Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on spading machines?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on spading machines.

The Spading Machine is a tillage tool made up of several spade shovels that are connected to a crankshaft. When engaged through the PTO, each spade enters the soil through a slicing motion and breaks the soil off at the bottom of the spades stroke. This allows the subsoil base to break rather than being cut or polished, which results from plowing, discing, or rototilling.

A spading machine loosens the soil in a single pass which promotes percolation and root penetration. Other tillage implements can achieve this, but often results in soil compaction. The motion of the spader works to eliminate compaction or disruption to the soil profile within a single pass. (However, spaders will invert the soil with repeated passes). Spading machines also require low horsepower to operate. This is due to having each spade shovel taking a turn at entering the soil. Spaders can also be adjusted to till deep or shallow and in fact, can often penetrate the soil deeper than other types of tillage implements. All of these components allow for a spader to be used to till damp soils which then opens up the soil so that it can dry out. Therefore, a spader is an ideal primary tillage tool for early spring plantings.

There are two types of spading machines; articulating and rotary. The spades on an articulating spader, or true spader, go straight down into the soil and tips back on the up stroke, throwing the soil against the rear door to break it apart. Used on sandy soils, an articulating spader can produce a finished seed bed and incorporate cover crops and green manures. Depending on the amount of clay in a soil, these spaders tend not to produce finished seed beds or incorporate green manures very well. A heavy clay soil may require the use of a rototiller or other finishing tool to be used after spading to prepare the bed for planting.

There are several spaders on the market; most of them coming from outside of the U.S. A few of the more well-known names of spaders include Celli, Imants, Falc, and Tortella. In addition, there are spaders available for walk-behind tractors, including BCS and Farrari.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What information can you give me on alternative concentrate feeds for pasture-based cattle?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information on alternative cattle feeds (concentrates) as supplements for pasture-based cattle production.

Corn is grown on many small diversified farms, in rotation with pasture, legumes, or vegetables, as animal feed, and is an excellent source of low-fiber energy for grazing ruminants. However, if corn is fed in high quantities, forage intake will decline. Five or six pounds per day for cattle will generally provide enough supplemental energy without decreasing forage intake. Limiting corn supplementation to no more than 0.5 to 1.0 percent of body weight per day is recommended for cattle on pasture (Sewell, 1993).

On high-quality pastures, energy is often the limiting nutrient. Digestible fiber feeds are good for ruminants on high quality forage because they do not reduce intake, and provide energy for protein metabolism. Examples are: corn gluten feed (corn gluten meal plus the bran), wheat midds (screenings from wheat flour processing), and whole cottonseed. Others include beet pulp, citrus pulp, dried brewers grain, and soybean hulls. Supplementation with digestible fiber feedstuffs at rates of 0.2 to 0.8 percent of body weight has yielded favorable results (Bohnert, et. al, 2004).


Feed manufacturers use mills to reduce the particle size of feedstuffs. The two most commonly used mills are hammer mills and roller mills (Koch, 2002). Hammer mills produce feeds with a wide range of particle sizes and are useful for both fiber feedstuffs as well as grains. They are generally more efficient than roller mills but have the propensity to develop more heat, noise, and dust than roller mills. Roller mills are generally more complicated than hammer mills and produce a less uniform feedstuff, but are energy efficient and produce much less dust and heat than hammer mills. Roller mills also are not good at processing fiber feeds as are hammer mills (Koch, 2002).

When feeds are milled, the particle size reduction tends to increase the surface area of the endosperm in the grain, allowing for better contact of the grain carbohydrates with the animal’s digestive enzymes. Milling also allows for easier mixing of feedstuffs for mixed feeds and TMR rations (Goodband, et. al, 2002). But when grains are milled too much, and the particle size is too small, the feed process becomes much less energy efficient and can create dust problems, thus resulting in feed losses.

Milling is warranted when feeding whole grains especially for finishing diets for beef cattle and rations for lactating dairy cattle. Wheat, barley, and corn can be rolled or hammer-milled to increase the surface area of the endosperm for aiding digestion. The primary factor to determine particle size is the kind of mill that is used and the size of the screen used. A hammer mill will produce spherical particles with a higher bulk density or weight per unit volume than a roller mill will, whereas a roller mill will produce more irregular shaped particles of a more uniform size (Koch, 2002). The shape of the ridges on the rollers of a roller mill will also impact the particle size of the feed that is milled.

