10 Gorgeous State Forest Parks

If you are searching for some gorgeous state forest parks, these are ten that you should consider adding to your must-see list!

Chugach State Park, Alaska
Ranked as the third largest state park and one of the largest state forest parks in the U.S., this is a great park to add to your bucket list. Chugach feels bigger as you wander through the forest and marvel at the bear, caribou, goats and other wildlife and plant life. Chugach State Park includes glacier mountains, lush valleys, gorgeous rivers and lakes, is near the city of Anchorage, and includes part of the legendary Turnagain Arm and its whale-watching lookout points.

Chugach-State-Park-Alaska

Adirondack Park, New York
Many people have Adirondack Park on their list of top national parks, but that is a mistake as this impressive forest park is actually a state park. It’s big enough to be frequently mistaken for a national park. The park is famous for its breathtaking sites and also for being the largest state-level protected area in the U.S. With more than 6 million acres within its protected borders, and more than 1 million acres of wild, undeveloped forests, it includes the entire Adirondack mountain range.

Adirondack-Park-New-York

Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
Located just a short drive from Salem, this park is located in the heart of a low-elevation rainforest. Silver Falls State Park is Oregon’s largest state park and its largest forest preserve. Its Trail of Ten Falls has the distinction of being included on the National Scenic Trail Listing and features 10 impressive waterfalls along its almost nine-mile stretch. Hikers can actually pass under several of the falls for a unique look at their exquisite beauty.

Silver-Falls-State-Park-Oregon

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan
Porcupine Mountains State Park features impressive forests and woodlands, mountain faces with more than a 600 feet vertical drop, and over 58,000 acres total area. Approximately 100 miles of trails, including cross-country ski trails, takes visitors along forest areas, mountain streams, and through areas teeming with plants and animals.

Porcupine-Mountains-Wilderness-State-Park-Michigan

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
This paradise is a popular state park that locals and visitors alike enjoy visiting each year. Franconia Notch State Park is also home to some of the best hiking and climbing areas in New England, and is also popular for fishing, hiking and its skiing resorts. It draws in many visitors from near and far, and once people have seen the beauty and majesty of the area, they keep coming back for more.

Franconia-Notch-State-Park-New-Hampshire

Groton State Forest, Vermont
At more than 26,000 acres, Groton Staten Forest is ranked impressively as the second largest contiguous forest state park in the state of Vermont. This scenic forest area is famed for its wide range of land and ecological diversities. It is within easy driving area of Barre, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury, yet Groton State Forest still holds onto the wild factors of a state park and retains a sense of wildness with an abundance of plant and animal species.

Groton-State-Forest-Vermont

Coopers Rock State Forest, West Virginia
This forest state park is eight miles west of Bruceton Mills and 13 miles east of Morgantown. Coopers Rock State Forest is comprised of over 12,000 acres within the heart of West Virginia’s state forests. If you are looking for beauty and diversity of scenery, plants and animals, this is one forest state park that must be on your list!

Coopers-Rock-State-Forest-West-Virginia

Sterling Forest State Park, New York
This stunning park comprises almost 22,000 acres of natural sanctuary of forest and woodland, and is home to a lot of the region’s supply of drinking water. Plant and animal lives are teeming in this state park, and the beauty and serenity draws in thousands of visitors on a regular basis. Sterling Forest State Park is sure to impress anyone who is passionate about nature and wildlife.

Sterling-Forest-State-Park-New-York

Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia
Tallulah Gorge brings in admirers and tourists to the Tallulah Dome as well as the Tallulah River and its six stunning waterfalls. Mountain biking and hiking are the major attractions, but Tallulah is also great for fishing, rock climbing, rafting, kayaking and much more!  You can marvel at the natural world and enjoy the beauty of this state park from a number of vantage points.

Tallulah-Gorge-State-Park-Georgia

Custer State Park, South Dakota
Enjoy the beauty and elegance of over 70,000 acres of pristine and breathtaking preserve when you travel through Custer State Park. Swarming with animals of all sizes and with plenty of stunning natural scenery to marvel at, this South Dakota state park should be included on everyone’s top ten must-see forest state parks.

Custer-State-Park-South-Dakota

FOREST PRODUCTS EQUIPMENT: INSECTS AND DISEASES IN THE WOODLOT

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Waiting it out is often the only option, but management can help. 

Managing insects and diseases in the forest is not the same as managing them in agriculture. With row crops, it’s much easier to scout for problems and much more practical to apply treatments when necessary.

 To slow the spread of beech bark disease, you can remove scale-infested trees. The disease occurs when fungus infects wounds left by scale insects.  Photo by Linda Haugen, USDA Forest Service/Bugwood.org.
To slow the spread of beech bark disease, you can remove scale-infested trees. The disease occurs when fungus infects wounds left by scale insects.
Photo by Linda Haugen, USDA Forest Service/Bugwood.org.

When managing Christmas trees or ornamental trees in a landscape setting, for example, chemical applications are often used to control insect and disease outbreaks. “That’s really not the case in a woodlot. The approach is very different,” explains Barbara Schultz, forest health program manager with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. “There is nothing in this part of the country where people take out sprayers and start treating.”

Woodlot owners are often at the mercy of nature, and sometimes the only thing you can do when a tree insect or disease shows up is to wait for it to run its course and hope for the best. That said, there are certain steps that can be taken to manage – as much as possible – some insects and diseases in your woods.

“With the cankers on hardwoods, for instance, that’s really just a case of getting rid of the worst ones – the theory is that helps prevent the spread, and it certainly improves the quality of the stand,” says Schultz. “If you cut them out, you will have a greater percentage of trees without cankers and without stem decay.”

The “sanitation” that comes along with crop tree release, or single tree selection – always making the stand a little better – can help prevent some insect and disease problems from becoming too bad, says Schultz. In other words, a woodlot with a greater percentage of healthy trees, which can handle additional stress, may stand up better against some insect and disease outbreaks than a woodlot with unhealthy trees. “For example, shoestring root rot (Armillaria) is more virulent on unhealthy trees,” she explains.

Every insect and disease “has its own little quirk,” says Schultz. “Some we can maybe do a little something about, and some we just watch them take their course.” Native pests and diseases are typically not as dangerous to woodlots as invasive and exotic threats. “They may take out a tree here or a tree there, or make a tree here or there lose its value, but the native ones tend not to be devastating,” Schultz explains.

 Insects like the gypsy moth come in cycles. When populations are rising, it's often prudent to avoid thinning and harvesting.  Photo by Hannes Lemme/Bugwood.org.
Insects like the gypsy moth come in cycles. When populations are rising, it’s often prudent to avoid thinning and harvesting.
Photo by Hannes Lemme/Bugwood.org.

Bill Ostrofsky, forest pathologist with the Maine Forest Service, says there are many preventive steps that can be taken to manage diseases in trees. “If you’re doing work on your woodlot – taking out trees, or doing a firewood harvest, etc. – probably the single most important thing you can control is damage to the residual stand,” he says. Reducing damage to the trees left behind improves their health (and timber value), allowing them to stand up better to disease pressures. “Maintaining tree vigor is important, because when trees respond to injury, there’s a cost in terms of their energy,” he says. Injury and the resulting loss of vigor can very easily make trees more susceptible to disease.

One management technique that can be used to promote tree health is to grow trees on appropriate sites. “Each species has their own ideal situation, and most tree species are fairly adaptable to a lot of sites, but you can push species onto sites that they’re not well-suited to,” says Ostrofsky. “If trees are introduced into sites that are less than ideal, then they become more susceptible to insects and diseases.”

