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Question of the Week

Permalink How can I halter-break a calf?

Answer: First, constrain the animal and then put the halter on. Initially, you can tie the calf low to a post to begin the halter-training process. Leave her tied up for about five minutes every day and then gradually increase the time, so that she will stand there for 30 minutes. Always have her in sight, so that if she struggles, and looks like she may hurt herself, you can let her loose. Tie the rope halter so that it will always come loose with a tug. Here is a video explaining the process:

The only thing I disagree with in this video is that they tie the calf high. I would not do that because the calf can break her neck in a freak accident.

Once she is used to the halter and somewhat respects it, you can to teach her to lead. Two people are always better than one, with one in the rear and one in the front. Watch out for kicks if you are on the rear. Watch out that she does not run over you if you are on the front. Always keep a short lead (six to 12 inches). If she tries to run over you, turn her into you sharply, so that her direction is changed by 90 degrees. It is best to do this in a corral where she cannot go far and she knows it. If you lose control, just let her go. Try to always end on a good note. At first, just do it for a few minutes, extending the time as you go along. Remember, "a little, a lot" is always better than "a lot, a little." You will teach the calf to lead in no time.

Of course, it is best to teach a calf to lead when she is just a few months old, as they are much easier to handle. For more information, here is a good video on teaching a calf to lead.

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Permalink What types of poultry housing provide protection from predators and are also compatible with a permaculture system?

Answer: The term chicken tractor is mostly used for housing meat birds; for layers, coop or egg mobile is more commonly used. Egg mobiles are different from chicken tractors in that they are designed to allow the hens to venture beyond their house, to the fence limits.

Different designs and factors to consider when choosing will be:

• Your terrain topography
• Weather (muddy conditions)
• Predators

You can adapt different designs (e.g., add hardware cloth floor) to what works better for you and your farm.

When using hardware cloth as floor for the coop, half-inch hardware cloth works well when the chickens are little but can get harder to clean with bigger droppings from older chickens. If your predator problem is weasels, they shouldn’t be able to fit through a half-inch hardware cloth.

Here are some resources on building an egg mobile:

PolyFace Egg Layers

Permaculture Research Institute: How to Make an Egg Mobile

Abundant Permaculture: Chicken Housing That Works

Designing a Mobile Chicken Coop

Also, check out ATTRA's Range Poultry Housing, which discusses housing designs for outdoor production, including daily-move pens, machine-portable housing, fixed housing, and feed shelters. Numerous examples of different types of poultry housing are pictured and described in this publication.

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Permalink I'm confused about the terms organic soil amendments and natural soil amendments. Where can I find more about each, and most importantly, lists of approved substances for each?

Answer: There are two places where you can find information about allowed (and specifically prohibited) organic soil amendments: OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) and the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).

OMRI’s searchable database can be accessed at If you search this database with "soil amendments," a long list will be generated that has links to more detailed information.

OMRI maintains general lists of generic allowed substances ("lime," for example), as well as lists of product trade names of allowed soil amendments. A very general rule of thumb (which has many exceptions) is that natural products are generally considered acceptable, and synthesized products are prohibited.

NOP's listing of allowed and prohibited substances can be accessed at

You can also check out the ATTRA publication, Organic Materials Compliance, which may provide some clarification to your confusion about what is allowable in organic production versus what is "natural" (which is a very generic term).

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Permalink Can you identify resources on equipment that can benefit a small vegetable farm?

Answer: The use of appropriate agricultural equipment and tools for small-scale intensive crop production contributes to the viability of the farm by enhancing production efficiency. Factors to consider when choosing appropriate agricultural equipment and tools include the location and growing conditions of the farm, the type of crops being grown, the production practices being used, and how the crops will be marketed.

I would suggest looking at the ATTRA publication, Equipment and Tools for Small-Scale Intensive Crop Production. It details equipment and hand tools for soil preparation, planting, and weed management.

ATTRA also produced a webinar on the subject titled Tools for Small-Scale Crop Production., which you should find useful. In this webinar, NCAT Agriculture Specialist Andy Pressman discusses the importance of investing in good-quality and well-designed tools, their different purposes, and how to use them to properly plant and maintain crops.

Additionally, the ATTRA tutorial Scaling Up for Regional Markets includes a narrated lesson on this topic, titled "Equipment and Infrastructure” (lesson 6). The lesson discusses equipment and infrastructure related to scaling up, planning and investment options, tractor considerations, cooling and storage, and more. As with all of ATTRA's tutorials, this lesson identifies additional resources, such as estimated equipment needs for different sizes of farm, a used tractor assessment, and an ag cost of capitol calculator.

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Permalink What can I do to control flea beetles?

Answer: Flea beetles are one of the most difficult to manage pests of eggplant and cole crops. They are also a problem on seedlings of tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, turnips, radishes, and corn. There are various genera and species of flea beetles, all members of the Chrysomelidae family. The adults are active leaf-feeders that can, in large numbers, rapidly defoliate and kill plants. Symptoms of flea beetle feeding are small, rounded, irregular holes; heavy feeding makes leaves look as if they had been peppered with fine shot. Some species also vector serious diseases such as potato blight and bacterial wilt of corn. Further damage may be done by the larvae, which feed on plant roots. Some flea beetles are considered general feeders, though many species attack only one plant or closely related kinds of plants.

Life history varies somewhat with species, but most appear to pass the winter in the adult stage, sheltering under plant debris in the field, field margins, and adjacent areas. The adults emerge in spring and may feed on weeds and less-desirable vegetation until crop plants become available. As a result, they are frequent pests in seedbeds and on new transplants. They may become especially troublesome when weedy areas begin to "dry up." Flea beetles cause the greatest damage by feeding on cotyledons, stems, and foliage.

In organic systems, the preferred approaches to pest management are those that enhance the diversity of the farm system, such as cover cropping, rotation, and interplanting; those that use special knowledge of pest biology, such as delayed planting; and those that take advantage of existing on-farm resources. These approaches are typified by cultural and biological controls. Alternative pesticides, while frequently necessary for some crop pests and conditions, can be treated as "rescue chemistry" to be used when and if other strategies fall short.

Check out the ATTRA publication Flea Beetle: Organic Control Options for a more detailed look on different cultural and biological control options, as well as alternative pesticidal materials.

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Permalink Can I use pressure-treated lumber if I'm transitioning to organic?

Answer: Lumber treated with prohibited materials is not allowed under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) Regulations. The NOP prohibits most, but not all, synthetics. Lumber is pressure treated to resist insects and fungi, but the materials used are toxic to humans. For posts and lumber that are in contact with soil, crops, or livestock, the options include untreated lumber, alternatively treated lumber, alternative plywood products, and untreated fence posts. Producers will need to consult with their organic certifiers to determine whether an alternative product is allowed. See a list of accredited certifying agents here.

Pressure treated wood is specifically addressed in Section 205.206(f) of the NOP Regulations, which declares that "a producer must not use lumber treated with arsenate or other prohibited materials for new installations or replacement purposes in contact with soil or livestock." This restriction addresses a number of applications, including the following:

• Lumber used to build a pasture farrowing hut for hogs, a cattle feed bunk, or a shelter for sheep or calves.
• Lumber for floors, ceilings, or walls of feed or crop storage areas.
• Fence posts in livestock pastures and holding or confining areas.
• Posts, plant stakes, trellising, hoophouse baseboards, and frames of planting beds used in fruit and vegetable production.