Roller mills generally yield feedstuffs that are smaller, more uniform in size, and with a higher calculated surface area (in cm² per gram) than do hammer mills, and are much easier to use than hammer mills. The following is a rough breakdown of the applicability of the two types of mills (Heimann):

Roller Mill

Cracking, crimping, minimum fines
Coarse grinding, textured feeds
Grinding for pelleted feeds; corn, wheat, milo

Hammer Mill

Grinding for pelleted feeds; corn, wheat, milo
Grinding for pelleting feeds; oats, barley, fiber
Rendering applications; wood, hulls, etc.

Alternative Feedstuffs

Rebecca Schafer (2007), Extension educator with South Dakota State University, lists the following factors when looking for alternative feeds:

1. Accurate identification of the alternative feed
2. Availability and consistency of availability
3. Nutrient composition and nutrient availability
4. Consistency of composition
5. Suitability
6. Perishability
7. Freedom from health hazards
8. Special handling, processing, and storage requirements
9. Effect on end product
10. Storage space
11. Legality
12. Cost

Wheat Midds

Wheat midds are a coproduct of the wheat milling industry, and includes screenings, bran, and germ. Protein concentration is often higher than 14%, and depending on the environment in which it was grown, can have an energy content comparable to corn (Dhuyvetter, et. al, 1999), although these figures can be highly variable. Wheat midds are a high digestible fiber feed, but since the fiber particle size is small, it is not a good source of roughage and should not be a substitution for forage or other forages in the diet, as the fiber in wheat midds is highly fermentable. Roughage forages are needed to maintain rumen function and health. Introduce wheat midds to cattle slowly to avoid digestive disturbances, up to about 1% of body weight per day (10 to 15 lb per head per day) to provide protein and energy supplementation on low quality and winter forages and energy supplementatio0n on high quality pastures.

Field Peas

Field peas are a nutrient dense feedstuff that can be used as a protein or energy supplement for cow-calf herds (Anderson, et. al, 2007). Protein ranges around 23% and energy (TDN) is comparable to corn at 87% (vs 90% for corn). Studies have shown that field peas can be fed either ground, rolled, or whole with no difference on animal performance (Anderson, et. al, 2007). Field peas are particularly suited as a protein supplement for beef cattle on low quality forages. 4 pounds of 23% CP field peas per day per head will provide about 1 pound of protein per day which would be adequate for beef cattle supplementation on low quality forages.

References and Resources:

Anderson, Vern, Greg Lardy, and Breanne Ilse. 2007. Field Pea Grain for Beef Cattle. North Dakota State University.

Bohnert, D, D. Chamberlain, S. Filley, R. Hathaway, J. Males, B. Nisley, J. Oldfield, C. Parsons, R. Pawelek, G. Pirelli, M. Porath, and P. Schreder. 2004. Beef Cattle Nutrition Workbook. Oregon State University.

Boyles, Stephen. Beef Cow Nutrition. Ohio State University Extension.

Dhuyvetter, John, Karl Hoppe, and Vern Anderson. 1999. Wheat Middlings: A Useful Feed for Cattle. North Dakota State University.

Goodband, Robert D., Mike D. Tokach, and Jim L. Nelssen. 2002. The Effects of Diet Particle Size on Animal Performance. Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service.

Heimann, Mark. Advantages and Disadvantages in Particle Size Reduction Techniques. Waterloo, IA: Roskamp Champion.|FTNW08

Huston, J. E., F. M. Rouquette, Jr., W. C. Ellis, H. Lippke, and T. D. A. Forbes. 2002. Supplementation of Grazing Beef Cattle. Texas AgriLife Extension.

Jackson, K. Choosing the Right Supplement. Land O’ Lakes Feed.

Koch, Kim. 2002. Hammermills and Roller Mills. Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service.

Schafer, Rebecca. 2007. Cattle, Corn, and Alternative Feeds. South Dakota State University.

Sewell, Homer. 1993. Grain and Protein Supplements for Beef Cattle on Pasture. University of Missouri Extension.

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What information can you give me on developing chicken breeding stock?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA, The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service for information about developing a breeding stock of chickens to raise offspring for sale and meat.

Tim Shell, a producer from Virginia, has developed strains of meat chickens in the past to sell to local pastured poultry producers in his area. He wrote an article for the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) newsletter in which he discusses his business practices. The article is entitled, "Raising Your Own Meat Flock?." Tim Shell is no longer producing poultry, I believe he is doing mission work out of the country now.

