaise. Skim excess fat from the top of soups, gravies and stews. Use skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk. Choose lean meats, and drain excess fat after cooking.
  • Reduce sugar. In baked goods, such as quick breads, cookies, pie fillings, custard, puddings and fruit crisps, reduce the sugar by one-fourth to one-third. When you use less sugar in recipes, add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg or flavorings such as vanilla extract or almond flavoring to enhance the sweetness of the food. Don't reduce sugar in yeast breads because it provides food for the yeast and promotes rising.
  • Be sodium savvy. Drain liquid from canned vegetables and rinse with water. Choose fresh or low-sodium versions of products such as low-sodium soups, broths, soy sauce, canned vegetables and tomato products. In many recipes, salt may be reduced or deleted altogether. When the recipe calls for seasoning salt, such as garlic salt, celery salt, or onion salt, try using herb-only seasoning, such as garlic powder, celery seed, or onion flakes. Or use finely chopped herbs, garlic, celery, or onions. Don't cut salt out of yeast breads because it helps control the rising action of yeast.
  • Increase fiber. Try using whole-wheat flour and bread, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole cornmeal or barley in recipes and dishes. Substitute whole-wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour in a recipe. Vegetables are another great way to increase the fiber of dishes, add a variety of vitamins and minerals, and make meals stretch further. Add vegetables to chili, meatloaf, hamburgers and spaghetti sauce. Add extra vegetables to quiche fillings, casseroles and salads. Beans such as kidney, pinto or navy beans are great for soups or stews. Fruits can be added to muffins, pancakes, desserts, and salads.
  • Use healthier cooking techniques. Try using nonstick pans or spraying pans with nonstick cooking spray to reduce the amount of fat and calories added to baked goods. Choose healthier cooking methods that use less fat, such as baking, broiling, grilling, poaching, steaming or microwaving.

Start a tradition this holiday season by getting creative and making your holiday recipes healthier through simple substitutions and adjustments. For more food, nutrition and health information go to Food.unl.edu.


Recipe Ideas!

HOME-MADE CRANBERRY SAUCE

  • Ingredients: 1 bag fresh (or frozen) cranberries, 1 whole orange (peel and all), and 1 cup white grape juice concentrate or 1 cup sugar.
  • Directions: Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until mixed well. Heat up and serve over turkey, ice cream, or sandwiches.

FRESH PUMPKIN SOUP

  • Ingredients: 8 cups chopped fresh pumpkin, 4 cups low sodium chicken broth, 3 small tart apples, chopped, 1 medium onion, chopped, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root, 2 garlic cloves, minced, one-half teaspoon salt.
  • Directions: In a 5-quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients and cook for 8 hours. Can be served chunky, or cooled slightly, blended and reheated.

Additional Resources & Links:

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Baking Local
By Justin Evertson and Karma Larsen, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

Image of ripe persimmon fruits on the tree.
Persimmon fruits have an astringent flavor until they are fully ripe. Many varieties must become fully soft ripe before they lose the astringency.

What are your favorite holiday foods? Ingredients for many of them can be grown and found locally. Beyond the common dishes using apples, pumpkins and pecans, there are lots of regionally native plants for local flavor. "Nutella" is used in everything from breakfast waffles to evening desserts; with native hazelnuts, cocoa and milk, you can make your own.

More than 30 nuts and fruits native to the Great Plains can be easily incorporated into baking. Some of the better ones include:

  • Berries and plums: A relatively simple way to use native fruits such as gooseberries, buffaloberries, chokecherries, plums and blackberries is to bake them into a pie.  They're good in breads and muffins also.
  • Chokeberry (Aronia) is an eastern United States native that has become common in Nebraska gardens. Its berries can be used as above and they're some of the best for juicing and smoothies.
  • Walnuts, hazelnuts and hickories: Native black walnuts have a strong, somewhat "wild" flavor that can enhance almost any dish that uses nutmeats, including breads, cookies, cakes and fudge.  Walnuts can also garnish main dishes such as roasts, potatoes and pastas. Walnuts grow in abundance throughout much of Nebraska and are usually in good supply—just follow the squirrels to a local tree. If you're lucky enough to have hazelnut shrubs, or shagbark or shellbark hickory trees nearby, their fruits can be used in the same way.
  • Pawpaw: The fleshy, custard-like fruit of pawpaw is best used in cookies and breads where its strong, spicy flavor can complement other ingredients. Pawpaws grow in the shady understory of oak-hickory forests, such as those in extreme eastern Nebraska. Timing is critical as the fruit typically has a very narrow harvest window from mid to late October.  
  • Chestnuts can be used for grilling, roasting or stuffing.
  • Acorns of white oak, swamp white oak or bur oak can be roasted like chestnuts or made into pastes and butters  that are similar to peanut butter (go online to learn how to leach them).
  • Hackberry and black cherry can be used in making jams, pemmican or jerky.
  • Persimmon: The berry-like fruit of persimmon is often used in baking breads, cookies and fruitcakes. One of its best uses, however, is in bread pudding, where its rich flavor stands out. Persimmons are small, forest-edge trees. Although the tree is not common in the Great Plains, its fruit can be found at specialty markets and even some grocery stores. 

Wonderful recipes for baking local can be found in Wild Seasons—Gathering and Cooking with Wild Plants of the Great Plains published by the University of Nebraska Press and written by naturalist Kay Young. Wild Seasons has more than 200 recipes for 50 or more regional plants. And there are many online resources for baking with wild or landscape plants. Native plants can add a "sense of place" to our tables as well as our landscapes. More recipes and resources at http://heartland-nuts-n-more.myshopify.com/ and http://www.pinterest.com/pin/427419820855692425/.

Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a nonprofit that works toward sustainable home and community landscapes through initiatives in education, public gardens and the environment. Plant and landscape resources at http://arboretum.unl.edu.

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Compost - Recycle Your Tree Leaves
By Nicole Stoner, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of compost pileIn the fall we have a lot of leaves to remove from our lawns.  It is not a good practice to leave the fallen leaves on the lawn as it can lead to snow mold if we get a lot of snow that sits on top of the leaves on the lawn.  We can mow over the leaves to help reduce that problem, but if you want to get rid of your leaves in another manner, a compost pile is a good way to reuse these leaves and grass clippings.

Benefits of Composting
A compost pile is a good way to recycle fallen leaves and spent garden plants at the end of the season.  You can put many types of organic materials into a compost pile.  Use finished compost to amend your garden soil and boost soil fertility.  Composting is a good way to save money by avoiding purchasing other organic matter to use in your garden and avoiding payments for removal of your yard wastes.

Composting Materials - Dos and Don'ts
Many materials can be put into a compost pile.  Some of these items include: leaves, grass clippings, straw, non-woody plant trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, sawdust, remains of garden plants, shredded newspaper, hay, cornstalks, chopped corncobs, and wood ashes.  You do not want to compost any plant materials that were severely diseased, infested with insects, or weeds with hundreds of seeds since those things may not die in a compost pile.  You also would not want to compost grass clippings that have been treated with pesticides.  Do not compost pet feces, meat products, fatty foods, whole eggs, dairy products, or peanut butter.  These things draw wildlife and carry disease organisms that can cause problems if the finished compost is used in the vegetable garden.

Building a Compost Pile
Composting can be done with a free-standing pile in the yard or with a holding unit, turning bin, or even just in a trashcan.  The pile should be at least 3 feet long, wide, and tall and it needs to be no taller than 5 feet.  The pile should be moist, but not too wet.  A good recommendation for this is that it should be comparable to a wrung-out sponge. 

Before building a compost pile, put 4 to 6 inches of chopped brush or other course material over the soil, which will allow air to circulate underneath the pile.

After creating a base layer, put on a layer of low carbon (green) organic material, such as grass clippings, 3 to 4 inches thick. Follow that with a 4- to 6-inch layer of high carbon (brown) organic material, such as leaves or garden waste. Both layers should be damp to the touch, so if necessary add water to each layer with a hose. The material should be damp enough that a drop or two of liquid is released from a handful of it when squeezed. Finish with a 1-inch layer of garden soil or finished compost, which will introduce the microorganisms needed to break down the organic matter.