Treated lumber that is isolated from organic production—such as wooden building materials that are not in direct contact with either livestock or crops—might not be prohibited but rather might be restricted in its applications. The NOP Production and Handling Preamble, Subpart C (7) addresses this issue as follows:

"This provision prohibits the use of lumber treated with arsenate or other prohibited materials for new installations or replacement purposes in contact with an organic production site. We included this modification to clarify that the prohibition applies to lumber used in direct contact with organically produced and handled crops and livestock and does not include uses, such as lumber for fence posts or building materials, that are isolated from production."

The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Materials for organic production may be found
in Sections §205.601 and §205.602 of the NOP Regulations.

Producers should check with their certifiers to see whether treated wood may be used for noncontact areas. Remember, it is important to document any production-isolated uses of treated lumber on the operation's Organic System Plan.

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Pressure-Treated Wood: Organic and Natural Alternatives. This publication provides information on alternative products, especially for certified organic farming operations, and also includes products that may be of interest to home gardeners but are not approved for organic production.

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Permalink Where can I find funding sources to expand my small farm?

Answer: There are many different funding sources, programs, and grants for agricultural production. You will have to spend some time exploring the many different options and finding a program that matches what you are wanting to do.

An excellent place to start is the USDA's Small Farm Funding Resources. This guide contains information about funding sources for beginning farmers, training, technical assistance contacts, organizations with resources and programs for beginning and experienced farmers, and more.

The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center identifies a number of potential funding sources and contacts that you should explore.

Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities and NSAC's Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs offer information on federal grants and programs. These two guides can help you find programs that may fit what you plan to do. The FSA Microloan program is a newer program that is typically easier to qualify for and access than some of the other grant and loan programs.

You may also be interested in the ATTRA publications Financing Your Farm: Guidance for Beginning Farmers and Federal Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching.

Finally, ATTRA continually posts funding opportunities on its website. A wide variety of grants are identified, ranging from national programs to very specific local grants.

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Permalink What can you tell me about biochar?

Answer: Biochar was initially linked to the exploration and archeological study of early human settlement and soils. These early studies of soils being enriched from what appears to be the deliberate mixing of burned biomass in soils around human settlements helped spark more recent interest in biochar. These deposits of enriched soils, known as terra preta in the Amazon region of South America, have a fascinating history of scientific study of their own.

More current studies of biochar are focused on its role in a growing demand for biomass-based energy sources that can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. For more information about bioenergy, see the ATTRA publication An Introduction to Bioenergy: Feedstocks, Processes and Products, available at In addition, biochar has the potential to enhance soil quality and soil carbon sequestration. For more information about carbon sequestration, see the ATTRA publication Agriculture, Climate Change and Carbon Sequestration, available at A secondary source of interest in biochar comes from the growing need to develop low-cost and healthier biomass-fueled stove technology.

So, what is biochar? The definition of biochar is more about its creation and intended application rather than what it is composed of. Both charcoal and biochar are produced through an energy conversion process called pyrolysis, which is essentially the heating of biomass in the complete or near absence of oxygen. Pyrolysis of biomass produces char, oils and gases. The amount of these materials produced depends on processing conditions. What makes biochar different from charcoal is that the biochar product is created for use as a soil amendment. Biochar can be produced from a variety of biomass feedstocks, but is generally designated as biochar only if it produces a useable co-product for soil improvement. The oils and gases from pyrolysis can be used for energy production. The biochar and energy created can provide a carbon-negative energy source and a useable co-product for soil improvement. Carbon negative renewable fuels are discussed later in this publication. However, not all biochars are created equal. The efficiency and effectiveness of the process of its creation and use can vary and the specific biomass sources used can affect the characterization and usability of the biochar.

Complex ongoing research is striving for a more uniform and standard biochar that will limit potential environmental problems associated with biochar production and application to soils. Creating a standardization of biochars may make it possible for people who buy biochar to depend on uniform attributes. Issues such as what should be the ideal moisture and ash content of standard biochar are relatively easy to measure and standardize, but tests for metals and alkalinity are not. Some of the attributes that might be expected from biochars can go beyond just physical characteristics to issues of whether the feedstock used in its creation was from a renewable feedstock, whether its production reduced greenhouse gas emissions and whether the biochar can improve soil quality in a reliable way.

Among its important benefits to farmers and ranchers, biochar can provide increased soil fertility, moisture retention, and soil pH balancing.

To learn much more about this topic, consult the ATTRA publication Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture, available at This publication reviews the current research and issues surrounding the production and use of this emerging biomass energy technology and explores how biochar can contribute to sustainable agriculture.

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Permalink How can I market the wool from my goats?

Answer: Wooled sheep, Angora goats, and cashmere goats offer another "crop" in addition to meat. The natural fibers produced by these animals can be used in a variety of ways to add income to the sheep or goat enterprise. Natural fibers are a renewable resource, long-lasting, durable, comfortable, and beautiful.

Fiber-producing animals are crowd-pleasers, and participating in fairs and festivals can draw attention to your farm and increase sales of items.

There are several possibilities for marketing wool:

In bulk: Ask your shearer for some of the possibilities in your location, which may include selling to a wool pool, warehouse, mill, or wool buyer. You can find contacts at the ASI website,
• Wool pool: producers organize to assemble a large lot of wool, enabling them to have it sorted, graded, and marketed for a better price. See for an example of how one wool pool works. You can find your local options through the ASI website listed above.
• Warehouse: the Mid-States Wool Growers Cooperative is one example of a group operating this way. See for more information on warehouse marketing.
• Mills: if you have a mill operating locally, they might be interested in purchasing fleeces. They might need a specific type of wool or only a large quantity, however.

Direct to hand spinners: Either sell the whole, unwashed fleece, or remove dirty locks and wash the fleece to add value.

Further processed: Send the fleece to a cottage mill and have the fleece made into yarn only, or made into yarn and then a finished item such as socks, hats, scarves, toys, or blankets. Items may be woven, knitted, or felted.

Processed by the farmer into any of the items listed above and sold through:

• Farm stand or farmers market
• Local Harvest (, Etsy (, or other online venue
• Craft fairs
• Local shops

To learn more, review the ATTRA tips sheet Tips for Marketing Sheep and Goat Products: Fiber, available at At the end of this tip sheet, you'll find a list of additional resources where you can learn even more.

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Permalink Our goat’s milk has a small ring of red coloring at the bottom of the jar. What is this? Is the milk safe to drink?

Answer: This red ring at the bottom of your milk jars is almost certainly blood. It comes from the slight bursting of one of the very small blood vessels (capillaries) supplying the alveolar tissues in the udder. Although not uncommon, you may go a long time before you notice this happening to one of your milking animals. Usually it occurs when the cow, goat, or sheep is recently fresh (calved, kidded, or lambed). The presence of edema can cause a blood capillary to rupture. It can also occur when the animal bangs her udder against something.

There are also some types of mastitis that are accompanied with blood in the milk. However, if there is no swelling or inflammation associated with the event, or if you see no clotting or visible abnormalities (such as watery-ness) in the milk, you can probably rule mastitis out.

