Nov 2012

Life Outside the City Limits

Collage of Nov 2012 Images

Private Drinking Water Wells
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Water Educator

Nebraska Water RegionsA series of six new University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension NebGuides will help rural families understand and manage their private drinking water systems. The NebGuides, developed by UNL Extension faculty Sharon Skipton, Jan Hygnstrom, and Wayne Woldt, are available online at and can be downloaded free of charge.

Private Drinking Water Wells: Planning for Water Use helps rural families determine if the well capacity will meet their water demands. The flow rate must be capable of providing the total quantity of water needed every day. In addition, temporary large demands that occur throughout the day must be considered.

Private Drinking Water Wells: Water Sources focuses on Nebraska's groundwater resources. Groundwater provides approximately 85% of the water used for human consumption in Nebraska, yet its existence, movement, quantity, and quality remain a mystery to many.

Private Drinking Water Wells: The Water Well addresses the well location and construction. A contaminated well is a serious problem that can be costly and time-consuming to solve. Often, contamination can be avoided by proper location, construction, and maintenance.

A water distribution system is needed to pump water out of the well to the surface and deliver it under pressure to the place where it will be used. Private Drinking Water Wells: The Distribution System focuses on this system, which typically consists of a pump with motor, pressure storage tank, and a control device such as a pressure switch.

The small amount of maintenance required by most private drinking water well systems should be performed by a professional licensed by the State of Nebraska. Private Drinking Water Wells: Operation and Maintenance for Mechanical Components explains the operation and maintenance services that a licensed professional might offer.

Private Drinking Water Wells: Operation and Maintenance for a Safe Well helps rural homeowners maintain a safe drinking water supply. It provides an overview of potential water quality contaminants known to exist in Nebraska, wellhead protection that can be initiated, recommendations for having water tested, and treatment technology available for home use.

The series of publications is the result of a collaborative effort between the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the Nebraska Well Drillers Association, and the Nebraska Onsite Waste Water Association, all of whom place a high priority on protecting Nebraska's drinking water resources. Partial funding was provided by the Nebraska Well Drillers Association, the Nebraska Onsite Waste Water Association, and the Water Well Standards and Contractors' Licensing Board.




This month features information on windbreaks, dormant reseeding of turf, and water well construction.

Jan Hygnstrom, University of Nebraska Extension (with help from Dennis Adams, Nebraska Forest Service; and Jay Seaton, Lower Platte South NRD) cover Part 1 of a series on windbreak design. Start planning your windbreak so you'll be able to order trees and plant in spring.


Dormant seeding, done after Thanksgiving in Nebraska, gives you a jump start on having a green lawn next summer. Matt Sousek and Jan Hygnstrom, University of Nebraska, explain how to do it.


Allison Potter, University of Nebraska Research Engineer, explains proper water well construction that protects groundwater quality. Collaborating team members on the project were Bruce Dvorak, UNL Specialist, and Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Educator.

Drought Impact on Horses
By Sara Ellicott, UNL Extension Livestock Educator

Image of a horseThis year's drought conditions have been a challenge for most of us - whether it is with the water at our home, crops we produce, our home landscape, livestock we raise, or horses we own. Many have been impacted by the drought. Those with livestock or horses know that feed is costly right now, and in some cases, tougher to find than in a "normal" year.

This month, I would like to share a few resources for horse owners that may be of use during the upcoming winter months.

In a recent University of Nebraska Ag Almanac radio recording (below), Dr. Kathy Anderson, UNL Extension Horse Specialist, describes the impact the drought has had on horses.  For additional drought information for horses and other livestock, visit

Recorded: Sept. 18, 2012
Drought Impact on Horses
The drought has impacted all forms of animal agriculture, including horses. The increased price of hay will have varied effects on horse care. Kathy Anderson, UNL Extension Horse Specialist
TRT: 4:40

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Additionally, as the cold weather sets in, it is important for horse owners to keep in mind some important management tips to make sure your horse stays healthy during the winter months. The NebGuide G1873, Winter Care for Horses, provides practical tips on energy requirements, alterations in feeding, water requirements, hair coat, shelter requirements and hoof care.

