October 2011

Life Outside the City Limits

Collage of October Images

Why Did My Chickens Stop Laying?
By Steve Tonn, Extension Educator

Image of a ChickenEgg production is a remarkable thing. A pullet (young female chicken) begins laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks of age. She reaches peak production at about 35 weeks, with a production rate greater than 90 percent (that's 9 eggs in 10 days for a single hen or 9 eggs from 10 birds daily). This period of peak production lasts about 10 weeks, after which her egg production slowly begins to decline.

A high-producing hen's annual egg production is more than 10 times her body weight. The average commercial Single Comb White Leghorn hen lays about 265 eggs per year, with backyard breeds laying fewer. In most cases, the more exotic the breed, the poorer the egg production.

Hens stop laying eggs for a variety of reasons. External and internal stimuli affect hormone levels, which change the condition of the ovary and oviduct, the organs responsible for egg production. The result of these changes is the reduction or cessation of egg production. The most common stimuli that affect egg production are decreasing day length, disease, broodiness, poor nutrition and stress. However, even under ideal conditions, every hen's egg production eventually slows down and stops.

Decreasing day length causes hens to molt and cease egg production, a process that may take several months. Molting is a natural process that allows the hen to replace old, worn feathers and rejuvenate her oviduct, the organ that "makes" eggs. Natural molting is a seasonal process and usually occurs in the fall. But in domestic birds it can occur at any time, especially if the hen is exposed to stress.

Broodiness is the natural tendency for a hen to sit on her eggs to hatch chicks. Most hens eventually go broody, some breeds more than others. When a hen becomes broody, hormonal changes result in the stoppage of laying eggs. To reduce broodiness, collect eggs daily from nests and hiding places. If a hen shows a desire to stay on the nest for extended periods, remove her from access to the nest for several days. After a period of time, the broody behavior will cease and she will return to egg production.

Eventually, all hens cease egg production. Normally, chickens will produce well until they are 2 to 3 years old, and then egg production declines.

Egg production is a hen's reproductive activity. It is not a requirement for hens to thrive. When a hen experiences stress, even so minimal as to go unnoticed, she may respond by ceasing egg production. Moving, handling, overheating, fright, and lack of food or water are stresses that can be detrimental to egg production. Protection from the elements and predators, clean and well-maintained facilities, adequate ventilation, constant availability of feed and water, etc. will reduce stress and help maintain high egg production. Maintaining a healthy, well-managed flock will result in high producing hens and many high-quality eggs for the family or for sale.

Source: Why Did My Chickens Stop Laying? Oregon State University Extension publication PNW 565, Jan. 2003




Many Nebraskans love autumn for its cool temperatures and colors, while others think about the maintenance they should perform on their homes and property. Check out our webshows for a bit of both - fall colors, pesty home invaders, mold clean-up, and managing weeds in pastures.

Kathleen Cue and John Fech, UNL Extension, have a visual inventory of plants that provide great fall interest in your yard.

Fall can bring some pesky creatures into our homes, according to Nicole Haxton, UNL Extension. Here's how to ID some of them.
John Wilson, UNL Extension, describes weeds that may warrant some attention in your pastures this fall.
 Last month you heard about preventing mildew in your home. This month, Lorene Baros, UNL Extension, tells how to deal with existing mildew problems.
Be In Tune To Points Of Hidden Hazards
By Sharry Nielsen, Extension Educator

Harvest season is in full swing in Nebraska, and with it come unique concerns for those on the acreage or farm. Machinery is the lifeline to getting work completed on both farms and acreages. But, machinery also carries many "hidden hazards", that is, dangers that may not be obvious when you first think of the machine.

To keep you and your family members safe around machinery, make it a number one rule on your acreage that children play in a safe place away from any point of hazard. Secondly, be sure anyone who is working with machinery replace shields and guards after making repairs.