Given the number of different diseases that can impact trees in our region, it’s impossible to give blanket advice, and a forester should be consulted when strategizing how to handle specific outbreaks. However, Ostrofsky offers some advice on a few of the more common diseases. “White pine blister rust is a complex disease. The fungus has a complex life cycle that requires infection of ribes plants – currants and gooseberries – and then the spores that are produced on the currants and gooseberry plants can infect the white pines,” he explains. “So if you have white pine and you’re concerned about white pine blister rust, the recommendation is to make sure you remove the ribes plants in the very near proximity to your white pine stand.”

Another example Ostrofsky provides relates to beech bark disease. “The disease is initiated by a scale insect, and then the bark becomes predisposed to infection by a fungus. One of the best things you can do is examine the trees: If you can capture and remove those trees as they become scale-infested, you can reduce the population and slow down the spread of the beech bark disease in the stand.” That doesn’t mean removing all beech, but focusing on salvaging the infested trees, he stresses.

 Removing ribes plants from the vicinity of white pines can help prevent the spread of white pine blister rust.  Photo by Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service/Bugwood.org.
Removing ribes plants from the vicinity of white pines can help prevent the spread of white pine blister rust.
Photo by Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service/Bugwood.org.

Careful scouting of the trees is important. “There is a low percentage, probably between 1 and 2 percent, of the beech tree population that is actually resistant or immune to infestation by the scale insect and development of the beech bark disease, so if those trees are in the stand, those are good ones to keep,” Ostrofsky explains. “They will be disease-free, so you can tailor forest management to make sure those disease-resistant trees stay in the stand as part of the population.” The resistant trees usually stick out like a sore thumb in the presence of an infestation because they have nice, smooth, clean, disease-free bark, he adds.

Sometimes it’s weather that helps to bring about, or magnify, tree diseases. “In the last decade, we’ve seen an enormous explosion in not just conifer needle diseases, but also in hardwood leaf diseases. We’re pretty confident that the main driving factor in this is the extremely wet weather that we’ve had; we’ve had six or eight years now of way-above-normal precipitation during the summer months,” notes Ostrofsky. “With most of the needle and foliage diseases we have, the leaves and needles need to be wet for the spores of the pathogens to germinate and cause infection.” During long periods of wet weather, there’s a big buildup of these, he says.

Just one example is white pine needle cast disease, which has been common in recent years. “We get a big browning and needle drop in the month of June of 1-year-old needles that were infected the prior year. This should not be occurring. If the tree were healthy, there should be no needle drop in June,” says Ostrofsky.

One action that may help with these types of diseases is to ensure good airflow through the woodlot. “We’ve been recommending that, at least on a small scale, if you have trees in stands that are overly dense and need to be thinned, that it may be a good idea to open them up a little bit. I think giving the advantage to microclimate conditions that will be a little bit more dry will help reduce infection levels,” he explains.

One other recommendation Ostrofsky offers when this particular disease is present is to discourage regeneration cuts: harvesting trees with the main objective of getting regeneration growth under existing trees. “The inoculum that’s in the bigger trees is just going to rain down on the smaller trees and cause problems, so you may want to hold off on your timing of doing regeneration cuts so that you’re not putting the regeneration that you’re trying to grow in jeopardy,” he explains. A couple of dry years should help to clear the situation up, he notes.

Charlene Donahue, entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, says a similar management approach can be helpful when dealing with some insect outbreaks. “There are some insects that come in cycles. So if you know that something is on the rise, it’s usually best to not do any thinning or harvesting during the time period that the population is building,” she says.

Woodlot owners with noninfested forests should consider cutting hemlock back away from any public roadways to prevent vehicles from inadvertently spreading hemlock woolly adelgid.  Photo by Fungus Guy, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Woodlot owners with noninfested forests should consider cutting hemlock back away from any public roadways to prevent vehicles from inadvertently spreading hemlock woolly adelgid.
Photo by Fungus Guy, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Examples when this strategy is advisable include outbreaks of hemlock looper, saddled prominent and gypsy moth. Conducting thinnings or timber harvests when populations are high can further stress good-quality trees that will be left, says Donahue. “Those trees will also start to grow really fast and put on some lush foliage, which is exactly what defoliators would like to see. And there’s also fewer trees [after the cutting], so you’re concentrating the outbreak on your fewer, better trees,” she explains. Once the outbreak is over and the trees have recovered, there is usually a window of several years to conduct harvests before the cycle will resume, she notes.

While emphasizing that invasives are “a whole different ball game,” Donahue says there are some steps woodlot owners can take to help slow their spread. The first, obviously, is routine scouting and reporting of any suspicious signs. “And leave your firewood at home,” she stresses. Cutting firewood and bringing it to a different area can inadvertently bring invasive pests along for the ride. “You never know what’s inside the wood; a lot of what we’re dealing with are wood borers that you can’t see,” she notes.

Somewhat related advice is given as far as hemlock woolly adelgid. “In Maine, we still don’t have it everywhere. One of the strategies is just to reduce human movement of it,” says Donahue. “Hemlock woolly adelgid can be moved on vehicles and equipment and people’s clothing.” If you (or your logging contractor) are going to be visiting both infested and noninfested stands in a given day, a good approach is to visit the noninfested stand first, she says. Also, woodlot owners with noninfested forests should consider cutting hemlock back away from any public roadways to prevent inadvertent spread from vehicles traveling through, adds Donahue.

Balsam woolly adelgid requires a different approach. “If you’re in a stand and it looks like balsam woolly adelgid is just moving in, sometimes taking [the infested trees] out can make a difference. It depends on the scale of things, but that’s the recommendation given to a small woodlot owner who is regularly in his stand and is managing fairly intensively,” says Donahue.

Again, because there are so many different diseases and insects that can attack trees, Donahue says there is no one single approach to help manage them all. Consulting with the experts about specific outbreaks is important, she says.

“Probably the best thing you can do is stay vigilant. Very often, especially with diseases such as decays, there’s not much you can do once the tree has decayed. It has to be a preventive mentality to try to reduce the effects of these insects and diseases,” adds Ostrofsky. Some diseases take a while to build up, so there may be a window of opportunity to proactively take measures – perhaps removing diseased trees – to reduce the impact, he notes. “Get out in your woods. Know what they look like, and if you see signs of trees that are declining or dying for some reason, then you can do a further investigation.”

Schultz says it can be easy for woodlot owners to become overwhelmed by the number of diseases and insects that can attack their trees. “There’s a pest for every tree; in fact, there’s a bunch of pests for every tree,” she says. “But the good thing is, if you look out the window, we have a bunch of green trees around us. For the most part, the woods can handle that.”

GOOD GOATS’ MILK

goats-in-a-paddock

Milk doesn’t taste good if the dairy isn’t clean. Worse, milk produced or processed in unclean surroundings can promote disease. The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, in cooperation with the New Hampshire Dairy Goat Association, sponsored a seminar on milk sanitation to present ways to keep raw goats’ milk both tasty and safe. UNH Extension presenters were Dot Perkins, livestock field specialist in food and agriculture, and Catherine Violette, professor and specialist in food and nutrition; they were joined by John Porter, UNH Extension professor emeritus. Producing quality milk requires three things: clean animals, cleanable facilities and equipment, and proper milking procedures and handling.

In the barn

Good milk begins with healthy animals. Good milking practices begin in the barn. Start the milking process by washing very dirty udders with warm soapy water and paper towels. Then dry the udder and apply an iodine pre-dip. Wait for 30 seconds, then use a paper towel to wipe it off. If the udder is relatively clean, pre-dip is adequate. Paper towels should be used instead of rags, which become soiled and can transfer material from one goat to the next. To avoid getting goat hair and attached materials in the milk, Perkins advises clipping the udder and the area under the tail head before kidding. This will make both kidding and milking cleaner.