Additional horse related information can be found at the UNL Animal Science Department Horse Extension website.

And, finally, there's a program planned for November 3 in Grand Island, called Nebraska Horseman's Day.



Weekend Project - Protect Roses for the Winter
By John Fech, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of frosted rose flowerIf you love your roses, make sure they are well protected this winter. The key to good protection is to not to get into a hurry to do it. Wait until they are dormant. How do you know? Well, most to all of the leaves should have fallen off the canes, and the canes themselves turn a bit off color. Temperatures should be in the 20's in a consistent pattern for several days. Doing too much, too early will cause them to be injured in winter, in spite of good intentions.

Once they're dormant, cut them back. Tea roses should be cut back to about 30 inches or so, while miniatures only slightly. Floribundas and multifloras should be thinned and cut back severely. Cover the rose canes with wood chips, corn cobs, sawdust, pine needles, or pine cones. You will need to use at least a bushel basket of materials for each rose bush. Keep applying the covering material periodically, as Midwestern winds tend to blow it away.

Keep the material in place as long as possible with a rose collar. You can buy a pre-made collar at the hardware store or garden center, or make one yourself. Look around your store room and find a large box. The box that your stereo speakers came in would work just fine. Open the bottom, slide it over the rose bush and then fill it up the wood chips. You can seal the top or not, depending how it looks to you.

Climbing roses need to be taken down off the trellise and thinned. Strive to keep about 4 to 5 of the strongest canes. Older, broken and diseased canes should be removed at ground level. Dig a trench near the base of the canes and bend the remaining canes into the trench. Cover the canes with the covering materials for tea roses. Mound up the material to the same height as for tea roses. In spring, carefully dig them up and reattach them to the trellises.



Late Fall Considerations for Acreage Forages
By Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forages Specialist
Effects of a Freeze on Forages

Image of winter pastureIf you haven't experienced a freeze yet this fall, you soon will. When plants freeze, changes occur in their metabolism and composition that can poison livestock. But you can prevent problems.

Sorghum-related plants, like cane, sudangrass, shattercane, and milo can be highly toxic for a few days after frost. Freezing breaks plant cell membranes. This breakage allows the chemicals that form prussic acid to mix together and release this poisonous compound rapidly. Livestock eating recently frozen sorghums can get a sudden, high dose of prussic acid and potentially die. Fortunately, prussic acid soon turns into a gas and disappears into the air. So wait 3 to 5 days after a freeze before grazing sorghums; the chance of poisoning then becomes much lower.

Freezing also slows down metabolism in all plants. This stress sometimes permits nitrates to accumulate in plants that are still growing, especially grasses like oats, millet, and sudangrass. This build-up usually isn't hazardous to grazing animals, but green chop or hay cut right after a freeze can be more dangerous.

Alfalfa reacts two ways to a hard freeze, down close to twenty degrees, cold enough to cause plants to wilt. Nitrate levels can increase, but rarely to hazardous levels. Freezing also makes alfalfa more likely to cause bloat for a few days after the frost. Then, several days later, after plants begin to wilt or grow again, alfalfa becomes less likely to cause bloat. So waiting to graze alfalfa until well after a hard freeze is a good, safer management practice.

Frost causes important changes in forages so manage them carefully for safe feed.

Make the Most of Expensive Hay

Hay is extra expensive this year. Let's identify what you need to know to get by with using as little as possible.

Minimizing the amount of hay you feed over winter is wise when hay is as expensive as it is this year. You don't want to be wasteful. But you shouldn't short your cows just to save a few dollars, either.

The two most important bits of information you need are what do my cows need and what can my different feedstuffs provide. A dry beef cow fed winter range, corn stalks, or even straw rarely needs more than one pound of extra protein per day. Just six or seven pounds of average alfalfa hay will provide this protein; feeding any more probably is wasting extra protein.

Once she calves, or if you have grass hay instead of alfalfa, the feeding system will be drastically different. Lactating cows need more nutrients and grass hay usually has less protein than alfalfa. With hay as expensive as it is, forage testing is just common sense. It is the only way - let me repeat - the only way you will know for sure how much protein, energy, and other nutrients your hay can provide. One more healthy calf, one more bred cow, one bale of saved hay will more than make up for the cost of testing your forages.