In three to four days, you will probably notice that the blood is gone and the capillary is healed. You can find which goat is affected by not co-mingling the milk from a milking.

I would not recommend drinking milk with blood in it, even if you are pasteurizing it. You can give it to some goat kids if they are not weaned. Your cats or dogs will enjoy the treat, too. Shy of this, you can always pour it on your garden plot. Milk is great for the soil.

I would also take the goat’s rectal temperature. A healthy goat's body temperature should be in the range of 101.5 to 102.5 degrees. If the milk from your goat does not clear up in three to four days, I would recommend calling your veterinarian out to examine the goat.

Make sure you monitor the udder each milking for any inflammation, as well as her general appearance and behavior. If she loses her appetite, call your vet immediately.

The ATTRA website has many publications on sheep and goat farming. Check out the Livestock and Pasture section at

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Permalink How can I use livestock to control smutgrass?

Answer: The University of Florida has conducted many studies on the best ways to control smutgrass. Their recommendations can be found at

A mature forage smutgrass isn't very palatable or all that nutritious, making it a challenge to use grazing as the primary control method. Research shows that burning or mowing the smutgrass and then grazing the regrowth is more effective because the regrowth is more palatable and nutritious.

There is extensive research on using livestock to manage invasive species. The Targeted Grazing Handbook provides helpful information on how to effectively use livestock to control and eliminate problem plants. You can download and read sections of the Handbook at Section I provides the basics. Smutgrass isn't specifically mentioned in the Handbook, but the principles apply. Kathy Voth has done many studies on using livestock to manage vegetation. Her website has some great information. You may be especially interested in the "Cows Eat Weeds" section. There she describes how you can train livestock to eat certain weeds.

For a non-chemical method of control, it seems that a combination of burning/mowing and grazing will be your best option.
For more information, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They can be a helpful resource in managing problem plants and in setting up targeted grazing plans.

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Permalink How can I determine how many days my stockpiled winter pasture will feed my sheep?

Answer: For starters, I recommend that you view Chapter 2 of the ATTRA intensive grazing video Intensive Grazing: One Farm's Set-Up. This video talks about the circumference of the hoop (in this case, 67 inches) and also gives the formula for figuring out the dry-matter yield per acre. The scale used in the video is a simple 300-gram, hand-held spring scale with a clip. These scales are widely available online.

You can view the video at

I would take several representative hoops from your 40-acre pasture at the end of the growing season, after you have a few killing frosts. Average out the pounds of dry matter. Plan on just grazing 70% of it and on 10 to 20 percent of the dry matter being lost by February. So, let's say you have determined that you have 3,000 pounds of dry matter by October 1.

3,000 pounds/acre X 30% residual left X 80% available = 1,680 pounds of dry matter per acre
1,680 pounds per acre X 40 acres = 67,200 pounds of forage dry matter
67,200 pounds of dry matter / 150 ewes / 5 pounds per ewe per day intake = 89.6 days

So, you can safely figure that you have three months of stockpiled forage in your 40-acre field for 150 dry ewes. If you put them out in the field October 15, this stockpile would last until January 15, at which time you would need to put them on a higher plane of nutrition if you are lambing March 1. Remember, too, it is better to break up your winter pasture into three-day paddocks if you can. This will eliminate any need for additional protein fed to the ewes. If you cannot do three-day paddocks, try seven-day paddocks.

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Permalink What is the best hay for sheep?

Answer: Prairie grass hay should be fine for your sheep to eat. A few points to consider:

• The sheep will eat the hay better if it is forages they are used to. If they are grazing native prairie pastures in the growing season, then they should readily consume the prairie hay. If they aren’t used to those forages then they might be "picky" about the hay for a while.

• Hay quality has a large impact on consumption. Your local Cooperative Extension office can help you with having your hay quality tested. Knowing the quality and nutritional levels of the hay can help you meet the nutritional requirements of your animals.

• Growing lambs and lactating ewes will need higher levels of nutrition than dry ewes.

To learn more about the nutritional needs of your animals, consult the following ATTRA publications:

Sheep: Sustainable and Organic Production
This publication introduces concerns and practices specifically related to sustainable sheep production. Topics covered include breed selection, controlled grazing, pasture lambing, alternative health management, and innovative marketing of meat and wool products.

Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers
This publication provides managers with tools and references to consider biological and climatological variables and make decisions that ensure the ecological and economic viability of a grass-based ruminant livestock operation.

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Permalink Where can a beginning farmer learn more about basic accounting?

Answer: In addition to growing great food and fiber products and taking care of the land, farmers need to be good financial stewards of their business and household. This requires being organized, keeping track of all income and expenses, and having a grasp of basic principles of accounting.

For instance, if you can predict the months when your major expenses will occur, you’ll be better able to ensure that you have the cash on hand to pay for them. This is especially important for farmers, who tend to have high costs in the spring and don’t necessarily get paid until later in the year. You can better manage your cash by creating an annual cash-flow budget. Or if you’ve spent a few years building your farm business without paying yourself for your labor, you may be wondering just what you have to show (financially) for all those hours of "sweat equity." You can answer that question by looking at a few years of annual balance sheets for your farm placed side by side. Finally, if you have a goal for how much household income you’d like to draw from your farm operation, you need a clear picture — in the form of an income statement — of your farm's annual expenses in relation to annual sales. This can help you determine how much more you need to sell, increase your prices, and/or reduce your expenses in order to make your desired amount of take-home pay.

Furthermore, if you are comfortable answering these questions about your financial situation for yourself, you will be able to answer the same questions for a lender. The bank will want to know that you have a realistic understanding of your financial situation, of where you’re headed, and of what it will take to pay back your expenses, including the loan, in a timely manner. While good financial management won’t make your business succeed on its own, it will help you avoid unnecessary costs, expand your business predictably, and ensure a financial cushion against unexpected events.

For more detailed information on this topic, consult the ATTRA publication Basic Accounting: Guidance for Beginning Farmers. This publication makes basic accounting approachable for people with little or no accounting experience and encourage new farmers to develop good recordkeeping habits at the outset. It is available at

Additionally, the ATTRA online tutorial Getting Started in Farming includes eight lessons that help guide beginning farmers through the process of imagining and planning a successful farming enterprise. It is available at The webinar Farm Finances: Organizing and Understanding Your Numbers helps beginning farmers understand basic accounting principles and the forms that go along with them, and provides some easy recordkeeping tips. It is available at

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Permalink How can I control internal parasites in my sheep?

Answer: If not controlled, internal parasites can cause illness in animals. Symptoms of parasitism include weight loss, loss of appetite, depression, weakness, lagging behind or separating from the flock, and possibly anemia, bottle jaw, or diarrhea. Livestock producers want to raise healthy animals, and so they may treat the sick animals with dewormers. But that is a temporary fix at best because unless there is a management change, animals will soon be reinfected. Also, most dewormers are no longer working because the internal parasites have developed resistance to the chemicals.

A better approach than relying on dewormers is to prevent illness in the first place. A strong immune system will help an animal resist or tolerate parasites; this strong immune system stems from the following:

• Genetics. Some breeds and some individuals are better able to fight parasites.
• Age. Young animals have no immunity; with time and exposure, sheep will build immunity around 4 to 9 months of age.
• Good nutrition. A properly nourished animal will be better able to fight internal parasites. The minerals copper and zinc are important for the immune system, and extra protein also helps animals battle parasites.
• Low stress. Clean, calm environments reduce animals’ stress.