Mix these layers, except for the base layer, before adding more material to the pile. This ensures quick and even composting of the organic matter. Repeat the layering process to create the desired size of compost pile. At a minimum, the finished pile should be about 4 feet deep, to ensure that the necessary heat will build up in the center of the pile for decomposition.After the initial building of the compost pile, the process is fairly simple.  Turn the pile often enough to keep the temperature between 110-114 degrees Fahrenheit and to make sure that all parts of the pile eventually end up in the middle to get hot enough to break down.  You also need to ensure that the moisture content is correct throughout the process.  Additional water may be needed to keep the pile going.  As you turn the pile, you can add other items from your garden or your kitchen.

Maintaining the Compost Pile
The compost pile can then be left alone, termed a 'passive pile', or can be maintained by turning or mixing the pile and adding water to keep the conditions prime for compost formation. Actively turned piles will break down plant debris and form finished compost much more quickly than a passive pile.

Image of finished compostFor active compost piles, rotate the compost about once a week using a pitchfork and be sure to incorporate new debris with the old. Excessive turning will cool the pile down and will take longer for compost to develop. Most plant disease organisms and weed seeds are destroyed during the composting process when temperatures in the center of the pile reach 140° to 150°F, which can be measured using a soil thermometer. However, in most compost piles it is impossible to mix efficiently enough to bring all wastes to the center. Consequently, incorporating large amounts of weeds with seeds or diseased plants into your compost pile may create problems.

Finished compost is dark brown, crumbly and earthy smelling. Small pieces of leaves or other ingredients may be visible. Stable compost can be blended into soil mixes and is suitable for most outdoor planting projects. While mixing ratios vary, 10 percent compost is considered the minimum, 30 percent optimum and 50 percent maximum.

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Act Now to Reduce Risk of a Frozen Septic System this Winter
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Water Quality Educator

Image of a septic field mulched with straw.
Septic field mulched with straw provides extra insulation against freezing.

We never know what kind of winter we're in for. When thinking about septic systems, a heavy snowfall that stays all winter is a good thing, because it insulates the system from the cold. Bitterly cold temperatures for a week or more with little snow cover can lead to a frozen system. There are a number of things you can do now to reduce the chance of a frozen septic system later this winter.

Stop mowing, if you have not already done so. Let the grass over the pipes, tank, and soil treatment system get a little longer. This will provide extra insulation and help hold any snow that may fall.

Place an 8 to 12 inch layer of mulch over the entire system to provide extra insulation. This mulch could be straw, leaves, hay, or any other loose material that will stay in place and will not compact. This is especially important if a good vegetative cover has not been established.

The way you manage water during periods of bitterly cold weather, also can reduce the chance of a frozen septic system. Use water, the warmer the better if your system is starting to freeze. Normally we advocate water conservation, but if freezing is a concern, increase your water use from low to normal. Do at least one warm/hot-water activity per day, such as a load of laundry, using your dishwasher, or taking a hot bath. Better yet, do one such activity each morning and another each evening, about 12 hours apart.

If you know you are going to be gone for an extended period during cold weather, plan accordingly. Have a house sitter run some hot water and maybe even do some laundry; in other words, use sufficient quantities of warm or hot water in the home regularly to prevent system freezing.

Keep all types of vehicles and high traffic activities off the system during cold weather to avoid pushing frost down toward system components.

Edited from a previous acreage article which was adapted by Jan Hygnstrom – UNL Extension Project Manager and Sharon Skipton – Extension Water Quality Educator from "Freezing Problems and Septic Systems" by Ken Olsen and Sarah Heger, University of Minnesota.

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Be Winter Ready - Build an Emergency Kit
By Ashley Mueller, UNL Extension Educator - Disaster Coordinator

Image of winter storm infographic
Infographic courtesy of America's PrepareAthon!

November in Nebraska is characterized by the last leaves falling off trees as the shades of autumn begin to fade. It also means winter weather is just around the corner. And there is no better time than now to prepare for winter storms. Being ready for icing, sleet, and freezing rains, snow, strong winds, and low temperatures is extremely important in managing a storm's impact. Winter storms can affect your home, and they can disrupt community services.

What is the best way to prepare for a winter storm? Make an emergency kit. Have a kit in several locations including your home, workplace, vehicle, and places where your family members spend a significant amount of time, like a relative's house or a house of worship.

