**Links are provided to the MSU Extension Website and to the MontGuides. A preview of the MontGuide will be provided here! All MontGuides are publications of the MSU Extension specialists and staff.

2021 MontGuide Mondays

Cold Weather Storage and Handling of Pesticides

Updated 01/18

  • This MontGuide explains procedures for proper winter storage and handling of leftover liquid pesticides.
  • Applicators should know which pesticides can be frozen and which cannot be.
  • Techniques for thawing and dissolving are also discussed.

Growing Cold-Hardy Berries and Small Fruits in Montana

Updated 01/21

    • Berries and fruits that are hardy to Montana include currants, gooseberries, dwarf sour cherries, aronia, and haskcaps.
    • Strawberries and serviceberries are also well adapted to Montana. Strawberries in the Home Garden and Growing Serviceberries are other great MontGuide full of information.
    • These hardy berries and fruits grow in neutral to slightly alkaline soils and ripen consistantly in shorter, cooler growing seasons.
    • These fruit plants vary in uses, flavor, time to fruit maturity, amount of pest management, and pruining required.

Can I Grow That Here?

Updated 11/18

  • Information on days to maturity, planting dates, sun requirements, weeks to transplant size and frost tolerance for 34 vegetables.
  • With a limited growing season in much of Montana, this guide will help gardeners get the most from the growing season they do have.
  • Define the average first frost date in the fall and the average last frost day in the spring for your area. Then, with the aid of a calendar, calculate from thoe dates the spring planting dates for your area and the transplant starting dates.
  • Filled with useful growing charts and more helpful information!

Record Keeping and Inspections for Animal Feeding Operations

Updated 04/17

  • Agriculture is a complicated and scientific business; making observations and keeping records allows producers to make the best management decisions.
  • For permitted animal feeding operations (AFOs), there are recordkeeping requirements to demonstrate compliance with federal and state regulations
  • Good records allow for making the most informed management decisions and can be used to demonstrate proper management in the event an accusation of water pollution is made against a producer
  • Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are required to obtain teh Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MPDES) Permit.
    • This is actually a federally required administered by the state, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Houseplant Selection and Care

Updated 8/20

  • This MontGuide addresses environmental needs to aid in houseplant selection so they can thrive, and not just survive.
  • Topics include appropriate lighting, watering, fertility, and humidity
  • A brief discussion of problems is included, and a table of selected easy and moderate easy-to-grow houseplants is presented.
  • Houseplants go a long way towards making a house feel like a home, or an office or dorm room less sterile
  • They can bring life and color to a drab enviroment and flowering plants can bring a fragrance and beauty to an otherwise lackluster room.
  • Houseplants are raised in greenhouses under ideal conditions so it's important to care for them properly while they are becoming established in a home environment, which will undoubtedly not have the conditions they're used to.

Recommended Safeguards for Residental Vermiculite (Zonolite) Attic Insulation

Updated 08/20

  • The purpose of this guide is to promote awareness of vermiculite (Zonolite) attic or wall insulation, as steps should be taken to minimize contact.
  • The focus of residential property inspections commonly involves an evaluation of potential human health concerns to home occupants, such as the presence of lead-based paint or asbestos-containing materials in thermal systems, insultation, ceiling texture, flooring, and siding.
  • However, the presence of another source of asbestos, vermiculite insulation, is not always included in this assesment.
    • Failure to account for the presence of vermiculite insulation in properties may result in serious health risks to occupants, especially if remodeling or other activites occur on the property that may disturb the vermiculite.
  • Vermiculite is a silver-gold to grey-brown mineral that is flat and shiny in its natural state and resembles mica.
    • Flakes of this mineral can also range in color from black to shades of brown and yellow.
  • Vermiculite in attic spaces is commonly described as resembling kitty litter or floor dry desiccant material due to its color and granular appearances
    • Some vermiculite granuales may appear shiny and the granules will most likley not be as uniformly shaped and sized as kitty litter.
  • Due to its fire-resistance properties, its light weight and expansion capabilities, vermiculite has been extensively used as an insulation material for attics, wall fill, and concrete block
  • The majority (up to 80% of the world's supply ) of vermiculite was mined near Libby, MT, from the early 1920's through 1990.
    • Unfortunately, the vermiculite from Libby was contaminated witha type of asbestos referred to as Libby amphibole
  • Asbestos-realted diseases include several different illnesses that associated wth inhaling asbestos fibers. These include:
    • asbestosis, accumulation of lung scar tissue (collagen)
    • mesothelioma, a cnacer of the chest wall, lining of the lungs, or abdominal cavity
    • lung cancer
    • plueral changes, thickening of the lining of the lungs and/or along the chest wall and diaphragm due to collagen deposits and fibrosis
  • The most effectively strategy in prevening exposure to asbestos in vermiculite is to have it removed by a certified asbestos abatement contractor trained to utilize techniques that prevent living space contamination during removal.
    • Simply covering the vermiculite insulation with other insulation is not recommended

Fire-Resistant Landscaping Considerations for Montana's Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)

  • Wilfire is, has been, and always will be a part of Montana's wild landscapes. As a result, many plants developed fire-resilient adaptations, creating the foundation for adapted ecosystems.
  • With human expansion into the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), the potential increases for impacts of wildland fire on communities and individuals
  • Learning about fire-resistant landscapes is an important component in reducing wildfire risk.
  • Montana is often referred to as "The Last Best Place". Many people enjoying living, recreating, and visiting here. Communities have expanded further into more remote and rugged terrain, increasing the presence of humans across wild landscapes
  • This area where human development meets with wildland vegetation fuels is referred to as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
  • Wildfire activity across the state for the past 20 year have shown a steady increase in average number of wildfires, as well as an increase in average annual acres burned.
  • Fire behavior is a result of the interaction of three variables; weather, terrian and fuels, high temperatures, high wind speeds, and low humidity allow wildfires to spread more quickly across a landscape in the event of a fire ignition.
  • Any plant will burn under the right conditions. The ability of a plant to withstand heat and not ignite depends upon fire behavior and intensity, along with certain plant characteristics such as moisture content, size and the presence of flammable compounds within the bark and leaves. Even if a plant is identified as fire-resistant due to its natural characteristics, where plants are located, how they are arranged, and their ability to retain moisture should be taken into account.
  • Location and arrangement of landscape should take priority over whether plants are fire resistant or not.

Growing Lilacs in Montana

Updated 7/20

This publication contains information about one of the plants best adapted to Montana's climate. It includes sections on hardiness, colors and fragrances; advice on which cultivars to plant; recommended techniques for planting, watering, fertilizing and pruning; and information about diseases and insect problems.

  • Lilacs are the beacon of Spring to many Montanans. The earliest homsteaders brought lilacs to the state and found them to be one of the exotic flowering shrubs to thrive on the Great Plains. Even today, many of these hardy shrubs survive next to long-abandoned homesteads.
  • Lilacs thrive in sunny sites with good air circulation. Although some varieties can withstand -40oF, they need protection from cold winds that can kill flower buds. Lilacs will not tolerate poorly drained sites where the roots freeze in blocks of ice during the winter.
  • Modern lilacs can be white, violet, blue, lavendar (true lilac), pink, magenta, purple, or some variation. Colors are most intense during cool, damp springs. Often the buds and open flowers are of differnt colors. This "unfolding of the colors" is part of the captivating charm of lilacs.
  • Lilac fragrance varies considerably with species and cultivar. Even on the same shrub, fragrance depends upon stage of bloom, time of day and temperature. Lilacs are most fragrent on a warm, sunny afternoon when the florets are fully open.
  • Plant lilacs where they will receive at least six hours of sunlight each day. Shade greatly reduces flowering, causes plants to become leggy and increases powdery mildew problems. Dark-flowered lilacs seem to tolerate dappled shade better than lighter ones. However, do not plant dark-flowered lilacs on sites that recieve hot afternoon sun, which fades the flowers quickly.
  • Avoid windswept locations and warm areas near reflective, light-colored buildings where the buds will be killed or forced prematurely.
  • Lilacs need approximately one inch of water per week during June and July. Begin decreasing irrigation in early August to encourage the shrubs to harden tissues for winter.
  • The best time to prune is immediately after flowering, since the flowering buds for the next year are produced in June and July on almost all species. Prune out all diseased canes, old and declining stems, thin suckers, and twiggy small branches.
  • To rejuvenate overgrown or declining lilacs, cut to the ground one-third of the largest trunks each year to encourage the growth of new shoots from the base. Over a three-year period, the lilacs will rejuvenate without a complete loss in bloom or canopy. Pruning in early spring when leaves are absent will make it easier to see which stems need to be removed.

An Introduction to the Principles and Practices of Sustainable Farming

New 11/08

Despite growing popularity, the concept of sustainable agriculture is evolving as it encompasses both changing attitudes towards farming and developing environmental awareness.

In this MontGuide:

  • Outlines the foundation of sustainable agriculture systems
  • Describes the general principles guiding sustainable farming and ranching
  • Provides examples of practices aimed at enhancing the sustainability of the farming enterprise.

What is sustainable agriculture?

  • The term sustainable agriculture has been used and interpreted in many ways. A common thread running through these definitions that is sustainable agriculture comprises the site-specific ranching and farming practices designed to meet current and future needs for food, fiber, energy, and ecosystems services including, but not limited to, soil conservation, clean water, and biodiversity.
  • Sustainable agriculture emphasizes production and food systems that are profitable, environmentally sound, energy efficient, and improve the quality of life for both farmers and the public

Sustainable Agriculture

  • Sustains the economic viability of farm operations
  • Satisfies human food, fiber, and energy needs
  • Maintains or enhances the resource base upon which it depends by emphasizing soil conservation, nutrient recycling, biologically based-pest management, and biodiversity
  • Takes advantage fo the knowledge and skills of farmers
  • Is durable and resilient to disturbance, pest outbreaks, and market variability
  • Makes the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources
  • Integrates, where appriopriate, natural biological cycles and pest control tools with production practices.

Montana Avalanche Safety

New 8/17

While winter backcountry recreation is increasing in popularity almost everywhere, Montana often leads the country in avalanche deaths. Most of these tragic accidents are avoidable with some training, foresight, and care before entering avalanche terrain.

There are over 100 named mountain ranges in Montana and in winter they are the destination of choice for backcountry snowmobilers, skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and hunters. While winter backcountry recreation is increasing in popularity almost everywhere, Montana often leads the country in avalanche deaths. Twenty-six people died in avalanches in Montana between 2010 and 2016, a statistic that is only surpassed by Colorado.

Avalanches don't just happen to extreme athletes - they can happen to anyone in the winter backcountry. This includes skiers, snowmobilers, hunters, or hikers. Knowing how to stay out of avalanche trouble is key. The skills are easy to understand but can take several years to develop fully. It's important to be able to read and understand the regional avalanche forecast, recognize potentially dangerous terrain, use avalanche rescue grear that consists of an avalanche beacon for finding a buried partner, a probe to locate them in the snow, and a good quality shovel to dig them out quickly.

The Know Before You Go (KBYG) Program is based on five easy prinicples summarized below. The avalanche preperation website (www.kbyg.org/) helps recreationists review important information before going into avalanche terrian the first time.

How do Avalanches Occur?

Avalanches happen when four ingredients are present: a slab of snow, seperated by a weak layer, a trigger, and a slope angle steep enough to slide. Slope angle or steepness should be one of the first concerns when traveling in potential avalanche terrian. It is a primary factor in every avalanche. Avalanches are most likely to occur on slopes between 25 and 45 degrees.

Sleep: Its Health Benefits, How Much You Need, and Strategies to Get More

New 03/21

Did you know that approximately 31% of Montanans report not getting enough sleep? This statistic is worrisome since getting enough quality sleep every night can help to improve health. For example, quality sleep reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases, is beneficial for mental health, and even sharpens focus at work. Being well-rested can improve things from mood and memory to the abiity to fight off infection. But what exactly is good quality sleep, and how much of it is needed? This MontGuide provides answers to these questions, and strategies to improve sleep habits to wake up rested, and help improve overall health and wellbeing.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep is essential to physical and mental health, as it helps our bodies and minds recover and rejuvenate from the stressors of everyday. As a result, when we sleep well, research suggests that we are more energetic, happier, and able to better concentrate. Everyone, from children to adults, can benefit from getting better sleep.

How does a body know when to sleep?

Human beings are built to be active during the day and asleep at night. Our sleep patterns are regulated by circadian rhythms. Cicadian rhythms are internally driven cycles that work like a 24-hour clock, telling when we should go to sleep and when we should wake up. At night, our brains produce melatonin, a hormone that helps with the timing of circadian rhythms.

Annual Flowers

Revised 6/20

Annual Flowers may solve many landscape problems. No other plants provide such a continuous bloom. They fill voids in permanent planting while young woody plants grow, offer flexible design options for myraid containers as added landscape interest, and provide inexpensive color and cut flowers in almost any soil.

Annual flowers are used in perennial plant beds to continue interest following early blooming bulbs and perennials. They can be transplanted or direct-seeded into the spot where tulip and daffodil blooms have faded, integrated into perennial plantings, or planting in front of woody, flowering shrubs to provide further interest through the season.

If you want plenty of cut flowers, devote a seperate area of the garden to annuals, but be sure to coordinate it with the overall landscape plan.

Planting the Flower Bed Garden

Interating annual flowers into a planting bed or as a border planting in and of themselves can be an attractive element in the overall landscape.

Flower beds can be any shape, but generally, curved bed lines look more like natural and informal, while angular bed lines feel more formal. For plant placement, plant masses of individual flowers in "drifts" which gradually melt into each other.

Graduate plant heights from front to back, and use lowest plants in front.

Utilize a diversity of leaf and flower textures for dynamic interest across a space.

Starting Plants Indoors

Many annuals perform better if started indoors and transplanted into the garden. You can determine indoor planting time by finding the number of days from seed to flower on the seed packet.

Many people plant seeds too early. This results in an oversize, leggy transplant that is susceptible to damping-off disease. Legginess is often caused by low indoor light levels and/or by too high a temperature.

Bumble Bees in Montana

Bumble bees are important native pollinators in wildlands and agricultural systems. Creating habitat to support bumble bees in yard and gardens can be easy and is a great way to get involved in native bee conservation.

Bumble bees are easily recognized by their large size and colorful, hair bodies. Queens are active in the spring and workers can be seen throughout the summer into early fall. Creating habitat to support bumble bees in yards and gardens can be easy and is a great way to get involved in native bee conservation.

Bumble bees are in the family Apidae (includes honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, sunflower bees, and digger bees) and in the genus Bumbus.

There are approximately 250 bumble bee species worldwide and over 45 in North America. To date, 28 species have been documented in Montana.

Bumble Bees as Pollinators

While crop pollinators services are normally attributed to honey bees, most people do not realize there are thousands of wild, native bees, including bumble bees, which play an important role in pollinating both wild and cultivated plants. In face, native bees are often more efficient than honey bees at pollinating many plants.

Bumble bees are one group of bees that are able to "buzz pollinate" which is important for certain types of plants such as blueberries and tomatoes.

Bumble bees buzz pollinate by landing on the flower, grabbing the anthers with their jaws, and then quickly vibrating their flight muscles. The vibration effect is similar to an eletric toothbrush and the pollen is released.

Life Cycle and Social Structure

Similar to honey bees, bumble bees live in colonies with overlapping generations, social castes, and division of labor. In a bumble bee nest, there will only be one queen, and individual that is often significantly larger than the other bees in the colony. The queen is responsible for laying eggs for colony growth. Throughout the summer, several generations of female workers are produced. In late summer the queen produces large females destined to next year's queen and males whose sole purpose in reproduction.

Threats to Bumble Bees

Natural Enemies

Like any other animal, there are many natural threats to bumble bee colonies, including pathogens, parasites, predators, and parasitoids. Pathogens include viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Parasites include mites and cuckoo bumble bees. Cuckoo bumble bees are social parasites, meaning a queen will "hijack" an established colony of another bumble bee species, kill the queen, and rely on the already present workers to rear her offspring.

Insects, spiders, birds, and mammals are all known predators of bumble bees. Certain fly species, wasps, and some nematodes are known parasitoids of bumble bees.

Human-caused Stressors

Populations of some bumble bee species are in decline, and in some areas, bumble bees' native ranges are shrinking. These declines are likely due to a variety of factors. Urbanization and agricultural intensification have fragmented bumble bee habitat and caused a shortage of high quality food. Pathogens and parasites form nonnative and commercial bees have shown to spread to native bee populations.

Chemicals in the environment like pesticides can have sub-lethal effects on bees, includig reduced immunity, foraging capabilities, and overall health.

Creating Habitat for Bumble Bees

Home-made bumble bee houses are typically not effective at attraching bumble bee tenants. However, there are some things homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers can do to attract and support these native pollinators. Namely, plant some of their favorite flowers. Bumble bees forage on a diverse array of plants that include flowering trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals.

It's important to choose several plant species with different bloom times in order to provide a continuous supply of food resources from early spring until late fall. Additionally, leaving the yard and surrounding landscape a bit "messy" can create essential nesting and overwintering habitat. It is also important to provide access to fresh water either in a bird bath or shallow dish filled with pebbles.

Fear of Bees?

Human's fear of bees is often unwarrented. Despite their large size and loud buzzing, bumble bees are important pollinators and should not be feared. Only female bumble bees have the ability to sting, but they are usually not aggressive and rarely sting unless threatened. Honey bees are much larger colonies and tend to be more aggressive when defending their nests and honey stores. In addition, some social wasps like yellow jackets, which are often mistaken for bees, are more aggressive because they are scavengers often found interacting with humans. However, caution should be taken near all bees in case of allergic reactions to bee stings.

Tick Season - Montana Urban Alert

Written April 6th, 2021

Urban Alert written by Laurie Kerzicnick ([email protected])

The common ticks in Montana this time of the year are the Rocky Mountain wood tick, Dermacentor andersoni, and the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. Ticks can be transported into the home from pets and humans. The two species look very similar. The two species of black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis and I. pacificus) that vector Lyme disease have not become established in Montana although they are occasionally brought into the state by travelers (both humans and pets).

The Rocky Mountain wood tick is found on livestock, companion animals, and humans in the spring and summer in Montana. It likes stream corridors, grassy meadows, and south-facing sagebrush slopes. It can trasmit viral Colorado Tick Fever (CTF), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), bovine anaplasmosis, and tularemia. The American dog tick is found in Eastern Montana. It is one of the major vectors of RMSF and can also transmit tularemia. Neither the Rocky Mountain wood tick nor the American dog tick transmit Lyme disease.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever transmission is rare in Montana; most cases occur in the southern Atlantic Region. The tick must remain attached for at least 10 hours before transmission of RMSF can occur. In many cases, a blotchy red rash will appear on the extremities, often starting with the wrists, palms, and soles of the feet.

Colorado tick fever occurs only in western states. In Montana, cases have been diagnosed west of the Continental Divide-southest and south-central Montana. Symptoms of CTF occur within four days and include chills, headache, fever, muscular aches, and general malaise.

There have been no Montana-acquired cases of Lyme disease at the time this was written, and it is unlikely this will change in the foreseeable future. Questions about Lyme or other tick-borne diseases should be referred to a competent physician.


Use a repellent like DEET or picaridin especially on plants and socks when in ticky areas and check for ticks after being outdoors. If in a bush-type area or an area with tall grasses, always do you tick checks right afterwards.

Removing a Tick from your Skin

You want to find and remove ticks as soon as possible. There are some common folklore tick removal methods such as "backing out of the tick with a burning match" that should not be attempted. This method is not safe and doesn't work. It is important to try to thoroughly remove the tick and the mouthparts. The tick has mouthparts wich are barbed and used for insert into the skin. If these break off, it can be a further source of irritation and possible infection. Also, the crushing of the mouthparts can allow for disease transmission to occur through the skin if not removed properly.

Place forceps (try to use blunt curved forcepts or tweezers) around the tick mouthparts as close to the skin as possible. Remove the tick with a slow, steady pull away from the skin. Don't jerk or twist the tick. Avoid getting crushed tick parts on you. Disinfect your skin with alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water.

In Montana, we cannot test the tick itself for disease. For further information on testing ticks for diseases and where you can send them, visit www.tickencounter.org You must keep the tick alive to test for diseases.

If you have futher questions about the tick and diseases, see the follow resources:

Ticks of Veterinary and Public Health Importance in Montana

Tick-bourne Illnesses

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Colorado Tick Fever (CTF)

Prevent Tick Bites

Managing the Sheep Flock During the Lambing Season

Written by Rodney Kott, Extension Sheep Specialist, Montana State University

Lambing season is the critial time when the sheep producer's skill, effort, and concern detemine the success of the entire operation. Dozens of problems occur. Many, however, can be traced back to poor management, inadequate equipment or an indifferent attitude. Of the three, attitude is the most important followed by management. Poor equipment is often blamed for most problems, but good management and good attitude can make even poor equipment work.