One final thing - store and feed your hay to reduce weather losses and waste. Outdoor stored hay in Nebraska loses about one percent of its nutrients every month when stored properly; those losses can more than double if hay is stored carelessly. Feeding waste can be similar. Don't give animals free access to your precious hay. Control the amount and location of the hay so little of it gets stomped into the ground.



Signs and Prevention of Poultry Predators
By Soni Cochran, UNL Extension Associate

In our area, there are many different predators that can easily prey on poultry if given the opportunity. This list includes coyotes, raccoons, foxes, weasels, birds of prey, opossums, skunks, rodents, snakes, and domestic animals like dogs and cats. Chickens are most vulnerable to predators due to their size. Turkeys and large ducks are less prone to predation. Younger and smaller birds are also more likely to be preyed upon.

Signs of Predation

Since poultry owners don't usually witness an attack, the only clue to the type of predator is the pattern it leaves on the flock.

Birds are missing - coyotes, dogs, birds of prey, fox, raccoon. Hawks will take birds during the day. Owls take birds at night. Coyotes and fox will remove the birds. Domestic dogs will not eat the birds at the site of the attack. Scattered feathers in an area may be a sign of birds that have panicked. Birds frightened by predators may be found dead in a pile from smothering each other. Raccoons may take several birds in one night. The breast and crop can be torn and chewed, and the entrails sometimes are eaten. There may be bits of flesh near water.

Missing heads - birds of prey and raccoons. Poultry enclosed in pens made of loose meshing are easy prey. Birds of prey can scare birds and cause them to jump or fly up, allowing their heads to protrude through the meshing. Birds of prey will then grab the heads. Raccoons can also reach through openings grabbing and ripping off the bird's head through the meshing and wire caging. Weasels and minks will kill many birds and eat only the heads.

Missing limbs - raccoons. Raccoons are known for their nimble paws and intelligence. If birds are kept in a mesh-style pen, raccoons are able to reach nearby, unsuspecting birds and pull their legs off.

Image of snake eating eggMissing eggs or chicks - opossums, skunks, rats, cats, snakes, and birds of prey. Opossums and skunks prey at night. Free-range birds and birds in unprotected nests are easy targets for these predators. Rats can carry away day-old chicks and can also bite older birds in the hock joint, which can cause a swelling and infection. Snakes will consume small birds and eggs whole.

Birds with lacerations near the cloaca - weasels, mink. Weasels bite at the vent region, pulling out the intestines. Some birds can be found walking around, dragging their intestines. Weasels and their relatives also kill for fun, which can leave scattered feathers with bloody or torn carcasses.

Mauled birds, eggs raided - opossums, skunks. Opossums will raid poultry houses, usually killing one chicken at a time, often mauling the victim. Eggs will be mashed and messy, the shells often chewed into small pieces and left in the nest. Opossums usually begin feeding on poultry at the cloacal opening. Young poultry or game birds are consumed entirely and only a few wet feathers left. Skunks will kill one or two birds and maul them. When skunks raid nests, the eggs are usually opened at one end; the edges are crushed as the skunk punches its nose into the hole to lick out the contents. The eggs may appear to have been hatched, except for the edges. Weasels and minks will raid nests for eggs. They eat the eggs by breaking in on the ends.

Here are some other signs of predation:

Image of poultry houseBirds, usually turkeys, found dead in enclosed corners. Turkeys will huddle in an area away from open sides to avoid predators that may be stalking around the perimeter. The weight of the huddled birds is enough to suffocate and/or crush the birds below.

Birds found with missing feathers and abrasions. Cats may prey upon large birds, but are usually unsuccessful.

Birds, usually layers, with wounds found around the vent region. Although this can be predation of some kind, this may also be the result of cannibalism if a bird has a prolapsed rectum after passing an egg. Chickens will be attracted to the bright red tissue and will peck at it, causing wounds.

Prevention of Predation

The easiest way to protect flocks from predation is to keep flocks secure within buildings. However, for the majority of backyard flocks and organic flocks, this isn't desirable. The next best tool for these small flocks is prevention. Build predator resistant fences and poultry coops/houses. Lock your birds up at night and maintain a vigilant eye. Open poultry houses should be enclosed by fine meshing to prevent entry by wild birds.