What supplies should be in an emergency kit? Think about what three days without power, water, and heat would feel like. Collect the supplies you would need to make it through the storm. Ready, a national public service advertising campaign, suggests the following basic supplies:

  • Water - At least 1 gallon of water per person for at least 3 days. Storing more water is highly recommended.
  • Food - At least a 3-day supply of non-perishable foods and a non-electric can opener. Consider special dietary needs.
  • Flashlight, Radio and Cell phone charger - Flashlight and radio should be battery-powered (with extra batteries) or hand-cranked. Cell phone charger should be solar, hand-cranked, or able to be charged from a vehicle.
  • Medical - First Aid kit, over-the-counter/ non-prescription medications, and medical supplies.
  • Sanitation - Hand sanitizer, towelettes, paper products, and plastic bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation when water resources are limited).
  • Assistive Technology - Battery power backup should be included for oxygen, power-dependent mobility devices, and other assistive technology requirements.

Additional items to consider:

  • Extra clothing and blankets - Keep warm by layering in the event of a power outage.
  • Pet supplies - Pet food, water, and additional items to keep your pet comfortable.
  • Important documents and extra cash - Copies of insurance policies, identification, pertinent medical information and medications list, and other records stored in a portable, waterproof container.
  • Items for snow and ice - Rock salt to melt ice on walkways; sand or kitty litter to improve traction; and snow shovels to remove snow.
Image of winter storm
Photo by Ashley Mueller.

What if my family has unique needs? It is important to consider the access and functional needs of your family members and the needs of children and pets. In your emergency kit, you may need to include extra water, special food, and additional supplies, like diapers, formula, and medical equipment. 

How should I store my supplies? A large, plastic storage container is a practical option. Be sure the container has a lid so items remain contained and stored easily.

What else should I do to prepare for a winter storm? Involve your family. Have a meeting to talk about the actions you are taking to prepare for winter weather. Gather supplies together. Develop an emergency communication plan. In case family members are separated from each other during a storm—for example, adults at work and children at school—have a plan for getting back together.

If I experience a winter storm and use my kit, what should I do now? Make smart decisions during the storm. Follow directions of local officials. Only travel if necessary. After the storm, learn from the experience. Assess how well your preparations worked. Were your supplies adequate? Was your emergency communication plan effective? What can be done better for next time? Make improvements so you're even more prepared for the next storm. Restock supplies. Talk with your friends, coworkers, and neighbors about their experiences and share tips with each other. 

The time to prepare is now. Take action for you and your family, and be safe.

Sources and to learn more about winter weather preparedness:

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Prepare for Winter Snow Removal
By Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of man shoveling snowWe all know it's inevitable, the only real question is when and how much.  Of course I'm talking about snow and ice, and with them comes slick sidewalks, steps and driveways.  Before we're faced with the first blizzard of the season, it's a good idea to decide how you will handle the ice and snow, and be prepared when it arrives.

Protect Your Health
Shoveling is the most common method of snow removal and although shoveling can be good exercise, it can also result in over exertion and muscle strain.  Not to mention more serious problems.  Keep these tips in mind to protect yourself. 
  • Individuals over the age of 40, or those who are relatively inactive, should be especially careful. 
  • If you have a history of heart trouble, do not shovel without a doctor's permission. 
  • Do not shovel after eating a heavy meal.
  • Choose a lightweight aluminum shovel. 
  • Push the snow as you shovel.  It's easier on your back than lifting. 
  • Take it slow!  Shoveling (like lifting weights) can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically.  Pace yourself.  Be sure to stretch and warm up before taking on the task.
  • Do not work to the point of exhaustion.  If you run out of breath, take a break.  If you feel tightness in your chest, stop immediately.
Use Equipment Safely
Snow removal equipment makes the job much easier, but can cause serious injury, even amputation, if not used properly.  Injuries happen most often happen when users are trying to clear a clogged auger or discharge chute.  Follow these tips for safe snow removal. 
  • Inexperience with snow removal equipment is a contributing factor for injuries.  Begin by reading the owner's manual and follow safety instructions for safe operation.  Wear eye and ear protection, if the engine is very noisy or will be run for a long period of time. 
  • Areas that will be cleared with power equipment should be kept clear of sticks, rocks, water hoses, tools, toys, and other debris.  Snow removal equipment can throw snow more than 20 feet, and solid objects, such as rocks or ice chunks, can travel three times that distance.
  • Don't wear loose clothing, jackets or scarves that could get tangled in the snow blower's moving parts.
  • Prevent clogging by not overloading the equipment.  If snow is heavy, walk slowly with the snow blower and/or remove a narrow strip of snow with each pass. 
  • If the snow blower does become clogged, turn the engine off and use a wooden dowel or plastic rod to remove snow from the auger or discharge.  Do not use hands to remove the blockage.  Even with the engine turned off, the discharge unit may spin when clogged snow becomes dislodged.
Ice Melt Products Make the Job Easier
Snowblowers and shovels can't always remove compacted snow or ice, so using a chemical deicer can be helpful.  Common deicing compounds include those listed below.  They may be used alone, or blended together to improve performance or reduce damage to concrete or landscapes.