In addition to having a strong immune system, livestock need to be protected from consuming too many internal parasites. This is accomplished through sanitation (clean water tanks and feed troughs) and through pasture management.
Good pasture management can help animals stay healthy in two ways: by reducing exposure to internal parasite larvae and by supporting animal health.

Numerous strategies can reduce exposure:

• Maintain proper forage height; don’t graze shorter than four inches.
• Maintain proper stocking rate.
• Rest contaminated areas for at least 60 days if possible; longer is better.
• Give access to browse and tall-growing forbs.
• Use resistant animals and alternate grazers (cattle and equines can alternate with sheep or goats).
• Provide clean pastures for young and other susceptible stock, such as lactating animals.
• Graze animals on regrowth from silage or hay crops.
• Use annual forage crops, such as rye, turnips, or chicory (cool season) and sunn hemp, cowpeas, sorghum, or soybeans (warm season).
• Rotate animals away from larvae before they are infective, which means within four days during optimum parasite conditions, such as during a humid summer.
• Keep animals out of wet areas.

Several strategies provide support:

• Provide excellent nutrition, especially energy, protein, and minerals, to susceptible classes and during stressful times.
• Allow limited exposure to parasite larvae to maintain immune response.
• Provide diverse forages, such as browse, tannin-containing forages such as sericea lespedeza, and a wide variety of plants to encourage animals to eat more and give some medicinal benefits.

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Small Ruminants: Pasture Management. This publication offers a full discussion of pasture management and the interaction between animals and internal parasites. It includes three assessment sheets: pasture, livestock nutrition, and internal parasite management. These assessment sheets can help producers refine their management and improve the health of pastures and animals. The publication is available at

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Permalink How do commercial fertilizers impact soil biology?

Answer: The following ATTRA resources should be of interest to you:

Sustainable Soil Management

Drought Resistant Soil

Alternative Soil Amendment

Sources of Organic Fertilizer and Amendments

In the Sustainable Soil Management publication, Part I includes a section on conventional fertilizers that discusses how several types of fertilizers affect soil. This is mainly through soil compaction and increased acidity and salinity of the soil. Alternative Soil Management discusses non-chemical inputs such as plant and animal by-products, rock and mineral powders, and microbial inoculants.

In addition, the Rodale Institute conducted a 22-year experiment on Farming Systems Trial farm in Pennsylvania. The research found statistically significant differences between the organic systems and the conventional system soil carbon levels. In regards to soil biology, using arbuscular mychorrhize (AM) as an indicator of microbial activity and thus overall soil health, the study found the organic systems had a greater population of AM spores and greater colonization of plant roots than the conventional system. The charts and graphs included in the project report, while not specifically answering your question about the effect of chemical fertilizers on soil, provide good visual aids when discussing variability between conventional and organic systems. You can learn more about the project, and read the project report, at

Finally, I suggest looking into The Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI) website at Certifiers for the National Organic Program utilize OMRI for determining allowable substances for certified organic operations. When looking for alternative products on the market that have a less harmful effect on the environment (e.g., soil biology), I suggest using those with the OMRI seal.

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Permalink How do I determine how long and how often to irrigate with a drip irrigation system?

Answer: Soil texture and available water-holding capacity determine the rate at which water moves through the soil and, therefore, how long to run a drip system per application.

The following steps will help you determine your needs.

1. Determine your water-holding capacity. For clay loam and silty clay loam, the water-holding capacity is .14-.21

2. Determine the tubing flow rate (GPM per 100 ft). This varies with the type of drip tape. An average drip flow rate is 0.45 GPM per 100 ft. You can get flow information on your specific tape by contacting the manufacturer or distributor.

3. Then, using the table from Pennsylvania State University Extension publication referenced below and the drip tube flow rate, find the maximum time in minutes to run the drip system at one time.

For our example, the available water-holding capacity is 0.17 inch of water/inch depth of soil. Using the table provide in the referenced publication, the drip system would be run for 157 minutes for each irrigation event, typically in a 24-hour period, to avoid leaching and runoff. Repeat events until the system has run for 5.8 hours in a week to apply 1 inch of water. So, you would need to water more at each time and less frequently.

The opposite is true of sandy soils where you water more frequently and for less time. This example configuration is suggesting watering for 2.5 hours two to three times per week.


Determining How Long to Run Drip Irrigation for Vegetable Crops
Pennsylvania State University Extension

Drip Irrigation for Vegetable Production
Pennsylvania State University Extension

For more information, check out ATTRA's Livestock and Pasture section at The resources offered here deal with sustainable livestock production literally from the ground up. Pasture management, feeds and forages are covered by several publications and videos, while others address care and management for specific animals and marketing of the products derived from them. Whether you're an experienced or a beginning producer, you can find useful information relating to traditional livestock such as beef and dairy cattle, sheep, hogs and poultry, as well as introductions to alternative livestock options from bees to bison.

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Permalink How can I address cedar rust disease in my apple trees?

Answer: The fungus that causes this disease moves back and forth between eastern red cedars (actually junipers, not true cedars) and apples, so it can be a major problem where eastern red cedars are endemic. In order to complete its life cycle, this fungus must spend part of its life on eastern red cedar; therefore, it is theoretically possible to eliminate the disease by eliminating the cedars within a given area. However, the spores can be windborne for over one mile, so eradication of the disease in this manner is often impossible or impractical.

Nonetheless, if cedars are not too numerous on a given site, their removal around the immediate orchard vicinity can certainly reduce the inoculum reaching the apple foliage. In addition, there are many rust-resistant apple varieties. Only a few varieties, most notably Golden Delicious and its progeny, are susceptible to the point of defoliation.

Many fungicides are effective against rust, including the sulfur-and-copper compounds, which are approved for organic production as a last resort in your organic pest-management plan. If you remain observant, you may be able to time sprays to coincide with the springtime appearance of orange gelatinous "horns" on the galls on the cedar. This bizarre-looking structure is actually the fruiting stage of the fungus. The "horns" release the spores that infect the apple trees.

To learn more, consult the following ATTRA publications:

Apples: Organic Production
Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview

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Permalink How can I control Bermudagrass organically in my apple orchard?

Answer: Bermudagrass is one of the hardest grasses to control organically. The best thing I've read about organic control of Bermudagrass is based around an intense, one-year, series of smother crops strategy worked out by George Kuepper at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Poteau, Oklahoma. For the details, visit

Unfortunately, this effective strategy would only work for annual vegetable crops or as a pre-plant technique for your apple orchard. Even if your trees are already planted, I recommend that you peruse this publication because it explains a lot about Bermuda's strengths and weaknesses.

I'm a Certified Naturally Grown (same rules as organic) orchardist myself, working at a similar scale as you. My basic Bermudagrass strategy after planting is to establish a thick wood chip mulch (which, by itself, does very little to control Bermuda except to make it easier to pull--if you have the time and energy) and keep knocking it back with an organically approved herbicide in conjunction with pulling up the rhizomes. I've tried flame weeding, vinegar-based herbicides, citric acid-based products, and a soap-based product. Of those, flame weeding was probably the cheapest, but not very effective and carrying around the gas tank was cumbersome. The vinegar herbicide was very ineffective. The citric acid herbicide was slightly better than the vinegar but was very expensive.

