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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on controlling thistles?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on controlling thistles.

Most thistles are biennial and/or perennial forbs with very persistent root systems. Any control system must necessarily be targeted at depleting the root reserves and starving the plant over time. In this letter I will address several methods of control that have had varying degrees of success.

Biological Control

Eleven specific insect feeders and over seventy general feeders affect Canada thistle. These include such insects as the stem weevil, the stem gall fly, the defoliating beetle, and the seed head weevil (Harris, 2005). The ATTRA publication on thistle control highlights some of these insects. Biological controls are not enough on their own, but combined with defoliation, grazing management, and crop rotations, can help reduce thistle dominance by weakening the stand over time. Some states have coordinated noxious weed control beneficial insectaries and strategic insect releases. You might try contacting your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or Cooperative Extension (CES) office to see if insect releases are available in your area. NRCS info can be found in the federal listings in your phone book, and CES can be found in the county listings.

Controlling Thistle in Pastures

In pastures, thistles take advantage of bare spots to get established. Bare spots are prevented by proper grazing management and providing adequate fertility and lime to assure a dense stand of forage. The ATTRA publication Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management, has detailed information on grazing management, and should assist you in developing a grazing system to minimize weeds.

Mechanical Control

• Consider rotating perennial pastures with annual cover crops such as small grains, field peas, or clovers to break weed cycles.
• The weakest point is seedling stage – harrowing in the late spring when rosettes begin to form can be effective in removing new seedlings. Older plants will not be controlled with a light harrowing.

• Devise methods to control top growth, seed production, and deplete root reserves – Mow or till thistles at bud-break (pre-flowering) if possible to deplete root reserves. Consider row cultivation or rotary hoes. Also consider deep-tined implements that will pull roots to the surface, not merely cut them off in the soil. Cut roots will grow back from root or crown buds. This type of control will likely require at least two years of control.

• For heavily infected fields, tillage every three weeks for an entire growing season will effectively deplete root reserves. Consider following with a winter cover crop, pasture planting, or cereal.

Cultural Control in Row Crops

• Plant row crops with a closer row spacing, or increase the seeding rate. These methods, coupled with early planting, can give crops a competitive advantage to germinating perennial weeds.

• Consider placing alfalfa or sweet clover in the rotation. Alfalfa for three years has been shown to reduce Canada thistle stands in some studies. Alfalfa is also a deep-rooted legume abundant in soil building qualities.

• Utilize a grass-clover or vetch intercrop/living mulch/cover crop between rows. Research has shown that these types of intercropping methods are effective at (1) increasing water use efficiency, (2) buffering soil temperatures, and (3) reducing weeds in row crops. Clovers will fix atmospheric nitrogen and actually make some of the resulting nitrates available for uptake by the principle crop. If the cover crops are mowed periodically, root death and node separation can occur, yielding more nitrogen to the principle crop.


• Lastly, remember to sanitize equipment after bringing it out of an infected field. This includes trucks and four-wheelers. Irrigation water can carry seeds as well. If you rely on ditches or streams for irrigation, ensure no weeds are growing on the ditch banks.


Rinehart, L. 2006. Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management. Butte, MT: ATTRA.

Sullivan, P. 2004. Thistle Control Alternatives. Fayetteville, AR: ATTRA.

Harris, P. 2005. Canada Thistle Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada.

Farm Facts: Canada thistle and its control. 2005. Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food.

Rasmussen,I.A., and M. Askegaard. 2004. Crop rotation limits Canada thistle, but not Couch grass or annual weeds. Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

Sullivan, P. 2003. Principles of Sustainable Weed Management for Croplands. Fayetteville, AR: ATTRA.

Sustainable Agriculture Network. A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.



Permalink What can you tell me about sustainable turkey production?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about sustainable turkey production.

Listed below are articles and publications that discuss production, slaughtering, and marketing strategies for small scale turkey producers. I have included several articles on small-farm turkey pasture raising, heritage turkey varieties, and naturally mating turkeys, as well as several articles on organic turkey production. An excellent video Pastured Turkey Production is available from Southern SAWG.

The two pasture-based production systems that are commonly used are "day-range" and "pastured poultry" field pens. However, field pens have the disadvantage of crowding the turkeys and preventing them from extending their wings. Books that discuss the two production systems are Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing and Pastured Poultry Profits. For a description of these two systems, please request the ATTRA publication Alternative Poultry Production Systems and Outdoor Access. ATTRA can also provide additional information on feeding poultry, on range poultry housing, and on processing and marketing poultry, including concerns for certified organic production.