Products are listed in order of cost, with the least expensive first. 

  • Sodium chloride is the least expensive product, available in large quantities, and is commonly used on roadways.  It's not as effective at low temperatures as calcium chloride and has a high burn potential for landscape plants.  Performs best in the mid-20s, but will melt ice down to 16°F.
  • Magnesium chloride is sprayed on roadways before a snowstorm to prevent ice bonds from forming, making ice and snow removal easier. Very little damage to concrete or metal. It's gentle on landscape plants and pet safe.  It also doesn't track into the house.
  • Calcium chloride is the most effective deicing product at low temperatures, down to -25°F. Low damage level to concrete or metal.
  • Potassium chloride, also known as muriate of potash, is also used as a food salt substitute.  But due to it's high salt index, and potential for plant damage is less commonly used. Doesn't melt below +25°F.
  • Acetates can be found in three forms- calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), sodium acetate and potassium acetate.  CMA is a salt-free product and is the safest product for use around pets and landscape plants.  CMA is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (the principal component of vinegar). Studies have shown the material has little impact on plants. Low damage level to concrete or metal.

To protect your landscape and pets, look for products like:

  • SafeStep Sure Paws, contains magnesium chloride/potassium sulfate
  • Premium CMA Ice Melt, contains calcium magnesium acetate.  
Also keep on hand products that improve your footing on slick surfaces, like sand, sawdust, or cat litter.  They can be used instead of traditional deicing products, or blended with them to improve traction and limit deicer use.

Protecting Plants
Although salt is applied throughout the winter, most salt damage occurs in late winter and early spring when plants are beginning active growth and excess salts are pulled into the plant.  So it is particularly important to protect plants during this time, and limit salt use in late winter.

Using the smallest amount of product needed to manage ice will also minimize landscape damage.  Avoid piling snow containing salt around sensitive plants, such as redbud, hackberry, hawthorn, crabapple, pin and red oak, littleleaf linden, barberry, boxwood, dogwood, spirea, Viburnum, Balsam Fir, White Spruce, White Pine, Scotch Pine, Yew, Arborvitae and Hemlock.

Note: Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended.  These products are listed as examples only.  No endorsement by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is implied.

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Pruning for Form and Function
By Eric Berg, Nebraska Forest Service

Before and after image of tree pruningBeyond the proper selection, placement and care of trees, one of the most important activities we can do for long-term tree health is structural pruning, especially on young trees. Let's face it, Nebraska is a tough place to be a tree. Any given year is likely to contain extreme weather events including ice storms, winds up to 100 mph, heavy snow, toss in some drought and flooding and welcome to Nebraska.  Structural pruning, if done properly and at the right time, can help avoid branch and stem failures from storm events and create a healthier tree for generations to come.

Let's take a step back and ask a simple question. Where do trees come from? It's not a trick question. They come from forests where the name of the game is: "Who can grow the fastest and straightest to capture the most sunlight?" In the forested environment, there is intense competition for light, which tends to force trees to grow straight up and maintain a single dominant stem and strong structural branches.

When we remove trees from their native forested environment and plant them along streets, parks and yardscapes in our communities, trees go into what I refer to as "sunlight overload." The canopy exposure to full sunlight causes the tree to grow a much broader and fuller crown, typically with multiple competing stems and weakly attached branches. Over time, the natural form and function of that tree species is lost and typically these trees are heavily damaged during storm events because of poor and weakened structure.