I've settled on Scythe™, which is OMRI approved and is essentially pelargonic acid from soaps. It's not cheap, but it's cheaper than the vinegar and citric acid herbicides and it does knock back the Bermuda temporarily. The Bermuda will always come roaring back, but persistent sprayings and pulling out rhizomes when you have the time and labor will help you get through the time when the trees are young and especially susceptible to competition from the Bermuda. As the trees get older, the shade inhibits the Bermuda grass slightly and the trees are better able to deal with the competition.

Remember, since there is no such thing as an organic systemic herbicide (like Roundup), all these herbicides, including flame weeding, are "contact" herbicides and will only affect the leaf surfaces that they touch (or almost touch, in the case of flame weeding). Consequently, the strategy is to force the roots to keep sending up new growth and eventually exhaust the reserves in the roots. So keep the Bermuda short with mowing or weed-eating and then apply the herbicides. This mowing first will save you money because if you let the Bermuda get too thick, the blades on top will shield those below from the herbicide. I actually use an old-fashioned scythe to accomplish the mowing. If you keep it sharp, it's an amazingly efficient tool. But a weed-eater will accomplish the same thing. Then I come behind where I've mown and spray what's left with the Scythe™ herbicide.
When I plant new orchards on a site with Bermuda present, I try to follow the series of smother crops strategy referred to above from the Kerr Center and then establish common fescue as the orchard floor cover. Fescue is easier to control organically, as it can out-compete Bermuda

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview ( This guide is an overview of issues relevant to commercial organic production of temperate zone tree fruits and, to a lesser extent, tree nuts. It includes discussions of marketing and economics, orchard design, and cultural considerations, including crop varieties, site selection, site preparation, soil fertility, weed control, and pest management (insects, diseases, and vertebrates). It raises questions for the grower to consider in making decisions about orchard and enterprise design. Lists of electronic and print resources offer further, more detailed information.

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Permalink What types of leasing or ownership arrangements exist for prospective new farmers?

Answer: Renting farmland is a common practice in U.S. agriculture, where more than 45 percent of the 917 million farmland acres are rented. According to the Agricultural Economics and Land Ownership Survey, 60 percent of farmland rent is paid in cash, 24 percent in shares of production, and 11 percent in a cash/share combination. Following are short descriptions of the various leasing and ownership options.

Cash Lease
Most cash leases are short-term, requiring little commitment from either landowner or tenant farmer. Long-term leases can be an affordable way for farmers to use more sustainable practices and to invest more in their businesses. Many leases are based on a handshake. Verbal agreements are considered legal leases for one year, but this is not recommended for either party, as conflicts can arise even among friends when terms are not clearly stated on outset. A written lease provides benefits and security for both parties.

Crop Share
In this model, rent payment consists of part of the crop, most often paid as part of the income from total crop sold. Also known as "share-crop" and "share lease," this was historically disadvantageous to tenant farmers, but can work well for beginning farmers without start-up capital. Crop-share arrangements are common in perennial crops and some commodities, for example fruit and nut operations, hay, field crops, processing tomatoes. Agreements may have maximum and minimum limits to protect the farmer and landowner, respectively.

Long-Term Lease
This model is as close to ownership as a lease can get. The term is usually 40 to 99 years depending on state law. This is longer than the average mortgage. These types of leases may even be inheritable. They are used for publicly owned land and commercial real estate, but are less common in agriculture. They are sometimes used by cities and land trusts who own the land but wish to guarantee farmers lifetime tenure. Because of their longevity, the intent and clauses of leases must be very carefully drafted so they will last as long as the lease term.

Lease with Option to Buy or Right of First Refusal
There are two ways a lease can improve ownership opportunities for a tenant farmer:

• With a "Purchase Option," the owner and tenant pre-determine the purchase price, with a date for execution of the purchase. The tenant pays for this option up front, and the rent money can count toward an initial down payment.
• With a "Right of First Refusal" clause, the owner can only sell the land to a third party after the tenant has had a chance to "refuse," by matching that third-party offer and making the purchase first. This helps ensure that an owner doesn’t sell the land "out from under" the tenant, but the tenant must be ready to act quickly.

Fee Title Purchase with Seller Financing
In this model the new buyer takes possession of the land and makes payments directly to the seller, as written in a "note." This works very well when a good relationship has been established. The landowner can see the property transferred to a promising new farmer, and the new farmer can secure that note—sometimes by virtue of his or her "character" more than conventional lending requirements. Even better, brokerage fees are avoided by both parties. Payments can be structured like a typical mortgage, or in the case of an installment or land contract sale, made periodically. This strategy is often a good way to transfer land to the next generation within a family.

Fee Title Purchase with Agricultural Conservation Easement
An agricultural conservation easement forever extinguishes development rights on that land, making it less valuable to nonfarmers. These types of easements are used if a landowner wishes to see the land remain available for agriculture: He or she donates or sells the land’s development rights in the form of an agricultural conservation easement to a nonprofit land trust or government agency, which ensures that the easement goals are upheld forever. This can drop the after-easement value, or "easement encumbered value," of the land into an affordable price range for a new farmer.

To learn more, refer to the ATTRA publication Finding Land to Farm: Six Ways to Secure Farmland, available at

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Permalink What is a food hub?

Answer: Interest in local and regional food systems is increasing as their health benefits and contributions to economic, environmental, and social sustainability are recognized. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show growth in local food sales from about $4.8 billion in 2008 to $7 billion in 2011. Traditional commodity markets continue to make up the vast majority of food distribution systems. They are structured around larger-scale mechanized production.

However, new business and marketing opportunities for producers, many of whom are small and mid-size farms and ranches, are being created to enhance direct-to-consumer market outlets. Food hubs are playing a valuable role in local and regional food systems by providing small and mid-size farms and ranches with access to more mainstream and larger-volume markets through distribution support and other services.

The more than 200 food hubs currently in operation in the United States are helping to remove economic and infrastructural barriers in order to facilitate the supply of local food to larger markets. Supply chains traditionally move food from the farm to a packing and shipping facility or processor and then to a wholesale distributor. While this model once supported local businesses such as canneries, mills, grain elevators, and independently owned grocery stores, today's system focuses on economies of scale, i.e., increases in efficiencies to produce larger volumes of product allow for a decrease in consumer price. As a result, smaller producers face challenges, such as in distribution and processing, which limit their ability to supply larger markets, including institutions, restaurants, retail stores, and other commercial markets.

Food hubs operate in many forms but all serve to facilitate the sale of fresh and local food from producers to consumer markets.

The demand for local food in larger-scale markets has exposed production, economic, and logistical challenges standing between local food buyers and smaller-scale producers. Small farms having less than $250,000 in annual gross sales make up 91% of all farms in the United States. And while small farms provide over half of direct–to-consumer sales, through such outlets as farmers markets, on-farm sales, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, many smaller-scale producers have limited marketing opportunities. This is particularly true for mid-size producers who have annual gross sales between $50,000 and $250,000, as they frequently find themselves too large to rely solely on direct-to-consumer sales, yet too small to compete on price in larger-scale commodity markets.