Comparing the costs between raising turkeys and chickens, turkey poults can cost $6.00 or more each, while chickens cost about $.65. Feed per turkey can cost $10, compared to $2 for chickens, so that the cash investment per turkey is more than $16, while for chickens it’s less than $3. Turkeys should yield about 15 pounds of meat and chickens about 3 pounds after processing at 16 to 24+ weeks for turkeys and 8 weeks for chickens.

The most common type of turkey raised is the Broad-Breasted White, which was selected for the conventional poultry industry for confinement rearing. It was selected for fast growth and a large breast. Some pastured poultry producers also raise this bird, which grows out in about 16 weeks. However, other producers raise some of the heritage breeds that are hardier on pasture but are slower growing. The slower-growing heritage turkey breeds, when started in April or May, are ready for the November Thanksgiving market. The heritage breeds are harvested when they are almost sexually mature and putting on a layer of fat for the winter. Their breasts fill out well and their meat is reported to have exceptional flavor and juiciness.

Raising heritage breeds means more labor since they are on the farm longer than Broad-breasted Whites. The overall feeding cost should be comparable between the heritage breeds and the Broad-breasted Whites, because the Broad-breasted Whites eat more, but for a shorter period of time (16 weeks compared to 24 or more weeks). However, since the heritage breeds can mate naturally, producers can keep their own breeders and produce their own poults.

Good sources of information on the various heritage turkey breeds, as well as many other heritage poultry breeds, are the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (1) and the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (2). Books on turkey production should be available from libraries and bookstores. Many sources of turkey poults also have books available on turkey production.


1) The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
P. O. Box 477
Pittsboro, NC 27312
919–542 5704

2) Craig Russell, President
Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities
Rt. 4, Box 251
Middleburg, PA 17842


Anon. 2000. Become the turkey leader in your town. Free-Range Poultry Forum. March. p. 13-14.

Anon. 2005. More turkey resources. APPPA Grit. Late Spring. p. 19.

Bailey, Chris & Deanna. 1997. Pastured turkeys. E-mail: Thur. 6 Mar. 22:38:27 -0600. 1 p.

Beck-Chenoweth, Herman. 2001. Homegrown turkeys are terrific! Mother Earth News. October-November. p. 34–36, 38–40.

Bender, Marjorie. 2004. Dear potential heritage turkey producer. American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. 12 p.

Bender, Marjorie. 2000. New turkey organizations formed. American Livestock Breeds Conservancy News. November/December. p. 1, 4-5.

Bender, Marjorie. 2004. Research confirms health of heritage turkeys. ALBC News. March/April. p. 4.

Bennett, Dan. 2003. Turkeys have feelings too! American Pastured Poultry Producers Association Grit. Fall. p. 6, 17.

Berry, Marla. 1998. Controlling blackhead in free-range turkeys can be difficult. Countryside & Small Stock Journal. January-February. p. 43.

Beyer, R. Scott, and J. S. Moritz. 2000. Preventing Blackhead disease in turkeys and game birds. Kansas State University. EP-69. March. 2 p.

Brubaker, Don. 2005. It’s turkey time again. APPPA Grit. Late Spring. p. 6, 12-13.

Gerber, Barbara. 2001. Taking turkeys to a new level. Acres U.S.A. December. p. 22–23.

John, Matt. 2005. What’s happening at the hatcheries? APPPA Grit. March-April. p. 1, 10-15.

Kaufmann, Diane. 1997. Re: pastured turkeys. E-mail: Fri. 7 Mar. 10:23:41 -0600. 1 p.

Moreshead, Jon A. 1996. Raising turkeys on pasture. Countryside & Small Stock Journal. November-December. p. 42-45.

Nova Scotia Agriculture and Fisheries. 2001. Brooding turkey poults, Feeding programs for turkeys, and Turkey equipment and space requirements. 13 p.

Padgham, Jody. 2002. Raising historical turkeys. American Pastured Poultry Producers' Association. Fall. p. 10-11.

Russell, Craig. 2006. Turkeys: History & varieties. Backyard Poultry. October/November. p. 28-33.

Salatin, Joel. 2002. Our turkey turn-around. The Stockman Grass Farmer. December. p. 10-13.

Smith, Nancy. 2004. Saving rare breeds. Mother Earth News. February/March. p. 57-63,



Permalink What information can you give me on transitioning to organic dairy production?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information regarding transitioning to organic dairy production.

There are several ATTRA publications that discuss the organic certification process and organic production. I would encourage you to read through those publications, as they should answer many of the questions you may have about transitioning to organic production. The Organic Livestock Workbook will be helpful to you as you transition to organic production. This workbook will help you evaluate your current practices and determine if you are meeting organic regulations. This will let you know what changes to your current production practices you’ll need to make to meet organic regulations. The resources listed in the Dairy Resource List should also be helpful to you. If you have any questions about any of the material covered in these publications, please let me know. The Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) may be a helpful group to you. They have resources to help new organic dairy producers and it is a good way to network with other organic dairy producers. They may also be able to help you locating sources of organic feeds in the Northeast.