A majority of these potential failures can be prevented by structural pruning beginning when the trees are young. Structural pruning is the purposeful removal of weak branches and correction of poor canopy form. Doing this when branches are small minimizes wounding and results in stronger branch structure. Most structural pruning can begin after the tree has become established in the landscape, typically one to three years after planting. Winter is one of the best times to do structural pruning because it is much easier to see the entire crown and branch attachments when leaves aren't obscuring the view.

The process of structural pruning can be viewed in detail by visiting the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) "Trees are Good" web page. In summary, the process of structurally pruning young trees begins with:

  1. Cleaning the crown by removing dead, broken and dying branches.
  2. Choosing and developing one dominant leader. This often can take multiple years of pruning and may include the subordination and eventual removal of competing co-dominant stems. (Subordination is a method of slowing the growth of a stem or branch by pruning it back over a period of years rather than all at once.)
  3. Identifying and establishing the lowest permanent scaffold branches which will remain on the tree.
  4. Selecting and establishing additional permanent branches approximately every 16 inches along the stem of the tree. These permanent branches are left in a radial pattern around the stem, favoring branches with strong attachments and visible branch bark ridges.

Effective structural pruning is both an art and a science. Doing it correctly can result in tree canopies strong enough to tolerate our extreme climate. Be sure to follow general pruning guidelines, including the use of the three-step pruning process that involves making proper cuts to maintain the branch bark ridge, and removing less than a quarter of the live crown at any one time. Structural pruning in the first 20 years of a tree's life can ensure its strength and vigor for generations to come.

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Harvesting Rainwater- Green Roof Basics
By Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of green roof plantingRainwater harvesting helps make the most of rain when we receive it. Rainwater harvesting also helps to slow down stormwater so more soaks into soil and less runs off of impermeable surfaces and steep slopes; which leads to soil erosion and nonpoint source pollution. A new NebGuide on green roofs is now available from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Green roofs, along with the use of rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns and bioswales are examples of rainwater harvesting methods.

Stormwater Management: Green Roof Basics, G2244

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Eastern Woodrats (Pack Rats)
By Todd Whitney, UNL Extension Agriculture Educator

Image of eastern woodrat
Eastern Woodrat. Image by Bob Gress, Outdoor Alabama.

As colder fall temperatures begin, this is when rodents seek winter shelter and new food sources usually targeting warm homes and farm dwellings. Among the unwanted rodent list are Eastern woodrats, Neotoma floridana, also known as pack rats or trade rats. Pack rats are active at night and can live up to three years in the wild. Although pack rats can nest in rock crevices and brush piles, they can also nest in homes, farm buildings, and vehicles where they create havoc gnawing on electrical wires.

Some cultures such as the Chinese actually seem to honor rats for being ambitious. For example, the Chinese zodiac 12-year animal cycle calendar begins with the rat, and 2020 will be the next Chinese "Year of the Rat."  Obviously, most Nebraskans have little regard for rats especially if these rodents cost the vehicle owners hundreds of dollars when these pests gnaw wiring harnesses of their stored vehicles.

Control
So, how do you prevent pack rat and other rodent damage?  Dennis Ferraro, UNL Wildlife Specialist, says that the first line of defense is exclusion. Since pack rats are good climbers, all vines on buildings should be pulled down, so they do not provide a ladder for the rats. Then, all holes larger than one-half inch on building and foundations need sealed.  Entry holes should be packed with steel wool prior to sealing with foam or cock, since pack rats can gnaw through wood and insulation. In homes, both mice and rats can also follow pipes under dark sinks, so sealing around pipes is recommended.

Toxicant baits can be used for most rodents around farmstead dwellings, but the convenient "throw pack" poisons may not work as well controlling pack rats compared to using for mice and Norway rats control. The woodrats (pack rats) have a tendency to collect food and objects in their nests to consume later. As a result, disappointment results when the pack rats continue gnawing destruction even after taking the bait packs.

An alternative to the throw packs might be the anticoagulant paraffin (wax) bait blocks which can be nailed or wired in place; this will prevent the pack rats from just carrying the bait to their nests. Liquid rodenticides may also be used; however, care must be taken in preventing pets, children, and non-target animals from poison consumption.