For more information, visit the The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage (part of University of Nebraska-Lincoln).  It provides research based information on how to responsibly handle wildlife damage problems.



Research Update: Herbicide Use Over Newly-Seeded Buffalograss
By Zac Reicher, UNL Extension Turfgrass Specialist

Image of buffalograssWith the drought this year, many are rethinking grass choices in lawns, on acreages, in golf course roughs, etc., and many are leaning to buffalograss in low maintenance areas. Though buffalograss requires very little maintenance once established, regular irrigation, fertilization, and mowing in the year of seeding or plugging will maximize fill-in and reduce long-term inputs (sodded buffalograss can get by with less inputs than seeded buffalograss in its first year).

The optimum period for seeding buffalograss is in May, which is the same time that crabgrass, foxtails, and many broadleaf weeds are germinating. Therefore, weed control is critical to maximize establishment of buffalograss. Products containing quinclorac have been the stand-by during buffalograss establishment for controlling annual grasses and many broadleaf weeds. Many of the newer herbicides or herbicide combinations may have adequate tolerance and efficacy for use in buffalograss seedings, so we started a multi-year evaluationof products.

We applied 13 herbicides at their recommended rate for use in seedling turf on the day of seeding (23 May 2012), at the 1-3 leaf stage (8 June 2012), or at the 2-3 tiller stage (26 June 2012) of 'Bowie' or 'Sundancer' buffalograss. These stands were managed to maximize establishment with regular mowing at 2", 0.5 lbs N/1000 sq ft/month, and irrigated to encourage germination and establishment. We evaluated buffalograss tolerance and control of common purslane and redroot pigweed which were the prevalent weeds on this site.

View the study results.



Fall is an Excellent Time to Control Biennial Weeds - Musk Thistle, Dandelion & Henbit
By Brent Meyer, Lancaster County Weed Superintendent

Image of henbitMost people think that once we've seen a hard freeze that their weed control is done for the season. Not true, now up until the ground freezes or we get a heavy snowfall is the perfect time to control musk thistle in your pastures as well as dandelion and henbit in your lawns, making now the perfect time to control those pesky weeds for a cleaner pasture or lawn next spring.

These biennial plants are all translocating nutrients to their root systems during the cool autumn months to survive the winter to get a good start next spring. Biennial and some perennial varieties are most susceptible to herbicide treatments at this time. Herbicide applications reach deeper into the root systems of undesirable plants (weeds) during the fall months simply because the plant is taking nutrients and water to the deep regions of its roots. As the plants take in nutrients and water to store as root reserves they also take in herbicides that have been applied as the herbicide ties in with the water/nutrient molecules.
Musk thistle rosette

Lower rates of herbicides can be used with fall applications, thus making weed control less expensive. Lower application rates go further into the plants before the top part of the plant is 'burned off' by the effects of the herbicides applied. Because of this, fall applications generally more effectively allow herbicides to get to "the root of the problem". Fall applications are generally more environmentally friendly since most crops, gardens and flowers have been removed. Typically, treating biennial weeds this fall will show good results next spring because the plants have been stressed at their strongest points -the roots.

While it is still an excellent time to treat musk thistle it is too late to treat leafy spurge. Leafy spurge has a milky sap in the plant and once it freezes the plant shuts down above ground making it almost impossible to get chemical into the roots.

For more information or specific control recommendations on noxious or troublesome weeds use the UNL Extension Guide for Weed Management for the latest recommendations, or contact the Lancaster County Weed Control office at 402-441-7817 or email: .



Know the Common Winter Weather Advisories
Source: Mike Moritz, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, National Weather Service in Hastings, NE

Image of snow stormDo you know what the common winter weather advisories, watches, and warnings issued by the National Weather Service mean? Do you know how to prepare for the winter season? Do you know where to even find such information?

Your local National Weather Service (NWS) is the sole source for official watches, warnings, and advisories during severe winter (and spring) weather. During the winter, you are most likely to come across five common notifications of hazardous weather.