Perhaps one of the most important and least stressed management toosl available to sheep producers is observation. A complete knowledge of sheep production is useless if producers do not have the ability, or more appropriately stated, do not take the time to recognize problems as they arise. A part of a producer's daily routine should include close observation of all ewes and lambs. You would be surprised at the amount of things you would see by spending just like thirty minutes per day looking at your sheep. After a few weeks you would kow your sheep very well. You would know how they normally act, move, play, eat, etc. You will be able to tell when they are not feeling well. This will give you a head start on identifying problems during lambing.

Lambing Facilities

The facility components of a shed lambing system include:

  1. an area for ewes about 1 to 3 weeks prior to lambing
  2. a drop pen for ewes within a week of lambing
  3. lambing jugs for newly born lambs until they are 24 to 72 hours old
  4. nursery pens for a few ewes and their lambs 24 hours to 3 days after lambing
  5. mixing pens for ewes with lambs for ewes with lambs 3 to 30 days of age.

Drop Lot

This shold be a large outside lot that ewes can be kept in prior to lambing. This lot usually contains the ewes that are several weeks from lambing. Ewes closer to lambing are usually kept in a drop area close to the lambing shed. This lot should have access to a sheep working facility and the lambing shed.

Lambing Shed

The most common facilities used are unheated lambing barns. They protect the animal from rain, wind, and snow and provide temperatures just higher than outside temperatures. In certain areas heated lambing facilities may be beneficial, with temperatures maintained at 35 to 45 degrees F. However, when heated barns are utilized proper ventilation is more critical. If ammonia can be smelled in the barn ventiliation is inadequate.

Mixing Pens

These are larger pens where ewes and lambs are combined into larger more manageable groups as they come out of the lambing shed. They are usually designed to hold about 20 ewes and their lambs but in certain instances may hold as many as 100 ewes and their lambs Lambs are still relatively young when they are placed in these pens and therefore some type of shelter should be available. This shelter, however, need not be very elaborate (it can be as little as plastic stretched over a wooden frame and against a wind break).


Prelambing Shearing

It is desirable to shear ewes about two weeks prior to lambing. This will enable you to house more ewes in the same shed space. Also it is easier for the lambs to start suckling and encourages the ewes to seek shelter from the cold and to take their newborn lambs with them.

Prelambing Worming

In the northern United States a large percentage of the internal parasites undergo arrested development (hypobiosis) during the winter months. Most anthelmintic are only marginally effective against these arrested larva. However around lambing something occurs to stimulate maturation of thse larva to adults. The result is periparturient rise in worm egg counts and the beginning of an internal parasite problem. Just before lambing is an ideal time to worm the ewes. However, make sure that the drug you are using is safe for pregnant ewes.

Getting Ready

Lambs are born about 145 days after the rams are turned in with the ewes. Make sure you have purchased supplies and set up the lambing facilities well before lambing begins. Once lambing begins your time will be better spent looking after the sheep. Also, spend some time looking for booby traps. Lambs will always find them.

If you are to have a successful lambing season you will avoid the following:

  • Trying to find some boards to build a needed jug panel under three feet of snow at 3 AM in the morning
  • Repairning a hole in the lambing shed or a broken window when a sudden blizzard arrives
  • Going to town to try and find lambing supplies the day 20 new lambs arrive

Drop Pen

It is most disirable to have all pregnant ewes in the immediate drop band. However, in most instances this is not possible. In these cases it is necessary to sort off the "closeup" ewes and place them in areas where they can be given the most attention. About one week before the first lamb is expected, sort out 25 to 30 percent of the ewes that you think will lamb first.

Do everything possible to avoid having lambs born out in the snow.

Drop Picking

The lamber's role is to assist delivery when necessary and to see that the lambs survive. Shortly after lambing the lambs should be picked up and the ewe, along with her lambs, placed in a lambing jug.

When the ewe and lambs are placed in the jug, a stream of colostrum should be milked form each teat in order to remove the wax-like plug in the teat canal. By doing this the lamb will be able to suckle with less difficulty.

This is a good time to access the ewes milk production and make grafts if necessary. Shorly after the lamb is able to stand it should be assisted suckling if it cannot do so itself. The value of colostrum within the first 2 hours of birth cannot be overemphasized. Anitbodies developed by the ewe against infectious organism are transmitted through the colostrum to the lamb. These antibodies provide disease protection to the lamb for several weeks following birth. Without early absorption of these colotral antibodies, the lamb is suceptible to disease. The production of and the ability of the lamb to utilize colotral antibodies decreases dramatically shortly after birth.

(TONS of useful information in this article. Click link at bottom)

Lambing Jugs

During the first days of life the lamb will need to nurse at least 3 times a day. If the lamb becomes too chilled to nurse, it will soon die of starvation. The stress of chilling also reduces the lambs resistance to diseae such as scours and pneumonia. Providing shelter for ewes with newborn lambs is intented to minimize losses in lambs due to enviornmental exposure. The period in the lambing pen is important in preventing losses due to abandonment in later life.

Lambs and ewes must be watched for signs of problems such as startvation, scours, pneumonia, etc. Early diagnosis is essential to effective treatment. To facilitate early diagnosis, ewes and lambs in the lambing jugs should be observed twice each day. Get all ewes and lambs up. Healthy lambs will usually stretch and try to nurse when chased up. Observe lambs for general appearance and attitiude, i.e. droopy ears, hunched up, sunk in sides, etc. If the lamb doesn't look "right" try to determine the source of the problem, i.e. hypothermia, starvation, scours, dehydration, pneumonia, physical injury, ewe with mastitis, ewe not letting a lamb nurse, etc.

If it is all going well the ewe and her new family should be ready to move to the nursery pens by 12 to 24 hours.

Nursey Pens

Nursery pens should contain 5 to 7 ewes and their lambs. These families are still usually less than 3 days old and still getting used to each other. Lambs are still extremely susceptible to hypothermia and starvation. Ewes and lambs should be carefully checked at least twice a day.

If all is well the lambs can be moved to the mixing pens after the lambs are about 3 days of age.

Mixing Pens

After a suitable time in the nursery pens, ewes and their lambs can be combined into larger groups. These groups usually consist of about 20 ewes and their lambs. These pens usually contained significanlty lest shelter than the young family has previously become accustomed to and therefore they should be watched fairly closely for the next couple of days.

By a couple days the new family should be fairly well adjusted to the new environment and well on their way. However, they will still need to nurse several times each day. If they do not recieve enough milk they may quickly deplete their body energy reserves and become susceptible to hypothermia. Generally lambs in the mixing pens need be checked daily. Make sure ewes and lambs do not lose each other. Check for bummers or lambs in the wrong pen. Check ewes for mastitis.

Click link at top to finish reading article

Range and Pasture Weed of the Week - Canada Thistle

This article is a summary of Nebraska Extension Resources Extension Circular EC 171 Noxious Weeds of Nebraska: Canada Thistle, and the Extension Circular EC 130, 2021 Guide for Weed, Disease, and Insect Management in Nebraska Click here to view photos of this plant.

Canada Thistle was probably introduce to America around 1750 and the state of Vermont enacted noxious weed legislation against it in 1975. It was proclaimed a noxious weed in Nebraska in 1873. Obviously it has a long and tenacious history in the United States.

Canada thistle is a perennial that reproduces from both seeds and buds that can develop on its extensive horizontal roots. These cats can grow as much as 9-18 feet laterally and 6-9 feet deep in a single growing season! If roots are cut by cultivation or tillage, segments as small as 1 inch in length can survive and establish a new plant. Both male and female plants are needed for cross pollination and seed production to occur. Female plants are the most prolific producing up to 5,000 seeds per plant! These seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years. These characteristics make the plant very challenging to control.


In the rosette stage, Canada thistle can be difficult to distinguish from other native thistles. The underside of the leaves can be hairy or hairless. As the plant grows, it usually will be 2 to 3 feet tall with alternate, dark green leaves that vary in length. The stems of the plant are erect, branching and grooved with flowering heads that form in clusters. Flowers tend to usually be pink or purple, but also may be white. There are a number of different varities or subspecies of Canada thistle that can vary by differences in their leaves. When Canada thistle plants are detected in a location, plan to return to those sites in the spring and fall to check to see if new rosette plants are establishing in those areas.

Control Methods

Canada thistle is very challenging to control and success usually occurs though utilitizing a variety of methods. The first step is to limit establishment by minimizing the risk of the introduction of seed to open ground and to aggressively control individual plants or patches before spreading occurs.

There are a number of control methods that can be utilized to manage Canada thistle. Competition from the establishment of perennial forage grasses or alfalfa can be an effective cultural control method. The key is to first suppress the plant with herbicide, tillage or mowing and then plant species that will be competitive with Canada thistle and keep it from establishing. Healthy, vigorious stands of grasses, and legumes can be competitive with Canada thistle plants that may germinate from seed.

Beef Cattle Management During Drought: Reproduction Considerations

Written by Carla Sanford, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Effective drought management strategies for Montana cattle producers should include individual animal records, managing cattle by sex, age, and nutrient requirements, use of assisted reproductive technologies to have a higher proportion of females bred earlier in the breeding season, and having a long-term plan for marketing flexibility of the herd.


  • Nutrition
    • Adequate nutrition is critical for reproductive success of the herd
  • Animal body condition by body condition scoring (BCS)
    • Impacted by forage availability and nutritional status
    • Impacts the ability of the animal to breed and how early in the breeding season
      • Poor BCS is indicative of poor nutritional status
      • Inadequate nutrition prior to calving and after can result in longer postpartum interval, failure to conceive early in the breeding season and lighter calves at subsquent weaning
  • Manage by sex, age, and expected nutrient requirements
    • Sorting by sex, age, and physiological status will allow for more efficient use of feedstuffs, hay, and grazing resources
    • Replacement heifers
      • Breeding Program - consider synchronization of estrus (ES; can be used with natural service or artificial insemination) to tighten breeding and calving season
    • BCS impacts fertility, future postpartum interval, lactation, and subsequent rebreeding
  • Young cows (2 and 3 year olds)
    • Breeding program - consider use of ES with CIDR to induce estrous in anestrous cows
    • Average postpartum interval greater vs. mature cows (recovery and unterine involution)
  • Mature cows
    • Breeding program - consider use of ES with CIDR
    • Body condition impacts fertility, postpartum interval, lactation, and subsequent rebreeding
  • Bulls
    • Breeding soundess examination 4- weeks prior to turn out
      • Only use bulls that pass exam
    • Body condition impacts semen quality
      • Can rotate bulls at midpoint of season
    • Bull to cow ratio
      • Mature bulls (3, 4, and 5 year olds ) 1:25 to 1:50
      • Yearling bulls 1:20
      • Use of ES for natural service - use mature bulls at 1:15
    • Libido
      • Monitor bulls 5-7 days after turn out and weekly thereafter
        • Yearling bulls - monitor more frequently
    • Consider social dominance and age of bull
      • Stronger in older bulls (3 year olds or older)
      • Older, more dominant bull will likely breed more females in herd than a younger bull
  • Breeding Program
    • Tighten breedig and calving season to capture more profit at marketing time
    • Synchronization of estrus is a viable option for both natural service and artificial insemination
    • Assess pregnancy early and sell open females earlier
      • Have flexibility in marketing before females lose additional body weight and value at cull cow sale
  • Transportation Stress
    • Ship within 4 days post breeding or wait until 42 days after breeding to haul females as environmental stress early in gestation can cause pregnancy loss


  • Use of assisted reproductive technologies to tighten breeding and calving season and have more calves born earlier in calving season resulting in older and heavier calves at weaning - potential to market calves earlier
  • Early weaning
    • Most beneficial - thin cows and young females (2 to 3 year old cows)
    • Dry cows can be maintained on lower quality pastures or with supplemental feedstuffs
  • Selective and limited replacement heifer retention
    • Phenotype and genotype
    • Age and size - older heifer likely to reach puberty and breed earlier
    • Keep heifers out of higher producing cows
    • Moderate sustained rate of gain
  • Reevaluating culling parameters
    • Cull earlier
    • Use strategic marketing - flexibility
    • Mouth to age cows - cull aged cows
    • Cow accountability
      • Cull earlier
      • Use strategic marketing - flexibility
      • Mouth to age cows - cull aged cows
      • Cow accountability
        • Less productive cows
          • Weaning weight of calves
        • Late calvers
        • Poor temperment
        • Hard keepers

For more information please contact your County Extension Agent or Carla Sanford ([email protected])

Visit Animal Range Extension page for all things beef cattle related

Backyard Guide to Codling Moth Management

New 4/21- Written by Rebecca Richter

It has been said that the only thing worse than finding a worm in an apple... is finding half  of a worm. This MontGuide desribes that "worm" (which is likely the caterpillar (larva) of the codling moth (CM), a major pest of the apple, pear, quince, and walnut), its life cycle, and how to monitor and manage it.

Keys to safe and effective CM management include:

  • Understanding the pest life cycle
  • Monitoring for the pest
  • Timing control methods precisely to target specific life stages
  • Choosing and combining appropriate control methods
  • Beginning control early in spring and continuing throughout the season
  • Prioritizing least-toxic control methods

Life Cycle

As with all insects, the CM life cycle is dependent on temperatures, which means its rate of development varies throughout the season an from year-to-year. In Montana, CM can produce up to three generations per season (spring through mid-September). Understanding its life cycle is important for accurately timing controls that target specific life stages.

The first generation of CM emerges from pupae in spring as half-inch long winges adults that are grayish-brown with a copper-colored band at the wing tips. Females lay up to 70 tiny eggs on immature fruits or neaby leaves. Eggs hatch into one-quarter-inch to one-half-inch long larvae with cream-to-pink-colored bodies and black or brown heads. Larvae burrow into developing fruit to feed on the seeds. Three to four weeks later, the half-inch to three-quarter-inch long mature larvae emerge from fruit to seek shelter in protected areas such as in cracks or under loose bark on the tree trunk or in debris on the ground. There, they either pupate and transform into the next generation of winged adults or spin cocoons for overwintering. Infestation and development stop either with lowering temperatures or reduced daylength in mid-September.


Observing the CM activity will help inform when to begin taking action and whether to scale efforts up or down and/or alter management strategy. Inspect tree fruit regularly for larval entry/exit holes (strikes or strings) and insect poop (frass) and note changes in numbers of larvae in trunk bands. Consider monitoring winged adult activity with an oragne delta-style CM peheromone trap, available through online horticultural supplies.


It cannot be stressed enough that CM controls must be applied at the right time to affect the targeted life stage, otherwise the efforts will have little impact, may harm other wildlife, and time and products will be wasted. Keep in mind that any single method is unlikely to succeed on its own (aside from fruit bagging), so choose a combination of methods to implement throughout the CM season. Also recognize that CM is here to stay, and its management will always be a part of raising crops susceptible to infestation. This guide provides only the basic of CM management for backyard apple and pear growers.

Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation

New 1/19 - Written by Megan Can Emon, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

A bull breeding soundness evaluation is an exam conducted by veterinarians that include a physical exam, semen evaluation, and an internal and external exam of the reproductive tract.

The single most important component of a successful breeding program is using fertile bulls that have passed a bull breeding soundness evaluation (BSE). Each bull is expected to contribute to 20 to 50 pregnancies each year, while individual cows contribure to just one pregnancy per year. Having a BSE conducted on breeding bulls is crucial to a successful breeding program.

The BSE is an exam conducted by veterinarians that includes a physical exam, semen evaluation, and an internal and external exam of the reproductive tract. The BSE should be conducted 30 to 60 days prior to breeding to allow sufficient time time to retest or replace bulls that fail the BSE. It is important to note that the bull's sperm production cycle is approximately 60 days, and if illness, injury or other issues occur, this could negatively impact the BSE and breeding capability of the bull.

Physical Examination

The physical examination evaluates teh bull's physical ability to breed cows. Physical structure and body condition are extremely important factors in Montana due to the distance and terrain bulls may need to travel to breed cows. The physical examination identifies problems such as poor vision, bad teeth, and poor feet and leg structure.

Body condition, or flesh cover, varies by breed, age, physical demands of winter and the previous breeding season, and feed availibility. Body condition should be adequate at the beginning fo the breeding season. A good "rule of thumb" is that bulls should have enough far cover beginning of the breeding season that their ribs are visible but are felt. A thin bull may not have enough stamina to breed many cows in the timeframe allotted. However, a fat bull may not be able to travel extensive distances to breed. Sperm quality can also be negatively impacted in fat or thin bulls.

Bull should have sound physical structure, which will improve mobility. Good feet and legs are needed to travel to the cows, breed, and travel to water and feed sources. Sore feet or stress on tendons and joint due to sickle hocks or post legs can reduce mobility and result in fewer cows being bred. Checking joints for swelling or injury can aid in identifying bulls that are not physically sound to breed. If hooves need to be trimmed, trim four to six weeks prior to turnout to ensure recovery prior to the breeding season.

Vision is an integral component of the BSE because bulls use sight to identify cows in estrus. Eyes should be clear and free of injury and disease, such as cancer eye and pinkeye.

Reproductive Tract Examination

A reproductive tract exam includes an external exam and an internal exam of the bull reproductive tract.

Internal Examination

The internal exam of the reproductive organs in completed rectally. These accessory sex organs produce the seminal fluid and include paired ampulla, seminal vesicles, prostate, and Cowpers glands. The ampulla are enlargements of the vas deferens where they join the urethra (common duct for both semen and urine). The seminal vesicles are glands that extend from the urethra and are lobular. Seminal vesiculities is an infection of the seminal vesicles and causes the glands to become enlarged and lose their lobulation. Seminal vesicultitis results in swelling, poor sperm quality, and pus in the ejaculate. The prostate and Cowpers glands are located over the pelvis around and above the urethra.

External Examination

The external examination includes the testes, scrotum, epididymis, penis, and prepuce. The tests should be firm upon palpation. The condition of the scrotum should be evaluated to ensure there has been no injury or frostbite (often noticed by scabs on the bottom of the scrotum). Injury to the bottom of the scrotum can cause damage to the tail (cauda) of the epididymis, which will reduce sperm quality and availability.

The evaluation of the penis and prepuce requires the penis to be fully extended for evaluation. Both should be free of inflammation, adhesions, warts, abscesses, and deviation. The penis, when fully erect, should run parallel to the body.

Rest of MontGuide includes:

  • Scrotal Circumference
  • Seme evaluation
  • Classification
  • General Considerations
  • Charts and images


Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, is a great crop for our Montana weather and soil. It's tolerant of the cold and dryness, is a perennial (meaning it comes back year after year compared to annuals that are just for one season).

Rhubarb is great to use in pies, jams, cookes, crisps, and many other recipes!

The genus name for rhubarb, Rheum, is derived from Rha, the ancient name for the Volga River, where it grew on the riverbanks. The Chinese cultivated rhubarb for medicine as long ago as 2700 B.C. Marco Polo brought the medicinal plant into Europe and it was commonly grown in Italy by 1608. But it wasn't until 1778 that it was ued as a food in tarts and pies. The plant was brought to America about 1790 and was being marketed by 1822.

There are many cultivars of rhubarb. The most widely available are:

  • Canada Red - This high-quality cultivar has small, thick, tender petioles (leaf stalks). "Canada Red" does best on slightly warmer sites.
  • Crimson Red - Also known as "Crimson Cherry", this cultivar forms brightly-colored red stalks with the unique characteristics of being red throughout, under normal localized growing conditions of the Pacific Northwest.
  • MacDonald - This cultivar produces pink stalks an dis vigorous and upright growing. It is resistant to wilt and root rot.
  • Valentine - This old bolt-resistant cultivar produces long, thick, deep-red petioles that retain color when cooked. It is an excellent choice for home gardens.
  • Victoria - This very old Canadian variety is resistant to wilt and root rot.

Growing Rhubarb

Rhubarb does best on slightly acid soils with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8, but it wil tolerate the somewhat more alkaline Montana soils. It will grow in almost any type of soil but is highly productive on fertile, well-drained soils high in organic matter.

You can grow rhubarb from seed but planting roots (crowns) works well, is easy, and is quickly productive. Even garden novices can be successful. Plant rhubarb crowns in spring as easily as the ground can be worked. To prepare the planting bed, dig holes two feet deep and two feet wide and give three feet of space from other plants in all directions. Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders, so start right by filling the bottom of each hole with a six-inch layer of compost of well-rotted manure. Mix topsoil that was dug out of each hole with equal amounts of compost or manure and fill the hole with this mixture to a dept of one foot. Place the root piece in each hole so that the top, where the plant buds are located, sits 3-4 inches below the soil surface.

Firm the soil around the roots and fill each hole with the soil mixture until level with the surrounding soil. Water well.

If your soil remains too wet to work in early spring, you can plant rhubarb in the fall when dormancy has set in. If you cannot depend upon winter snow cover, mulch the fall-set crowns to reduce winter heaving.

Use no fertilizer in the planting year. Beginning in the second year, side dress (fertilize) each plant with a half-pound of a complete fertilizer such as 16-16-16 just as the petioles first appear. Continue this practice each spring and in fall when the leaves have died down but before the ground has frozen. Straw around the plants will keep weeds under control.