Points of hidden hazards are classified as:

  • Shear Points exist wherever the edges of two moving parts move across each other. Machines cannot think, so they don't know the difference between crop material and your fingers or legs. Shear points can be found on augers, rotary mowers, cutter heads, and others.
  • Crush Points are found where two objects move toward each other or one object moves toward a stationary object. Injuries at crush points often involve a second person. Front end loaders, combines, tractors, truck frames and other machinery have crush points.
  • Pinch Points are any place where a person can be caught between two moving parts or a moving part and a stationary part, similar to crushing points. If you have ever slammed a finger in a door, or gotten a pant leg or finger caught in a bicycle chain, you know what a pinch point can do. Pinch points can also be found on just about every piece of machinery, large or small, and on most equipment.
  • Cutting Points exist where two moving edges slide across each other or a single edge slides across a stationary edge. A machine does not have to be moving for a person to be injured at a cutting point. The edges are very sharp so they can cut grain, grass or hay. Mowers, combine headers, and forage choppers all contain cutting points.
  • Wrap Points are where part of the machine is spinning at a high speed. A frayed shirt, loose clothing or long hair can be caught or wrapped in these points, causing severe injury. A Power Take Off (PTO) is the major cause of wrap point injuries.
  • Pull-In Points exist where a machine pulls material into the machine for further processing. Injuries from pull-in points often occur as someone is trying to remove material from the machine or trying to feed the machine by hand while it is running. It is imperative to shut off a machine before trying to remove stuck material. Pull-in points are found on hay balers, feed grinders, harvesters, and feed rolls as well as other machines.

Be aware of the hazards on the machines on your acreage. Use preventive measures to be sure children and pets are not caught in these dangerous points. Talk with your kids about safe play areas where they can be out of harm's way. Turn off all machines before working on them, and replace any shields or guards once the repair is completed. Remember, people do not have a quick enough reaction time to fight a machine. Avoid being caught in Points of Hidden Hazards.

Source: Progressive Agriculture Foundation Safety Day Manual, Chapter "Hidden Hazards", Lesson 3.



Crops Webpage for Youth Now Available
By Brandy VanDeWalle, Extension Educator

Image of Kids on FarmA website with resources and lessons for 4-H leaders, extension staff, agricultural education instructors, and youth has been developed regarding crop production at http://cropwatch.unl.edu/youth. The objective of this webpage is to provide a one spot stop with crop production information, some of it specific for Nebraska and some general crop information that can be used for a variety of locations.

The webpage is divided into four main sections: crop and plant science facts, activities for youth, 4-H & FFA projects, and teaching activities & resources. "Crop and plant science facts" provides a short summary of crop statistics and other fun facts. "Activities for youth" has some fun crossword puzzles, word searches and other interactive activities for youth to participate. The 4-H and FFA project page has some of the opportunities available through 4-H
and FFA such as Crop Science Investigation workshop series and other events related to crops.

The "Teaching Activities and Resources" page currently has nine lessons available for anyone to download and teach hands-on activities to any age group, depending on how in depth they make the content.



Praying Mantids Are Beneficial Insects
By Nicole Haxton, Extension Educator

Insects can be a real nuisance to our lives. They feed on our plants, eat our vegetables before we can, and invade our homes. However, not all insects are bad insects. Some are a beneficial insect, which means that they are helpful to us by feeding on other insects that are damaging or problematic. One type of those beneficial insects is praying mantises.

Praying mantises, or praying mantids, show up during the fall of each year. This is the time of the year when they are fully mature and working on mating and laying eggs before the winter. There are two most commonly seen types of mantids that we will find in the Nebraska environment, Carolina mantids and Chinese mantids. These are both fairly large mantids, but the Chinese mantid is much larger, they can grow more than four inches long, where the Carolina mantid only grows to just over two inches long. Chinese mantids are the mantids that most people notice because they are so large.