Referenced below are several articles and resources that should be helpful to you, and others, as you make the transition to organic production. The resources include:
• Highlights of NOP Livestock Production Standards. This document gives the basic rules for organic production. It breaks down the rules and makes them a little easier to understand.
• The National List. This is the list of all of the products allowed or not allowed in organic production.
• Several articles regarding transitioning to organic dairy production. These articles cover the basic principles of organic dairy production and clarify the rules. This includes the rules regarding replacement animals.
• Raising Organic Livestock in Maine: MOFGA Accepted Health Practices, Products and Ingredients. This article has a great list of common ailments and includes preventative measures and organic treatments. It lists products that are commonly allowed in organic production and suppliers of the products.
• Several organic health care articles. These articles discuss several common ailments and discuss organic and alternative treatments.
• Several articles on the economics of organic dairying. These articles may be of interest to you. They look at the costs of organic production compared to conventional production.
• Price information for organic milk and organic feed grains.


Baier, A. 2006. Highlights of NOP Livestock Production Standards (draft). ATTRA publication. 4 p.

Baier, A. 2006. Highlights of NOP Standards (draft). ATTRA publication. 4 p.

The National Organic Program. National List. 6 p.

Transitioning to Organic Dairy Production. Organic Fact Sheet. MOSES. 1 p.

Transitioning to Organic. Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association. 7 p.

Dairy Animal Acquisition under the NOP Regulations
. NOP. 1 p.

Arnold, K. 2006. Organic Dairy Replacements-A Big Issue. NODPA News. Vol. 6, No. 1. p. 8-9.

Raising Organic Livestock in Maine: MOFGA Accepted Health Practices, Products and Ingredients. 7 p.

Bransky, P. 2004. Organic Cows: Healthy Approaches and Treatments. The Organic Broadcaster. Vol. 12, No. 6. MOSES. 5 p.

Dettloff, P. 2005. Mother Nature’s animal health tools. The New Farm. 2 p.

Padgham, J. n.d. Internal Parasites and Ruminants: Organic Answers. The Organic Broadcaster. MOSES. 4 p.

Pennington, J. n.d. Factors to Consider for Organic Dairy Farming in Arkansas. 2 p.

Dalton, T. et al. 2005. Revised Cost and Returns to Organic Dairy Farming in Maine and Vermont for 2004. University of Maine. 5 p.

Butler, L. 2002. Survey quantifies cost of organic milk production in California. California Agriculture, September-October 2002. p. 157-162.

Kriegl, T. 2006. Summary of Economic Studies of Organic Dairy Farming in Wisconsin, New England, and Quebec. 3 p.

McCrory, L. 2001. An Economic Comparison of Organic and Conventional Dairy Production, and Estimations on the Cost of Transitioning to Organic Production. NOFA-VT . 5 p.

Dairy Pay Price Comparisons. 2 p.

Kersbergen, R., Dalton, T., Bragg, L. 2006. Organic Dairy Farming…Do Higher pay prices equal more profit?. NODPA News. Vol. 6, Issue 1. p. 1-3.

Organic Grain Prices. New Farm Organic Price Index (OPX). 5 p.

OFARM Target Price List. 1 p.



Permalink What can you tell me about raising hogs on pasture?

North Carolina

Answer: Thank you for requesting information on raising hogs on pasture.

Listed below are various articles discussing options for raising hogs on pasture and alternative marketing. Also refer to the ATTRA publications on alternative hog production and marketing:
Hog Production Alternatives
Pork: Marketing Alternatives
Considerations in Organic Hog Production
Profitable Pork


Cantrell, Jim. 1985. A low investment swine system. Kerr Foundation, Inc. 28 p.

Cramer, Craig. 1992. “Hogs just might be the ideal grazers." New Farm. September/October. p. 18-23.

Cramer, Craig. 1990. Profitable pork on pasture. New Farm. May/June. p. 15-18.

Gunthorp, Greg. 2001. Pastured pigs on the Gunthorp farm. 9 p.

Honeyman, M. S. No date. Piglet mortality in various hut types for outdoor farrowing. Iowa State University. ASL-R1680. 3 p.

Huber, Gary. 2007. Specialty pork marketing opportunities. The Practical Farmer. Winter. p. 15, 22.

McGlone, John J., and Harold Rachuonyo. 2000. Sow-litter impact of ground cover. National Hog Farmer. December 15. p. 24.

Morrow, Gayle. 2005. Family farm finds success with “Fresh-Air Pork.” ACRES, USA. July. p. 1, 10-12.