The plant may begin to form flower stalks in midsummer as a result of warm, long days. Remove these flower stalks as soon as they appear. Letting them fully form will draw nutrients away from the petioles and roots and into unwanted seed heads.

Harvest no crop the year of planting. The plant uses sugars made by the leaves to nourish the roots and enlarge the crown, resulting in an overall stronger plant. If plants are healthy, harveset for a few weeks in the second year by gently pulling the petioles from the crowns. Do not cut them.

Never harvest all the petioles since doing so many deplete the plant of enough nutrients to overwinter the roots. Harvest period should last about 4 -6 weeks in subsequent years so long as plants remain vigorous.

The leaf blades of the rhubarb contain poisonous oxalic acid in quantities high enough to cause human fatalities if they are ingested. DO NOT EAT RHUBARB LEAF BLADES. Instead, cut the blades from the petioles and eat only the stalks.

Included in article:

  • Propagation
  • Pests

Happy Memorial Day!

Memorial day is a day to gather and remember those who gave their lives in service to our country!

Today I wanted to switch it up and do something totally different and fun! So for MontGuide Monday, I am sharing some delicious food ideas for Memorial Day! Recipes are from the USDA website, so they are cost effective, healthy, and easy to make!

What's on your Menu?

  • Bugs on a Log
  • Turkey Burgers
  • Tastee Burgers
  • Italian Pasta Salad
  • Baked Beans
  • Fresh Fruit with Cinnamon Yogurt Dip
  • Lemonade

Asparagus in the Home Garden

Asparagus is a perennial plant that will provide delicious and nutritious food for many years, if started correctly and with proper care of the bed properly. Asparagus is low in calories and a great source of vitamin C, A, and K, as well as folate.

Most cultivars of asparagus are hardy to USDA Zone 3, but some cultivars are hardy to Zone 2. Asparagus does best on sites with moist soil and full sun. Beds reach peak production in about eight years, when the yield of spears can reach five pounds per 100 square feet. A properly managed bed remains productive for 12 to 15 years; some over 30 years old are fairly productive. Asparagus tolerates higher soil sanity than most other garden plants and can be planted in low, wet areas where other crops will not grow.

Establishing a Bed

Plant Materials

Start by purchasing one-or-two-year-old crowns, or divide and transplant old crowns, leaving one bud per division. An old clump can be divided into as many as 50 new plants. Direct seeding is possible, but not recommneded due to variability of resulting seedlings. Planting newly purchased crowns is the most popular way to start an asparagus bed.

Be sure crowns for planting are dormant and have large, fleshy, whiteish-tan roots without mold or rot.

Soil Preperation

Because an asparagus bed will last many years, have the soil tested prior to preperation to determine existing nutrients and obtain fertilizer recommendations (Home Garden Soil Testing & Fertilizer Guidelines).

Destroy all perennial weeds by mulching or cultivating. Then spade or till the soil deeply, working in 50 to 100 pounds of rotted organic matter or compost per 100 square feet (two to four inches on the bed).

Also apply fresh or highly nitrogenous manure (like poultry manure) at one fourth that rate (1/2 to 1 inch). Like other plants, asparagus needs ample supplies of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and other materials, as well as nitrogen.


In spring, when soil temperatures have reached at least 50oF, use the trench method to plant or dig individual holes: Dig your trench 10 inches deep by 10 inches wide with 2-inch mounds 18 inches apart. Rehydrate crowns by soaking in tepid water for one or two hours, then spread the roots over the mounds. Leave 2 1/2 to 3 feet between rows. Or, dig holes about 6 to 8 inches deep and 10 to 12 inches in diamtere. Place a crown into each hole with the central bud pointing upward. For either method, fill with about three inches of topsoil, covering crowns.

As the tips of the young shoots extend above the soil, add additional soil to the hole. Finish filling the hole when the tips of the shoots extend above the ground level.

Apply fertilizer at planting according to the soil test results. Most Montana soils contain adequate calcium, but acid soils in the high mountain valleys and some sandy soils in other areas may need additional calcium. Follow soil test recommendations.


Cultivars can be all-or predominantly male. Female stalks are thicker and produce seeds, while male stalks are more prolific and smaller in diameter. Rust-resistance varieties are recommended.

"Mary Washington" is the most time-proven cultivar. It yields well, survives under our conditions, and is rest resistant. Other cultivars for Montana include the disease resistant "Jersey" series (including the all-male "Knight" and "Giant" and the predominantly male "Supreme"), the predominantly male "Millennium" that is adapted to heavier soils, and "Purple Passion" and "Pacific Purple," which are beautiful cut on a slant and eaten raw in salads (they lose their purple color when cooked). 

What else is included:

  • Weed Control
  • Insect Control
  • Diseases
  • Harvesting
  • Maintaining Established Beds

Grasshopper Control in Gardens and Small Acreages

Quick Facts

  • Grasshoppers are the most difficult to control because they are highly mobile
  • All grasshoppers lay their eggs in soil
  • There are over 100 species of grasshoppers in Colorado
  • During periods when local outbreaks are developing, control usually involves using sprays or baits

Grasshoppers can be the most noticeable and damaging insects to yards and fields. They also are among those most difficult to control, since they are highlly mobile. For many reasons, grasshopper populations fluctuate greatly from year to year, and may cause serious damage during periodic outbreaks. Problems tend to increase beginning in early summer and can persis until hard frosts.

Over 100 species of grasshoppers occur in Colorado and their food habits vary. Some primarily feed on grasses or sedges, while others prefer broadleaved plants. Other grasshoppers restrict their feeding to plants of no great economic value and a few even feed primarily on weed species (e.g. snakeweed). However, others will readily feed on garden and landscape plants.

Among vegetable crops certain plants are favored, such as lettuce, carrots, beans, sweet corn, and onion. Squash, peas, and tomatoes (leaves, not fruit) are among the plants that tend to be avoided.

Grasshoppers less commonly feed on leaves of trees and shrubs. However, during outbreak years even these may be damaged. Furthermore, grasshoppers may incidentally damage shelterbelt plantings when they rest on twigs and gnaw on bark, sometimes causing small branches to die back.

Grasshopper Life History

All grasshoppers lay their eggs in soil, in the form of tight clustered pods. Relatively dry soils, undisturbed by tillage or irrigations, are preferred. Egg laying may be concentrated at certain sites with favorable soil texture, slope, and orientation, producing 'egg beds.'

The egg stage is the overwintering stage of most, but not all, grasshoppers. For the majority of species the eggs hatch in mid-to late-spring, varying with soil temperatures. At egg hatch the tiny first stage nymphs move to the surface and seek tender foliage on which to feed. The first few days are critical to survival. Adverse weather or absence of suitable foods can cause high mortality. Surviving grasshoppers continue to develop over the next several weeks, usually moling through five or six stages, before ultimately reaching the adult form.

Adult grasshoppers may live for months, interspersing feeding with mating and egg laying. Sepcies that winter in the egg stage die out in late summer and early fall. A few species, perhaps most conspiciously the speckledwinged grasshopper, spend winter as a nimph, remain active during warm periods, and may develop to the adult form by late winter.

Grasshopper Control

Natural Controls

The most important factors are weather related, particularly around the time of egg hatch. For example, cold, wet weather is very destructive to newly hatched grasshoppers. However, very dry winter and spring conditions also can be harmful to survival since required tender new plant growth is not available.

Some insects commonly feed on grasshoppers. Many species of blister beetles (Blister Beetles in Forage Crops) develop on grasshopper egg pods and blister beetle abuncdance cycles along with their grasshopper hosts. Adult robber flies are common predators of grasshoppers during summer and other flies develop as internal parasites of grasshoppers. Many birds, notable horned larks and kestrals, feed heavily on grasshoppers. Grasshoppers are also frequently eaten by coyotes.

Grasshoppers are also subject to some usual diseases. A fungus (Entomophthora grylli) infects grasshoppers causing them to move upwards and cling to plants shortly before they kill the insect host. Stiff, dead grasshoppers found stuck to a grass stem or twig indicate infection with this disease. A very large nematode (Mermis nigriscens) also sometimes develops in grasshoppers. Both the fungus disease and nematode parasite are favored by wet weather.

What else is included in article:

  • Pictures and tables
  • Managing Grasshoppers with Baits and Sprays
  • Nosema locustae Baits
  • Some interesting and Unusual Grasshoppers
  • Pictures

Maintaining Successful Lawns in Montana

New 5/20

This MontGuide contains insights and information on maintaining a lawn. Topics include fertilizers, mowing, disease, and weed and insect control.

Lawns tie most home landscapes together, control soil erosion, dampen traffic noise, and cool the air. But these things only happen if the lawn has been installed and maintained correctly.


For most Montana conditions, apply 2 to 4 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn per year. Make two to three applications so that no more than 1 1/2 pounds of available nitrogen per 1000 square feet are applied at one time. The precise times for fertilizing lawns vary across the state, but fertilizing around Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day (after the last mowing but about four weekds before the soil freezes) are good rules of thumb. If you only apply fertilizer once or twice a season, the two fall applications are the key fertilizing times. Your lawn will green faster in spring if you remember the Columbus Day application.

Rates of application are given in pounds of actual nitrogen and the oxides of phosphorus and potassium. A 30-10-10 fertilzer contains 30 percent of nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus pentoxide, and 10 percent potassium oxide. A 100-pound bag will contain 30 pounds of available nitrogen (actual N) and 10 pounds each of the oxides of phosphorus and potassium. The remaining 50 pounds is inert material.

To figure how much of a given fertilizer you need to apply, use this formula:

lbs. of nitrogen you want

/ the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer mix

= lbs. of fertilizer mix needed

For example, if you wished to apply 4 pounds of actual nitrogen using ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), you would need 19 pounds of the fertilizer. TO get this value, divide the pounds of nitrogen wanted by the percent nitrogen in the fertilizer:

4 (lbs. of nitrogen needed)

/ .21 (decimal representing the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer mix)

= 19.04 (lbs. of fertilizer mix needed)

So, 19.04 lbs. of 21-0-0 provides 4 lbs. actual nitrogen. Similarly, if you wished to use ammonium nitrate (33-0-0):

4 / .33 = 12.1

It will take 12.1 pounds of 33-0-0 to provide 4 pounds of actual nitrogen.


For a healthy lawn, mow frequently enough to remove only 1/3 of the grass blade and don't catch the clippings. Instead, allow them to decompose on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil. Clippings don't cause thatch.

Keep mower blades sharp to avoid tearing grass and giving a whitish cast to the lawn.

Mow Kentucky bluegrass/fescue/ryegrass mixes no lower than 1 1/2 inches. Kentucky bluegrass will tolerate lower clipping, but fescues and ryegrasses will thin when mowed short. Higher mowing heights help to conserve water. Set mowing heights high, particularly during hot spells.

What's included in the rest of the MontGuide:

  • Thatch and Aeration
  • Watering
  • Pest Management
    • Disease Management
    • Weed Management
    • Insect Management

Selecting an Attorney in Montana to Develop an Estate Plan or Administer an Estate (Probate)

Current as of 5/21

This MontGuide describes a process for selecting an attorney to help Montanans develop an estate plan and/or administer an estate (probate).

When selecting an attorney to help develop an estate plan, it is helpful to have one who is well-informed about Montana will and trust laws, and other legal tools. You want the attorney to develop an estate plan tailored to your needs, by considering your age, health, family, income, assets, goals, and other circumstances.

If the goal is to find an attorney to help settle an estate or administer a probate, then look for one who is knowledgable about the probate process and trust law in Montana. Attorneys have different areas of expertise. For example, an attorney who excels in litigation may not e the best choice for developing an estate plan or administering a probate. This MontGuide describes important steps to consider when selecting an attorney in Montana to help develop and implement an estate plan or to provide legal help with the probate process.

Step 1a: If searching for an attorney to help develop an estate plan, the first step is to organize information the attorney needs to know.

The attorney will need to konw about you and your assets, family, and estate planning goals. Make a list of assets you own. MSU Extension provides a checklist, "What My Attorney Should Know" in the MontGuide Estate Planning in Montana: Getting Started.

Complexity of assets.The more complex your assets, the more competence in estate planning you want an attorney to have. All Montana estate planning attorneys should be capable to have. All Montana estate planning attorneys should be capable of developing an estate plan for basic assets such as a home, vehicles, and financial and investment accounts when the value of those assets is not large enough to raise a federal tax concern.

During 2021 the federal estate and gift tax excemption is $11.7 million per individual, or $23.4 million for a married couple. In 2026, however, the exemption reverts to $5 million with an inflation adjustment. With new political leaders at the national level, the exemption could change before 2026.

Retirement accounts, including Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs -- traditional and Roth), 403(b), 457, and 401 (k) accounts, have unique, technical rules. If your retirement account balances are large, your attorney should understand federal and state income tax rules.

Spraying Noxious Weeds During Drought

July Monthly Weed Post


Drought is a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period, usually a season or more, and if often linked with high temperatures and low relatively humidity. Managing noxious weeds with herbicides during drought is challenging. To kill a weed, most herbicides must be absorbed by the weed, moved throughout the weed (translocated), and reach the location in plant cells where they can disrupt the weed's growth. This process can be compromised during drought, as drought affects plant growth and effectiveness of herbicide application.

Drought Effects on Plant Growth

When plants photosynthesis, they take in carbon dioxide and water and convert them to sugar and oxygen. During this process, gases (CO2 and O2) are exchanged through stomates, or small openings on the underside of leaves. Water vapor is lost through stomates during this process. Plants conserve water during drought by closing their stomates, and photosynthesis slows. Plants also increase the thickness of cuticles, a waxy, protective film on the surface of leaves and young shoots. Leaves may roll and droop during drought as well. These physiological plant responses lessen herbicide effectiveness: many herbicides need actively photosynthesizing plants for good absorption, translocation, and movement to target cells; thick cuticles can prevent herbicides from making good contact with leaves; and droopy leaves with rolled edges make it more difficult for spray droplets to stay on the leaf surface.

Drought Effects on Herbicide Application

Environmental conditions often associated with drought - high temperatures and low relative humidity - can reduce effectiveness of herbicide applications. High temperatures and low relative humidity lead to rapid drying and evaporation of spray droplets, reducing contact time with plant foliage and absorption of herbicide into plant tissue. The risk of volatilization and movement of herbicides off-site increases with high temperatures too. For soil-applied herbicides that are broken down by microbes in the soil, high temperatures can increase microbial activity and lead faster decomposition, although dry soil conditions may counteract this. Soil-applied herbicides may remain on the soil surface, risking photo decomposition or off-site movement during high winds.

Tips for Noxious Weed Management During Drought

Consider the following strategies for improving herbicides performance, and noxious weed management in general, during droughty conditions:

  • If drought is looming, be prepared to spray noxious weeds earlier in the season or wait unitl fall when cooler, and hopefully wetter, weather occurs
  • Apply herbicides early morning or evening when temperature is lower and relative humidity is higher
  • Use quality adjuvants (e.g., surfactants, stickers, spreaders) to improve contact between plant foliage and herbicde solution
  • Increase the volume of water (spray volume or GPA (gallons per acre)) applied with the herbicide
  • Consider alternative control tactics like mowing or targeted grazing
  • Supplemental hay may be needed for feeding livestock during drought; if hay is received from distant locations, feed it in a contained area and monitor for new invaders for at least a year or two.

Thrips on Vegetables and Flowers

With our hot and dry weather, thrips populations are increasing on many of our vegetables and flowers. Thrips are small, yellowish insects that reside on the underside of the leaves, and the pest thrips that we have puncture the cells on the leaf surface to drink or suck plant juices.

Plant Symptoms/Damage:

Thrips cause scarring and silvery type injuries to the leaves and flowers. The leaves can become necrotic with heavy infestations and distortion can occur. Thrips are commonly associated with drought-stressed vegetables/plants and have a variety of hosts from vegetables to grasses and flowers.



Overhead water your plants with heavy jets of water on hot days on a regular basis (if practical), but in the morning to preven issues with powdery mildew. You can also use yellow sticky traps to catch the winged adults. Deadhead all of your flowers and control surrounding weeds (serve as alternative hosts).

Biological control:

Predatory thrips and mites can be used as natural enemies of these pest thrips. They can be purchased form places like Arbico Organics and IPM Labs.

Chemical control:

The active ingredient spinosad is effective against thrips (products such as Monterey Garden Insect Spray, Captain Jack's). Other active ingredients that can be used include neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils. These can be purchased at a garden or hardware store. Follow the label. Thrips are active on the undersides of the leaves, so target these areas well when spraying.

Disclaimer: These recommendations are provided only as a guide. It is always the pesticide applicator’s responsibility, by law, to read and follow all current label directions for the specific pesticide being used. If any information in these recommendations disagrees with the label, the recommendation must be disregarded. No endorsement is intended for products mentioned. The authors and Montana State University assume no liability resulting from the use of these recommendations. The Montana State University Extension Service is an ADA/EO/AA/Veteran’s Preference Employer and Provider of Educational Outreach.

Check Alfalfa for Blister Beetle Activity

Blister beetles are becoming more common as we progress through the growing season. Recently, there have been multiple reports of bluster beetles showing up in alfalfa fields. The larvae of these beetles are beneficial because they feed on grasshopper eggs. However, the adults feed on the leaves and blossoms of plants, including alfalfa, and contain a toxic chemical called cantharidin. They can be an issue when large populations are present in alfalfa fields at the time of harvest. Hay that is heavily infested with blister beetles can be toxic, making it a health concern for livestock.


Blister beetles have one generation per year. Adults can be up to 1 inch long, have a soft, elongated body, and vary in color and size based on species. The most common species in South Dakota are the black ashgray, immaculate, striped, and margined blister beetles. A unique characteristic of blister beetles is that their thorax (middle body segment) is narrower than both the head and abdomen. Another characteristic is that when at rest, the abdomen of blister beetles stick out past their hardened forewings.

Blister beetles get their name becaue their blood contains cantharidin, which causes blisters if it comes in contact with skin. The beetles release this toxic chemical through reactive bleeding to defend themselves from predators. Cantharidin is also released if the beetles are crushed, which is a problem when feeding infested hay to livestock. If an animal ingests enough blister beetles, it can lead to sickness or even death.


It is important to scout alfalfa fields for blister beetles prior to each cutting. Second and later cuttings are at higher risk of infestation because blister beetles are more adundant by early to mid-summer. Due to their predation on grasshopper eggs, blister beetles are more likely to be present in the areas where large grasshopper populations were present the previous year. Consider management if you notice large numbers of blister beetles in the field.

Insecticide applications are not recommended, as this kills the beetles but does not remove them from the hay. Dead blister beetles still remain toxic, and spraying may end up increasing the number of beetles per bale. The alternative is to cut alfalfa prior to peak bloom as blister beetles are attracted to the blossoms. It is also important to allow the cut alfalfa to dry fully before raking so that the beetles have time to vacate the plants prior to baling. The worst infestations are often located on the edges of the field, so destroying the bales produced from this hay can reduce livestock health concerns.

When selling hay, ensure that blister beetles aren't present of notify the buyer of any infested bales. Horses have a parrticularly high sensitivity to cantharidin, so it is important that they don't consume infested hay. Especially avoid feeding hay from field edges to horses.

Use Caution When Selling Livestock to Unknown Buyers

July 20th, 2021

The Montana Farm Bureau is urging caution to any rancher hoping to sell livestock over the internet, via social media or other sources.

"Sadly, with the drought conditions and lack of hay, many ranchers are needing to cull their stock, and some are choosing to do so via internet or dealing with people they are unfamiliar with. We've been hearing tales of people not getting paid even after the livestock have transferred ownership," noted MFBF Executive Director John Youngberg.

The best defense is to kow your buyer, said Youngberg. "Don't sell to someone completely unknown. Make sure you are paid beforehand or at the very least, get a down payment. Be sure to set your terms before you make any transaction. If you have animals to sell, contact your local auction yard in advance and have your animals sold to a reputable buyer. It's wise to tell the auction yard well beforehand how many pairs you will be selling so they can find buyers in advance."

The Montana Department of Livestock keeps a record of a certified, bonded cattle dealers.

"Unfortunately, in hard times like we are seeing now, people get more susceptible to scams. If some deal sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't a good deal," noted Board of Livestock Executive Officer Mike Honeycutt. "If you're retaining ownership of cattle going to a feedlot you are unfamiliar with, check sources to ensure you are putting your animals with a reputable business. Call the Montana Department of Livestock who can help you determine if you're working with a reputable dealer. In addition, our office keeps a list of livestock scams."

Youngberg reiterated to be cognizant with whom you are doing business. "Unfortunately, when hard times hit, there is always an element out there who feel the time is ripe for bilking someone out of their money or in this case, out of their livestock. Be alert and protect yourself. Times are hard enough without adding unscrupulous people into an already stressful situation."