Image of Carolina Mantid

Image of Carolina Mantid,
Jim Kalish, UNL Entomology

Image of Chinese Mantid

Image of male Chinese Mantid,
Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology


In the fall mantids will lay their eggs in an egg case, called an ootheca (pronounced ?-?-?th?-k?). These look slightly different depending on the species of mantid that lays the egg case. With the Carolina mantid, the egg case is frothy, flat and smaller, it looks like a weird growth on the branch that is tan in color and has many lines through it. The ootheca for Chinese mantids looks similar to a Chinese lantern. It is about the size of a half dollar and is an oddly shaped structure that is also tan and frothy, but this type of ootheca hangs down from the branch. I always think that mantid egg cases look similar to that expanding foam you put into cracks in the wall or beside window frames. Each of these egg cases contain up to two hundred eggs. In the spring the nymphs will emerge, almost in swarms, and they look like tiny versions of adult mantids.

Like I said, praying mantids are not harmful insects. They can bite people, but usually that only occurs if you are holding one and it reaches around to your finger. Mantids can turn their heads over 180 degrees and they are very quick and have spines on their front legs which allows them to be able to catch their prey easier. They do not prey on people and they do not feed on our plants or live in our homes over the winter. They will feed on many other smaller insects that are bad for our plants and they will feed on each other. The nymphs will eat each other if there is nothing else around for them to eat when they emerge from their egg case. The female will eat the male following copulation; many entomologists believe this is so the female has enough nutrients and energy to produce the offspring.

If you find praying mantid egg cases on your plants, you should leave them alone. Do not take them off of the tree because if they are left on the ground, they can be attacked by ants, killing all the offspring. These insects are great to have around because they may eat enough of your "bad bugs" to keep you from having to spray insecticides. If you have mantids around and you do have an insect problem on those plants, you should try to use less harmful chemicals to avoid killing off all of the beneficial insects.


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October National Eat Better, Eat Together Month
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, Extension Nutrition Specialist

October is National Eat Better, Eat Together Month and when families eat together, meals are likely to be more nutritious and kids who eat regularly with their families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Beyond health and nutrition, family meals provide a valuable opportunity for children and parents to reconnect. When adults, children and teenagers eat together children do better in school, have fewer behavioral problems, and communication improves. When is the last time you sat down and ate a meal with your family? If you cannot remember, October is a great time to start having a meal with your family as often as you can. Check out the following tips to make family meals happen at your house.

Tips on How to Make Family Meals Happen:

  • Schedule Family Meals. To plan more family meals, look over the calendar and choose a time when everyone can be there. Figure out which obstacles are getting in the way of family meals and see if there are ways to work around them. Even if it is only once a week, making it a habit to have family meals once a week is a great start and you can work your way up to 2 to 3 times a week. Don't forget that breakfast and lunch are meals as well; there are no rules that say family meals should only happen in the evening.
  • Prepare Meals Ahead of Time. It is important to make a shopping list and make time to go to the grocery store so you have foods on hand to create meals. Try doing some prep work for meals on the weekend to get ready for the week ahead. On a night when you have extra time cook double and put one meal in the freezer so when you are short on time you have a backup plan. Remember that a meal at home does not have to be complicated or take a long time to make.
  • Involve Kids at Family Meals. Family meals can be fun and it is important to involve kids in them. Celebrate National Eat Better, Eat Together Month by having kids help at mealtime. Younger kids can put plates on the table, pour beverages, or fold napkins. Older kids can get ingredients, wash produce, mix, and stir. You could even have your teens be the cook and you as the parent could be their helper in the kitchen.

During mealtime, make your time at the table pleasant and enjoy being together as a family. Remember to keep your interactions positive at the table. Ask your kids about their days and tell them about yours. Give everyone a chance to talk. Another topic to discuss is future family meals and favorite foods that could be included. If you cannot remember the last time you sat down for a family meal, take the time this October to start a family tradition of eating together and eating better.



October's Frequently Asked Lawn & Landscape Questions
By John Fech, Extension Educator

Question #1 Why is fall a good time to kill weeds in the lawn?
Several reasons. One, the leaves tend to have less wax or cuticle on them, which allows the herbicide to enter the leaf more readily. Second, the weeds are in the process of translocating nutrients in fall, so the herbicide goes along for the ride. Third, there are fewer veggies to damage in fall. Fourth, If the plant doesn't die outright from the herbicide, it will enter the winter in a weakened state and more likely succumb to winterkill.