Winter Storm Watch: An increased likelihood of snow, ice, and wind causing significant travel and other impacts for a particular area. Winter Storm Watches are typically issued 1-3 days before the storm arrives. This is the time to prepare.

Winter Storm Warning: Snowfall of 6 inches in 12 hours or 8 inches in 24 hours will impact an area. May be issued for lesser snow amounts if significant blowing and drifting snow is expected. Winter Storm Warnings are typically issued 12-36 hours before the onset of winter storm conditions. Winter storms of this magnitude are considered potentially life-threatening.

Blizzard Warning: The combination of snow and wind, gusting to or over 35 mph, causing visibilities of 1/4 mile or less for at least 3 hours. Travel will be nearly impossible. Blizzard Warnings are typically issued 12-18 hours prior to the onset of blizzard conditions. Blizzards Warnings are life-threatening situations.

Ice Storm Warning: Ice accumulations of at least 1/4 inch causing significant tree and power line damage, along with major travel impacts. Ice Storm Warnings are typically issued 12-36 hours before the onset of significant ice accumulation. Widespread power loss is likely.

Winter Weather Advisory: Various winter weather elements, including snow less than 5 inches, blowing snow, freezing drizzle, sleet, and freezing rain. Winter Weather Advisories are typically issued 12-36 hours prior to the onset of the winter weather conditions. If caution is exercised, this situation is not considered life-threatening.

Look for these types of winter weather information products from your local National Weather Service this winter. You can always find the latest 7-day weather forecast, the latest advisories, and other weather information from the NWS just by entering your city, town, or zip code on the left hand side of the page.



Mouse Control
By Nicole Stoner, UNL Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of mouse in washerMice are a very problematic pest in our homes, especially during the fall and winter. When the weather gets cooler in the fall, mice come into our homes to avoid the temperatures outside. While inside, they make themselves at home by eating and destroying our food, making nests in our homes, and leaving messes for us to clean up. Mice account for $20 million in damage to stored feeds and structures in Nebraska every year, according to Stephen Vantassel, Project Coordinator for Wildlife Damage at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Spotting A Mouse Invasion
The first sign of a mouse infestation in your home would be the presence of mouse droppings. Mice may also gnaw on cardboard and our cupboards and other wood materials. We could also find nesting materials in our homes; this can include things like hair, paper, cloth, feathers, or grass. We may also notice a mouse problem as they run across our floor when we first turn the lights on in the morning or during the night. Mice are not usually seen during the day, unless they are disturbed, because they hide during the day.

Mice can do a lot of damage to our homes during the cooler part of the year, but we do have ways of controlling them and their damage. There are three main ways of controlling mice; sanitation, exclusion, and population reduction.

Exclusion would include sealing all entrances that mice may find to get into your home. Mice can squeeze through a hole the size of a nickel to enter your home. Many times mice will use holes around pipes and wires to enter homes. Be sure to seal these holes with concrete, sheet metal, or one-quarter inch wire mesh. The edges of doors into your home should be covered with metal so that the mice do not gnaw on doors to get into your home.

Sanitation includes removing areas where mice would have shelter and food. Place your garage items off of the floor and onto shelves. Be sure to keep all of your cabinets clean of food debris. If you have had problems with mice in the past, be sure to check all of your pantry foods, not in cans, before you use them to ensure that mice have not contaminated them. Whenever possible, keep foods in glass or hard plastic containers with screw on tops or tops that have a good seal. Other foods, such as flour and rice can be stored in the freezer to prevent contamination from mice and insects.

Population reduction includes the use of traps and baits to reduce the population of mice within your home. Baits should only be used outside your home and you need to be careful with pets and children around baits so that they do not ingest any of these products meant for mice. Traps that we use can be the traditional snap traps, glue boards, or the new "No view, No touch" traps so that you don't have to look at the mouse when disposing of the trap. If you are using traps, peanut butter makes a great bait. It is best to place snap traps so that there are a couple of traps together to ensure that the mouse doesn't avoid one trap to get away. Live mouse traps are not recommended because mice are an invasive species and should not be relocated alive in Nebraska.

This information is from a NebGuide by Stephen Vantassel, Project Coordinator for Wildlife Damage at UNL.