Clean the milking stall regularly. A steel milking stand is preferable, but a wooden one can be used if it is painted and has a cleanable rubber mat on the platform. If you do not have a cleanable surface on the milking stand, keep the bottom of the milking pail clean by placing it on a white plastic cutting board. A cutting board under the pail will reduce the possibility of contaminated material being transferred from the barn to the kitchen or other milk processing area.

“Keeping supplies such as paper towels, teat dips, cutting board, etc., near the milking stand makes for efficient, safe milk practices,” says Perkins. “You’re more apt to follow safe milk practices if everything is streamlined and convenient.”

Bacteria love milk

Tubing needs to be removed and cleaned periodically. Photos by Kathleen Hatt.
Tubing needs to be removed and cleaned periodically. Photos by Kathleen Hatt.

At 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, milk leaving the goat’s udder is the perfect temperature for bacteria to grow. Bacteria can be introduced to the milk through bedding material, via other animals in the barn such as cats, dogs or mice, or by the person doing the milking. While it may be pleasant to milk outdoors with the wind in your hair, remember that any number of contaminants thrive in the outdoor environment.

Clean and suitable equipment

Stainless steel and glass are the best materials for milk buckets. Galvanized buckets contain lead and are thus unsafe for food, and plastic cannot easily be cleaned and sanitized. If you do use plastic, be sure it is food-grade.

If you use milking machines, associated hoses and tubes must be kept clean. Milk transport pipelines, which are used in larger operations, must also be cleaned. “It is difficult to get to all the nooks and crannies in a pipe system,” says Porter. “Flush the system regularly with potable water at a minimum temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit. At least once a year, disassemble the system and clean it.” Save energy and money by using an on-demand water heater.

Proper milking procedures

  • Prepare equipment and animals.
  • Sanitize bottles.
  • If necessary, wash the udder with paper towels. To avoid cross-contamination, do not use rags.
  • Pre-dip with an iodine product.
  • Check for mastitis by pre-milking into a strip cup. Then, after 30 seconds of contact time, wipe off the teat dip. Check the strip cup for the stringy chunks that are evidence of mastitis. “It is important that any goat with mastitis be milked last to avoid contaminating other goats,” says Perkins.
  • Use disposable plastic gloves. Do not reuse them, and change gloves between goats. Bear in mind that humans can be the vectors of disease.A covered stainless steel container is useful for cooling and holding milk. Photos by Kathleen Hatt.

In the milking stall:

1. Wash and/or pre-dip the goat’s udder.

2. Observe the foremilk and check for mastitis.

3. Dry the udder or wipe off the pre-dip with a paper towel.

4. Milk.

5. Post-dip the teats.

Cool it quickly

The cold chain – the temperature-controlled supply that must remain unbroken throughout the series of storage and distribution activities between the goat and the consumer – begins in the barn. To keep raw milk safe, cooling needs to begin in the barn immediately following milking. The goal is to get milk from 100.4 degrees, the temperature at which it leaves the udder, to 40 degrees or below within two hours after milking. A food-grade stainless steel container works best for cooling quickly.

While you are still in the barn, place the milk in a cold water bath. A big ice-filled cooler works well. Be sure to keep the milk inside covered. A cold water bath works better and faster than a refrigerator, as Violette confirmed when she experimented with cooling rates. She found that a quart of milk in a stainless steel container placed in an ice water bath could be cooled to 40 degrees in seven minutes, but it took five and a half hours to achieve the same result with a glass quart jar in the refrigerator.

After cooling, milk should be held in a refrigerator at 40 degrees or below. Use a thermometer to check temperatures and be sure it is accurately calibrated. Perkins says, “Be sure your customers have a cooler in their car when they come to pick up milk. You don’t want to be the one responsible for contaminated milk.”

Risk factors

“Food safety is all about managing risk,” says Violette. Risks include biological agents (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, biological toxins), chemicals (cleaners, sanitizers, polishes, lubricants, pesticides), and physical hazards (metal shavings, wood, fingernails, glass, jewelry, bandages, staples). Foodborne hazards can cause illness and injury or even death, and foodborne illnesses are not uncommon. Every year in the U.S., one in six Americans gets one. Listeria, salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and campylobacter are some of the more common causes of foodborne illnesses.

A milking stall's walls are easier to clean if they are painted or stainless steel, not raw lumber. Photos by Kathleen Hatt.
A milking stall’s walls are easier to clean if they are painted or stainless steel, not raw lumber. Photos by Kathleen Hatt.

A milking stall’s walls are easier to clean if they are painted or stainless steel, not raw lumber. Photos by Kathleen Hatt.

From barn to kitchen

You can be a source of milk contaminants. Your barn clothes should be changed or covered before you begin handling milk. Overalls (worn in the barn and removed before processing milk) or a disposable apron (available from restaurant supply stores and added in the processing area) works well. Hair should be restrained in a cap or net. Do not handle raw milk, equipment or containers if you have a communicable disease such as a cold, flu, diarrhea, vomiting or hepatitis A.

Be sure to wash hands in warm soapy water before you step into the processing area and as often as needed thereafter. Effective hand washing includes wetting hands with warm water, applying soap, rubbing hands and arms a minimum of 10 seconds, cleaning under nails and between fingers, rinsing thoroughly, and drying with a paper towel.

Pay attention to personal hygiene and equipment and observe safe handling practices throughout cooling, pasteurizing, bottling, storing, labeling and selling. Be sure to keep accurate daily records so that any problems can be traced and corrected.

“Gloves can be good and bad. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re OK just because you’re using gloves,” says Porter. “The purpose of gloves is to protect the product, not the person.” Effective glove use begins with thorough hand washing before gloves are put on. Whenever gloves become dirty or torn, they should be changed. They should also be changed after touching yourself (even after removing a stray hair from your forehead or scratching your nose), after touching another surface or food, and after four hours of continual use. Do not wash or reuse disposable gloves.

Cleaning and sanitizing equipment

To minimize the risk of contaminating equipment used to contain and process milk, always use containers and equipment approved for contact with food. Approved containers include glass and stainless steel and certain FDA or NSF International-approved nontoxic materials. Containers, equipment and surfaces all need to be both cleaned to remove soil or food and sanitized to decrease microorganisms to safe levels. Always use potable water, paper towels and single-use filters. An Environmental Protection Agency-registered sanitizer, such as chlorine or other approved dairy cleaner, should be mixed daily in a dedicated sanitizing solution container. To sanitize milk containers, equipment and surfaces effectively, Violette recommends:

1. Rinsing with warm water (100 to 110 degrees) to remove soil or food.

2. Washing with hot water (125 to 165 degrees) and a detergent specifically for use with dairy products (usually a chlorinated alkaline solution).

3. Rinsing with an acidic solution to neutralize alkali residue.

4. Sanitizing prior to next use with an acid sanitizer. The same sanitizer can be used for steps 3 and 4. Bottles should be washed, rinsed, sanitized and drained no more than four hours prior to filling. While consumer-returned bottles are exempt from washing, it is not wise to refill visibly dirty bottles.

Label it

As soon as milk is bottled, label it. Be sure to check your state’s labeling requirements for raw goats’ milk, as they vary from state to state. In New Hampshire, bottle labels must include this information:

  • Raw Goats’ Milk
  • Name and address (including zip code) of producer
  • Net amount of contents
  • The “sell by” date, which should be no more than five days from bottling

Farms selling raw milk at the farm where it is bottled must display a conspicuous sign saying: “Raw milk is not pasteurized. Pasteurization destroys organisms that may be harmful to human health.”