Q&A: Grasshopper Pest Management in Cropland

2021 Summer - Tyler Lane - Lives and Landscape Magazine

Why did we see high populations of grasshoppers in Montana in 2020?
Favorable weather conditions have promoted grasshopper pest populations. In 2019, a cool, wet spring delayed hatching, and then warm weather moved in without additional cool, wet weather, which resulted in a high percentage of hatch survival rates later in the season. In addition, vegetation was highly productive in 2019, especially sweet clover. As a result, grasshopper populations grew without being noticed or managed.

Why should I be concerned in 2021?
A dry summer in 2020 and an open fall promoted high egg laying which will result in large hatches in 2021. If a drought continues in Montana, populations will continue to increase. Grasshoppers are a boom and bust species. As long as we have arid conditions, populations will continue to increase.

What about the cold weather last winter?
Wouldn’t below zero temperatures affect egg survival rates? The answer for 2021 is probably not. In Canada, few grasshoppers hatched following a winter with temperatures at negative 22º F. However, Canada had little snow cover during the time period when mortality occurred. Snow cover generally reduces the impact of cold temperatures on below-ground overwintering insects.

Will a wet spring break the cycle?
The answer is yes if timed correctly with hatches. Prime conditions for decreasing populations begin with warm, early springs followed by a hot period, followed by a minimum of one week of cloudy, wet weather. Warm, early springs promote embryo development. A hot period in early spring promotes hatching and one week of cloudy, wet weather promotes fungal pathogens on grasshoppers.

When should I start monitoring for grasshoppers?
Begin on May 1. The grasshoppers of most concern (Two-striped, Migratory and Packard) usually hatch close to May 15. Another monitoring rule of thumb is that embryos will continue development when the soil temperature rises to 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Eggs will typically hatch 14 days later.

I saw grasshoppers long before the soil temperature reached 50-55 degrees. Should I be concerned?
The answer is most likely no. There are a handful of grasshopper species that overwinter as adults and are not considered harmful. Catch the grasshopper and determine if it has wings. Winged grasshoppers are adults that have overwintered and will not cause any harm to the crop.

How do I monitor for grasshoppers?
Visualize a square-foot area from a distance and count the number of grasshoppers jumping out. Divide the number of grasshoppers by the number of areas counted and multiply by nine to estimate density per square yard. Be sure to completely disturb the square foot area because first and second instar nymphs often will not jump.

Is it true that the migratory grasshopper is often the most harmful species to cereals?
Yes, it can travel very long distances, destroy seedlings, defoliate crops throughout the growing season and clip cereal grain heads before harvest.

How do I tell a harmful grasshopper from a non-harmful grasshopper?
Many spur-throated (having a spine on the throat area) grasshoppers are harmless, but a few species, like the Two-striped and Migratory are major pests of cropland. Slant-faced grasshoppers are slim and pointed in profile or they have disproportionately large heads, and lay too few eggs to be harmful.

What are yield damaging levels for grasshoppers?
Thresholds for managing grasshopper pests in spring wheat are used for alfalfa and dry beans. Lentils are very susceptible to adult grasshoppers because they can clip the pods. The action threshold for lentils is only two grasshoppers per square yard in flowering to pod stages. See Table 1.

I have heard about diflubenzuron (Dimilin®). Why is it so highly recommended for grasshopper control?
Diflubenzuron is active for 30 days, has a low toxicity to mammals, and provides some safety to beneficial insects.

How does diflubenzuron work?
Diflubenzuron interferes with formation of a grasshopper’s exoskeleton, which leads to loss of body fluids. Maximum control usually is achieved in 10-14 days. If a large influx from neighboring fields should occur, the time to reduce that population may not be short enough to minimize extensive foliage feeding; a tank mix with a knockdown insecticide is recommended under these conditions. Diflubenzuron can be mixed with the knockdown insecticide to provide 30 days of crop protection.

When do I spray diflubenzuron?
It is important to apply diflubenzuron when grasshoppers are second to fourth stage nymphs, which is when they measure about three-fourths of an inch in length and do not have fully-formed wings. Diflubenzuron is not effective on adults. When in doubt, always refer to the product label.

What would be a good step-by-step management order if grasshoppers continue to exceed economic threshold levels?
First, spray grass borders and neighboring rangeland at beginning of egg hatch using diflubenzuron. Second, use diflubenzuron on field borders (a minimum of 150 feet). Lastly, spray contact insecticides if populations exceed economic threshold. Be sure to rotate insecticide groups to prevent resistance. Remember, diflubenzuron can be mixed with the knockdown insecticide to provide 30 total days of crop protection.

Preventing Weed Invasion from Hay Shipments


Drought conditions worsened throughout July, and hay is in short supply across Montana and the West. Hay purchased or donated from outside a local area of the state has the potential to contain new weeds and other pests like insects and diseases. Recognizing the need for hay and the risk of new pest introductions, here are some short-term and long-term best management practices to prevent weed invasion.

Short-Term Practices

When searching for and receiving hay, ask where it was grown and if it contains any known weeds. If that information is available, familiarize yourself with invasive plants from that area. You can view distribution records of weeds in Montana, the West, and the rest of the country on EddMapS. Consider local and in-state resources before choosnig to buy hay from out-of-state, as this will reduce the risk of importing a weed not currently found in Montana. If possible, use certified weed seed-forage. Once hay arrives, feed it in a limited area so that any new weeds will be concentrated in one spot instead of widely dispersed across a large area. Feeding areas should also be those that can be easily monitored for new weeds and treated with a broad-spectrum herbicide treatment in the future in case weeds resistant to multiple modes of action (e.g., Palmer amaranth, marestail) are introduced.

Long-Term Practices

Monitor areas where hay was fed and be alert to any new or unfamiliar plants. If new or unfamiliar plants appear, identify them. Local Extension offices, county weed district offices, and the MSU Schutter Diagnostic Lab can help with identification. Control weeds before they produce seed; if weeds are found when they are already producing seed, remove plants and seeds and dispose of them in the trash. Delay moving livestock through an area with a new weed species until it is removed or contained. Document where new weeds are growing so the area can be monitored and treated. If necessary, in the future. These practices are especially important this fall and next spring through summer, but because some weed seeds remain viable for many years, continued monitoring for several years is recommeneded.


MSU Extension, Montana Noxious Weed Education Compaign, Montana Department of Agriculture, Montana Invasive Species Council, Montana Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Montana Weed Control Association are partnering to produce and distribute educational materials surrounding this topic as well as other drought-related topics. Contact any of them for assistance, and see the following resources for more information:

  • MSU Extension Ag Alert highlighting resources for drought-related challenges for ag producers
  • MDA's Hay Hotline, a marketplace to donate, buy and sell hay and straw within Montana
  • MDA has funding available to assist with revegetation and noxious weed control for cooperative weed management areas (CWMAs) impacted by severe drought and/or wildlife
  • NRCS has financial assistance available to farmers and ranchers impacted by severe drought

First-time Home Buyer Savings Account

Montana residents can save money in a special savings account for the purchase of a first home and save on Montana income taxes because of the First-time Home Buyer Act. The purpose of this MontGuide is to answer commonly asked questions about these accounts.

What are some of the requirements of the law?

Taxpayers who have previously owned a home, condominium, townhouse, or modular or mobile home with a permanent foundation at any other time, in any other state or country, do not qualify for first-time home buyer savings account.

The first-time home buyer savings account must be established prior to the purchase of a single-family home. You can't buy a home and then open the savings account retroactively. Money in a first-time home buyer savings account must be used for eligble home buyer expenses to qualify for a Montana income tax reduction.

What are eligible first-time home buyer expenses?

Money withdrawn from a first-time home buyer savings account is not subject to Montana income taxation if used for eligible costs for the purchase of a single-family residence by a first-time home buyer. Examples of eligible expenses include: down payment, closing costs, realtor's fees, appraisal costs, credit history report, points, pro-rated property taxes, home inspections, and loan origination fees.

However, if taxpayers plan to itemize these types of costs on their Montana income tax returns, those costs are not considered as eligible expenses. A taxpayer can't deduct such expenses twice.

Where can I establish a first-time home buyer savings account?

First-time home buyer savings accounts can be established at a stage or federally chartered bank, a savings bank, a credit union, a trust company, a mutal fund company or with a brokerage firm. The account must be kept seperate from all other accounts (e.g., checking or savings accounts, IRAs, medical care savings accounts (MSAs) and so on). It must be maintained specifically for the purchase of a single-family home by the account holder.

The account holder, not the financial institution, is requred to maintain documentation to verify that the withdrawals from the first-time home buyer savings account were used exclusively for eligible expenses for the purchase of a single-family home.

MSU Extension advises caution for livestock feeding or grazng weeds during drought

July 30th, 2021 - MSU News Service

Bozeman - Due to the extended drought in Montana, water availabilty in many areas has become severly limited. Reservoirs have dried up and are becoming covered in weeds. Montana State University Extension educators are cautioning livestock managers to evaluate weed feed and grazing land for nitrate toxicity during drought.

"Due to the severe drought, weeds have become preveland across pastures and many producers are limited in their cattle movement this year," said Custer County Extension Agent Mike Schuldt.

Although weeds can be high in protein and energy for livestock, caution should be used when cattle are grazing weedy areas or are fed weedy hay, according to Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist. Some weeds, including kochia, prostrate knotweed, Rocky Mountain Goosefoot, and Lambs Quarter, accumulate nitrate during drought conditions. These weeds may be the only green feed available, and livestock often gravitate to green areas to graze.

Recently, Schuldt and Van Emon investigated a weedy reservoir and collected samples for nitrates. When analyzed through a Nitrate Strip Test, the Rocky Mountain Goosefoot had approximately 50,000 ppm of nitrate. Van Emon said these levels are extremely high and should not be fed to livestock. Nitrate Strip Tests are available at MSU Extension county offices.

"These weeds were extremely worrisome due to their ability to accummulate nitrates, and this became more apparent after we watched a cow grazing in the area and eating the Rocky Mountain Goosefoot," Van Emon said. "The producer indicated that these weeds are normally not present and when traveling through the pasture, the Goosefoot and Lambs Quarter were not observed anywhere other than the dried reservoir."

Ideally, feed or grazing pastures for livestock should contain less than 1,500 ppm of nitrate, said Van Emon. As the concentration of nitrate increases, more risk is associated with providing those feeds to livestock. Van Emon recommends keeping livestock away from feed that has nitrate concentrations over 10,000 ppm.

"The recommendation to the producer was to remove the cattle from the area of concern or fence off the reservoir to reduce the risk of cattle grazing the weeds," Schuldt said. "Nitrate concentrations at that level are concerning and nitrate toxicity symptoms and death can occur rapidly."

Symptoms of nitrate toxicity in livestock include labored breathing, muscle tremors, weakness, and staggering gait. If these symptoms are observed, remove the nitrate-containing feed or move the livestock out of the pasture and contact a veterinarian for a treatment plan right away. When moving cattle from a high-nitrate feed area, move them slowly, as moving livestock too quicklly can exacerbate the symptoms.

Help Your Lawn Recover from Drought

By Tom Kalb, Horticulturist - NDSU Extension - Dakota Gardener Article

This summer has been very stressful for lawns. The historic drought of 2021 turned many of our lawns brown and crispy.

That's in the past.

Temperatures have cooled off recently and we finally are getting some rain. This opens an opportunity for us to strengthen our lawns before winter.

Start by fertlizing your lawn. The fertilizer will thicken your turf and strengthen its root system this fall.

Applying a lawn fertilizer with potash in it is especially important this year. This is the third number listed on the bag. For example a 30-0-10 fertilizer contains 30% nitrogen, 0% phosphate and 10% potash. This potash will help our lawns recover from the stresses of this summer's drought and the upcoming winter's cold temperatures.

Let's aim to apply the fertilizer near Labor Day. Irrigate the lawn after fertilizing.

Many of our lawns are full of weeds now. These weeds kept growing this summer while our lawn grasses turned brown and went dormant.

The key to killing a weed is to get the herbicide down into its roots.

As the nights get logner and the temperatures cool off, weeds will start moving their nutrients down into their roots to prepare for winter.

This movement down into roots makes fall the most effective season to kill hard-to-control perennial weeds such as thistlem, field bindweed, clover and dandelion.

When you spray a perennial weed this fall, the plant will move the the herbicide naturally down into its roots along with its nutrients.

The first step is to get the herbicide absorbed by the leaves of the weed. That's why herbicide sprays are more effective than granular (usually weed-and-feed) products. Herbicide granules sometimes drop off weed leaves before they are absorbed.

Let's aim for weed control operations soemtime in mid-to late September.

Spot treatments are best to mimize the exposure of yourself and your landscape platns to toxic chemicals. Read the label of the herbicide carefully and follow its instructions.

If the drought created some bare spots in your lawn, now its a great time to sow and seed and repair the damage. Now though mid-September is the best time to sow grass seed. The ground is warm, and the seed will germinate quickly.

Rake out the dead patches, sow the grass and lightly rake the seed into the soil

Keep the soil moist with frequent, light waterings for two to three weeks until the seeds germinate and become established. Try to water at least once every day for a few minutes to keep the seed bed moist and to help the seedlings grow.

Another way to improve your lawn this fall is to aerate it. September is the best month to aerate your lawn.

A core aeration will open air pockets in the soil, ecouraging more roots to grow. Remove cores as deeply as possible, taking a few passes over the lawn. Best results are attained when the soil is slightly moist.

You can aerate, sow and fertilize on the same day, if you want.

Thank goodness for the rains we have been recieving! Let's take advantage of this cooler, wetter weather to help our lawns recover from drought and prepare for winter.

Being Mindful Through the Years

Explore the benefits for children to learn and practice mindfulness.

2021 Summer - Lives & Landscapes - by Roubie Younkin (MSU Extension Family and Consumer Science and 4-H Youth Development Agent in Valley County)

A break from school is highly anticipted, and summer provides a perfect escape from the rigors of structured learning. For parents, it may be temping to fill these days with activities to live each moment to the fullest. However, the greatest gift might be just slowing down. Carefree summer days lend themselves to introducing mindfulness and the importance of being present. By teaching mindfulness skills, we can empower them to meet the stresses of the world with presence, self-compassion, and openness.

Mindfulness practices can be simple techniquest that encourage the individual to focus on what is happening in the moment. Mindfulness practices help youth and adults intentionally observe what is going on in the present. Examples might include a mindfulness walk, where youth focus on lifting their feet, the sound around them, their breathing, what the air smells like or a mindfulness snack where youth notice how the food smells, what it tastes like, and how it feels. Other examples include mindful breathing, listening, or drawing.

When mindfulness is taught to children, they gain tools to build confidence, cope with stress and relate to uncomfortable or challenging moments. For children, mindfulness may offer relief and a sense of control when encountering difficulties. Teaching mindfulnes to children can also help shape three critical skills developed in early childhood: paying attention and remembering information, shifting back and forth between tasks, and behaving appropiately with others. Children's brain development aligns well with mindfulness as connections in the prefrontal circuits are created at a fast rate during childhood. These abilities are known as executive functions and they are essential for more advanced tasks: planning, reasoning, problem-solving, and positive social relationships.

Practicing mindfulness is helping in recognizing what is positive in our lives, and in noticing difficulties. Youth who practice being aware of their feelings during difficulties are better able to navigate through adverse situations.

Mindfulness is most effective when it is modeled by parents or teachers. Parents are encouraged to develop their own inner mindfulness skillset and share their triumphs with children. The results of mindfulness and its effects on a child's mental health make the time invested in modeling and learning this ancient art worthwhile. It is not conceptual learning and cannot be "taught" like math or science. It is, however, one tool that parents that have a unique opportunity to gift their children: the gift of peace, with the ability to pause.

Mindfulness benefits include:

  • Developing the habit of focusing on the moment, ignoring distractions, and improving attentiveness
  • Staying calm and regulating behavior during stressful moments
  • Finding peace through meditation
  • Promoting happiness by lowering social anxiety
  • Encouraging patience
  • Creating habits for the future

Practicing mindfulness does not come naturally to most kids, but most are receptive to the process. The research-backed benefits of mindfulness are a parent's dream. They include positive effects on the child's physical and mental health, the power to promote kindness, patience, and compassion for others and the ability to boose self-control, increase attention/focus and encourage better decision making.

The more strategies a child has to handle emotions, the better equipped they will be to face challenges and move through hard times with confidence and resilience.

Mindfulness Strategy

Early training typically involves breathing exercises with concentration on each breath; breathe in and breathe out. Focusing on breathing while learning to bring the mind back when it wanders is the first step. For young children, placing a stuffed animal on their stomach and encouraging them to watch it rise and fall as they breath is one effective means of illustrating focus and how relaxing it can be to just breathe.

Always be thinking about safety when on the farm, ranch

Morgan Rose - The Prairie Star - September 17th, 2021

In 2020, the seventh most dangerous profession in the United States was farming and ranching. When it comes to working with large equipment and animals, there is always plenty of opportunity for an accident to happen.

For those rooted in the profession of farming and ranching, safety can be a subject that is taken for granted. Dangerous tasks become second nature and complacency can take hold. Mary Hill, a rancher and agriculture/industrial education teacher in Geyser, Mont., says farm safety is a passion of hers and it is a subject she always likes to cover in her classroom.

"I always teach my students that the biggest safety device we have is right between our ears, it's our brain. Think safety all the time," she said.

Going along with that, Hill astutely points out that an injury to the brain has the potential to be completely devastating. While it may not be fashionable or culturally accepted to wear a helmet all the time, the alternative - life-altering limitations due to a brain injury - is not ideal either.

Hill highly encourages the wearing of helmets whenever driving or riding on ATVs and when riding horses. It's a simple act that quite literally could save your life.

As ATVs and side-by-side become more and more prevalent around operations, Hill cautions farmers and ranchers to not take them for granted. One of her big stress points is to not have young children operating adult-sized ATVs. Aside from the obvious fact that relatively bulky machines do not fit children, they are also very powerful and driving them takes a level of maturity and awareness young children simply to not yet possess.

"Mentally, kids just aren't ready to pay that kind of attention. They don't understand the disaster that could happen if they turn too sharp or if they accidentally hit the gas or the break too hard," she explained.

For youth and adults alike, it is important to be aware of the fact any piece of machinery can tip over, be it a tractor, a pickup truck, or an ATV/side-by-side. Hill notes that complacency is often the number one cause of rollover accidents. Always think safety and always be paying attention when driving anything.

PTO (Power Take-Off) safety is also very critical. On new equipment, always make sure the PTO shield is in place. On older pieces of machinery with exposed PTOs, take the extra second to walk around the equipment. You may have gotten away with jumping over the PTO 150 times, but the the 151st time might be when a piece of your pant leg gets caught, according to Hill. The risk is not at all worth the millisecond of time it may save.

It is not only mechanical things that pose safety risks on operations. Hill notes working with animals can also cause accidents. Be calm and patient around animals, she teaches. Let the livestock work themselves and always be mindful of BQA practices.

"If you want the job done quickly while working livestock, slow down," she said.

In addition to the physical threat large livestock can cause, there is also the reciprocal side effects. The dust in corrals, Hill points out, is largely comprised of livestock manure that is full of pathogens. Inhaling that dust can cause sickness that could be avoided simply by spraying down the corrals before working livestock through them.

"When you look at your face and it is covered in dust, imagine what your lungs look like," Hill stated.

It is also important to keep biosecurity in mind when working around livestock. Several livestock illnesses are zoontonic and therefore can be transferred to humans. Wash your hands after handling sick animals, pour-ons, and vaccines. Always be extremely cautious when administering vaccines and discard your used needles in a safe, "sharp container." Those are just a few simple practices, Hill says, that could mitigate accidents.

In conclusion, Hill encourages young producers to always think about how an action will affect them down the raod. It is easy to get over-confident, but little things like wearing hearing protection around noisy equipment, wearing a helment, and thinking things through can save loads of physical pain and limitaions in life's later years. Cutting corners now may lead to consquences in the future.

Raising the world's food is a great honor and it is a profession to be proud of. That makes safety all the more important. Equipment and livestock can be replaced, but people can't. Slow down, think things through, and don't ever take a situation for granted.

Best Practices for Fenceline Weaning

August 20th, 2021 - Norther Ag Network - Mark Johnson - Oklahoma State Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist

Regardless of when and how many calves you will wean methods of reducing stress on fresh weaned calves is of great interest to cattlemen and of benefit to cow-calf operations. Traditional methods of weaning calves typically involve total seperation of calves from cows by moving calves to a new pasture or dry lot pen.

Fenceline weaning is a management process that allows fenceline contact between calf and dam for at least four to ten days following weaning. Fences need to be sturdy enough to permit nose to nose contact while preventing nursing. The objective of fenceline weaning is to allow social intereaction between calf and dam while weaning the calves off of mother's milk.