Rat-sized snap traps are another good option and are recommended to prevent rodents from dying behind walls with offensive odors. Since rodents tend to follow wall lines with their whiskers, traps are best placed flat against the wall with the trigger end toward the wall. When dual traps are used, set traps at least one inch apart. Attractant baits for the snap triggers might include: peanut butter, nut meats, bacon rinds, or dried fruit. Woodrats are also attracted to shiny or metallic objects about the size of a marble, so rolled up aluminum foil balls can work well.

Glue boards (sticky cardboard or plastic trays) can also be used. These sticky traps can be especially useful under vehicle hoods when it is difficult to mount snap traps. Dust or extreme temperatures, though, can lower the effectiveness of glue boards. 

More information guides on "Controlling Rats" NebGuide G1737 & "Controlling House Mice" NebGuide G1105 are available.

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Eliminate the Nuisance of Firewood Insects
By Nicole Stoner, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of redheaded ash borer
Redheaded ash borer is an insect that commonly hitchhikes into homes via firewood.

With the changing seasons, we know winter is fast approaching. Before winter winds start to blow, prepare your wood piles.  Consider where the wood should be piled for easiest access, keeping in mind that insect pests that may lie inside those logs of wood.

Common Firewood Insects
There are many different insects that may overwinter in wood and others that use wood as a food supply during the winter months.  These include: termites, carpenter ants, wood boring beetles, and many other insects.  You may not see these insects actively moving around on the wood now due to cooler fall temperatures, but once the wood is inside your home they may become active again.  Typically, firewood insects are only a nuisance pest inside your home because they cannot survive long-term in your home.  

Termites are the most intimidating insect on this list, but remember termites are a colony insect and individual insects die if separated from the colony.  Termites found indoors in firewood are very unlikely to become established in your home, but if the colony attacks your firewood pile outdoors, and the pile is near your house, they can become a theat to your home. 

If you feel, at any time, you may have termites in your home call a pest control company for an inspection.  If they find termites in your home you have a couple of choices for control, including bait stations or a barrier spray. Both methods have their place; it really depends on the situation.  Allow your pest control company to help you decide which to use.

Firewood Tips
First, when stacking your woodpile do not place the wood directly on the ground or in direct contact with your house.  This reduces the chance soil-dwelling insects like termites and carpenter ants will move into the wood. Termites can get into, and feed on, any wood that comes into direct contact with the soil.  If you pile wood up against your house, with the pile directly on the ground, termites can enter the wood pile then work their way through the wood into your siding, and into your home. 

You also want to only bring into the house a few days worth of wood at a time. This reduces the opportunity for dormant wood-boring insects to emerge inside your house before the wood is burned. Wood boring insects, like redheaded ash borer or common ash borer, will not damage your house or furniture, but they will fly around your house and be a nuisance.  Wood remaining at or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit will keep any insects inside dormant, meaning they will be in an inactive, overwintering stage.  If you bring too much wood into your home, and it stays warm for several weeks, the warmth will allow the insects to mature to adults, emerge from the wood, and fly around your home.  

Having a fireplace is a wonderful way to stay warm and save money on winter heating bills.  However, be sure to handling firewood properly to avoid insect problems. 

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Do You Have an Animal Vaccination Program in Place?
By Lindsay Chichester, UNL Extension Livestock Educator

Image of sheep vaccination
Image of sheep vaccination, by Lindsay Chichester.

Do your animals have a regular vaccination schedule? Have you identified and visited with your local veterinarian to determine what your animals need throughout the year to remain healthy and safe? If you have answered no to either question, there is still time to get your animals on track.

Risks of Missed Vaccinations
Animals are kind of like kids, they may not leave your operation, but when they do and are mixed with other animals (like kids going to school), suddenly they are exposed to possible viruses and/or bacteria that they may not have been exposed to at home. If they have not been properly vaccinated prior to these co-mingling events, they may get very sick, or they may make other animals sick. Since no one wants to treat a sick animal (or child) unless they have to, it is important to ensure that your animals are as healthy and safe as possible. More times than not it is more cost effective to prevent infections and illness through vaccination programs versus waiting until your animal is sick to treat it. 

Additionally, if your animals are traveling (livestock exhibitions, fairs, rodeo, etc.) or new animals are coming onto your property it is important to quarantine them for a minimum of 21 days after returning home or before allowing them to co-mingle with other animals. This time will allow you to observe and monitor them for sickness and to treat them prior to exposure to other animals. 