As various antibiotics used to treat goats may persist in their milk for certain periods, Porter advises adding to the label a further statement: “This milk has not been tested for antibiotic residue.” Perkins says, “You and your vet need to be aware of and to follow the labeled withholding times for different medicines. Penicillin, for instance, will remain in milk for as long as 30 days following treatment.”

Minimizing risk

Whether your goats’ milk is for in-home use or retail sale, keep it healthy and safe by cooling milk quickly and keeping it cold; keeping the kitchen, utensils and equipment clean; and observing best personal hygiene practices.

FOREST PRODUCTS EQUIPMENT: STAYING SAFE IN THE WOODLOT

man-holding-chain-saw-demostrating-safety-methods

For me, the choice between working in the woods and working in a cubicle is no choice at all. The freedom that comes from being outside, even in less than ideal weather, always trumps the stuffy confines of the office. Given the enjoyment that working in the woods brings, it’s easy to forget all the hazards that exist, both as part of the natural environment and as a result of the forestry equipment you depend on, specifically, the irreplaceable and venerable chain saw.

Environmental hazards and woodlot safety

Proper "crotch starting" position, with the saw firmly braced. Photos by Brett McLeod.
Proper “crotch starting” position, with the saw firmly braced. Photos by Brett McLeod

Widow-makers, which are sometimes called “fool killers,” are partially broken limbs that hang freely, posing a serious danger to those working in close proximity. In a study published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, it was estimated that approximately 11 percent of all chain saw-related fatalities involved widow-makers.

Never attempt to fell a tree that contains a widow-maker; ideally you should avoid the tree and surrounding trees. For those with professional climbing skills, it’s often possible to set a rope or cable in the widow-maker and remove it by pulling/winching from a safe distance. However, even this method should be used with caution, since broken tops and limbs are usually a good indication of an unhealthy tree that could pose other threats to the climber/sawyer.

Another common woodlot hazard results from walking into the felling zone immediately after your tree has hit the ground. Chances are good that as your freshly felled tree swept through neighboring crowns on its downward descent, it knocked surrounding branches and deadwood loose. The problem is that there’s often a delay before these surrounding branches fall, and they can land on the unsuspecting sawyer who walks into the felling zone before the surrounding crowns have ceased to shake. In addition to waiting for the surrounding crowns to calm, look up and inspect neighboring crowns for newly created hazards, such as fresh widow-makers.

On the topic of felling zones: Before you make your back cut or strap cut, it’s important to always look down the felling lane one last time. Scan for people, pets, forgotten tools or anything else that may be in harm’s way.

From an ecological perspective, logging in winter avoids environmental impacts such as compaction and reduces the potential for soil erosion. From a safety perspective, working your woodlot in winter poses new challenges. Uneven footing, ice, and snow-covered obstacles such as rocks all present elements of danger that must be managed. Carrying a small shovel to dig out the base of trees as well as your escape route is important. Additionally, wearing calked boots will give you extra traction.

Since sound forestry often involves removing unacceptable growing stock, or UGS, you should be prepared to encounter defects that may make the harvesting process more dangerous. One common defect is ring shake, which can cause the tree to split or barber chair during the felling process. Barber chairs (vertical splitting of the tree during felling) are also more common in straight-grained species. Specifically, the risk is that as the tree splits, it can kick back toward the sawyer without warning. Trees with internal defects such as heart rot, as well as winter-cut trees with heavy, snow-filled crowns, are particularly susceptible to barber chairing.

Sawing safely

Over the last decade, I’ve taught several hundred students to use chain saws. My favorite students are those who have never touched a chain saw before; in other words, those students who haven’t developed unsafe habits. The errors described below are incredibly common – and incredibly dangerous.

Here the saw is being drop started. The bar is in danger of kicking upward, toward the sawyer.
Here the saw is being drop started. The bar is in danger of kicking upward, toward the sawyer. by Brett McLeod

Drop starting – Drop starting saws was once standard practice, but it’s very dangerous because the bar of the chain saw is unsupported. The risk is that as the saw fires to life, the bar can flip up and cut the sawyer on the arm, chest or face. A safer method is the “crotch start,” where the saw is safely braced between your legs. An alternate method is ground starting, where your right foot is placed in the rear handle guard of the saw.

Your left hand should always be on the top handle, and your right hand should be on the rear handle. by Brett McLeod.
Your left hand should always be on the top handle, and your right hand should be on the rear handle. by Brett McLeod.

Backward hands – All chain saws are designed to be operated with your right hand on the rear handle (operating the throttle) and your left hand on the top handle. Reversing this is extremely dangerous, putting the bar of the saw right next to your leg.

Never lift the saw above shoulder height. Photo by Brett McLeod
Never lift the saw above shoulder height. Photo by Brett McLeod

Sawing above shoulder height – Another common mistake is the temptation to reach up and “prune” with the chain saw. This position is outside of your control zone and can result in the saw kicking back, with the bar moving toward your face/shoulder.

You should always have two hands on the saw. Photo by Brett McLeod.
You should always have two hands on the saw. Photo by Brett McLeod.

One-handed sawing – This careless operating error is often practiced with smaller chain saws, where the operator removes his/her hand “for just a second.” The consequence is that the saw doesn’t have any downward control, which greatly increases the chance of kickback.

Never remove your hand to set the chain brake. Photo by Brett McLeod.
Never remove your hand to set the chain brake. Photo by Brett McLeod.

Setting the chain brake – All modern chain saws are equipped with an inertia chain brake that can be operated manually. As a rule of thumb, you should set the brake if you’re taking three or more steps. The brake and handle are designed so that you don’t need to remove your hand to set the brake. Instead, simply rotate your left wrist forward to activate the brake.

Close contact – Many new chain saw operators assume that the farther they hold the saw from their body, the safer they are. Unfortunately, holding the saw far away from the body only increases fatigue and makes it more likely that you’ll lose your balance.

Personal protective equipment – Commonly referred to as PPE, this should be viewed as the minimum safety equipment while working in the woodlot: chain saw chaps, forestry helmet with face and ear protection, safety-toe boots and properly fitting work gloves. Collectively, this equipment will help to protect you from the most common chain saw injuries, making your time in the woodlot both more productive and enjoyable.

WRAPPING UP BALES

bales of hay

Livestock producers who are considering wrapping bales have a number of questions to ponder. The first: Why think about wrapping bales at all?

For haylage production, if there are no silos available, wrapping bales is a less expensive alternative for making a 15 to 20 percent protein forage feed. “If you are wrapping dry hay, it will improve the forage’s digestibility,” says Marvin Hall, professor of forage management at Penn State University.

However, there is a caveat. Once the alfalfa or grass is cut, wrapping bales won’t improve the quality of the forage that the animals eventually eat, Hall says. “This is definitely a case of garbage in, garbage out. If forage quality is poor to start with, wrapping it in plastic will not improve its quality.”

Still, the cost of single-bale wrappers and inline systems (bale wrappers that wrap forage in a single long wrap) will save the cost of silo construction. Of course, this has to be balanced against the risk of not having a solid structure to protect the integrity of the fermentation process.

With either wrapping system, forages are encased in heavy plastic instead of cement-stave or metal structures. This means any punctures, whether caused by handling or wildlife, will reduce the efficiency of the fermentation process that produces quality feed.

There are steps farmers can take to reduce this risk. Recent research suggests that farmers should wrap bales with light-colored plastic rather than darker colors.

“Farmers who use darker plastic will see it break down more quickly than those who use lighter-colored material. The darker plastic breaks down faster in the summer heat and sun, making it more permeable to oxygen and limiting the fermentation process,” Hall explains.

How well the bale is wrapped will make a difference. Hall has seen research suggesting that the best seal is achieved with six wraps per bale.