Studies have shown several benefits of fenceline weaning:

  • Calves bawl and walk for less the first several days post weaning
  • Calves spend more time resting and eating during the first several days post weaning
  • Calves gain more weight in the first couple of week post-weaning
  • Calves that eat and drink more during the first days after weaning stay healthier

Best Practices for Successful Fencing Weaning:

  • Move the cows and leave the calves in the same pasture or lot. When this is done, calves already know location of water, feed, and grazing areas. If this is not possible, locate water troughs and feeders along the fenceline where calves and cows will initially congregate increasing the likelihood calves will find water and feed early on in the process, thereby minimizing walking premeter fences.
  • Avoid adding unnecessary stress like castrating, dehorning, branding, or vaccinating at the time of weaning by completing these processes several weeks prior to weaning, or after weaning is complete.
  • Fencing needings to be adequate. A typical five-strand barbed wire fence will usually be satisfactory. If calves are still able to nurse through the fence, adding a single strand of eletric fence offset from the main fence, possibly on both sides should be adequate.

Common Issues with Conifer Trees in Montana

2021 Summer Lives & Landscapes - Eva Grimme (Associate Extension Specialist & Plant Disease Diagnostician) - Laurie Kerzicnik (Associate Extension Specialist and Insect Diagnostician)

Conifers are a staple tree in many landscapes, but they can be affected by disease and arthropod-related issues, resulting in needle discoloration, loss, and dieback of branches. Additionally, most conifer issues are not due to an insect or disease. Instead, many symptoms result from growing conditions or weather. In other cases, growth is normal but many look different than expected.

Spring Abiotic Disorders of Conifers

Winter Injury

This injury happens when there is minimal snow cover and low humidity over the winter, causing conifers to dry out. Symptoms include red, yellow, or brown needle discoloration appearing in the spring, especially on needle tips. Damage is most obvious on south and southwest sides of the tree. Water thoroughly during dry periods during the growing season and into the fall to avoid the issue.

Seasonal Needle Drop

Did you know conifers naturally shed some of their needles every year? In the fall you might notice interior needles turning yellow, and these usually turn brown and fall off in the winter. A few trees might have interior brown needles that hang on until spring.

Normal Plant Growth

Sometimes the way trees normally grow can look surprising to a homeowner. For example, if a conifer has more pollen cones than usual it might cause a second look. Another example is certain trees with a characteristic like shredding bark.

Common Diseases of Conifers

Spruce Diseases

Needle Cast Diseases

Brown, bronze, or dark purple discoloration and gradual loss of innermost needles. Symptoms often start on lower branches. Youngest needles usually stay green.

  • Rhizosphaera needle cast: Small, black, spherical fruiting bodies emerge from stomata
  • Stigmina needle cast: Small, black, fuzzing-looking fruiting bodies emergy from stomata
  • Sudden needle drop: Small spherical, fruiting bodies form only on branches or needle pegs. Recommendations: Remove and distroy affected branches and fallen needles. Provide supplemental water during dry periods. Avoid spraying the needles with water during sprinkler irrigation. In severe cases, consider applying a protectant fungicide in spring, once when new needles are half their mature length and once when fully grown. Treatments for two consecutive years are recommended.

Ctyospora Canker

Canker develop on branches and/or trunks of stressed trees and may girdle limbs from within. Blueish or whitish resin might be visible on the branches.

Recommendations: Prune out and destroy affected branches. Support tree vigor by providing adequate water and nutrients. Fungicides are not recommended.

Pine Diseases (primarily Austrian, ponderosa, mugo)

Dothistroma needle blight

Tan or brown needle tips (often with a distinct interface between dead and live tissue) that start as dark-green (water-soaked), tan or reddish-brown spots, eventually forming a band (possible with small resin drops) around needles; dark fruiting bodies emergy from needles.

Recommendation: Remove fallen needles. In spring, consider applying a protectant fungicide once when new needles are half their mature length and once when fully grown.

Common Arthropod Issues on Conifers

White Pine Weevil (spruce)

The top of the tree (terminal) will wilt and eventually die. Side branches will start to grow upward to replace the dead leader.

Recommendations: The infested terminal can be clipped, and a new leader can be trained (before July). Contact insecticides can be sprayed at the terminal of the tree or a systemic insecticide can be applied as a soil drench in the spring.

Western Spruce Budworm (Douglas-fir, fir, spruce, and larch)

Several areas of the tree will be defoilated. Needles will be dormed with chewing damage, insect exrement, and webbing.

Recommendations: Beneficial predators help to control populations. Several contact insecticides are available for caterpillar control.

Spruce Spider Mite (spruce, fir, pine, arborvitae, Douglas-fir, and yew)

Needles will have a greyish hue with flecking spots. Stunting and premature needle drop can occur. Damage is usually concentrated on the older, inside needles in the lower portions of the tree.

Recommendations: Reduce environmental stress to the tree and provide adequte water. Several oils and miticides are available for spider mite control.

Ips Bark Beetles (and close relatives)(pine and spruce)

Ips beetles cause fading of needles and eventual dieback on branches or tops of trees (can also be confused with abiotic-related issues). Trees that are newly transplanted, have root injuries, or are stressed are more susceptible to Ips beetle attacks. Woodpeckers might be seen feeding on the immature beetles underneath the bark.

Recommendations: Terminal flagging or dieback in the upper canopy requires a sample taken from this area of the tree to rule out bark beetle-related causes. It is hard (if not impossible) to kill the beetles and correct damage once they are present in the tree. Preventative contact insecticides can be sprayed on the trunk of the trees that are in infested. Slash from infested trees should be piled and burned prior to adult beetle emergence in May.

Strangles: Streptococcus equi subspecies equi infection in horses


Streptococcus equi subspecies equi (S. equi var. equi) is the bacterium which causes a contagious disease in horses known as strangles. Strangles is primarily an upper respiratory infection characterized by abscessation of the lymph nodes in the head and upper neck. Strangles most often affects young horses but horses of any age can be infected and develop and intermittent shredding may occur.


The organism is transmitted by direct contact with infected horses (showing clinical signs) or sub-clinical shedders (not showing clinical signs but harbor the bacteria), or indirectly by contact with contaminated objects including tack, grooming equipment, feed and water sources and contaminated handlers.

Additionally, insects can transmit the bacteria mechanically. S. equi var. equi typically survives in the evironment for 2-4 days under natural circumstances but may survive up to 4 weeks in the environment under ideal conditions.

Clinical signs

The time frame from infection to the appearance of clinical symptoms (incubation period) of strangles in 3-14 days, and the first sign of infection is fever. Fever is typically followed by nasal discharge, depression, and lymph node swelling. The submandibular and/or retrophyaryngeal lymph nodes may be enlarged and cause difficulty swallowing, respiratory noise, cough and extended head and neck posturing. Older animals with residual immunity and animals with strong immunity from vaccination may develop milder clinical disease. On occasion, the bacteria may spread to, and cause absecessation of, lymph nodes in other parts of the body, particularyly the abdomen. This is clinical syndrome known as metastic abscessation or 'bastard strangles'. Additionally, some horses may develop purpura hemorrhagica resulting from overproduction of antibodies. These antibodies become attached to blood vessel walls and activate a strong immune response resulting in hemorrhage and edema. The primary clinical symptoms of purpura hemorrhagica in horses is swelling of the lower limbs, chest and abdomen. The skin may die in severe cases. Purpura hemorrhagica may accur after infection or vaccination. S. equi var. equi is highly host adapted but infection in debilitated humans has been reported, although rare. Caretakers should take particular caution to avoid respiratory and oral contamination with exudates.


Definitive diagnosis is made by PCR (DNA amplification) or bacterial culture of exudate from abscesses, nasal swabs or pharyngeal lavage samples. PCR is more sensitive (less chance of a false negative result) than culture and the results are reported faster.


Controlling spread of the disease is facilitated by segregation, isolation and quaratine. Affected horses should be seperated from unaffected animals and cared for by seperate caretakers wearing protective apparel. The temperature of all exposed horses should be obtained twice daily, and febrile horses should be isolated and tested. Contaminated equipment should be cleaned with detergent to remove organic debris then soaked with an appropriate liquid disinfectant.


Treatment of clinically ill horses typically consist of supportive therapy. Warm compresses may be applied to swollen lymph nodes to facilitate maturation and drainage and speed recovery. Ruptured abscesses are flushed with an appropriate antiseptic for several days until drainage ceases. Anti-inflammatory medications can be administered to reduce pain and fever and to encourage eating drinking. Some abscesses may need to be surgically incised to facilitate decompression and drainage. Occasionally, in complicated cases with retrophyaryngeal abscessation and pharyngeal compression respiration may be impaired. In extreme casestracheotomy may be required.


Intranasal and intramuscular vaccine are available to assist with infection and disease prevention. Most horses develop prolonged immunity after exposure, infection or disease. Some horses develop very high titers (a measurement of how much antibody) and may be at increased risk of pupura hemorrhagica if exposed to infected horses or vaccinated against strangles. It is important to work closely with an experienced equine veterinarian to develop a prevention protocol for individual horses, herds, and equine facilities.

For more information contact Dr. Shannon Moreaux, Montana Extension Equine Specialist: (406)994-7689, [email protected] or visit the American Assocation of Equine Practitioners website

Enhancing Work-Life Balance

2021 Summer - by Katelyn Andersen - Lives & Landscapes Magazine

The last year looked different in the various facets of each of our lives. The details of soclal engagements, school environments, sporting events, routine shopping trips, connections with love ones changed. Initially, these changes may have felt awkward and unnatural because our habits, practices and routines were disrupted.

The reasons for making decisions changed due to circumstances around us. These changes challenged our unconscious choices to become concious decisions and impacted our executive functioning skills. The executive function is the management system of the brain involved in setting goals, planning and accomplishing tasks.

A tool, the 'Urgent-Important' Matrix, or the Eisenhower Matrix, can assist individuals in making decisions to support executive functioning. The Eisenhower Matrix was developed by President Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States. The Eisenhower Matrix was made popular by Steven Covey's book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, using the matrix to divide workload and priorities into actions of do, plan, delegate or elimiate based on the urgency and importance of the tasks at hand.

Refer to the diagram, each of the quadrants are labeled and outlined as followed:

  • Quadrant I: Do; urgent and important - tasks needed to complete immediadely. Examples include emergencies or tasks with clear deadlines and consquences.
  • Quadrant II: Plan; important, but not urgent - tasks to schedule to do later. Tasks could include long-term projects and professional development.
  • Quadrant III: Delegate; urgent, but not important - tasks to delegate to someone else. These tasks need to be completed but not specificaly by you.
  • Quadrant IV: Eliminate; neither urgent not important - tasks to eliminate. These items are distractions or tasks that do not align with personal or family goals.

As our world transitions to summer and you take inventory of your current life: What parts do you enjoy? What parts do you miss and are important to you? What routines do you want to keep? Be purposeful in designing a schedule and align tasks with your personal and family core values. Here are a few facts to consider:

  • Block out time yourself: As our lives resume with social engagements, activites and meetings, remember to block in time for personal time. Taking care of yourself is a Quadrant II task to prevent Quadrant I urgencies. Take time to focus on personal interests and enjoyments. Refer to the Lives & Landscapes, 2020 Fall article, Stress Management and Social Connection in a Pandemic by Alison Brennan, PhD, for using and applying the self-care tool, Healthy Mind Platter. This tool incorporates sleep time, physicla time, connecting time, time in, downtime and playtime as part of everyday self-care.
  • Build in transition times. This last year, many meetings and activities were virtual or cancelled completely. When meetings were virtual, transition time was deleted and filled with other activities. Allow for space in the calendar to attend to informal conversations and connections with others. If virtual meetings are in your future, a recent study from Stanford shares that exhaustion from video conference meetings do take a toll on individuals. Individuals are encouraged to take steps to mitiage fatigue by scheduling breaks between meetings, implement no-video meeting days and understand the factors related to fatigue.
  • Consider the needs of others. Consider how family members might need to adjust to changes - pets, children and partners. Build in connection time for all family members to discuss the impacts of upcoming changes, which could include a child signing up for a seasonal sport team or a change in work hours. What aspects of your life could be delegated or deleted? Could feeding or walking pets be delegated to younger members of the household?
  • Routinize habits in life. Planning ahead as much as possible can help with the cognitive load of our executive functioning. Consider selecting clothes at the beginning of the week to alleviate the time it takes each morning. Create a meal plan for the week so meal times flow better. Write down chores and taks on paper, also called brain dumping, to prevent over thinking and help free up the cognitive load. Each individual and family will establish new habits and routines in the upcoming months. Take time frequently, possibly on a weekly basis, to communicate planning activites and priorities with family members and co-workings to help with accountability - for yourself and others. Revisit your long-term goals and plans frequently to adjust the workload for both home and work expectations.

Overwintered Cattle May Spread Weed Seeds

Producers should have a weed management protocol in place if they have overwintered cattle out of state.

Producers who have relocated their cattle out of state for winter feeding this year should consider having a weed management protocol in place when the cattle return, says North Dakota State University Extension specialists.

"If you have sent your cattle to areas where there are known Palmer amaranth, waterhemp or other noxious or troublesome weed issues, it will be important to allow a 'cleanout period' upon return," says Joe Ikley, NDSU Extension weed specialist. "Crop fields are not the preferred area for this period, since weeds like Palmer amaranth are generally more difficult to control in crops compared to bare grounds, pastures or a corral."

"The retention time of potential weed seeds in the gastriontestinal tract is heavily dependent on the digestibility of the diet," says Zac Carlson, NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist. "When we turn cattle out to green, lush cover crop, the passage rate of that feed is high compared to lower digestible forages, such as prairie hay. That does not mean some seeds couldn't get held up longer in the gastriontestinal tract."

Mary Keena, NDSU Extension livestock environmental management specialist based at the Carrington Research Extension Center, suggests confining cattle to one area for at least one week upon return.

"The manure, which includes feces, bedding and spilled or uneaten feedstuffs, should be kept in that area and composted," Kenna advises. "Composting manure has been shown not only to reduce the volume of manure and kill parasites and pathogens, but also is an effective weed seed management strategy."

"Piling manure and turning it five to six times every 10 to 14 days should achieve temperatures between 130-160 degrees Fehrenheit," says Keena. "The high temperatures along with proper pile moisture will kill both large and small weed seeds."

To learn more about composting manure, view the NDSU Extension publication, Composting Animal Manures: A Guide to the Process and Management of Animal Manure Compost.

"Livestock owners will want to keep a close eye on the area where manure is managed to make sure escaped weed seeds that grow in the spring and summer of 2022 are pulled and properly disposed of," warns Ikley. "Before the plants develop seeds, pull and destroy them by burying them deeply or burning them."

Keena adds, "If producers are going to spread the compost from that area, they wil want to closely monitor the area where they spread it and practice similar monitoring and disposal techniques as in the feeding area."

It is not recommended to spread fresh manure on the fields if it is known to contain noxious or troublesome weeds. However, if producers need to graze before weeds seeds have been passed or if producers need to spread the fresh manure on a field, we recommend spreading weed seed - heavy manure on tame grass pastures or grass hayfields, because more options are available to control on them, says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

"It is never recommended to spread manure on native rangeland," says Meehan. "Adding additional nutrients can benefit invasive grass species such as Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome."

For more information about protocols for bringing your cattle back to Montana, or noxious or troublesome weeds, contact your local Extension Agent.

New MSU Study Finds Mental Health Challenges Exacerbated by Pandemic, Declining Levels of Physical Activity

Bozeman - A new study conducted by Montana State University scientists and their colleagues on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health found that physical activity is a significant factor in staving off mental health challenges.

Additionally, the study highlighs the cyclical nature of the relationship between activity and mental health - if someone reported a difficult time keeping active during the pandemic, they were at higher risk of deteriorating mental health outcomes, leading to further inactivity and even further deterioration of mental health.

The paper, "Examining the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic Across Five U.S. States," was published in August in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports. Michelle Grocke-Dewey, assistance professor in the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development's Department of Health and Human Development and health and wellness specialist for MSU Extension, is the paper's lead author.

Co-authors from MSU include Carmen Byker-Shanks, previously an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Development who is now research faculty at MSU and principal research scientist at Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition: Justin Shanks, previously at MSU and now founder and scientist at Ingredients Consulting; and Eliza Webber, who worked on the paper as a student research assistant and is now a research project manager at MSU's Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity. Additional co-authors include Annie Hardison-Moody, Lindsey Haynes-Maslow and Shelly Maras, all from North Carolina State University; Lauri Andress from West Virginia University; Bailey Houghtaling from Louisiana State University; and Megan Patton-Lopez from Western Oregon University.

"We were aware of the relationship between physical activity and mental health, but the extent to which physical activity became a protective factor during this pandemic, especially in rural areas, was unexpected," Grocke-Dewey said.

For the study, which included data from adults living in both urban and rural areas in five states, researchers focused on two questions; How is the pandemic influencing individuals' physical activity and mental health? And, how do physical activity and mental health relate to each other?

To learn more, the researchers conducted on online survey of 4,026 adults in Montana, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oregon and West Virginia. They collected survey responses between April and September of 2020.

They found that the more physically active people were, the better they assessed their own mental health to be. The researchers also found that the higher an individual's household income, the more likely they were to be able to maintain the same levels of physical activity during the pandemic as before it began. Specifically, people in households that earned less than $50,000 per year were 1.46 times less likely to maintain their pre-pandemic physical activity levels than people in households that earned more than %50,000 annually. 

"A big part of this economic piece was access to time, such as having leisure time or extra time to engage in physical activity." Grocke-Dewey said. "There were lots of comments about how the pandemic put a strain on individuals - especially on women - who had to take on the role of childcare provider in addition to normal tasks. Time for physical activity dissipated for many, but those in higher income brackets had a buffer in terms of resources to hire childcare."

Grocke-Dewey noted that the researchers found that participants living in rural areas were less likely to report difficulty maintaining their pre-pandemic physical activity levels than were adults in urban areas. The study also found its participants who live in rural areas reported better mental health than their counterparts living in urban areas. The findings surprised her, she added.

"People in rural areas often report more challenges with their mental health than people in urban areas, so we were surprised to find that people living in rural areas reported better mental health than those living in urban areas," Grocke-Dewey said.

Finding that people living in rural areas got more physical activity during the pandemic may indicate that they are less likely to rely on facilities, like gyms and exercise classes, than those living in urban areas, Grocke-Dewey added. "When (facility) closures started to happen, they may have been less affected."

The findings have public health policy implications, Grocke-Dewey said. She and her co-authors suggest that policy implications should include physical activity promotion as a strategy to protect against declining mental health.

"If there were more investment from a public health perspective to promote opportunities for low-cost, stay-at-home physical activities, we would see not only physical health benefits, but mental health benefits, as well," Grocke-Dewey said. "Even small things, such as lighted sidewalks or improved trail access or free workout videos to do at home, could make a difference."

Alison Harmon, dean of the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development, said the findings are a good wake-up call for making physical activity a daily priority.

"That could include exercising at a gym, using an innovative home activity program for building strength and endurance, movement in the outdoors or even huffing up and down stairs on campus," Harmon said. "Knowing that movement supports both physical and mental health is a great motivator."

Grocke-Dewey noted that many survey respondents said that they never before realized how much their mental health was intertwined with their physical activity levels. But now that they do, it shows the importance of prioritizing physical activity.

"Biologically, we know that when you engage in physical activity, your brain releases endorphins. These endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, so it's a natural way to reduce stress levels," she said. "I hope seeing how much physical activity impacts people's mental health empowers individuals to prioritize it and leads to more public health initiatives that make physical activities more easily available."

Cattle Markets Ready to Move On

November 8th, 2021 - Derrell Peel (Oklahoma State Extension Livestock Market Economist)

The pandemic and other market shocks (i.e., packing plant fire, unprecedented winter storm, cyber-attack, etc.) since 2019 have resulted in impacts and residual effects that affect cattle and beef markets in different ways and over different lengths of time. Much of the challenge in 2021 has been to get numerous cattle markets and a multitude of beef product markets more in sync as an industry. Of course, there continue to be ongoing COVID-19 related impacts plus the fact that some markets may be permanently changed or affected for a very long period of time.

The biggest industry bottleneck in 2021 has been the fed cattle market and the struggles to clear the placement backlog resulting from feedlot dynamics in 2020. Those dynamics pushed the cyclical peak in feedlot production into 2021. The fed cattle market problems are the result of this peak feedlot production constrained by packing industry capacity limitations. Long-term reductions in packing industry infrastructure combined with chronic labor limitatins, which predate but are made worse by COVID-19, added months to the time we need to improve the fed cattle markets appears to have arrived with fed cattle prices jumping roughly $5/cwt, the past two weeks.

Maybe the stars are finally lining up for the beef industry. With the fed cattle market pinch point removed, cattle and beef markets are poised to realign and rebalance. The industry will be better poisitioned to capitalize on the optimism that has been building in recent months. Tigher supply and continued strong deman will take market to higher levels. Strong wholesale and retail prices have been pulling on the industry most of this year. The trade picture continues to improve with the latest data showing additional growth in beef exports and reduced beef imports. On the supply side, feeder cattle markets, already higher year over year, are increasingly supported by cyclically reduced feeder cattle supplies and poised to benefit even more from higher fed cattle prices.