The USDA currently defines a regional food hub as "a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand." This working definition focuses on increasing small and mid-size producer access to wholesale market outlets through aggregation and distribution. Other definitions focus on economic, environmental, and social values as they relate to the mission and services a food hub provides. These can include health and social services, community development, and education. For this reason, food hubs are sometimes referred to as "values-based supply chains." Food hubs also are defined by their functions, such as selling to businesses or institutions, consumers, or both.

To learn more about this topic, consult the ATTRA publication Food Hubs: A Producer Guide, available at This publication provides information on food hubs, followed by an overview of considerations and production-oriented topics important in working with a food hub. Although many food hubs also work with meats, dairy, grains, and other products, much of this publication focuses on the food hub mainstays of fresh fruits and vegetables. Case studies and a list of further resources are included.

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Permalink What can you tell me about sheep foot rot?

Answer: Foot problems are often hard to diagnose, and sometimes they are very easy to misdiagnose. In sheep, the most common and definitely the most feared type of foot rot is sheep foot rot. This is different than cattle foot rot. Its main diagnostic feature is limping, and when you pick up the foot, it has a very putrefying smell. You cannot mistake the bad smell. Sheep footrot is extremely contagious. Consulting with your veterinarian is highly advised.

In general, foot rot problems generally show up under wet, muddy, and cold conditions. Foot rot problems are also associated with inadequate levels of zinc in the ration. Since you are using a cafeteria-style mineral feeder, it would be probably good to check that the zinc bin is always full. I would also have your soil tested for molybdenum. High levels of molybdenum limit the bio-availability of Cu, ZN, and Co, all of which are involved in the immune system. With that said, problems caused by inadequate minerals and vitamins require a period of inadequacy; it does not just happen in one day or even a week.

Oftentimes, producers use Kopertox for treating minor, noncontagious forms of foot rot and also as a liquid "bandage" for skin abrasions. As food animal husbandmen, we need to be more aware of drugs that are not labeled for animals intended for human consumption. Kopertox is one of these drugs. As such, it can only be used in equine and companion animal applications.

An alternative is a foot bath of zinc sulfate, which is not very convenient, as the sheep have to stand in it for a good amount of time.

For more information, consult the following resources. And, again, consulting with your veterinarian is highly advised.

Eliminating the effects of foot rot on sheep flocks in the Northeast

Footrot in Sheep and Goats

Guide to Footrot in Sheep

Sheep 201: A Beginner's Guide to Raising Sheep

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Permalink Can I grow organic cherries in the western United States?

Answer: Commercial organic cherry production presents many challenges. The cherry fruit fly, bacterial canker, phytophthora root rot, leaf spot, fruit cracking, late frosts, and brown rot of the blossom and fruit are all serious obstacles to the orchardist hoping to make a profit with cherries, particularly for the organic grower. Yet, despite these and other hurdles, organic cherry production is a profitable option for U.S. growers in much of the Northwest, and in the East, light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

As with most other tree fruits, the climate in the western United States is more amenable to production of organic cherries than is the more humid climate of the East. The problems mentioned above are present both East and West, but the higher rainfall and humidity in the East tend to magnify those problems. In fact, fruit cracking from rain—purely a physiological problem and not a disease in itself—plagues all eastern growers, organic or otherwise, and greatly favors commercial sweet cherry production in the West, where most production relies on controlled irrigation, not rainfall. There is some commercial sweet cherry production in the Northeast, but its scale is dwarfed by the production of the West. Additionally, northeastern growers have relatively few cultivars to choose from due to the propensity of cultivars like Bing to crack in the rain.

In contrast, because tart cherries are not as susceptible to fruit cracking or brown rot as are sweets, they can be grown profitably in areas outside the arid West. In fact, tart cherry production is centered around the Great Lakes states, with Michigan being the biggest producer. Another climatic consideration is the chilling requirement. Cherries require a winter chilling period in order to break dormancy successfully and bloom. For most sweet cherries, the chilling requirement is more than 1,000 hours; for tart cherries the requirement is roughly 800 hours. This is one of several reasons why cherry production is not practical in warm, southern climates. There are a few cultivars with low chilling requirements, but they are not the important commercial cultivars. These low-chill cultivars can be problematic in areas with fluctuating wintertime temperatures, like the mid-South, where they quickly meet their chilling requirements and begin to bloom any time the weather is warm for a week or more, only to have the blossoms nipped by the inevitable return to cold.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Cherries: Organic Production, available at publication focuses on organic pest and disease control and other topics relevant to organic production of both tart and sweet cherries. It introduces the Canadian bush cherry and discusses climatic considerations for cherry production. Information on marketing is included, as are further resources and sources of trees and pest-control materials.

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Permalink How can I get rid of the cheat grass that has invaded the bare spots in my pastures?

Answer: Cheat grass is an annual and it spreads by seeding. Grazing animals will eat it in the vegetative state, but they generally avoid it when it heads out. Thus, you can graze it out by grazing it in the vegetative phase of its growth. This is usually very early in the spring.

You can also arrest its invasion of bare spots in your pastures by hand seeding some grass and clovers in those bare spots. When you are in a drought, clovers and alfalfa are nice to have in your pasture because they have deeper roots than grass, enabling them to withstand dry conditions and keep the cheat grass from invading.

Another nice legume is Sanfoin. You can get the seed online. It is non-bloating, which is a tremendous quality. It is also drought hardy. I recommend that you give it a try.

If you are interested, you can find more about how to manage an irrigated pasture by viewing the ATTRA video, "Intensive Grazing: One Farm's Setup." It is available at: Perhaps you will find some good tips for your operation in it.

You can find lots more information on topics related to pasture in ATTRA's Livestock and Pasture section at

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Permalink How can I decide whether producing organic small grains is right for me?

Answer: While the opportunity for producing organic grains is significant, organic production is not without its challenges. Weed management, soil fertility, soil moisture, tillage, rotation design, and marketing present a unique set of obstacles for organic grain farmers. There are several reasons to consider producing organic small grains, and several reasons why it might not be right for you.

Reasons to consider organic grain production:

1. A farmer must innovate and experiment on his own farm. This can be a rewarding challenge.
2. Organic production means less pesticide exposure for the farmer and his family.
3. Organic production requires increased crop diversity, which spreads out the income source and helps break pest cycles.
4. With careful management, organic production can improve the health of the soil. With increased organic matter, there is increased nutrient availability, less soil crusting, and better water infiltration.
5. Not purchasing synthetic fertilizer and herbicide means less expense per acre and less potential need for an annual operating loan. Per-acre returns can be the same or better than conventional farming.
6. Cash crop yields can compare to 90 to 100% of conventional tillage system yields once the rotation is established.
7. Demand for organic grains is strong. Prices paid to organic producers are historically greater than those paid to conventional producers.
8. NRCS-EQIP funds may be available to help offset costs of conversion, such as seed costs for cover crops.
9. Programs may be available through state departments of agriculture to offset the costs of organic certification.
10. There is a strong support network in the organic community, offering advice, training, and resource materials. Linking with other farmers in the region is critical for success.