Question #2 My houseplants always die in winter. Any tips on keeping them alive?
Use a pebble tray. Fill a cake pan with gravel and then set the houseplants on the gravel. Then add water until the level is just below the highest part of gravel. The humidity from the water will aid the plants, without the roots being too wet. Plastic "walls" surrounding the plants can aid in retaining humidity as well.

Question #3 Can I cover roses and azaleas too soon?
Yes. If you cover them before they are dormant, they will tend to keep growing, longer than they should and then suffer more winter injury. So, make sure that they are dormant. In eastern NE, this usually occurs in late November.

Question #4 How can I keep mice and rabbits from eating my trees over the winter?
Surround the trunks with hardware cloth or PVC and bury the edges in the ground.

Question #5 My green tomatoes won't ripen. How can I get them to turn red?
Place a ripe apple or banana in a paper bag with the green tomatoes. Ripe fruits give off ethylene gas which cause tomatoes to ripen.



Recyle Tree Leaves for Healthy Lawns, Gardens and Water
By Kelly Feehan, Extension Educator

Image of Fall LeavesFreezing temperatures are ending the growing season and its time to do yard and garden cleanup to help reduce overwintering diseases and insects; and to reduce the amount of plant debris washed into streams, lakes, and ponds where they contribute to water pollution.

Why Make Use of Tree Leaves?
Fallen tree leaves, and grass clippings, are an important source of organic matter. As this yard waste decomposes, phosphorous and nitrogen is released. This is beneficial if decomposition is taking place in a compost pile or garden bed. If decomposition is taking place in water, an overload will contribute to impaired water ecology, such as excess algal growth.

To reduce the pollutant load on surface water, do not dump tree leaves or grass clippings along stream banks or near ponds where rainfall and snow melt can carry them into the water. Instead, compost leaves and grass clippings, use them as mulch, or till them into garden soil during fall.

Mowing Leaves into Turfgrass
For healthy lawns, mow or remove tree leaves from lawns on a regular basis. Tree leaves can be mowed and left on the lawn if a sharp mower blade that finely chops leaves is used. The rule of thumb is if the un-mowed leaf layer is one inch or less thick, it's okay to mow and not bag leaves. After mowing, the mowed leaf layer should not be thick enough to mat and suffocate grass.

Leaves can be removed by raking, mowing, or with a leaf blower/vacuum. When removed from lawns, they can be placed in compost piles now or some can be saved for use in compost next summer.

Composting Leaves
When dry, fall leaves can be saved in plastic bags to use as a source of carbon, brown plant material, in compost piles during next years' growing season when mostly nitrogen, green plant material, is only available. For effective composting, the correct ratio of carbon to nitrogen is needed.

Extension personnel are sometimes asked if there are any types of leaves that should not be used for compost. The answer to this question is basically no. According to research, leaves from different tree species decompose at different rates but the end product, compost, is the same.

It is recommended not to add diseased leaves to compost since most piles are not managed to reach temperatures hot enough to kill pathogens. However, many of the pathogens found on tree leaves are considered to be minor diseases that would not cause problems for gardens and minimal, if any problems, for trees when reused.

Leathery leaves such as oak leaves contain more lignin and therefore take longer to decompose. Leathery leaves are the best types to use as winter mulch over tender plants. The leaves can be held in place by placing a cage of chicken wire or hardware cloth around the plant/s and then filling the cage with coarse leaves. Be sure to wait until plants are dormant and the soil is frozen or has started to freeze before mulching plants for winter.

If leathery leaves are to be tilled into soil or added to compost piles, their decomposition can be sped up by shredding or mowing the leaves first. This provides more surface area for microorganisms to work on to speed decomposition.

Tree leaves are piling up outdoors. Help protect the health of lawns by removing heavy leaf layers. Protect tender plants over winter by using coarse tree leaves as mulch. Improve garden soils and compost by incorporating leaves into them. And help protect water resources by recycling this beneficial organic matter to reduce the amount that may end up in surface water.