This not to say that everything is all roses for the industry. Plenty of challenges remain and new ones will no doubt emerge. Drought continues to be a major factor in many regions and will not only directly impact producers in those regions but will also determine the trajectory of the industry in the coming years. Higher crop and feed ingredient prices are a particular challenge for feedlots but also for cow-calf and stocker producers, most especially those struggling with drought-reduced feed and forage availablilty.

Generally higher input costs, especially energy and fertilizer, will affect producers going forward. Labor issues are pervasive across the industry with lack of available and reliable labor impacting all sector from ranch and feedlot production to packing and further processing industries to retail grocery and food service establishments. Supply chain disruptions will continue to affect both input and output markets in the coming months.

Barring new exogenous shocks (Black Swans) that are always a potential threat to the industry, cattle and beef markets are ready to move on. After many months of turmoil and heightened volatility, the industry is looking forward to the opportunities as well as the challenges of a more stable, but always dynamic, market environment in the coming months.

Feeding Straw

R. Reid Redden, PhD, Sheep Extension Specialist/Assistant Professor

Straw is a good alternative in rations for cows and sheep if properly supplement with higher quality feedstuffs.

Straw is the most common crop aftermath in North Dakota. Straw should not be fed without supplementation because rarely does straw provide enough energy and protein to meet an animal's requirements. However, straw is a good alternative in rations for cows and sheep if properly supplemented with higher quality feedstuffs.

Differences in feeding value do exist among the straws. Oats is the most palatable and nutritious; barley straw is second and wheat straw has the lowest nutritional vlue of the main grains. Millet straw is more palatable and higher in energy and protein. Flax straw is lower in feed value than all the others because of its lower digestibility.

View Table on Nutrient Contents of Straws

Straw one year old could also be considered a feed source. It usually is slightly more digestible and palatable than fresh straw. Rust-infested straw or straw from smut-infested fields apparently present to specific toxicant or irritant to ruminant animals. Nitrate accumulation will not be a factor in grains that have matured adequately to produce ripe seed.

Mature beef cows can utilize a higher percentage of straw in the ration than any other class of farm livestock. Rations utilizing 50 percent straw can be combined with higher protein grass hay, legume hays, and legume-grass hays to result in nutritionally adequate wintering rations for beef cows through the second trimester of gestation. Straw should be used more sparingly in diet during the last trimester because pregnant cows, especially ewes, lack the amount of abdominal space for large quantities of feed and growing fetus/s. Moreover, animal requirements during lactation are quite high and straw does not have enough energy and protein to meet these needs when fed at rates greater than 25% of the diet. If feeding straw during lactation is unavoidable, supplementation of higher energy feedstuffs, such as grains, is highly recommended.

Pregnant two-year-old heifers can utilize straw up to 25 percent of their ration. Grain straw can substitute satisfactorily for good quality hay when included up to 20 percent of the ration with only modest reduction in rate of grain when included in ground and mixed growing or backgrounding rations.

Medium to low quality roughages such as straw and late cut prairie hay are lesss palatable than higher quality forages. For this reason, feeding good or high quality roughages simultaneously but seperately form poor quality roughages every day often results in shy or timid animals being forced to eat mostly poor quality roughages. This is undesirable.

The total time required to digest roughages in the ruminant digestive tract varies from about two to six days, with the digesting, fermenting forage releasing nutrients while the forage remains in the digestive tract. Virtually all the fibrous components of forage that can be digested by the cow or sheep must be digested in the rumen and reticulum by ruminal microbes, explaining why lower quality roughages must spend more time in the forepart of the digestive tract. This is why "rumen fill" becomes a major factor in determinig upper limits of how much lower quality roughages cattle and sheep can consume.

Higher quality roughages digest more rapidly and move through the tract much faster than low quality roughages, such as straw. Because roughage requires at least three days or more to digest completely, it becomes possible to feed onlly good quality forages one or two days, then feed only straw or poor roughages on alternate days or on third days.

Critical nutrients (digestible protein and minerals) from higher quality forages are being gradually released from good quality forages to supplement and stimulate the microbial digestion of straw eaten on a different day.

Grinding and mixing straw and higher quality hay is the ideal method to feed straw. However, when grinding equipment is not available, an alternate days feeding schedule will often be the best alternative for ensuring that all animals in the group receive some good and some poorer quality roughage.

Consumption of straw can be increased by grinding, but efficiency of digestion is actually not improved by grinding when compared to straw consumed in long form.

Except for millet straw, the amount of digestible protein provided by straws is essentially zero, since only about 10 percent of the crude protein of mature grain straw is actually digestible and available to cattle. Straw should be assumed to provide no digestible or useable protein to the ration. Unfortunately, experimental trials fail to show nonprotein nitrogen (urea) to be an effective substitute for natural plant/animal protein in rations containing high level straw. Natural protein sources are far more effective in supplementing the lack of digestible protein from straws.

Straw does not provide enough nutrients to deserve any place in the ration of producing dairy cows. However, small amounts could be used in situations of unusual forage shortage for dry cows and for replacement heifer rations.

Reviewing the basic feed requirements of ewes shows alternative feeding programs using straw can be made. A 150-pound ewe needs 3.5 pounds of feed per day during the first 15 weeks of gestation, 4.5 pounds during the last four to six weeks of gestation and 6-7 pounds per day during lactation. Naturally heavier ewes require more feed. If straw is available, it will make the ration considerably cheaper and still meet the ewe requirements. Suggested daily rations with straw are:

View Straw Recommendations table

Ideally, hay and straw should be mixed together with the grain to improve consumption of straw. However, if a grinder-mixer is not available, the hay and grain can be fed daily and straw free-choice. If you do not prefer to feed the straw free-choice and rather feed it on a daily basis, feed the straw in the morning and hay in the evening. This should help force the ewes to eat the straw more readily during the day when they are most active.

CAUTION: Ewe lambs that are bred to lamb as lambs may no respond as well as the older ewes to feeding straws.

CAUTION: Excessive over-dependence on straw for a large proportion of the ration, in combination with inadequate good quality feed and inadequate daily intake of total ration digestible protein, can result in stomach impaction and death. This can happen even when straw is ground. Impaction is most likely to occur after extended periods of 10 days or more of bitter cold weather and in older ruminants that likely are losing some teeth or timid, shy animals lwo in the social or pecking order.

Low quality grass hay or prairie hay, usually very late cut, can cause the same stomach impaction problem when not adequately supplemented with high quality feedstuffs providing adequate digestible protein.

Feeding Low-Quality Forage During Drought

2021 Fall - Megan Van Emon, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

This is a difficult year for livestock producers throughout Montana. The entire state is afflicted by drought, with the majority of the state designated as extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4). This had led to a lack of resources available for feeding cattle. Due to the extensive drought in the Western United States, harvested forage has been a limited commodity.

There have been several common questions Megan has recieved this year:

  • How much straw can I feed?
  • How much hay can be replaced by cake?
  • What are safe levels of nitrates?
  • What are some other alternative feeds that I can buy?
  • Can I graze my unharvested cereal grain crop?
  • Can I feed cattle weedy hay?
  • Can I feed corn stalks?

This is a year when we need to think outside the box for feeding the cow herd. Several alternative feeds can be considered: wheat midds, dried distillers grains, and grains. There are several positives and negatives to feeding these different alternatives and these should be considered when developing a ration. The quality of the feed should be considered, and the price per ton and pound of nutrient. Straw can be fed to cows but should be limited to 50% or less of the diet. This is mainly due to the poor nutrient composition of straw.

Straw should be fed with good quality hay to reduce compaction problems. For example, to meet crude protein (CP) requirements (8%) of a 1,400 pound cow during the last third of pregnancy, or gestation, a ration could consist of 40% straw (5%CP) and 60% medium quality hay (10%CP). This would meet the 8% CP requirements of the cow. However, straw should be limited to 25% during the last third of gestation due to its low quality and nutritional limits. Therefore, an additional supplement could be fed to aid in meeting crude protein requirements.

A 1,400 pound cow will consume about 2% of her body weight every day in dry matter, which equates to 28 pounds of dry matter. If we consider the 60% hay/40% straw ration further and it is limited to 75% of the total diet, we are feeding 21 pounds of the hay/straw mix. We need to feed an additional 25% of the diet, or 7 pounds. The hay/straw mix provides 1.68 pounds of crude protein [(8%/100) *21 lbs], which menas we need to provide an additional 0.56 pounds of crude protein in the remaining 7 pounds of feed. This indicates that we need 7 pounds of feed with at least 8% crude protein to meet the 0.56 pound shortfall (0.56 lbs = X%CP x 7lbs; solve for X).

We can consider multiple feeds to create an adequate ration to meet the needs of the cow herd. However, this does not account for gut fill. We can limite high-quality feeds and meet the requirements of the cows, but gut fill is needed to ensure the cows are "full". Even if nutrient requirements are met, cows will continue to eat until they are "full".

It is important to consider cost per pound of nutrient, especially crude protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN), when considering feed alternatives. Feed ingredients can be directly compared to determine an economical feedstuff. However, during drought, feed options may be somewhat limited and higher costs may need to be considered. Examples in the table below may aid in calculating cost per pound of nutrient.

Special care should be taken with feeds high in nitrates because this can limit the use in cattle rations and will change based on nitrate content of the diet and water. Additionally, some weeds are nitrate accumulators, such as kochia, so care should also be taken when feeding forages that have weeds. When considering feed options for the operation, contact your local MSU Extension Agent to discuss these options and the positives and negatives of each.

Helping Children Cope with Natural Disasters

In the past few years many Montanans have experienced the trauma of natural disasters including floods, wildfires, and drought. While parents are trying to manage family logistics during these times, children are also dealing with the event. This guide will discuss children's responses to traumatic events and how to parents can help their children through the process. (Sandra Bailey, Ph. D, CFLE, Family and Human Development Specialist)

Natural Disasters can be Traumatic Events for families due to impacts from evacuations, displacements if the home is lost, loss of family incomes, and injuries or death. Children do not have the skills to process these events like adults. Additionally, children rely on their parents to take care of problems and when they see their parents not coping well, this further adds to their anxiety and stress. One study found that parental stress after a natural disaster predicted the level of stress their children experienced. Children who were highly exposed to the event - losing their home or experiencing the death of a family member - were even more vulnerable due to their parents' stress level. The nmber of stressful events is also significant as children who experienced more major stressful events were affected more severly. These studies point to the need for parents to be aware of their own stress levels and be in tune to stress in their children.

The goal after a natural disaster is to restore life back to normal. During these crises, family life is out of balance. Parents are upset and stressed. Children are worried, anxious, and ascared and may lack necessary coping skills to effectively work through their feelings, especially if parents are not coping well with the crises. In addition, children often lack a vocabulary to talk about their feelings.

When children experience a natural disaster their stress can be traumatic. The term to describe their situation is called child traumatic stress. This affects the child both physiologically and psychologically. Some physiological reactions include agitation, increased heart rate, and perspiration. Psychological reactions may include crying, anxiety, fear of being away from a parent, and anger. These are normal reactions to a stressful event. If the stress becomes overwhelming, a child could develop post-traumatic stress disorder. However, this disorder should be diagnosed and is best addressed by a licensed mental health professional.

How Children Respond

Very young chldren may respond to sress by crying more often, experiencing restless sleep, having temper tantrums, and reverting to earlier behaviors such as thumb sucking. They may want more attention from their parents and be "clingy." They are responding to the imbalance in the family and their fears about what is happening around them. They naturally seek comfort.

Older children may also cry and have interrupted sleep. They may also be angry and argue more with siblings. They may have logical fears such as "How will I get home from school today if the fire spreads?" This is because their thought processes are more developed so they can think ahead. Older children are trying to make sense of the situation. They may feel helpless because life is out of their control. Adolescents may act out more or engage in delinquent behavior. Children and adolescents may also withdraw and disengage from the family.

Adult Influences on Children

Parents and other caregivers' first thoughts during a natural disaster are generally the safety and well-being of their children. At the same time, the adults are processing the situation and thinking about future issues such as the financial impact to the family. Although adults may do their best to keep concerns such as finances or the loss of a home from their children, children to pick up on their parents' stress. Adults have similar physiological responses to stress as those listed for children. Other signs of stress may include high blood pressure, headaches, and ulcers, flare-ups of problems such as increased pain if one has arthritis or is susceptible to migraines. Parents also experienced emotional reactions to stress including irritability, crying, depression, and forgetfulness. Being aware of these signs of stress and addressing them can help adults maintain the health they need in order to continue good parenting during challenging times. 

Parents may become irritable when faced with the stress of a natural disaster while trying to keep short tempers in check. Children are scared and confused and may act out. Parents need to realize that children are unable to cope with the stress in the same way that adults do.

Maritial problems are a sign of stress. During a natural disaster, spouses or partners may place blame on one another for what they believe could have been done. If spouses start to aruge more or are feeling distant, each person needs to take a step back and try to determine what is causing discord. It could be the stress from dealing with the natural disaster. Arguing with a spouse or partner will make your child even more stressed and insecure.

School and Childcare Help

A child's school or child care is a normal part of life and routine. Often normalcy and routine is best for children during a time of chaos and stress. Although parents may want to keep their children close during a natural disaster, it may help them to return to school. At school they can be with their friends and have daily structure. Teachers can help by letting children talk about the naturla disaster. They might have activities that can help children express fears and curiosity in constructive ways. For example, the teachers might have younger children draw about their experiences. Older children might compile scrapbooks about the experience or work with teachers on projects where they learn about wind, tornadoes, or wildfires.

Attending school or day care can provide relief from the family situation associated with the disaster, at least for part of the day. This may be especially important if the family is displaced and living in a shelter, hotel, or even with other family members.

Ways to Help Children During and Following Natural Disasters

Stress is inevitable during a natural disaster. There are things you can do for youself and your child during and following a natural disaster. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be prepared: If there is a threat of evacuation, gather important items such as family photos, valuables, and important documents. Have them boxed and ready to load into a vehicle at a moment's notice. For more help on organizing important documents, see the MSU Extension publications. Your Important Papers: What to Keep and Where, and A Citizen's Guide to Basic Evacuation Procedures, both available online or by asking your county Extension office for copies. Plan for the evacuation of pets and livestock. If possible, include some tosy and games to use if you need to stay in a shelter. Explain to your child that you are preparing case it isn't safe to stay in the house.
  • Heed warnings. Listen to what officials are saying about evacuations. Abide by their notices. Let your child know that you have things under control. Tell your child that you are following officials' recommendations because they want to keep the family safe too.
  • Make a plan. Let all members of the family know what you will do should you need ot evacuate. Have a meeting place designated such as a school or a shelter if not at home.
  • Maintain routines. Follow routines as much as possible. This can be difficult if you are evacuated and living in a shelter as there is often little privacy and no schedule. Encourage your child to get up in the morning at his or her regular time, eat as close as possible to your regular schedule. Take walks, play games, and read to help keep your child active and his/her mind off of the crisis.
  • Take care of yourself. Just as flight attendants tell us to "put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others," we need to do this during natural diasters. We cannot take care of our children well if we do not take care of ourselves. Make sure you are getting enough rest, exercise, nutrition, and have an appropriate outlet for your own stress and fears.
  • Listen to your child. Allow your child to express his/her feelings about the situation. Affirm the feelings by simply statying back what you hear: "You are feeling scared." Young children may need to express their feelings through drawings or play. Older children will be able to verbalize their feelings. It is important to let your child know that you are listening, not telling them how to feel, but simply saying that you understand how they feel.
  • Talk to your child. Let them know your feelings too, although limit what you say. For example, you could say, "I am scared and frustrated too." Then let them know that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe and help them get back home soon. Perhaps, this is a good time to talk with your child about what you do when you feel scared or worried. Save personal breakdowns for private conversations with another adult.
  • Limited media exposure. Avoid having a television or radio on that regularly shows the disaster. Try watching the news when the children are in bed or occupied elsewhere. News reports tend to sensationalize the event. Explain what is seen on the news so the children understand the scope of the disaster in comparison to their lives.
  • Accept help from others. Montanans tend to be independent people who do not like to rely on others. During and after a natural disaster is a time when reaching out for help is necessary. Feeling socially connected helps children during disasters. By accepting help from others in the community, such as receiving food from the food bank, your child learns several lessons. These lessons include: compassion, the importance of community and being connected with others, and that it is okay to admit that we all need help at times.


Natural disasters are beyond the control of families. Understanding how to respond to help yourself and your children is important. Over time, most individuals are able to cope and adapt to life after a natural disaster; however, life will be different due to the experience.

View Resources

Meat Preservation: Jerky, Sausage, and Meat Sticks

2021 Fall - Lives & Landscapes - Wendy Becker (MSU Extension Agent in Roosevelt County)

Sausage is a tale as old as time. The word comes from the Latin word salsus, meaning salted. Salting is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. When we first learned that salt was effective to preserve meat, sausages, jerky, and meat sticks all took on new life. In history, Homer wrote about smoking and salting meat in The Odyssey around 830 B.C. Many regions developed their own variety, often named for the village they originated from, such as Frankfurt, Salami, Genoa, Vienna, Bologna, and others. Any meat that has been changed from its originial form (processed) and seasoned is considered sausage.

What Foods Can Be Made Into Sausage?

Sausage is generally made from beef, veal, pork, lamb, poultry, buffalo, wild game, or any combination of meats. It is a good way to utilitze all animal trimmings for less waste. Jerky can be made from whole muscle or groundd meat, and should be made from lean whole muscle cuts like beef round roasts or pork loins. This is more suitable because fattier cuts can become rancid during storage.

There are Six Basic Classifications of Sausage:

  • Fresh sausage is made from fresh gorund meat and not cured or smoked. It needs to be kept refrigerated and cooked before consuming and then should be eaten within three days or frozen. (Breakfast sausage, Italian Sausage)
  • Uncooked smoked sausage is initially smoked and not cooked. It needs to be kept refrigerated and cooked thoroughly before eating. Once cooked, it should be eaten within seven days or frozen soon after cooking. (Country style, keilbasa, mettwurst)
  • Cooked smoked sausage is fully cooked to an internal temperature of 155oF and smoked during the process. It needs to be kept refrigerated and eaten within seven days after opening the vacuum-sealed package. (bologna, cotto salami, frankfurter)
  • Dry sausage is seasoned, cured, smoked, and air-dried. It does not require refrigerated when finished. (Genoa salami, pepperoni)
  • Semi-dry sausage has a tangier flavor and should be kept refrigerated for the best quality. (Summer sausage, thuringer, cervelat)

Equipment, Ingredients, and Guidelines

Equipment needed to make sausage, jerky, or meat sticks includes: a thermometer, scale, meat grinder, sausage stuffer, cutting boards and knives, packaging, optional smoker, and optional dehydrator or oven.

The ingredients should include high-quality, fresh meat because the final product is only as good as its components. The proper lean-to-fat ratio should be followed in a recipe to produce good binding quality as well. A cure (sodium nitrate) is needed for smoked products as it inhibits production and growth of botulism toxins. Curing also gives the characteristic color to sausage and can improve flavor. Directions need to be followed for specific cure formulations. Federal regulations permit a maximum of 0.25 oz of sodium nitrite per 100 pounds of chopped meat. Other ingredients needed are salt or a premix, spices, optional smoke powder for flavor, optional hi-temperature cheese, and casings. Specialty recipes may also call for starter culture, encapsulated acids, binders, reducing agents, mold inhibitors, or antrioxidants.

Some food safety guidelines to follow include: wash hands before starting and throughout prep; use clean equipment and clean surfaces; sanatize and air dry equipment. Keep raw meat seperate from any ready-to-eat food or produce. If meat is frozen, thaw in a refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave, never on the counter at room temperature. Marinate raw meat in the refrigerator and keep the meat as cold as possible when working with it. If dehydrating, use a calibrated thermometer and one with temperature control.


  • Prepare recipe ingredients. First, mix precisely the base mix and cure. Then mix other flavoring ingredients. Taste test ingredients and adjust accordingly before adding base mix and water to mixture. Create a slurry with base mix, cure, spices, and water.
  • Cut up meat in small chunks to fit into the grinder and grind the meat through a course plate of 1/4" or 3/8".
  • Thoroughly mix slurry with coarse ground meat
  • Grind the meat mixture a second time through a finer plate at 1/8" or 3/16"
  • Prepare natural hog casings. Soak them in lukewarm water for 30 minutes and flush the inside of the casings two times to remove the salt preservative
  • Fit the casings on a stuffer and full the stuffer with meat. Stuff the meat carefully into the casing.
  • Thermally process the casing, either cooking it for fresh meat, or smoking the meat according to smoker directions (usually 155oF).
  • Package the final product with a vacuum sealer or butcher paper. Use a double-fold insulating wrap to keep the product fresh. Remember to label and date the final product.

If making meat sticks, they will be stuffed into smaller, dry collagen casings. Storage of sausage can be in the refrigerator for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months.

Ground jerky can be made similarly. It should be pressed and laid in a dehydrator, following the dehydrator directions. For safety, the meat needs to be cooked to 160oF after the drying process because most dehydrators won't reach that temperature.