Reasons to think twice about organic grain production:
1. A farmer must innovate and experiment on his own farm. This can be a significant source of frustration.
2. Nutrient management is not as prescriptive as in conventional grain production. While nitrogen can be gained through green manure legumes, the nitrogen produced from these crops varies widely with the weather and precipitation.
3. Most large grain farms do not have easy access to large amounts of animal manure, which can be a key component to building soil fertility.
4. The first three to five years of organic production are the most difficult, as the system adjusts to new management. In addition, no organic price premiums are available during the three-year transition phase.
5. Without other organic farmers to talk to, it can be difficult to know what steps to take. Having other organic farmers in the area increases the chances of success.
6. Tillage is generally the most significant method of weed control in an organic system.
But tillage can defeat the purpose of building soil organic matter and can increase soil erosion.
7. Currently, a system of continuous, no-till organic production has not been perfected for grains. A diverse no-till system can improve soil structure, increase organic matter, and decrease soil erosion better than the current tillage-dependent system of organic production.
8. Organic recordkeeping adds to the paperwork required to run the farm business.
9. A cash grain crop cannot be produced on each field every year.
10. Finding a buyer may be difficult for farmers who live in areas where grain has not traditionally been produced.

You can learn much more about organic grain productions in the following ATTRA publications:

Organic Small Grain Production Overview

Disease and Insect Management in Organic Small Grains

Nutrient Management in Organic Small Grains

Weed Management in Organic Small Grains

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Permalink How do I know if I'm ready to scale up production on my farm?

Answer: Local foods purchasing has moved beyond farmers markets to mainstream grocery stores. As consumers become more interested in purchasing local foods, chain grocery stores from Walmart to Safeway tout their support of local farmers. At the same time, many established farmers want to move out of time-consuming farmers markets into wholesale markets. A University of Wisconsin study points out that with the interest in local foods, "local food systems have the potential to borrow some of the economic and logistical efficiencies of the industrial food system while retaining social and environmental priorities" (Day-Farnsworth et al., 2009).

It is important to plan for the expansion of your farm. Every time you increase the scale of your operation, you will experience growing pains. Planning for improvements and growth within your operation can help alleviate these. Questions you might ask when you consider increasing your production:

• Do you have the ability to move more product through your washing and packing facility?
• Do you have enough space in your cooler, delivery truck, etc.?
• How many more people will you have to hire, and do you have the management skills to handle a larger crew?
• Do you have a good farm administration system? As your farm increases in size, this will likely become more complex, including more taxes and stricter insurance requirements

Scaling up can mean many things to a farm. It can mean simply producing more because your market demand is greater. Or it can mean expanding production capacity and business to produce for wholesale markets or significantly expanding your farm to meet direct-market demands. It is important to keep in mind that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to expanding your farm.

For more detailed information, consult the ATTRA publication Scaling Up Your Vegetable Farm for Regional Markets. This publication addresses the planning considerations and provides some resources and worksheets to determine whether or not your operation is ready to scale up. It is available at

In addition, ATTRA has produced a new online tutorial, titled Scaling Up for Regional Markets, which provides lessons and information for farmers who have success in smaller and more direct marketing channels and who are interested in expanding their operations to meet a growing demand for local food. It is available at

Day-Farnsworth, Lindsey et al. 2009. Scaling Up: Meeting the Demand for Local Food. Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, Madison, WI.

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Permalink What can you tell me about choosing breeds for pastured poultry production?

Answer: For pastured laying hens, as for any animal-agriculture enterprise, a source of quality livestock is absolutely necessary. Different poultry breeds have different characteristics that a producer must take into account when choosing a breed for an operation. Egg-laying breeds used on pasture need to be able to keep laying a steady supply of eggs while being efficient foragers. The first step to starting a productive flock is to determine which breed will be the best fit for a farm and its climatic region. USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) organic regulations require "selection of species and types of livestock with regard to suitability for site-specific conditions and resistance to prevalent diseases and parasites."

Egg-laying breeds differ from meat-production breeds in a few main respects. The first is the way they grow. Layers grow at a much slower rate and will reach a lower final weight than meat-type birds. However, once laying age is reached, most energy derived from feed is used to produce eggs, so feed is utilized at a much more efficient rate. Layer rations have a lower protein content than meat bird rations. Not all layers can produce eggs at the same rate, though. Breeds differ in feed efficiency (a certain weight of feed needed in order to produce a certain weight of eggs), egg color, foraging ability, and overall behavior. Very good egg layers, meaning those breeds which can lay more than 250 eggs per year, include Leghorns; Bovans Browns; Rhode Island Reds; and Gold, Black, and Red Stars.

Egg Color
The shell color of the egg is s linked to the breed of chicken. Differences in shell coloration do not denote a difference in nutrition or quality of the internal contents, meaning the yolk and albumen (the white of the egg). Feed and general nutrition will help determine the contents of the egg itself. The most common eggshell colors are white and brown in a variety of shades, but a few breeds are known to lay blue or green eggs.

Sex Link
"Sex link" refers to poultry that have been crossbred to produce traits that are linked to their sex chromosomes. This makes it easier for hatcheries to sort chicks by gender, based on the color of their feathers at hatch. Breeds in this category are usually very good layers and are preferred by many growers. However, sex-link birds are hybrids, meaning they are bred through the cross of two different breeds. As a result, they will not be able to be used in a breeding flock to produce another generation. An upside for producers looking to start out is that with sex links you can order a set of chicks that will have a much higher probability of being hens. Otherwise, "straight-run" is standard, meaning that there will be a mix of hens and cockerels that will only develop characteristics after they have been raised to maturity. Examples of sex links include Brown Stars, Red Stars, Red Comets, and Black Stars.

Weather Adaptability
Climate is a large deciding factor when choosing a breed to start a flock. All chickens originated from the Red Jungle Fowl, Gallus gallus, which was found in the forests of South-Pacific Asia. Ancestral members of the Gallus family (to which all chickens belong) survive best in warm climates. However, there are newer breeds more suited to a bit of cold. Heavier-bodied birds with more feathers usually survive better in areas that receive cold weather. On the other hand, smaller-bodied chickens tend to do better in climates where it can be hot for weeks at a time. Think of it as wearing a heavy coat: you would much rather wear a coat in snow than you would in a heat wave.

Another factor to consider relative to climate is comb shape and size. Breeds such as the leghorn have large combs, which are useful for heat dissipation in warm climates but make them more susceptible to frostbite in cold climates. If a flock will be on pasture during the winter in a colder climate, producers should look for a breed with a smaller comb (such as a "pea comb").

Foraging Ability
A distinguishing factor in raising pastured poultry is that the birds will be foraging through the day. This can relieve feed costs slightly, given the right combination of genetics and pasture quality. Although a producer can realistically expect a 5% to 20% contribution to total nutrition from pasture, genetics will play a role in exactly how much nutrition a bird can get from forages. Some breeds prefer to look for their own feed when they need it and will go to great lengths to find supplemental nutrition; others prefer to wait and be fed concentrated rations to satisfy the entirety of their nutritional needs. Examples of breeds that exhibit superior foraging abilities include Leghorn, American Gamefowl, New Hampshire, Barred Rocks, and Dominiques.

Dual Purpose
Breeds that can produce both meat and eggs are referred to as "dual-purpose" breeds. While this concept might seem attractive to a grower, these birds are usually not as efficient in either category of production as some of the top breeds. However, in some cases the flexibility of a dual-purpose breed can be of value to producers who don’t have room for separate flocks. Notable dual-purpose breeds include Orpingtons, Australorps, and Plymouth Rocks.