Developing a Herd/Flock Health Plan
You should begin by developing a herd/flock health plan which looks at a yearly production calendar; taking into account age of animals, nutrition, reproductive management, and marketing. Once a production calendar is established, it is easier to work with your veterinarian to tailor health management options and vaccination schedules to your specific animals and local/regional disease concerns.

Benefits of Vaccinations
Benefits to having your animals on a proper vaccination schedule is that they build an immune response to protect them against possible disease exposure, ultimately giving them the best chance to stay healthy in high stress events. Additionally, when your animals are marketed it is advantageous for you to provide documentation that the animals were on a vaccination program. This ultimately may result in a few more dollars per head – which could pay for the cost of the vaccines!
As a friendly reminder, when administering any vaccinations/antibiotics/parasite control to your animals it is vital to follow all product labels pertaining to dosage, administration, storage, and withdrawal times. It is always important to ensure good recordkeeping accompanies your vaccination program (date, animals treated, type of treatment, withdrawal dates, other observable concerns about specific animals, etc.).

Additional Resources:
Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) - Nebraska
Goat Vaccination Program, eXtension
Sheep Vaccination Program, University of Minnesota
The Use of Vaccination in Poultry Production
Vaccinations for the Swine Herd, Alabama Cooperative Extension

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Eastern Woodrats (Pack Rats)
By Todd Whitney, UNL Extension Agriculture Educator

Image of eastern woodrat
Eastern Woodrat. Image by Bob Gress, Outdoor Alabama.

As colder fall temperatures begin, this is when rodents seek winter shelter and new food sources usually targeting warm homes and farm dwellings. Among the unwanted rodent list are Eastern woodrats, Neotoma floridana, also known as pack rats or trade rats. Pack rats are active at night and can live up to three years in the wild. Although pack rats can nest in rock crevices and brush piles, they can also nest in homes, farm buildings, and vehicles where they create havoc gnawing on electrical wires.

Some cultures such as the Chinese actually seem to honor rats for being ambitious. For example, the Chinese zodiac 12-year animal cycle calendar begins with the rat, and 2020 will be the next Chinese "Year of the Rat."  Obviously, most Nebraskans have little regard for rats especially if these rodents cost the vehicle owners hundreds of dollars when these pests gnaw wiring harnesses of their stored vehicles.

Control
So, how do you prevent pack rat and other rodent damage?  Dennis Ferraro, UNL Wildlife Specialist, says that the first line of defense is exclusion. Since pack rats are good climbers, all vines on buildings should be pulled down, so they do not provide a ladder for the rats. Then, all holes larger than one-half inch on building and foundations need sealed.  Entry holes should be packed with steel wool prior to sealing with foam or cock, since pack rats can gnaw through wood and insulation. In homes, both mice and rats can also follow pipes under dark sinks, so sealing around pipes is recommended.

Toxicant baits can be used for most rodents around farmstead dwellings, but the convenient "throw pack" poisons may not work as well controlling pack rats compared to using for mice and Norway rats control. The woodrats (pack rats) have a tendency to collect food and objects in their nests to consume later. As a result, disappointment results when the pack rats continue gnawing destruction even after taking the bait packs.

An alternative to the throw packs might be the anticoagulant paraffin (wax) bait blocks which can be nailed or wired in place; this will prevent the pack rats from just carrying the bait to their nests. Liquid rodenticides may also be used; however, care must be taken in preventing pets, children, and non-target animals from poison consumption.

Rat-sized snap traps are another good option and are recommended to prevent rodents from dying behind walls with offensive odors. Since rodents tend to follow wall lines with their whiskers, traps are best placed flat against the wall with the trigger end toward the wall. When dual traps are used, set traps at least one inch apart. Attractant baits for the snap triggers might include: peanut butter, nut meats, bacon rinds, or dried fruit. Woodrats are also attracted to shiny or metallic objects about the size of a marble, so rolled up aluminum foil balls can work well.

Glue boards (sticky cardboard or plastic trays) can also be used. These sticky traps can be especially useful under vehicle hoods when it is difficult to mount snap traps. Dust or extreme temperatures, though, can lower the effectiveness of glue boards. 

More information guides on "Controlling Rats" NebGuide G1737 & "Controlling House Mice" NebGuide G1105 are available.

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