Whole-muscle jerky should be thinly sliced (the colder the meat, the better for slicing) to no more than 1/4 inch strips. If the dehydrator reaches 160oF, meat strips can be placed in the dehydrator to finish drying. Otherwise, they should be placed ina boiling marinade to reach 160oF to destroy bacteria, and then smoked or dehydrated. Do not smoke jerky at lower temperatures and finish it off at higher temperature; there is a potential that bacteria can survive during this drying process.

Home sausage and jerky making has become more popular as a family activity. And sausage and jerky are convenient foods that provide a great source of complete protein, vitamins, and minerals. The Dietary Guidelines for Amerians suggest that individuals need between 10% - 35% of daily calories from protein sources, which are necessary for the growth, maintenance, and repair of the body tissue and organ function.

Winter Grazing Successes in Montana

By Gene Surber, Natural Resources Specialist MSU Extension Service (retired)

Maintaining an economic viable livestock operation is what keeps the beef industry number one in Montana. Every ranch has their individual goals and objectives to accomplish this task. However, as public opinions influence how ranchers care for the environment and the costs of doing business compared to ranch income gets tighter. It is more important than ever for ranchers to share what techniques are producing successful results on their operations. "Winter Grazing Sucesses in Montana" a Southwestern Montana GLCI publication, features sixteen ranchers across Montana who share some of their management techniques. These management techniques include the implementation of practices to protect water quality, enhance ranch productivity and sustain or improve their vegetative resources.

One of these ranches, Lon Reukauf's, Cherry Creek Ranch, in eastern Montana north of Terry, operates with the objective of balancing the environmental feed source with the animals needs. Lon relates, "My goal is to avoid the deadly three I's; Interest, Iron, and Input costs and to maximize the two P's; Profit and Product quality." According to Lon, "When high input operations on naturally high productive lands can barely work, high inputs on low productive land results in a net financial loss."

Lon has a lifetime of experiences on this ranch he grew up on, which helps him understand the environment and resources he has to operate with. He manages his cows so their reproductive cycle and nutritional needs can be more closely balance with the environment. He uses weather date to help make mangement decisions. One hundred and fifteen years or weather data shows his ranch location has a high chance of cold weather in early March and severe equinox storms around the end of March. Avoiding calving during these weather conditions reduces feed needs and the cost of disease control, which are both good reasons why he adjusted his calving season.

He moved his calving season to start later in the year so he can take advantage of the high level of nitrogen provided by spring forage growth. He may not entirely avoid spring storms, but the use of early growing Crested Wheatgrass fields in the srping helps him match the higher nutritional needs of the cows during post-partum lacatation through breed back time. Calving in larger pastures later in the spring has minimized the cost of disease control because Lon says, "Calf scours and diphtheria are nonexistent."

Eighty percent of the cows calve as a result of exposure to the first heat cycle. The later calving date has increaed the number of cows bred during the first heat cycle and gives him the opportunity to cull cows that don't calve in two heat cycles. He does however, run an eighty-day breeding season that allows him to sell bred cull cows, which provides more profit than dry cows. Calves are weaned early, the middle to end of October, which lowers the nutritional requirements of the cows for 60 days prior to the third trimester of gestation, again decreasing costs. Lon sees improved profit from early weaned, lighter calves that sell for more dollars per pound and are cheaper to raise.

Lon minimizes the cost of wintering by also extending the grazing season and using corn gluten as a protein supplement. Corn gluten is cheaper source of protein and very low in starch that makes it a very good supplement that can be fed effectively every other day. To do this he makes use of three separate summer grazing systems, a six- pasture rest - rotation system and two different three-pasture deferred rotations. The use of the Crested Wheatgrass in the spring allows him to minimize the amount of supplemental hay he feeds plus saves the native range for later. To get better use of fall and winter forages he strategically locates "bait stations" of mineral, salt, and protein blocks in areas with extra forage and away from critical areas. None of these "bait stations" are placed within one-half mile of water during the winter. Lon says, "The condition of riparian areas are enhanced when grazed in the winter because cattle spend less time in the low riparian areas where the cold air stays."

2022 MontGuide Mondays

Fun AG Facts and Happy New Year!!

Found fun facts here

Like snowflakes, no two cows have the exactly the same pattern of spots

There are 47 different breeds of sheep in the U.S.

Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world

The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.

Raising beef cattle is the single largest segment of American agriculture.

The heaviest turkey ever raised 86 pounds, about the size of an average third-grader.

More Fun Facts Found Here

One bushel of wheat contains a million individual kernels

  • Weighs about 60 pounds
  • Makes approximately 42 pounds of white flour, or
  • 60 pounds of whole wheat flour

On an ear of corn, there is one silk strand for every kernel

  • One tiny grain of pollen from the tassel (top part of a corn plant) must land on each silk in order for each kernel of corn to be produced.

A corn cob will nearly always have an even-number of rows on each cob. Count them next time you enjoy an ear of corn!

Soybeans are used to manufacture many commonly found household products including ink, sunscree, lotion, candles, particleboard, tofu, and crayons.

A dairy cow produces about six to seven gallons of milk per day

A handful of soil contains more microorganisms than the population of the entire world.

It takes between 100 to 500 yeras to form an inch of top soil.

Planning and Planting Successful Lawns in Montana

This MontGuide features insights and information on establishing a lawn. Topics include drainage, soil types, preplant fertility and seeding of new lambs.

Lawns tie most home landscapes together, control soil erosion, dampen traffic noise and cool the air. But these things only happen if the lawn has been installed and maintained correctly. While this Guide addresses lawn establishment, the MSU MontGuide Maintaining Successful Lawns in Montana (MT202004AG) addresses maintenance issues.

Provide Drainage

Provide lawns with drainage during soil preparation. Allow at least a 1 percent slope (one foot drop per 100 linear feet or about 1 inch every 8 feet) away from the house. Slopes as great as 33 percent (one foot drop per three linear feet) will support turf, but mowing and runoff water will cause problems. Steeper grades won't do for lawns. Instead, choose a low-maintenance ground cover for these planting sites. Horizontal junipers work well on steeper grades.

If you must change the grade of a lawn, remove the top 6 inches of soil, make the grade changes, then replae the topsoil. This conserves topsoil and helps reduce unevenness in the growth and appearance of the lawn due to the presence of mixed soils. Roll, fill and rake low spots to level the surface after grading and before seeding.

Proper Soil

Modify infertile and poorly-textured soils before planting. Get a mechanical analysis of your soil from a soil testing laboratory or estimate it yourself using this method:

  • Place acup of site soil into a pint glass jar with a screw top and fil the jar with water. Add 1 tablespoon non-sudsing dish detergent.
  • Swirl the soil and water until they are well-mixed, then let the soil settle overnight.
  • Swirl it again the next day, then let it settle for a week. Soil particles of different sizes will settle in layers of sand (bottom), silt, (middle) and clay (top). Organic matter will float. (Figure 1.)

Use this estimate of the proportions of sand, silt, and clay in your soil to determine the need for soil modification. An ideal lawn soil is a sandy loam containing about 70 percent sand, 15 percent silt and 15 percent clay.

Modify clay soils by adding coarse send for a total soil sand content of 70 percent. The cost will be high, but small quantities of sand are ineffective and may aggravate soil problems.

Adding organic matter such as sawdust, ground bark, manure or peat moss also improves the structure of clay soils but can lead to nitrogen deficiency problems. Thoroughly incorporating 33 percent by volume (2 inches) of composted organic material into the top 6 inches of soil will substantially improve soil structure.

Organic matter also improves very sandy soils, thereby increasing water-holding capacity and fertility. To avoid the possibility of a future nitrogen deficiency caused by mulch decompostition, add about 24 pounds of actual nitrogen to each ton or organic matter to compensate for that lost to decomposition. For example, for each ton of organic matter added, you will need to apply 80 pounds of 30-10-10, 240 pounds of 10-10-10, or about 150 pounds of 16-16-16 fertilizer.

Pre-Plant Fertilizers

Use a soil test to determine the need for nutrients, the soil pH and the presence of high levels of soluble salts. Phosphorus is fairly insoluble and moves slowly in the soil, so incorporate it prior to seeding if soil needs it. Nitrogen and potassium are soluble and can be added later. If your soil has enough nitrogen and you plant in the fall, fertilizer may not be needed until spring. If you are planting in spring, add a nitrogen starter fertilizer at 1/2 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet prior to seeding.

Seedbed Preparation

Bring soil to a very fine granular condition and remove all clods, sod, rocks and trash during final surface preparation. Settle loose soil with a light rolling. Adjust the weight of the roller so that only your sole prints appear on the soil surface. Soil must be firm and fine-textured.


You can seed a lawn in Montana in late April and May but seeding in mid-August to mid-September (around Labor Day) is better. Annual weeds do not have time to produce a crop of seed, and the grass has the entire fall and the early spring to become established before the heat and stress of summer.

For even coverage and seeding, sow half the seeds in one direction and the other half at right angles to the first. Do this by hand or with a mechanical seeder.

Lightly rake and roll to incorporate the seeds into the soil, but don't bury them more than 1/4 inch. Use organic mulch, such as clean straw, or hydro-mulch (wood fiber sprayed with water onto the new lawn surface) to hold moisture, reduce erosion and hasten germination. Be sure to apply it evenly and no thicker than 3/8 inch.

Grass Mixes

It is better to plant a mix of species due to variations in microclimate and shade.

For general lawn use under moderate irrigation, sunlight and fertility levels, use a mix of Kentucky bluegrass or one of its imrpoved cultivars, creeping red fescue or its Chewings variety, and perennial ryegrass. A typical mix consists of about 60 percent Kentucky bluegrass, 30 percent red or Chewings fescue, and 10 percent perennial ryegrass. The perennial ryegrass is not permanent and serves as a nurse grass, making its presence in the mix optional.

  • For shaded lawns, use the same species, but let the fescue predominate. A shade-tolerant mix should contain about 60 percent creeping red fescue or Chewing fescue, 30 percent Kentucky bluegrass, and 10 percent perennial ryegrass. Maintain lawns of these mixes at heights of about 1 1/2 to 3 inches. Lawn mixes that contain a large percentage of perennial ryegrass or annual (Italian) ryegrass make inferior lawns in Montana.
  • For semi-dryland lawns in eastern Montana, try sheep fescue or its subspecies, hard fescue, or the new turf-type tall fescues. Because these differ in growth habitat and texture, they are best planted alone rather than as a mix. Many are also clump-forming grasses and must be seeded thickly to form a decent lawn.
  • Under very dry conditions or in non-irrigated Montana lawns, Fairway or Roadcrest crested wheatgrass, streambank wheatgrass, meadow bromegrass and smooth bromegrass are good choices. These will become brown during drought periods and should not be mowed to heights less than 3 inches. Except for crested wheatgrass, all are rhizomatous (spreading laterally under the surface) and form a reasonably good sod. They all have similar characteristics and can mixed. Buffalograss and blue grama grass will grow with little moisture and will form a sod that can be mown at about 2 1/2 inches in height.

Both have less desirable blue-green leaf color and go dormant (brown) during cold winter. As a note of caution, neither buffalograss nor blue grama can compete with weeds or cool season grasses in high rainfall areas or irrigated lawns. Also note that buffalograss and blue grama green up slowly in the spring and will brown very soon after the first cold winter in the fall. Although zoysiagrass and Bermuda grass are advertised as cold- and drought- tolerant, they are not appropriate grasses for Montana lawns.

Seeding Rate

seed Kentucky bluegrass/fescue/perennial ryegrass mixes at the rate of 2 to 3 pounds per 1000 square feet. Seed dryland grasses at the rate of 3 to 5 pounds per 1000 square feet to obtain a reasonably dense sod. Heavy seeding rates are especially important for the tufted, non-spreading grasses like sheep fescue and crested wheatgrass.

Grazing Decisions During and After Extended Drought

Montana's semi-arid environment makes it critically important for livestock owners to understand the potential impacts of drought.

2016 Spring/Summer - Jeff Mosley - MSU Extension Range Management Specialist

Drought - the word conjures angst and even fear among many Montana livestock owners. Will I be able to produce or buy enough hay for the winter? Will I have enough stock water for my livestock to drink? Will I have enough grass for my livestock to graze? Will my pastures suffer long-term damage? Of course, living with drought is apart of living in Montana. It's a pretty safe bet that our state's semi-arid climate will deal us at least one or more drought years per decade and people wanting to raise livestock here for the long-term need to plan accordingly. Three or more successive drought years, however, challenge even the best grazing land stewards, stressing their livestock, their finances, and their grazing lands.

Years can pass without much apparent change to seeded pastures and rangelands, but extended drought can cause dramatic shifts in vegetation. The land then remains relatively unchanged until the next environmental trigger occurs. Three or more successive years of drought represent an environmental trigger for Montana's pastureland and rangeland, and failure to care for the land during and after extended drought can have serious consequences for decades.

Were weeds or poisonous plants common before the drought?

Grazing plan adjustments depend upon the drought's impacts to pastures. Drought does not impact every pasture equally. Weed infestations, poisonous plant densities, amounts of residual vegetation, and vigor of desirable plants all must be assessed. For example, if weeds were a problem before the drought, your weed problems will probably be worse after the drought ends. Drought stresses all plants, but  weeds are usually stressed less than desirable forage plants because most weeds grow earlier in the growing season before soil moisture is fully depleted. When normal amounts of rainfall return, weeds are in better shape to respond and they get a jump-start on the desirable plants.

Poisonous plant problems also commonly worsen during or after an extended drought, especially early in the growing season when mnay poisonous plants green-up and attract livestock (e.g., low larkspur, death camas, and locoweed). After successive drought years, there is less residual carryover forage available from desirable plants to buffer the toxins in livestock diets, thus dietary concentrations can reach toxic levels even when livestock don't increase the total amount of poisonous plants consumed.

Altogether, areas with weeds and poisonous plants will require extra attention during and after extended drought. Grazing land stewards need to be particularly vigilant about new weed or poisonous plant infestations if they purchased hay from new sources during the drought. Be sure to inspect areas where the hay was fed and plan to control new infestations as soon as possible - before weeds or poisonous plants become well-established and suppression becomes more costly.

When the pasture grazed during drought?

One silver lining about drought years is that much more of the grazing season usually occurs after plants are dormant. Plants are more tolerant of grazing during dormacy, so some plants may have endured less stress from grazing during drought than during normal years. The plants stressed most during drought are plants that were grazing in early summer, because they plants were unable to regrow and recover before soil moisture was depleted. Pastures grazed during late spring - early summer immediately after drought should be those pastures that were grazed when plants were dormant during the drought.

How heavily was the pasture grazed before and during the drought?

Light or moderate grazing every year doesn't harm most plants, nor does one year of heaving grazing, provided the plants are given sufficient time to recover before being grazed again. Plants are stressed when heavy use occurs for two or more consecutive years. When drought breaks, plants grazed lightly to moderately in the past will recover from drought quicker than plans that have been grazed heavily for many years. Sometimes stock water supplies dry up during drought and prevent portions of pastures from receiving much grazing pressure during drought. If possible after drought and after stock water supplies recover, these areas should be grazed during late spring-early summer while other areas are allowed more time to recover.

Should I consider delaying turnout onto pasture during and after drought?

Desirable forage grasses may be harmed by grazing in late spring-early summer during drought years and during the first year after drought. However, grasses won't be harmed by moderate grazing later in summer. Therefore, turning out onto pasture will likely be delayed as long as possible during and after extended drought. Extra hay will likely need to be purchased to extend the feeding period and allow delayed turnout onto pastures.

Should I consider culling or weaning animals earlier during drought?

The limited amout of forage and stock water available during drought can be stretched by reducing livestock numbers. Early pregnancy detection enables earlier marketing of nonpregnant females. Early weaning and marketing of calves or lambs similarly reduces forage demand. For example, dry cows consume about 35% less forage and water than lactating cows, and one, 400-pound calf consumes about one-third as much forage and water as a mature cows.

Should I consider reducing stocking rate after drought?

Current year's forage production usually recovers by mid-to-late summer of the first year after drought, but total standing forage (current year's forage production plus last year's residual forage) doesn't usually recover until mid-to-late summer of the second or third year after drought. Therefore, because livestock consume both current year's forage and last year's residual forage, stocking rate may need to be lower for a year or two after drought ends. To avoid reductions in livestock numbers, extra hay can be purchased to extend the feeding period and thereby reduce pasture stocking rates.

Can I Grow That Here? Vegetable Seed and Transplant Schedules for Garden or Container

Includes information on days to maturity, planting dates, sun requirements, week to transplant size and frost tolerance for 34 vegetables.

Amy Grandpre, MSU Extension horticulture assistant, Yellowstone County - Reviewed 11/18

This MontGuide is designed to help agents or individuals in different areas of Montana calculate the specific time to plant seeds or start transplants and plant them at the proper time. With a limited growing season in much of Montana, this should help gardeners get the most of the growing season they do have. This guideline can be completed by either the agent (if the county has uniform frsot dates throughout) or by the individual gardener, once frost dates are determined.


Define the average first frost dates in the fall and teh average last frost date in the spring for your area. Then, with the aid of a calendar, calculate from those dates the spring planting dates for your area and the transplant starting dates. Remember to calculate both dates if a variable is given.

Example: Weeks to transplant size, 3-5. Calculate both three weeks before your planting date and also five weeks before your planting date to give you a wider range of tiem in which to start transplants. This is also the way to calculate your planting dates if variables are given.

For example, snap beans can be planted one week before the last frost to 12 weeks before the first frost. Calculate the date one week before last frost date and then the date 12 weeks before the first frost. This is your planting range of time. For more information on particular varieties, check seed packets for special instructions and transplant guidelines.

You can also use this publication to answer the title question: Can I grow that here? Once you know the average dates of the last frost in spring and the first frost in fall, count the number of days between. If the "days to maturity" figure for the vegetable you want to grow is a larger number of dates and the "frost tolerance" column indicates "none," the sad truth is that you probably can't grow that particular vegetable. But as you will see, there are many things that can be grown in most of Montana. Begin by establishing the specific dates for your garden space.

View Growing Tables here

Experts Give Tips for Winterizing Horses

By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Horse owners should start preparing for the winter during the summer, but what if they didn't have a chance or didn't realize the importance?

They can still do several things to get their horses through a Montana winter, Rob Keene and Mike Wilson said at Montana State University's third annual equine conference, Keene is a veterinarian with IDEXX Pharmaceuticals. Wilson is a territory manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition. Together they spoke on "Winterizing your horse."

Horse owners, for example, should assess the condition of their horses and consider how they're used, the speakers said. Are the horses athletes or pets? Are any of them pregnant? Is this their first winter? Horse owners can still decide what to do about lighting barns and using blankets.

Whatever horse owners decide about winter care, they should be consistent, Wilson said. They should use common sense and adapt care to individual needs. For advice on specific horses, they should talk to their family veterinarian.

The speakers also suggested that horse owners:

  • Start thinking about their winter hay supply in July. "It will make you life os much easier and you will get good hay." Keene said.
  • Consider several factors when trying to buy hay. Are the bales covered, for example? Did the bales get wet? If horse owners don't want hay from lowland areas, they should said so. Those bales might be good for cows, but not necessarily horses. Can they look at the hay before it's harvested? They should look for things like toxic plants and stage of bloom. Do they have to take bales at the bottom of the hay stack? Hay that contains as much as 10 percent dirt can e unsuitable for horses. Is this last year's hay? Is it bleached by the sun?
  • Monitor hay consumption and water supplies when temperatures fall below zero. Check water heaters and cords for eletrical shorts. Horses won't drink enough water if they're afraid of getting shocked when they dip their nose into a water tank. They can develop colic if they don't drink enough water.
  • Decide what to do about blankets. Some horse owners like to cover their horses. Others stay away from blankets, because they want their horses to adapt to the cold.
  • Don't over-feed pregnant horses. Even though they need 50 to 100 percent more calories than the normal maintenance horse, they don't need to become obese. "Too much fat on a mare isn't helping," Keene said. Horse owners, in general, should be able to feel a horse's ribs and not see them. It might be OK to see one rib, but three or more means the horse is probably too thin, unless it's an athlete.
  • Weigh and measure hay and feed. Use scales, not coffee cans. Coffee cans come in different size, so feed recommendations that refer to coffee cans aren't necessarily accurate.
  • Think about barn lighting. Sixteen hours of incandescent lighting can fool mares and stallions into thinking spring is coming.
  • Continue providing dental care during the winter. All teeth must be level, but realize that incisors don't wear down as fast as cheek teeth. Long incisors prevent upper and lower cheek teeth from contacting each other, which causes inefficient eating. Grain dribbles, and hay is poorly chewed.
  • Vaccinate for strangles, equine influenza and equine herpes. Strangles is a contagious, deadly disease that's difficult to eradicate. Equine influenza is an upper respiratory problem that's highly contagious. Equine herpes causes abortions and neurolgic disease. Keene recommended vaccinating mares during the fifth, seventh, and nine months of their pregnancies.
  • Deworm horses at least three times a year. The best times are 30 days after the grass greens up in the spring, mid-summer and after a killing frost.