Harvey Ussery, a poultry producer and writer for Countryside Magazine and Backyard Poultry Magazine, wrote an article entitled "Sunday-Dinner Chicken: Alternatives to the Cornish Cross" in which he discusses slower growing hybrid alternatives as well as breeding strategies to obtaining a meatier standard breed. The article can be found through the following link:

Since you mentioned that you were particularly interested in the Delaware breed, you may also be interested in this short informative article entitled "The Delaware Chicken". It can be found through the following link:

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) is a great resource for information on heritage breeds of livestock. Of interest to you may be their information on Chicken Assessment for Improving Productivity including how to select for meat qualities and rate of growth as well as ongoing selection of breeding stock. This information can be found on their webpage: The ALBC is also a good source to help you find suppliers of heritage poultry breeds.

Lastly, you might find ATTRA's publication, "Meat Chicken Breeds for Pastured Production", helpful. It discusses alternative options for the fast growing cornish cross and includes a list of suppliers in the further resources section. The publication can be found through the following web link:

Shell, Tim. Raising Your Own Meat Flock? APPPA GRIT. Issue 23, Winter 2003.

Ussery, Harvey. Sunday-Dinner Chicken: Alternatives to the Cornish Cross. Backyard Poultry Magazine. online article (accessed 4/16/10)

Schrider, Don. The Delaware Chicken. Backyard Poultry Magazine. online article

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) heritage chicken resources online

Fanatico, Anne. Meat Chicken Breeds for Pastured Production. ATTRA publication online.

Hope you find this information helpful. If you have further questions on organic or sustainable agriculture, please feel free to contact ATTRA at 800-346-9140

Send feedback » Permalink


Permalink What information can you give me on control methods for cutworms?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information about cutworm and organic/ biorational control methods.

Cutworms wreak havoc during seedling and transplant establishment. Problem areas are usually found near field borders and in weedier areas. Serious losses are often associated with wet springs that have caused a delay in planting.

Cutworm species include the variegated cutworm, Peridroma saucia; black cutworm, Agrotis ipsilon; granulate cutworm, Feltia subterranea; army cutworm, Euxoa auxiliaries, and claybacked cutworm, Agrotis gladiaria. They are active at night, feeding and chewing through the stems of the seedlings. In the day they burrow underground or under clods to avoid detection. To inspect for cutworms, dig around the damaged areas during the day or come out at night with a flashlight to catch the culprits in the act. Under resources you will see a link to the Purdue University IPM web site. It has close-up color pictures of each type of cut worm. This will give you an idea of the different species and help you correctly identify them. In controlling and preventing cutworm, it is only important to know whether or not the larvae over winter (see cultural control measures below) so that you know when to time cultural and control measures.

Most overwinter as larvae in “cells” in the soil, in crop residues, or in clumps of grass. Feeding begins in spring and continues to early summer when the larvae burrow more deeply into the soil to pupate. Adults emerge from the soil one to eight weeks later, or sometimes overwinter. Most species deposit eggs on stems or behind the leaf sheaths of grasses and weeds. Eggs hatch from two days to two weeks later.

In some crops, cutworms can be extremely damaging where transplants are planted through plastic. It has been reported that the increased heat radiating out at night, particularly around the bases of the plants, attracts the larvae to the plants. Once underneath the plastic, the larvae are very difficult to control. Cutworms have many predators and parasites that can help control their numbers. Some of these parasites and predators can be purchased or harnessed naturally through planting or conserving habitat for them.

The potential for cutworm infestations is governed in large part by the following factors:
• Planting time
• low-damp areas of the field that drain poorly,
• fall and early season weed growth, and
• the amount of surface residue.

Cultural Controls
Cutworms are a particular problem in crops that follow sods, pastures, or weedy fields in rotation. Because infestations often begin on weeds, cultivation and other weed-control programs implemented directly before planting time may increase cutworm feeding on seedling crops. Clean tillage to remove all weedy vegetation, at least ten days prior to planting, reduces the number of cutworm larvae. Control of weedy vegetation, at this same time, at field borders also reduces the number of invading larvae.