Fermenting feed

The best candidates for wrapped haylage are first and fall cuttings. When making plastic-wrapped haylage, the win-or-die breaking point on preserving forage quality is a producer’s willingness and ability to wrap bales the same day hay is harvested.

Carbohydrates in forages increase from the moment of cutting throughout the day and peak at sunset. “Baling one day and wrapping it the next leads to a loss of carbohydrates, which are needed to feed the bacteria that bring about fermentation,” says Hall.

In the first phase of fermentation, oxygen feeds both mold growth and the acetic acid-producing bacteria. That’s why wrapping immediately after harvest is a good idea. The plant cells are producing heat, which is an ideal situation for molds to start growing.

If wrapped quickly, that heat burns up the oxygen, which clears the way for the lactobacillus bacteria in the forage to begin the fermentation process. The faster that occurs, the faster the lactobacillus bacteria can get down to the important job of creating lactic acid during what is called the anaerobic stage.

If all is working as it should be, the pH and the temperature of the silage drop in this phase. “In properly fermented silage, more than 70 percent of the acids will be lactic acid,” notes Hall.

Fermentation takes from 9 to 15 percent of the forage’s dry matter, which translates into protein loss. That’s why it’s important that what is wrapped is of the highest quality.

Hall says, “If protein is at 12 percent when harvested, whatever comes out of the wrap will be less than 12 percent.”

Biological boosters

Forage scientists discovered that there are two kinds of lactobacillus bacteria present during fermentation. They are called homofermenters and heterofermenters.

Homofermenters convert one molecule of glucose (plant sugar) into two molecules of lactic acid. “Lactic acid lowers the pH of forages and begins the fermenting process,” says Hall.

Heterofermenters convert one molecule of glucose into one molecule of lactic acid and some carbon dioxide. “So when it comes to fermenting, the homofermenters are much more efficient,” he adds.

There are a number of silage additives called homofermenter inoculants on the market. Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that these products, though not 100 percent effective, tend to work better on haylage than corn silage.

What do they deliver? They cut dry matter loss with varying degrees of effectiveness, depending on the product used. Whether that means higher rates of gain or milk production is a question that can only be answered with further study.

Dry hay

As part of a 2010 study, Gordon Groover, associate professor and extension economist at Virginia Tech, estimated wrapping costs. Those costs are offset by huge reductions of harvest and storage losses.

For example, it can be a real feed saver when alfalfa is harvested during or immediately prior to rain. Tedding alfalfa leads to leaf shatter, and leaf shatter means protein loss.

“Harvest losses in dry hay can range from 15 percent to 45 percent,” says Groover.

He thinks bale wrapping makes more sense for the milking string than for brood cows.

“Wouldn’t you be better off grazing or reducing stocking rates rather than making an investment like this?” he asks. “Do you really need that kind of quality forage for them?”

High-quality feed is more important to growing stock, like feeder cattle, making the investment a more worthy consideration. “That is a completely different question than maintenance,” Groover emphasizes.

Farmers who are increasing herd size and need a constant rate of gain or milk production might look at bale wrapping as a consistent source of quality feed. “Investing in bale wrapping is not a lot more expensive than building a shed for dry hay storage,” Groover says.

On the flip side, once the weather gets cold, grazing options for farms in the Northeast blow away with the onset of snow. Wrapped bales mean plenty of forage available for feeding over the winter.

The investment also makes sense when taking hay from rented land where there is no storage available. “Bales left on the ground lose quality over time, but wrapping bales preserves their quality longer,” Groover says.

Feeding the beasts

Groover says it’s also important to consider whether the farm’s existing equipment can handle the necessary power and accessory requirements, or if it will be necessary to invest in additional equipment. He says, “Farmers with fewer resources might think about using custom operators to get the job done.”

Small tractors may not have the necessary muscle. “Single-bale wrapping requires an 80 hp tractor to efficiently and safely move the wet bales, and possibly a second 55 to 60 hp tractor to use as a power unit,” he says.

Many inline wrappers come equipped with their own power units, eliminating the need for a second tractor.

Moving bales also requires tong-style bale grabbers. “You can’t use a bale spear on sealed bales,” Groover points out.

There are some hidden charges as well, since producers must also consider how they will deal with postharvest storage. If there is no structural storage available, gravel pads may be necessary to get the wrapped bales off the ground.

Single-bale wrappers cost less than inline systems, but they require more wrapping time and plastic film per bale. Some of the inline systems require end caps or plastic hay bags to seal the ends of the lines.

Wrapping bales can be an economical answer when quality counts, when haying on rented properties, and when silos are not available. Just be sure to include all of the factors when pushing that pencil.

Beef: Writing a Standard Operating Procedure for Calving

cow with calves

The Beef Checkoff Program has funded the National Beef Quality Audit since 1991. These audits are conducted approximately every five years, with separate audits conducted on fed cattle and market (cull) cows and bulls. The audits provide the industry with a set of benchmarks and measurements relative to the quality of the U.S. beef supply.

In the most recent audit of the fed cattle segment (http://bqa.org/audit.aspx), a nationwide survey was conducted specifically to assess Beef Quality Assurance-related production and management practices adopted by the seed stock, cow/calf and stocker sectors. The results of this survey found that: “Though 95 percent had some level of routine vaccination and treatment protocols, only 31 percent had a written plan. Greater emphasis must be placed on documentation.”

With calving season in full swing, I thought it would be useful to discuss what level of documentation should be implemented on beef farms.

The standard operating procedure (SOP) is a document used to provide guidance on specific and routine tasks for those involved in performing those tasks. A quick Internet search shows that SOPs are extremely common in medical, industrial and nonprofit industries. In animal production, the purpose of an SOP is to ensure food safety, animal welfare and farm sustainability.

Established SOPs are used to:

1. Tell what, how, when, why and who.

2. Ensure consistency in practices and that they are done on a prescribed schedule.

3. Ensure worker safety.

4. Serve as a training document.

5. Serve as a historical record of changes that have occurred.

Development of an SOP should be done by all those involved with the farm operation, including family and paid labor. It should be written much as you would a recipe. Think about the specific operations that occur and in what order they occur. Your goal is an SOP that ensures the procedures are done the same way every time. Once written, your veterinarian should review it. The final version should be kept in a location that’s readily accessible to those who will be performing the tasks.

Tasks that should be developed into SOPs include but are not limited to: routine vaccinations; treatment for pinkeye, foot rot and respiratory disease; biosecurity for herd additions; and euthanasia.

The Cornell University Pro-Dairy Program has published a template for writing an SOP; it’s available at http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/pdfs/sop.pdf. Your veterinarian may also have one available.

Below is an example of a calving SOP developed for the Beef Unit at the Cornell Ruminant Center (formerly Cornell T&R). It is not intended to be used on your farm, as it is specific to Cornell conditions.

Writing an SOP is your commitment to providing a safe, wholesome product while assuring that you are using the best animal husbandry practices available.

A successful beef cattle calving season requires careful attention to cows before, during and after the birth. Cover Photo by Kim Stockwell-Morrison.

image of a sop

GET READY FOR AGRITOURISM

cow-milking-demonstration

Agritourism can mean different things to different people. Is it a petting zoo, a hay wagon ride to a pumpkin patch, or a tour of a working farm? Maybe it’s a pick-your-own operation or community supported agriculture. Perhaps it’s a farm stay, where lodgers help to feed farm animals. Agritourism can be all of these things and more.

“This isn’t just about pumpkin patches. This is about sharing a way of life,” said Laura Grey, heritage and agritourism program manager at the Colorado Tourism Office. Agritourism can be anything from “one-time events, such as concerts or festivals, to seasonal farmstands or self-guided tours.” It’s about more than the farm profit, more than the experience, and more than the impact of tourism on the local economy.