Build a Compost Pile
By John Fech, Extension Educator


As fall is kicked into high gear, leaves are probably dropping all over your landscape, and blowing in from the neighbors. What to do with all these leaves? Several options are available, including composting. One approach is to mow them frequently and let the chopped leaves filter into the lawn. This method works well for acreages without many trees, but where leafy shade trees are abundant, this may not be sufficient to handle the load. Instead, consider building a compost pile. After all, it's the very thing most folks need to improve the soils in Nebraska.

You can make a compost pile out of many building materials. Concrete block, snow fence, wood pallets, chicken wire, or hardware cloth can be used. The basic theme is to have three compartments in the unit. You'll need one to put fresh leaves, kitchen scraps, dead houseplants, coffee grounds and grass clippings into, one that has been cooking for awhile, and one for finished compost. Make these compartments side by side for easy turning and shifting of materials from one to another. On a large scale, large piles in long rows are easier to maintain.

Image of Acreage Compost Pile

Acreage sites offer great opportunities for composting, as space is not limited. 

Image by John Fech, UNL Extension


When you start composting, mix a couple of scoops of garden soil into the fresh materials to aid in decomposition. This will provide the necessary microorganisms to start decomposing the leaves. Strive for a variety of materials in the first bin. Use half "greens" and half "browns" in the bin. "Greens" are fresh grass clippings, carrot peelings, wilted cabbage, broccoli trimmings, grapefruit halves, wilted vegetable vines and dying houseplants. "Browns" are sawdust, fallen leaves from trees, wood chips, stump grindings, small sticks, and dead plants.

Never, never put meat scraps or oil products into the compost pile. These will not be easily composted, and will likely attract mice and other rodents to the pile. Turn the compost pile weekly for best results. Good results can still be achieved with less frequent turning. When finished, it can be added to the soil and increase the soil fertility and structure, resulting in healthier plants.

For more information, refer to: Garden Compost



How Safe Is Bottled Water?
By Sharon Skipton, Extension Educator

Image of water bottleSome people with private wells opt to use bottled water for cooking and drinking. In certain situations, when water quality is less than desired, bottled water may be a good option. However, it is important to make an informed decision starting with a good understanding of bottled water.

Bottled water is water that is sealed in food-grade bottles and intended for human consumption. It can come from a variety of sources, including groundwater from a well, water from a protected spring, or water from a public water supply tap.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set standards of quality for bottled water intended for human consumption, but not all bottled water is regulated in the same way.

Domestic bottled water sold in states other than that in which it was bottled (interstate commerce) is regulated as a food by the FDA. This water must meet FDA water identity and quality standards. To ensure that the standards are met, bottling companies must regularly test their products. The FDA also requires that bottled water products distributed through interstate commerce comply with its Good Manufacturing Practices. These practices cover the production and packaging and provide assurance that bottled water products are processed under sanitary conditions and are clean and safe for human consumption.

Allowable levels have been established for a number of potential contaminants, and bottled water cannot contain more than the allowable level for any regulated contaminant. If a producer of bottled water is in full compliance with regulations, the water should be suitable for drinking and cooking; however, not all potential contaminants are regulated and there is always some risk of contaminants going undetected between testing intervals.
Imported bottled water also is regulated as a food by the FDA and must meet all FDA water standards described above. To ensure those standards are met, bottled water imported from foreign countries is randomly tested at ports of entry.

FDA rules for bottled water exempt water that is packaged and sold within the same state. The quality of water packaged and sold in-state may be regulated by an agency in that state or may be unregulated. In states where it is regulated, the levels of contaminants allowed may be equal to, greater than, or less than that allowed by FDA. Water bottled and sold in Nebraska is regulated by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and must meet FDA bottled water standards.

In addition, the bottled water industry regulates itself through the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA.) The IBWA sets manufacturing requirements, which help ensure that bottled waters meet FDA health standards. Bottled water producers that are members of IBWA are inspected annually by a recognized independent organization, NSF International. Through unannounced inspections, members are evaluated on compliance with IBWA's performance requirements and FDA Quality Standards. Not all bottled water manufacturers are members of the IBWA. The label may indicate whether a bottled water product comes from a member company.