Morrow-Harris, Gayle. 1998. Pork on pasture. Acres USA. September. p. 1, 8-9.

Salatin, Joel. 2006. Pastured pig tricks. The Stockman Grass Farmer. September. p. 17-18.

Shirley, Christopher. 1993. Lean pork, low overhead. New Farm. November/December. p. 20-24, 58.

Talbott, Chuck, et al. 2003. Potential for small-scale farmers to produce niche market pork using alternative diets, breeds and rearing environments: Observations from North Carolina. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. p. 135-140.

Van Der Pol, Jim. 2001-2005. Multiple articles dealing with outdoor hogs. Graze. 21 p.



Permalink What information can you give me on testing my dairy herd and raw milk to ensure safety?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about testing raw milk and your dairy goat herd to ensure safety.

As we discussed, you are aware of the risk of drinking raw milk. I understand that you have been reading about the health benefits of drinking raw milk as opposed to pasteurized. I believe that most food products have some risk attached to them; for instance, milk can be contaminated AFTER pasteurization, and raw milk that is very healthful as it is drawn from the animal can become unsafe due to improper chilling and poor sanitation in handling. We always have to be careful to treat food with respect, even when we know the animal is healthy and even though we believe the food is nutritious.

Having said that, there are some precautions we producers can take to make it likely that our product is safe. Referenced below are regulations in various states pertaining to the sale of raw milk. I will summarize some of the main points.

From Utah’s Administrative Code R70-330. Raw Milk for Retail:

1) animals examined by veterinarian before inclusion in the raw milk supply, and every 6 months thereafter
a) California Mastitis Test (CMT)
b) udder health
c) general health evaluation
2) Tuberculosis testing; 60 days prior to the beginning of milk production, retest each year
3) Brucellosis testing—vaccinated or testing negative within 30 days prior to beginning of each lactation
4) bulk tank testing at least 4 times yearly with brucella milk ring test. Any positive test means each animal in the herd must be tested with official blood test
5) persons handling milk should not be sick, and cannot have exposed infected cut or lesion on their arms or hands
6) all milk shall be cooled to 41 degrees F. or less within two hours after milking. If it is pooled, blend temperature shall not exceed 50 degrees F.
7) Somatic Cell Count (SCC) shall not exceed 350,000 cells per milliliter (ml).
8) bacterial standard: Standard Plate Count (SPC) of no more than 20,000 per ml.; Coliform count shall not exceed 10 per ml. (no note of how often to test)
9) no drug residue or other adulteration

My understanding is that you don’t intend to sell milk, but want to use it for your family. If you are interested in selling raw milk, though, you will be interested in the Texas Administrative Code (which is a bit more lax than Utah’s). In Texas you can sell raw milk off your farm if you have a license. I like the way the code is written in an understandable manner, with justifications; they state the reasons for the rules. The phone number for the regulatory office is 512-834-6758.

I called the office and found them very helpful; I spoke with Mr. Jim Fraley. He told me that while it is legal to sell raw milk if you have a license, they do not advocate it due to the health risk. I told him that you understood that. He said that for licensed dairymen, there is a charge of $400/2 years for the license, and then testing is done monthly, inspections every two months. In addition to the SCC and other tests noted in the regulations, there is a monthly test for pathogens. These pathogens are:
• E. Coli
• E. Coli 257
• Yersinia
• Listeria
• Campylobacter
• Salmonella
• Staph. Aureus
The regulations state pathogenic tests will be done quarterly, but in practice they do it every month.

Mr. Fraley suggested you check with the El Paso health department, 915-543-3538; they can do the basic tests (not the pathogenic ones, he said). Ask them about fees. Also referenced below is a fee schedule from the Tarrant County lab. I think the tests are more expensive than I expected, and they do not list pathogenic tests, either. I asked Mr. Fraley how you could get those done, and he didn’t know but suggested you check your Yellow Pages for “commercial laboratories” and then call a few to inquire.

Other than the animal tests (TB, brucellosis, CMT) you don’t need to do individual testing, you can submit a pooled sample from your whole herd. That is what they do for licensed dairies, of course. I encourage you to call Mr. Fraley if you have any further questions; he was glad to answer questions when I called and was very courteous.


Texas Department of State Health Services. Milk Group information. 2 p.

Texas Administrative Code. Title 25. Part 1. Chapter 217. Subchapter B. Rule §217.27-33.

Utah Administrative Code R70-330. Raw Milk for Retail. 3 p.

NOFA Massachusetts: Programs: The Campaign for Raw Milk. 6 p.

NOFA/Mass Raw Milk Campaign brochure. Raw Milk Production. 2 p.

Massachusetts 330 CMR 27.00: Standards and Sanitation Requirements for Grade A Raw Milk. 19 p.



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