Agritourism in its many forms is all about telling the story of farming, whether it’s dairy farming, field crop farming, livestock production, or growing fruits and vegetables. What role should agritourism play on your farm? Agritourism can be a complementary activity, a secondary activity, or even a primary activity of the farm. However, controversy can arise when the primary purpose of the farm is to entertain, and many states are grappling with best management practices meant to prevent the authenticity of the farming operation from being compromised by the entertainment aspects. While states differ in their regulations on this, the bottom line seems to be that the “agri” needs to be the focus of the “tourism.” The common denominator: agritourism should be about the farm.

“It is absolutely critical to tell the story of agriculture and food production and family farming to the millions who no longer have a connection to the land,” said Lorraine Garkovich, professor with the Department of Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky. “From my perspective, so long as some aspect of the farm is incorporated into the activity, [agritourism is about farming].” It’s about “enhancing the income of the family farm so that there can continue to be a farm business.”

Telling that story successfully is not only an asset to the farm, but to the community as well, and is rewarding and meaningful to farm visitors. Providing a positive agritourism experience takes planning. It should be tailored to meet the needs of your farm enterprise and serve to help keep you – and your land – in agriculture.

“Agritourism and farm-based education are some of the best ways to build public support for farming within the nearby community and throughout larger regions,” noted Lisa Chase of the University of Vermont Extension and the Vermont Tourism Data Center. Vermont is one of many states concerned about defining farm-based tourism as activity that “supports and complements core farming operations versus entertainment that takes away from authentic farming enterprises,” she explained.

Beginning steps

If agritourism in some form might be right for your farm, taking the time to research, inventory and assess your needs is crucial. Consulting with professionals may be your best bet.

“The first step for a farm is to assess your goals and resources,” Chase said. “There are several tools available to help farmers do that, along with extension and other service providers who can work with farms on an assessment.”

Ben Amsden, professor and interim director of Plymouth State University’s Center for Rural Partnerships, emphasizes the importance of self-reflection. “If you’re a farmer, you need to ask yourself if you really want to host visitors on your farm. Are you a people person at heart? It sounds like a simple question, but it’s often overlooked.”

If you’re more of a loner and don’t want to interact with visitors, another family member may be willing to take on the responsibility, or you can hire someone. However, if visitors will be on the same farmland you’re working, their presence will be felt in some manner. Will you need to restock a farm store multiple times each day or train employees in customer service? Will you be interrupted when visitors tour the field during harvesting?

Consider your farm goals, the daily workload, and whether or not hiring more employees is an option. What are your resources – natural, labor, equipment and capital? Planning also means assessing the market demographics to determine if you have a captive audience for your proposed tourism venue. Who will these potential visitors be? Will they come from the surrounding community or farther away? How much time will they spend on the farm? Will they become repeat visitors, or are you trying to engage them once a year? If you expect regular farm visits from the general public, are you ready to work hardest on the weekends, or do you want to cater to a different demographic?

“I think that one needs to start with an evaluation of the potential enterprises on the farm, and then determine if a market for that particular kind of activity might exist in the region,” Garkovich advised. Whether you want to offer fall harvest festivals, spring planting celebrations, summertime pick-your-own, or an on-farm store and café, knowing that there are people seeking this activity, or maybe finding out that this is already a saturated market in your area, is necessary before you open for business.

Assessing your farm’s resources also includes an inventory of natural resources such as views, water bodies, geological formations and wildlife presence. Negative issues, such as barns or silos in need of repair, a manure lagoon or other hazards, need to be accounted for as well. There are several assessment tools Garkovich recommends that can guide farmers in this process, including one from the University of Kentucky, which can be found at http://bit.ly/1a4KLhJ.

Infrastructure

If you really don’t want to be people-focused, or don’t have the infrastructure, time or capital to invest in certain activities, there may be other agritourism options that would work on your farm. Birding opportunities, pick-your-own wildflowers or nature-based photography can be offered for a small fee. Self-serve sales, and providing a place for these visitors to picnic, would be doable without much infrastructure

“Some types of agritourism require little infrastructure, such as farm stays or small tours,” Chase noted. When added infrastructure is required, don’t plow over your prime soils. “Most farms have ample land to allow for necessary infrastructure without compromising productive agricultural lands.”

Even if you decide to go minimal, finding a way to move forward without requiring new buildings, new equipment, more labor or intensive upgrades, there are some basic considerations that need to be addressed. A parking area and bathrooms, Garkovich said, are a must. Drinking water, too, is good to provide. “All of these can be provided without dramatically altering the natural landscape of the farm itself,” she said.

Don’t forget signs to identify parking areas, off-limits areas, and trails, and to remind visitors not to touch the equipment. Marsha Salzwedel is a youth safety specialist with the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. She said, “Signs are a very important method of communicating with guests and can be an inexpensive method of doing so. There are numerous signs on the Integrating Safety into Agritourism website [http://www.safeagritourism.com] that can be printed for free.”

Infrastructure and traffic are two main concerns for neighbors when a farm adds an intensive agritourism component. “The conflict is often between the farm and its neighbors, the people who have a day-to-day interaction with the infrastructure,” such as lighting, paved parking areas or picnic pavilions, Amsden explained.

Local zoning will play a role, and state regulations on agricultural tourism may also apply. If your land is under a conservation easement or a farmland preservation program, there may be a clause outlining acceptable practices. Also, creating infrastructure could remove land that needs to be counted as productive in order to meet farmland taxation standards.

Networking

“It is essential to determine if the type of enterprise you are considering adding is permitted in an agricultural zone,” said Garkovich. “Farmers considering adding tourism experiences don’t necessarily have to work with their communities, but they can enhance their visitation and minimize conflicts with neighbors and officials if they do.”

An important step is “reaching out to others who have had similar experiences and seeing what they have learned, what mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve done to be successful,” Amsden said, adding that it’s critical for farmers to work with local communities when developing agritourism venues. “There are resources to help farmers with this: farm bureau, local university extension, chambers of commerce, even the state office of travel and tourism.”

Grey said, “From zoning issues to help with marketing or start-up funds, tourism is all about partners. In our state, farmers and ranchers had no idea how eager traditional tourism people were to work with them.”

Agritourism isn’t only a farm affair. Think of wine or cheese trails, where producers work together rather than compete for tourists. Options include community farm tours, harvest festivals or other events. Involving other nonfarm businesses, such as restaurants and lodging facilities, other activity providers like outdoor adventure companies, and even museums and galleries, is a smart step toward meeting your goals as an agritourism venue. The more reasons a visitor has to come to your region, the more opportunities they have to experience your farm.

Don’t overlook your neighbors as potential customers.

“You want people in the community to know you are there and what you are doing, so that they can come visit and tell others what you have to offer,” Garkovich said. “Word-of-mouth is a great advertising tool.” She suggests hosting an open house for neighbors so they can see firsthand what visitors will experience.

Safety first and always

“You do not want to lose your primary income and way of life because of an accident or mishap on the farm or ranch,” Grey cautioned.

Salzwedel said, “It is extremely important that safety not be an afterthought when you are bringing visitors to your farm. Incorporate safety as a part of the regular business plan, including planning for it from the start.”

While you know that equipment can be dangerous, assume that visitors aren’t familiar with the hazards. Children are apt to climb onto tractors or to climb fences. Barbed wire and electric fencing are not commonplace for many people, and piles of sand or gravel may look like fun places to play.