Renovating Your Windbreak & Purchasing Tree Seedlings
By Sarah Browning, Extension Educator

Image of Cedar WindbreakDiseases, insects and age have taken a toll on many rural windbreaks throughout Nebraska, resulting in the need renovation or replacement. Older windbreaks may also have crowded or stunted trees. So renovation may entail thinning trees to increase health and vigor or removing rows of dead/dying trees and replanting with new seedlings. Late fall is a good time to step back, and re-evaluate the design, tree selection, and site conditions of your windbreak.

Generally, foresters discourage the removal of entire windbreaks that may be in various stages of decline. Most old windbreaks can be renovated to maintain or enhance their effectiveness in protecting humans, livestock, crops, and buildings, and the locations where the shelterbelts were planted, 25 or more years ago, are generally still the best locations.

Windbreaks are planted to enhance wildlife, provide snow protection for humans and livestock, provide wind protection to dwellings in both winter and summer, prevent soil erosion by wind from farm fields, reduce water runoff from agricultural lands, or provide additional income. When renovating a windbreak, the final re-designed tree stand should meet the objectives determined for your individual site.

Several great University of Nebraska publications are available providing guidance to renovate and re-design your windbreak, getting it back into a healthy condition that provides benefits for years to come. They are available at http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu. Find the publications by typing 'windbreak' or the publication number into the search box.

Deciding on plant species and purchasing plants is the next critical step in the establishment of a windbreak. This is your best opportunity to avoid plant species susceptible to insect or disease problems. Key points to keep in mind when purchasing tree seedlings include:

  • Purchase your stock from a reliable source. Bare-root windbreak tree seedlings are available through your local Natural Resource District office. Now is the time they begin taking orders for windbreak seedlings to be delivery next spring. Locate the NRD office for your area, and look for the Conservation Tree Program.
  • Bare-root tree and shrub seedlings can also be purchase from some nurseries. Your seedlings should come from nurseries using locally collected seed or seed from Northern origins. This helps ensure plants that are well adapted to local growing conditions.
  • Choose plant material that is suitable for your soils and can survive the environmental extremes of your site.
  • Select insect and/or disease resistant plants whenever possible.
  • Don't be too quick to buy the cheapest seedlings; they may not be the best value in the long run.

A minimum order of 100 tree or shrub seedlings is required, sold in bundles of 25. Plants cost approximately $0.70 cents each, plus tax. You must pick up your tree seedlings when they arrive at the NRD office in spring.

Plant species commonly available through the NRD offices include the following.

  • Evergreen trees- Austrian, Eastern White, Southwestern White, Ponderosa and Jack Pine; Eastern Red Cedar; Colorado Blue and Norway Spruce
  • Deciduous trees- Bur, Northern Red, and Swamp White Oak; Cottonwood; Black Cherry; Black Walnut; Northern Catalpa; Pecan; and Silver Maple
  • Shrubs- American Plum; Hazelnut; Redosier Dogwood; Silver Buffaloberry; Chokecherry; Serviceberry; Elderberry; Common Lilac; Amur Maple; Centennial Cotoneaster; and Skunkbush Sumac

At your request, your local NRD Forester will make a free planning visit to your site, help to design the new windbreak and suggest species of trees best for your site conditions. Many NRD offices also offer, at a minimal cost, additional services associated with tree planting, such as machine planting for large orders.

The quality, size and condition of your tree or shrub seedlings effects plant performance during the establishment period. Look for conifer seedlings that are at least 8 to 12 inches tall, with a good, healthy root system. Use trees that are bare-root or have been grown in a container production system that encourages a dense, fibrous root system such as the Root-maker or grow-bag production systems. Container-grown plants are usually larger and cost more, but may be worth the extra cost in areas where establishment is difficult. Avoid plants that have matted, circling roots.

Usually, for windbreak establishment, quality bare-root stock is satisfactory and cost effective. Bare-root deciduous tree and shrubs seedlings should be 12 to 24 inches tall, with full, healthy root systems, and at least a one-quarter inch diameter just above the root collar (the point where the roots meet the stem). Bare-root seedlings must be handled carefully to ensure good survivability and performance.