To control cutworms that overwinter as partially grown larvae (claybacked and variegated) land should be kept weed-free, particularly of broadleaf weeds, during the fall months to reduce egg-laying by cutworm moths. A small grain cover crop, such as oats that winter kill, may cut weed competition and is more in line with the principles of organic production. Crops planted on sod are prone to cutworm damage unless the land is plowed in early fall and kept weed-free for the rest of the season.

Biological Controls

Cutworm larvae have a number of natural enemies. Predators include several species of ground beetles. Parasitoids include tachinid flies and braconid wasps. Cutworms may also be attacked by fungi, bacteria, and nematodes. Understanding the biology of beneficial organisms is imperative in order to use them effectively as pest control agents. For example, insect parasitic nematodes like Steinerema carpocapsae or insect-infecting fungi like Beauveria bassiana require adequate humidity to be effective. Other predators include spiders, minute pirate bugs, damsel bugs, and lacewing larvae. Birds also prey on cutworms, so do not assume that the birds in the field are causing the seedling damage. As with other pests discussed, farmscaping is a recommended means of increasing the numbers of beneficial predators and parasites that help to keep cutworms under control. In the resources section I have listed an ATTRA publication that is a good starting point for biointensive IPM, titled Biointensive Integrated Pest Management. There is a direct link to this publication.

Alternative Pesticides & Applications

Scout for the presence of cutworm larvae early in the season, and after destruction of adjacent habitats. Cutworms are best scouted at night, when they are most active, using a flashlight. Look for cut-off or damaged seedlings and dig around the base of the plant to locate the larvae.

Bait formulations, sometimes using bran or applying rolled oats with molasses, containing Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki have been known to effectively control cutworm species when applied to the soil. Sprayed formulations may have variable results with cutworms, as the worms may not ingest enough of the toxin for it to be effective. Nightime spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis has shown to be more effective.

Research on the parasitic nematode species, Steinernematidae carpocapsae, has shown it to be a very successful control agent for cutworms, but make sure that the soil is sufficiently moist to support nematode populations (see above). Refer to the publication Integrated Pest Management of Greenhouse crops. While this publication is not relevant to cutworm specifically, it does list suppliers of beneficial organisms in its appendix section.

If natural pesticide applications are necessary, choose one that is least disruptive to the natural enemies. Early detection and application during the early developmental stages of the larvae (first and second instar) make these biorational pesticides more effective. For cutworm species that overwinter as larvae, this would happen in the early spring when the soil is warming. Pheromone traps will indicate when mating flights are occurring, and through degree-day calculations one can estimate egg laying and hatching. For information on degree-day calculations contact your local Extension agent. If you are truly sure that you have the black cutworm then you will want to time the Pheromone traps in the early spring to monitor when they migrate to your region. It is at this time you will be able to determine when they are in the 1st and second instar stages for most effective control with Bt and nematodes. Work with your local extension agent to determine the degree day calculations for cutworm in your area. Below under resources there is a link to places to purchase pheromone traps.

Ruth Hazzard, Brian Caldwell, Eric Sideman, Vern Grubinger. June 17, 2004. Cutworm Management. Excerpted from University of VT Cooperative Extension Newsletter Vegetable and Berry News.

Anon. Purdue University IPM Guide. Cutworm: Multiple Species. 2006

Sources of Pheromone Traps:
Great Lakes IPM:
10220 Church Road NE, Vestaburg MI 48891
phone (517) 268-5693 or (517) 268-5911; fax (517) 268-5311

P.O. Box 270, Belleville WI 53508
phone 800-382-8473; fax 800-551-1128

Dufour, Rex. Biointensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM)- Part One of Two
ATTRA Publication #IP049 . July 2001. Available on our web site at the following direct link:

Kuepper, George. Organic Field Corn Production. ATTRA Publication # CT113. January 2002.

Bessin, Ricardo. Cutworm Management in Corn. Publication # ENT-59. University of Kentucky Extension.

Advisory Service. September 2002.

Flint, Mary Louise. 1990. Pests of the Garden and Small Farm. University Of California, Oakland, CA. 276 p

Buhler, W.G. and T.J. Gibb. 1994. Persistence of Steinernema carpocapsae and S. glaseri (Rhabditida: Steinernematidae) as measured by their control of black cutworm (Lepi- doptera: Noctuidae) larvae in bentgrass. Journal of Economic Entomology. Vol. 87, No. 3. p. 638-642.

Ellis, Barbara W. and Fern Marshall Bradley. 1992. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. 534 p.

Send feedback » Permalink


Question of the Week Archives