“These visitors are not usually familiar with the farm environment and the hazards found there,” Salzwedel explained. “It becomes the responsibility of the farmer to ensure the guest is safe when they visit.” Safety training for employees is already required on farms. Training in emergency procedures, incident reporting and other areas becomes essential when the public visits the farm. Contact your insurance agent to discuss any increased coverage that will be required once visitors are allowed on the farm.

“If you are going to have some type of food or drink available as part of the experience, check in with your health department to get a good understanding of health and food regulations,” Garkovich advised. “Make your insurance agent your next stop, to be sure that your current coverage is adequate.”

Make it meaningful

In addition to the traditional pumpkin patch and corn maze, there are many potential ways to share your farm story – and make a profit. Consider an on-farm café, educational classes and hands-on learning experiences, hiking trails, nature or hunting preserves, camping facilities or a bed-and-breakfast, or simple farm tours showing visitors how you produce their food.

“The traveler that is attracted to agritourism is well-educated and is looking for authentic experiences that teach them something, whether it be cheesemaking or putting in fences. One traveler told me she just loves sitting and drinking a glass of wine from a porch looking at the amazing animals the owner took the time to raise. We don’t always have to be active,” Grey said.

No matter what your main farming enterprises may be, get creative and show visitors the importance of the job you are doing. Dairies can offer milking exhibits, and a farm day camp can provide opportunities for farm guests to learn firsthand about the work entailed in farming. Get creative and make it meaningful and rewarding for you, your family, your guests and your community.

“I believe that if we develop agritourism with an eye toward education, conservation and preservation, we will develop amazing offerings that travelers will flock to and producers will benefit from,” Grey added.

Whatever you choose, be prepared. Research your options, seek input from other farmers, agricultural professionals and community members, and research ahead of time the regulations that will impact your farm. This will go a long way toward building a successful agritourism enterprise, no matter how you define it.

At Retreat Farm in Brattleboro, VT, visitors can participate in milking demonstrations, pet the chicks and get up close and personal with the livestock. Photo courtesy of Lisa Chase.

PREVENTING ALFALFA WINTERKILL

image-of-alfalfa

Alfalfa has been put to bed, and now farmers are hoping and praying that their stands will make it through the winter in good shape. The severe winterkill experienced last winter by farmers in Wisconsin and Michigan reminds us that sometimes conditions are so severe that few fields are spared, regardless of how conservative farmers were in managing them. However, under less severe conditions there are a number of factors that can mean the difference between success and failure.

Uncontrollable factors

Several factors affecting winter survival of legumes are almost unavoidable, and in some cases completely unavoidable. One is insect damage, primarily due to clover root curculio, but also alfalfa snout beetle in those few areas in the northeastern U.S. unlucky enough to have this devastating pest. The larvae of both species feed on the taproot of alfalfa, and in the case of clover root curculio, of clover as well. In some cases, this damage severs the taproot, but more commonly it exposes the taproot to disease organisms that will eventually kill the plant.

This past fall, some alfalfa fields in St. Lawrence County, N.Y., were so hard-hit by snout beetle larvae that alfalfa plants could be lifted out of the ground by hand – there simply was no taproot left. Cornell University entomologists have discovered a “friendly” nematode that kills snout beetle larvae, offering the first hope of controlling this pest, since insecticides aren’t effective.

Another factor farmers have no control of is snow cover. The old saying that snow is the poor man’s fertilizer has a basis in fact, because snow provides insulation against subzero temperatures. In 1998, when parts of the Northeast experienced the worst ice storm of the century, alfalfa fields covered by a few inches of snow (before being covered by several inches of ice) fared much better than fields in the stricken area that had no snow cover.

A third factor over which farmers have no control is soil topography. Flat fields are more susceptible to ice sheeting, which can kill alfalfa and other legumes.

Controllable factors

There are many factors affecting alfalfa winter survival over which farmers have at least some control. We’ll focus on these, since it’s more productive to consider what we can control versus what we cannot.

Fall dormancy – Alfalfa varieties vary in fall dormancy, with the dormancy ratings provided by seed companies and/or land-grant colleges. Ratings vary from 1 to 9, but here in the Northeast we normally use varieties ranging in fall dormancy from 2 to 5. A variety with a fall dormancy of 2 “goes to sleep” for the winter much earlier in the fall than one with a fall dormancy of 5.

If you routinely take a fall harvest, you may want to choose varieties with a fall dormancy of 4 or 5. However, pushing fall dormancy too far risks winter damage. Planting a variety with a fall dormancy rating of 8 or 9 almost guarantees that the alfalfa will winter-kill and, therefore, act as an annual, not a perennial.

Winterhardiness – Winterhardiness is not the same as fall dormancy, and alfalfa varieties vary widely in this characteristic. Rely on university trials, farm seed catalogs and your seed dealer for advice on winterhardiness.

Soil fertility – Soil fertility is a biggie, particularly potassium, which is antifreeze for alfalfa. Soil pH is also important, since it influences the availability of soil nutrients. Alfalfa that goes into the winter with low potassium levels will often suffer severe damage.

Time of seeding – I don’t like the term “fall seeding” for alfalfa, because seeding alfalfa on or after September 21 is much, much too late. In most of the northeastern U.S., the later in August that alfalfa is seeded, the lower the winter survival rate. And even if it survives, first-cut yields the following spring are often reduced.

Age of stand – Younger alfalfa stands are generally healthier than older ones, since there’s been less wheel traffic damage to the crowns. By the time alfalfa fields are 3 years old, almost every plant has been rolled over more than once by the tire on a heavy piece of harvesting equipment.

Soil drainage – You can do little to change field topography, but you can improve internal field drainage by the installation of subsurface drainage tubing, aka tile drainage. You’ll need either a natural outlet for drain water discharge or access to power so you can install a pumping station that will elevate drain water up and over whatever is preventing the natural flow. Miner Institute (Chazy, N.Y.) has two pumping stations that are working very well.

In-season harvest management – The more intensively you manage alfalfa during the summer (such as 30-day harvest intervals), the more reason to conservatively manage these fields late in the season, perhaps including not taking a fall harvest. Some agronomists suggest that the negative impacts of intensive harvest management are cumulative; if you harvest one cutting at an unusually short harvest interval, you should give the next one a few extra days to recover root reserves.

Fall harvest management – Much has been written about this topic, but fall harvest management (actually, late-season management) has a big influence on winter survival. The primary goal of fall harvest management is for alfalfa to enter the winter with a high level of taproot carbohydrates.

Stubble height – Alfalfa doesn’t regrow from the cut stem, so mowing height has no impact on plant health as long as the crown isn’t damaged during mowing.

Look at an alfalfa plant a few days after harvest: The cut stems are dead, with the new growth coming from crown buds. In fact, the only time alfalfa stubble height has any impact on plant health is during the last harvest, and this isn’t a direct impact on the plant but a secondary one. A high stubble, 6 inches or so, will catch and hold more snow than a shorter stubble. While you have no control over snowfall, you can influence how long the snow remains in your alfalfa fields.

Another benefit of a high stubble is that if the cut stems stick above an ice sheet, they may reduce the amount of damage. A high stubble is no guarantee that ice sheeting won’t kill alfalfa, but it can certainly help.

Managing the Livestock Guardian Dog in Winter

guardian dog with a flock of sheep in the snow

Most livestock guardian dog breeds develop a heavy coat prior to winter. This coat is adequate protection from winter weather as long as it’s free of mats and burrs.

Ask 10 people who use livestock guardian dogs (LGD) how they manage their dogs in winter and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Some dogs remain out on pasture with livestock throughout the cold months, while some are moved with their livestock to a more confined area that often includes access to a barn.