You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Pastured Poultry: Egg Production. This publication examines many of the risk factors that beginning poultry farmers should consider before acquiring a pastured laying flock. It addresses animal-management issues including breed selection, housing, nutrition, predator control, and natural-resource management. It also discusses processing and marketing of the end product, table eggs. It is available at

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Permalink What can you tell me about direct marketing specialty melons?

Answer: For the direct-market producer, shipping melons is probably not a good bet, as per-unit costs of production make them uncompetitive in price in small quantities. This condition, of course, is shared by producers of all stripe. It's hard for a farmer with a few acres, for example, to compete in price with someone who grows produce by the mile.

To compensate for this, direct-market producers must rely on market strategy to increase competitiveness. Specialty melons offer an avenue to compete on the turf of large-scale melon producers. If you look in any major seed-supply catalogue, you will see an assortment of melons. Naturally, the major varieties are offered—and are perfectly suited for the hobbyist wishing to grow his or her own cantaloupes or honeydews to be plucked vine-ripe from the garden, at the epitome of taste, as opposed to shipped not fully ripe days or weeks beforehand. However, to be competitive in the market, growers should seek out niches to serve. Niche markets can be accessed through a variety of means, such as farmers markets, ethnic and conventional markets, roadside sales, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Farmers markets have been steadily gaining in popularity. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reports that there was a 3.6% rise in the number of farmers markets from 2012 to 2014. This number is expected to continue to rise as more people start to value the benefits of local food. Farmers markets allow producers to meet with local people and build relationships with their consumers, an option not afforded in other venues.

Ethnic groceries help both recent immigrants and farmers. Many immigrants find themselves separated from the foods of their homelands. This demand becomes an opportunity for local farmers to market the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that are adaptable to their region to newcomers. It may be difficult for a local producer to sell produce directly to the people who would most benefit from it; thus, a middleman of the same culture becomes prudent. Ethnic grocery stores then become an outlet for farmers to reach audiences they didn’t have access to before. It can be particularly advantageous for farmers to time their harvests for a specific event of their target audience.

Some conventional grocery stores will purchase produce directly from producers.This gives the farmer a dedicated buyer for his or her crop and allows the store to brand itself as supportive of the local food movement.This option tends to be less attractive to farmers, as the other options usually are more profitable and less troublesome with regard to the amount of paperwork required of the farmer.

Roadside sales are another direct-marketing stratagem for producers. Farmers markets tend to have an array of many types of vendors, whereas roadside stands are a stand-alone operation.These tend to attract fewer customers, with the customers spaced over a longer period of time. These stands tend to be seasonal in nature, according to the harvest. Many factors play a part in the success of roadside stands. For example, a farm stand between Hempstead and Brenham, Texas, in the spring when the bluebonnets are flowering would have many customers who were interested in stopping on that stretch of road anyway. Differentiate that from travelers heading from Houston to Galveston, Texas, who have no intention of stopping for any reason.

Other marketing options are available to specialty melon growers. CSAs are still developing and evolving. The original concept was for the subscriber to pay at the beginning of the sea-son for a share of the produce a particular farm produced throughout that season. This model is adapting due to market forces and competition. Nevertheless, it is still an option for producers to supply their customers with high-quality produce. Home-delivery services have also arisen in the past few years as a viable outlet for producers to sell their products.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Specialty Melon Production for Small and Direct-Market Growers, available at This publication provides an overview of production and marketing of numerous different species and varieties of specialty melons. It addresses production considerations including seed sources, planting needs, soil preparation, and insect pest and disease control. It also discusses marketing outlets for producers to sell their melons and summarizes results of current melon research. A resource list details sources for more information, seeds, and supplies useful for melon growing.

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Permalink Can I control goat parasites with sericea lespedeza in Washington State?

Answer: While Sericea lespedeza is not listed as a noxious weed for Washington, the state Noxious Weed Control Board does not encourage its propagation. For specific information, contact Alison Hapern directly at 360-902-2053 or

However, there are other ways that you can control goat parasites. For starters, consult the ATTRA publication Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Small Ruminants: Sericea Lespedeza. It is available on the ATTRA website at This publication lists some other species that produce tannins, such as birdsfoot trefoil, and lists the amounts of tannins.

In all probability, the Barber Pole Worm will be your most notable parasite. FAMACHA scoring your goats is a handy way for you to assess the degree of Barber Pole infestation. Consult with your extension agent or veterinarian for a FAMACHA trainer in your area.

One of the best means of controlling parasites in your goats is to apply the correct grazing strategy. This includes a 35-day pasture rest, less than four-day paddock grazing periods, and leaving 6 to 8 inches of residual behind. For more details, consult the ATTRA publication Tools for Managing Internal Parasites in Small Ruminants: Pasture Management, available at There is also an ATTRA video describing this and many other aspects of intensive grazing, entitled Intensive Grazing, One Farm’s Set Up. Check it out at

Additional articles on grazing controls and FAMACHA can be found at the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control website at

It is advantageous to develop diverse species of plants in your pasture sward. Other grass and legume species that you could consider in your pasture are perennial ryegrass, meadowbrome grass, orchard grass, and Garrison creeping meadow foxtail. The rye grass and meadow foxtail will establish fairly easily by tromping them in during the early spring. I would recommend a stocking density of 18 of your goats per 1/8 or less of an acre when you tromp in the seed, even if you have to move them two to three times a day. Make sure that there are hoof prints everywhere.

Legumes that you might consider are birdsfoot trefoil, red clover, white clover (Alice), and alfalfa. You might experiment with some chicory. If you could get it established, your goats would like it.

Lastly, On Pasture provides the reader with lively information on grazing. You can find it at An additional site that is always informative is the Maryland Small Ruminant Page at

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Permalink My dairy farm’s electric bill was $700 last month. Should I consider a solar energy system to reduce electric costs?

Answer: I would need to know more about your farm to give an educated opinion but, in general, if the $700 dollar electric bill was for one month, then your farm would likely be a good candidate for an energy audit. An audit would determine where most of the energy on your farm is being used and offer suggestions to reduce the usage.

The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a program called EQIP On-Farm Energy Initiative, which helps farmers with an energy audit and with energy retrofits like lighting changes and motor upgrades, based on the results of the audit. You can learn more at You might also contact your local NRCS office to get additional information.

I would also suggest that you contact your electric utility. They sometimes have different rates for different customers and also may offer help with reducing your energy usage.

Once you have made some inroads on reducing your energy needs, then you can look at alternative energy sources like solar to help with at least part of the rest of the job. USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) offers cost share and grants for alternative energy system installations. You can learn more about this program and how to apply for it at

For more information, consult the following ATTRA publications:

Dairy Farm Energy Efficiency
This publication provides an overview of how dairy farms can implement efficiency improvements and energy-saving technologies that can reduce energy consumption and energy-related costs.

Renewable Energy Opportunities on the Farm
This publication introduces three renewable energy resources that can be attractive and economically feasible for the farm: solar, wind, and renewable fuels. This is not a technical guide for designing or installing renewable energy systems but, instead, an overview that provides information on wind, solar, and renewable fuel technologies, cost and savings, site planning, and financial incentives.

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