The breeds most often used as guardians have been developed over centuries in countries where winters are harsh, in some cases far more severe than in the Northeast. Long-coated breeds, including Great Pyrenees, Maremma, Kuvasz, Akbash and Caucasian Ovcharka, have dense, water-repellent coats. Some of these breeds have a double coat – a long outer coat that sheds water, and a shorter, soft undercoat that provides warmth. Although the Anatolian shepherd has a shorter coat, the breed does fine in winter as long as the dog has had a chance to acclimate throughout the year.

It’s important for the dog to go into the cold season with a healthy, brushed-out coat of hair. The dog’s winter coat can trap warmth produced by the body, and in extreme cold, tiny muscles help raise each hair to create even more potential for warmth. However, if the coat is matted or full of burrs, the hairs are essentially flattened and pulled together, which exposes skin and makes it more difficult for the dog to maintain warmth.

If the dog’s coat has become muddy or wet, it’s important that the dog have access to a dry place until the coat is dry. Although the coats of most LGD breeds are smooth and somewhat dirt-repellent, it’s important to brush any dried mud out of the coat in order to maintain the natural insulating properties.

Winter air is dry, so it’s necessary to check paws for cracks. Cracks are uncomfortable and if left untreated can lead to deeper, more serious cracking. Although some extra nail length may help the dog gain traction on icy surfaces, don’t allow the nails to become overgrown. Keep an eye on the nails of double dewclaws, which can easily grow into the foot if not trimmed regularly.

There’s often higher predator pressure in winter, which means dogs might be working harder and burning more calories. As a result, they may require feed with higher energy and/or fat.

If the dog is young, old or has trouble maintaining weight, consult your veterinarian about adjusting your dog’s diet for winter. Be sure to make dietary changes slowly.

Although it isn’t necessary to check the dog’s body condition daily, it’s a good idea to monitor dogs, especially young and old dogs, for condition throughout the cold months. By the time winter weather arrives, the dog’s coat is at its fullest, and it may be difficult to determine the body condition visually. To check it, place your thumb along the spine and extend your fingers downward toward the ribs. The ribs should be easily felt, but without deep spaces in between.

The appropriate shelter for guardian dogs in winter varies depending on the farm situation. Like the livestock they’re protecting, dogs instinctively know how to stay warm and will seek shelter in harsh weather. Dogs can remain comfortable when temperatures drop as long as they have protection from wind. In cases where livestock are on pasture throughout the winter, dogs will tend to seek shelter with the stock in hedgerows or other natural windbreaks. When round bales are fed, dogs will often use the bale as a windbreak, even if other shelter is provided.

Some producers provide a calf hutch or large doghouse, but in many cases the dog will prefer to be out with the livestock. You should be able to move dog-specific housing such as a doghouse or calf hutch so it faces away from prevailing winds.

Water is as important for dogs in winter as it is in summer. If your dog drinks from a large stock tank in which an electric water heater is being used, make sure the dog (and stock) isn’t receiving a shock when drinking. It doesn’t take much stray voltage to deter an animal from drinking. Heated buckets are another cold-weather option.

If the dog is older and arthritic, cold weather may make it more uncomfortable. The guardian breeds are stoic and often don’t show signs of pain. To make sure older dogs are comfortable, provide the option of a soft bed – perhaps a calf hutch mounted on a solid base filled with discarded wool. If you’re concerned about arthritis, talk with your veterinarian about the best way to manage your dog’s situation.

The last consideration for cold weather is: How does this look? People who drive through rural areas and see livestock guardian dogs outside year-round are often concerned about the dogs’ well-being in harsh weather. Although you know that your dog has generations of genetic strength to endure tough weather, it’s important for people to see that the dog has options for shelter. The last thing you want to deal with is a humane complaint in the middle of winter.

Old Saratoga Maple

ean Huber running the evaporator

They call themselves “maple gypsies.” When Mother Nature threatens a season not conducive to producing maple, they don’t even tap the trees. Instead, they lend a helping hand to other producers and travel to maple events and attend educational workshops in pursuit of perfecting their skills.

Brian and Jean Huber own Old Saratoga Maple in Schuylerville, N.Y. This husband-and-wife team is dedicated to learning all they can about the industry so they can produce the highest-quality product possible.

On borrowed land

The most significant challenge for the Hubers is locating land with maple trees owned by an individual open to leasing or bartering the use of their trees. Anna Bierma, a neighbor and close friend, embraced the idea nearly 10 years ago when she was widowed. Bierma allows Brian and Jean to tap her trees in exchange for help mowing the property, plowing the driveway, assistance with maintaining the property and, of course, some maple syrup.

Each spring, the Hubers place 300 taps in Bierma’s trees and use a drip line, usually with a vacuum pump to draw the sap out of the trees and into a holding tank. The sap is then moved to the sugarhouse on their property for boiling.

The duo typically produces 80 gallons of sap in a season. Spring 2013 was an exception. Concerned about Jean’s recovery following back surgery in October 2012, they limited their taps and cut their production almost in half, making just 45 gallons of syrup.The Hubers use a 550-gallon tank to collect sap from their drip lines before moving it to the sugarhouse for boiling.

Even though last spring was a lighter production year, they experimented with trees in a new location. “This was the first year we tapped trees on a cousin’s property,” Brian said. They placed a few taps with buckets in places that were visible to the public.

“Our cousin’s family enjoyed emptying the buckets and seeing how much was produced every day,” Brian said. “They started to really get into it and track which trees produced, which didn’t, and how much was produced on a cloudy day versus a sunny day.”

The Hubers hope the experience will encourage other landowners to consider leasing/renting their trees during sugaring season.

“We’re looking for local property owners to lease from,” Jean said. “It has been a bit challenging, so we are also considering buying a piece of property with enough maple trees to support our plans for increasing the number of taps, but it has to be the right piece.”

Looking to the future

The Hubers have spent the last decade learning as much as they can about sugaring, with the hope of developing a retirement business. “Our vision is to be around 3,000 taps by the time we are ready to retire,” Brian said.

Until then, they are committed to maintaining the health of the trees they use and are deliberately planning for expansion.

Each season, they purchase new 0.25-inch polycarbonate taps and replace the drip lines to keep bacteria out of the trees. They begin tapping in mid-February and place only one tap in a tree unless the tree’s diameter is greater than 3 feet. “Our taps are so shallow that our tapholes are just about healed before the next year begins,” Brian said.

Once the sap has been collected, they use an oil-powered, 2-by-6-foot evaporator. “We had a fire around the outside of our sugarhouse one year when we were using a wood-fired evaporator, so we decided we needed to switch to oil,” he explained. The oil heat also reduces their start-up and shutdown times and provides a more consistent boil.

“We try to buy a piece of equipment every year so that when we make the leap of faith, it is not as much of a financial burden,” Jean said. Their purchases included a used reverse osmosis machine, giving them the opportunity to learn how to properly operate the machine before investing in a brand-new model.

Future plans for expansion include a kitchen inside the sugarhouse. “We’re doing it a little at a time,” Jean emphasized. Slowly developing the maple business has been a good fit for their full-time careers. Jean, a nurse with 30 years of experience, has the flexibility to take every other day off during the peak boiling season. Brian works for a company that specializes in energy management, among other things, and spends his weekends in the sugarhouse.

“Over the past 10 years, we have built the equipment up to an appropriate level by buying the right piece of equipment and learning how to use it the right way,” Jean explained.Once sap has been collected, the Hubers use an oil-powered, 2-by-6-foot evaporator.

Not only are Brian and Jean looking to a retirement filled with the promise of sugaring, but they also truly enjoy the time spent with friends who volunteer time to help. “We are thankful that we are able to do what we can do, and we have a lot of fun with the friends that help us each spring,” Brian concluded.

 Jean Huber runs the evaporator every other day during peak season. Photo courtesy of Brian Huber.