Buying Local Meat in Montana: Cosumer Options

Current as of 12/21 - Thomas Bass, MSU Extension Animal and Range Sciences Associate Specialist; Patrick Mangan, MSU Extension Missoula County Horticulture Agent; Joel Schumacher, MSU Extension Agricultural Economics & Economics Associate Specialist; Marc King, MSU Extension Sweet Grass County Agent

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in purchasing local meat products. Consumers seek local products at grocers, restaurants, farmer's markets, and directly from farmers and ranchers. There has also been interest in local meat from commercial and institutional buyers such as distributors, schools, hospitals, food banks, and others across Montana. We define local meat as meat that was raised and processed in your local geographic area. For most consumers, this will mean that the animal was born, raised, and processed in Montana, however some consumers living near a bordering state may have out-of=state components to their locla meat supply chain.

While demand for local meat was growing steadily, the COVID-19 pandemic further increased demand. Distruptions to larger out-of-state processing plants caused limited selection or even lack of product availability at some grocers for several weeks in 2020. During this time, some consumers turned to local sources in search of meat products. In 2020 and 2021, Montana meat processors reported full schedules for slaughter and processing for the next 12 to 24 months. The long-term effect of this increased interest in local meat is unknown at the time of publication.

Regardless of the reasons for their interest in local meat, consumers may be unsure about basic food safety rules and regulations. This publication seeks to present an overview of local meat production and processing for consumers.

What do I need to kow about buying meat from different types of processors in Montana?

Home slaughter and processing: There is a long tradition of on-farm slaughter of livestock in Montana. The rancher or farmer slaughters the animal on-farm or -ranch, and then processes and packages the meat in a home facility or kitchen. Meat from these practices is not legal for direct, wholesale, nor retail sales. It can be gifted and shared, but not sold.

Custom exempt processing: Custom slaughter represents the majority of local meat processed in Montana (Montana Agricultural Statistics 2018-2020). In this case, animals are slaughtered and processed by a professional based on the client's specific needs. Meat packaged is labeled with the disclaimer "not for sale." In Montana, a custom exempt facility does have an initial facility inspection prior to operation and additional inspections at least twice a year by the Montana Department of Livestock Meat and Poulty Inspections Bureau. However, animals processed by custom exempt facility are not slaughtered under inspection**. A typical customer will deliver a live animal to the processor; the meat products are intended for later personal use by the animal owner.

**Note: custom exempt processing does follow much of the Federal Meat Insepctions Act (FMIA) such as humane slaughter rules and guidelines, sanitation procedures, and construction recommendations and requirements (related to food safety).

The caveat is a situation where a consumer may buy a live animal, or share of an animal, from a livestock producer, and then pay to have it slaughtered and processed to their specifications at a custom exempt establishment. This meat is still labeled "not for sale." This is a marketing relationship where the consumer gets custom proccessed meat for their use by purchasing or investing in a live animal. In such situations, the consumer/client does not actually have to take possession of the live animal. They are techinically not buying meat, but a whole or share of an animal, and then paying for custom processing separately.

Custom Exempt Processing Faciliities in Montana

State Inspection Certification: The Montana Department of Livestock is the state agency responsible for inspections of state-certified slaughter and processing facilities in Montana; this allows livestock owners, or the processor themselves to sell the inspected and labelled meat products directly to consumers as well as wholesale to commercial clients (grocers, restaurants, etc.) An official establishment (processing facility) that has a state grant of inspection will have state inspectors present in the facility on established slaughter and processing days. They will be present throughout the entire slaughter process and will complete both a live animal inspection and a post-mortem carcass inspection. The sate inspectors also monitor facility sanitation, humane animal handling practices at the facility, safe and secure animal holding pens and facilities, and conduct various tissue and product samples for residual drug, pathogen, or microbiological contamination.

There are rules and requirements about the proper labeling and tracking of meat products processed through facilities that carry a state inspection certification. To ensure accuracy of labeling, a label review process for producers is available for those who wish to develop their own personalized product label on the finished retail packages of meat.

Products from animals slaughtered and processed at state-inspected facilities can be sold  directly to the consumers (from the farm/ranch or meat depot**) and through retail outlets (grocers or convience stores), or farmer's markets. Products may also be sold to restaurants or caterers for preperation for sale to the final consumer, to institutions such as schools and hospitals, or to in-state wholesalers/distributors. Meat products produced at a certified state-inspected facility cannot  be sold outside of Montana. Once purchased, consumers may transport as they please, even across state lines. From a safety standpoint, state inspection is considered equal to federal inspection. Montana is privileged to have a strong state inspection program; only about half of U.S. states have state inspection programs. 

Link to State-Inspected Processing Facilities in Montana

**Note: A meat depot is a state-licensed facility where meat or poultry, meat or poultry food products, or meat or poultry by-products, capable for use as human food and intended for sale, are stored.

Federal Inspection Certification: The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) also inspects and certifies slaughter and processing facilities in Montana. These processing facilities and inspections in Montana. These processing facilities and inspections are similar to the inspections and certifications carried out by the Montana Department of Livestock. The key difference is that products processed in a Federally-Inspected Processing Facility can be transported and sold across state lines (interstate commerce).

Link to Federal list

County Sanitarian License: Each county government may have rules and regulations that govern the storing, further processing, and sale of processed meat goods within their country, in addition to the processor inspections offered through the Montana Department of Livestock and USDA FSIS. Local meat and butcher shops, including those inside grocers, will have some level of local oversight. Generally, local health departments (sanitarians) inspect retail establishments and focus on issues that influence retail product safety.

Additionally, there may be regulations and requirements for farm stands, farmer's market stands, retail-to-consumer outlets, meat depots, transportation of meat products, and other activities that govern the sale of meat products at the local level. The rules, requirements, and permitting process and possible fees may vary by county. Contact your county sanitation for additional information about the licensing and permitting process in your county. All retail meat and meat products must originate under inspection by Montana Department of Livestock or USDA-FSIS.

Movement of Carcasses and Meat Between Businesses: Sometimes, a carcass, primal cuts, or meat products are sold to a different business for further processing before wholesale or retail sales. In these cases, the original inspection status cannot be elevated during further processing. For example, a carcass slaughtered under state inspection can go to antoehr state inspected processor or a further processor, such as a butcher shop (under local health department or sanitarian inspection) or additional processing (portion cutting, curing, smoking, etc.) before sale. The meat of state-inspected origin must still stay within the state. It could not go to a USDA-inspected facility for further processing and then be marketed across state lines.

Additionally, if a state-inspected processor purchased USDA-inspected meat and further processed that meat, it would only be saleable within the state because a portion of the processing occurred at a state-inspected facility. The meat would no longer be saleable across state lines. A final example is that a sausage maker that purchases USDA-inspected pork and beef from out-of-state, then flavors, cases, smokers, and packages under USDA inspection of their further processing, USDA-inspected status is maintained for all processes and they may sell their products in-or out-of-state.

Inspection Stamp and Grounding: Consumers may be curious about inspection stamps and labels. While carcasses are literally stamped after passing inspection with food safe dye, consumers mostly encounter the printed version on inspected meat labels. This is also called the inspection "bug" or "shield." The bug includes the inspecting agency abbreviation and usually a processing facility indentification (some large processors with multiple premises may have a more generic inspection stamp; they interally manage traceability to exact premises).

Grading is a narrow measure of quality, is not a requirement, and has nothing to do with food safety. Most commonly seen on some beef, lamb, and pork, grading is based on a variety of muscular attributes, including location and patterns of far deposition. Grading is most associated with USDA inspected plants, because only a USDA grader can confer a quality grade. Local meat may be graded, but usually is not. To be clear, local meat may be of high quality but is simply not graded. Visit USDA for more information on quality and grade for a variety of meat and food products.


While the rules and combinations of scenarios can be confusing, consumers will most often purchase local meat for home preparation or consumption from one of three pathways. One is by purchasin an animal or animal share from a farmer or rancher and paying a processor for custom cutting and packaging. A second is through direct sales from a rancher, processor or niche meat company via farmer's markets, online sales, or farm or ranch stands. The third is from a retail outlet such as grocers or convience stores. In the second and third pathways, state or federal inspections will be required, as the products are being sold retail to send consumers. Local meat may also be available at restaurants and institutions like schools and hospitals. This meat is also required to be inspected at the state or federal level (view table 1), outlines the information and common pathways discussed in this publication.

  are examples of some of the pathways between farms/ranches, processors, and consumers. This is not an exhaustive list and there are other scenarios.

Abortion in Sheep

By G.F. Kennedy, DVM - Pipestone Veterinary Services

There are three major infectious causes of abortion in sheep:

  • Enzootic abortion caused by Chlamydia psittici
  • Vibrio abortion caused by Campylobacter sp
  • Toxoplasma abortion caused by Toxoplasma gondi

There are control procedures that can be utilized to combat all of these abortion challenges.

Enzootic abortion can be controlled by vaccination and feeding antibiotics. Vaccine is available and should be given 60 and 30 days prior to breeding, and in previously vaccinated ewes 30 days prior to breeding Tetracycline antibiotics may be administered in the feed at the rate of 300 mg per head per day throughout the breeding season and gestation period. I would prefer to pulse feed tetracycline at the rate of 800 to 1000 mg per head for five days every two weeks. This procedure has proved to be more effective. In my own flock, I don't do any preventative measures. In the upper Midwest it is seldom found and when it is found it is in ewes that have been imported from Western range states. Preventative programs do need to be in place for Western ewes.

Vibrio abortion should be controlled by vaccination. I prefer the vaccine made by Hygeia as it contains the tetracycline resistant Jejuni stain that has been a problem. Vibrio vaccination should be done at 30 days prior to breeding and again at mid gestation. Previously vaccinated ewes need only to be done at mid gestation. The feeding of tetracycline is much less effective due to bacterial resistance.

Vibrio is a systemic disease in sheep that may result in abortion. They get infected by ingesting the Vibrio bacteria. In cattle, it is a venereal disease. Cattle vaccine doesn't work on sheep and visa versa.

There are several options on preventing toxoplasmosis. The disease is caused by coccidiosis of cats and kittens are the most likely source. Defecation in grain or hay is a source of infection. A thimble of infected cat feces can infect a hundred sheep or more. The solution to keep no cats around is not the right one. If sheep are exposed when not pregnant it is a non-event and immunity develops and it is not an issue going forward. When cats defecate in a feed bunk, I make it a point to feed that material to non-pregnant ewes. In Australia, they once had a live oral vaccine that they used. Avoid feeding a known contaminated feed source to pregnant ewes. The point is we don't always know, but with the absence of cats on the premises sheep become very susceptible.

Rumensis may be fed at the rate of 15 mg per head per day to prevent. Deccox 6%, two pounds can be mixed with fifty pounds of salt, no sheep material should be fed in addition. Selenium and iodine in salt mix should be adequate. There are reports of sheep being infected on pastures and Deccox is about the only option in those situations.

To determine an outbreak (and I think there should be concern when the rate exceeds three percent) fetuses and placenta should be submitted to a diagnosis lab to determine cause. Cause cannot be determined by clinical observation. Diagnosis may be essential for treatment and always essential in planning for next year. 

My shot gun approach early on with no diagnosis is to feed one pound of 2 gram AS700 crumbles for five head for five days and repeat every two weeks.

Goats are somewhat a different story. Vibrio is not a major problem but Lepto may be. You can vaccinate for Lepto. Chlamydia and Toxo affect goats similar to sheep.

Deer-Resistant Ornamental Plants for Your Garden

Revised 7/19 by Cheryl Moore-Gough, Extension Horticulture Specialist

A listing of flowers, vines, shrubs and trees that deer prefer not eat.

Deer can wipe out a garden faster than almost any other pest. Two species common in Montana - the white-tailed deer and the mule deer - can eat flowers and foliage in summer and browse on tender buds in winter. Even urban gardens are vunerable to deer damage.

Deer typically feed at night, with a single adult capable of consuming from five to ten pounds of garden plants per night. Utilizing deer resistant plants in the landscape is a good first line of defense. Just remember, no plant is completely deer proof, as a hungry deer will consume almost any plant!

In addition to planting a resistant landscape, you may choose to use one of several different types of repellants. These can be classified according to their mode of action. A combination of different types of products can be more effective than any one method alone, and rotating deterrents is helpful to avoid habituation.

Taste and Scent: These deterrents make the area smell or the plant taste bad. They typically come in granules or sprays, and often must be reapplied after rainfall. Unfortunately, people may also find some odors distasteful! Bad-smelling deterrents include heavily perfumed soap, predator urine, and dried blood or blood meal. The fungicide Thiram not only smells bad, but also tastes bad to deer. Always read and follow label directions, particularly if using a product on plants being grown for human consumption.

Fear Factor: Mechanical and eletrical deterrents either frighten or lightly shock deer. These include motion-sensing water and noise device that are activated by the presence of deer. Wireless deer fencing is available, consisting of eletrically-charged posts inserted near the target plant that give off an odor pleasant to the deer. When they touch the posts, they receive a low charge, but frightening shock, that trains them to stay away.

A fence around the garden is a more permanent solution, but it must be at least eight feet high and slant outward from the protected area at a 45-degree angle. You may want to top it with another foot or two of electric fence, but this has the effect of turning a garden into a fortress and is difficult to work pleasingly into the landscape.

 A full fence may not be practical in your situation, but smaller barriers may be constructed. Sink stakes and attach netting to surround individual plants. Small plants may be protected with tomato cages or milk crates. Deer are nosy creatures so be sure the holes in the barriers are small enough that those noses can't reach through.

Deer tend to be put off by the thorny Rugosa rose (but not roses with fewer thorns), and fuzzy or ferny leaves. Also, those plants that could be considered highly scented are not favored. Remember, though, no plant is completely deer proof. A hungry deer will make short work of any plant if it's hungry enough.

Most of Montana is deer country and you'll fight a battle you cannot win if you insist on planting species the deer love to eat. While there are some plants that seem to simply delight the palate of a night-feeding deer, like tulips, daylilies, or hostas, any part of a fruit tree, or an unprotected Arborvitae, there are many beautiful plants that deer don't prefer to eat. There are many ornamental plants that will grow in our state that fall into this category. If you feel this limits a planting scheme, then place plants deer love to eat close to the house and those they don't prefer farther out in the yard where the animals are more apt to wander. Unfortunately, deer will even come onto front porches. Remember, no plant is safe if the deer are hungry enough.

Following is a list of plants that generally grow well in our state and that deer will usually ignore if their natural food supply is sufficient. Keep in mind, however, that a deer-resistant landscape also depends on the local deer population's tastes. Species is supplied where it is known, but many references list only the genus. In that case we've given the genus followed by "spp." the abbreviation for the plural of "species." Some species of a particular genus will grow under out conditions; some will not. For example, according the ASDA Hardiness Zone rating, Aquilegia canadensis, the American columbine, is a Zone 3 plant and will grow here but Aquilagia bertolonil, the Bertoloni's Columbine, a Zone 6 plant, won't. It is recommended to plant only those perennial species that are adapted to your USDA Hardiness Zone.

View flower chart (PDF)

Rattlesnake Safe in Montana

Current as of 1/22 - Jared Beaver, MSU Extension Wildlife Specialist, and Stephen M Vantassel, Montana Department of Agriculture Vertebrate Pest Specialist

Spring through fall is a magical time in Montana for the outdoor enthusiast. However, it is also a great time for snakes done hunkering down for winter, making human encounters more likely. For many, snakes evoke feelings of uneasiness to outright panic. Montana only has 10 native snake species, of which, only the Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotaius viridis) is venomous.

Description and Range

Prairie Rattlesnakes are pale green to brown in color with brown or black blotches along the back extending to the tail, where they change from blotches to rings. However, pattern and coloration vary widely across snake species and region, and should not be used as a determining factor for identification. Unique features that separate adult rattlesnakes from the other non-venomous snakes found in Montana are that they have a triangular head, a heat-sensing pit located between the nostril and the eye, and elliptical eyes. The Prairie Rattlesnake is also the only native snake in Montana with a rattle at the end of its tail. However, there are occasions where rattlesnakes lack or lose their rattles. Rattles are added each time a snake sheds its skin, which can occur multiple times a year. Additionally, rattles can fall off over time, thus, rattles cannot be used to age in individual.

Though Montana only has one native venomous snake, non-venomous snakes often behave in ways that can deceive onlookers. For examples, some will vibrate their tails as a defense behavior, which can sound similar to that of a rattlesnake. The hog-nosed snake will also 'hood-out' by flattening their head and rising into a strike pose in an attempt to make themselves look larger and more intimidating. This behavior can commonly cause them to be mistaken as venomous, while in reality it is an attempt to bluff their way out of danger. Unfortunately, many non-venomous snakes have been killed due to mistaken identity. Snake identification can be difficult in the excitement of a confrontation. It's best to err on the side of caution and give snakes their space.

Prairie Rattlesnakes occur throughout Montana, typically below 6,500 feet, and favor open and arid country but are also found in ponderosa pine stands and mixed grass-coniferous forests. They are more likely to be encountered on south-facing slopes and in areas with rock outcrops. The majority of their diet consists of rodents and small mammals. Females typically give birth in late  August to early October. Prairie Rattlesnakes primarily mate in the fall, immediately after giving birth and just before hiberation. The female then holds the sperm and inseminates herself after emerging from hibernation in the spring.

While rattlesnakes are widespread in Montana and found in a variety of environments, they may turn up around homes and yards in brushy areas and under wood piles. Generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes will likely retreat if given room or not deliberately provoked or threatened. Most bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing.

On rare occasions, rattlesnakes bites have caused severe injury - even death. However, the potential of encountering a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors. The chances of being bitten are extremely low compared to the risk of other outdoor injuries. Nationwide, only 5 to 6 people die each year from snake bites. Typically, death due to snakebites occurs with children and those who either failed to receive antivenin (the antidote for venom) or those who did not receive antivenin quickly enough.

TIps for Being Safe Outdoors

  • Be alert. Most bites occur between the months of April and September when snakes and humans are most active outdoors. Rattlesnakes are sensitive to the ambient temperature. After a cold or cool night, they will attempt to raise their body temperature by basking in mid-morning sun. Snakes are generally not active when temperatures dip below 60oF. Snakes also avoid overheating by seeking shade under rocks, bushes, or in a burrow on hot and/or sunny days.
  • Use care around rock piles, ledges logs, and locations where two vegetation types meet (e.g., grass and rocks). Do not insert hands, step, or sit where you cannot see or visually inspect the area first. Snake out sleeping bags before use.
  • When hiking, utilize well-used trails and try to step on rocks and logs rather than over these objects, which are likely hiding spots for snakes. When possible, hike in groups so someone can assist in an emergency.
  • Wear shoes, preferably boots, that extend above the ankle. Full-length and loose-fitting long pants with tight weave can also provide a fair amount of protection against snake bites on the lower leg. Never go barefoot or wear open-toed shoes when walking through brushy areas.
  • If you encounter a snake, simply maintain a safe distance (three times the body length) and walk around, allowing plenty of space. Snakes do not chase people. People who thought they were being chased were actually in the path of the snake's escape route.
  • Teach children not to approach or handle snakes without parental supervision.
  • Do not attempt to kill the snake, as many bites occur during the process.
  • Do not handle a freshly-killed snake, as it can still inject venom for some time following death.
  • Leash your dog when hiking in snake country. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors. Speak to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccine options and what to do if your pet it bitten.

First Aid

While rare, snakebites do happen. Have a plan in place for responding to a snake bite situation and make sure you have a way to communicate in the event of an emergency, regardless of location.


  • Stay calm but act quickly
  • Get yourself and others away from the snake to avoid additional bites.
  • If possible, safely take a picture of the snake.
  • Take off all restrictive items, such as rings, watches etc, as venom occasionally causes swelling
  • Activate emergency services as soon as possible by dialing 911. This will ensure that you get access to antivenom treatments as soon as possible.

Do Not

  • DO NOT attempt to cature the snake
  • DO NOT cute the wound with a knife or razor
  • DO NOT use your mouth to "suck" out the venom
  • DO NOT apply a tourniquet
  • DO NOT pack the bite area in ice
  • DO NOT let the victim drink alcohol

Snakes are an important part of our ecosystem. With a little common sense, we can enjoy and appreciate their beauty and uniqueness without causing ourselves or snakes any harm.

Additional information can be found in the Montana Department of Agriculture's "Living with Montana Snakes"

Drought Persistence and Cattle Decisions

Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Unfortunately, the drought continues to persist throughout Montana and relief is not forecasted. The current drought map has 92% of Montana in a drought, with almost half of the state designed as D3 and D4. The seasonal drought outlook map sows that through May 31, 2022, the drought will persist for most of Montana and Western United States. The persistent drought means tough decisions ahead for livestock producers.

Since the summer of 2021, many livestock producers have drastically reduced the number of cattle on their operations. Some producers even shipped cattle to the Midwest to graze corn stalks during the winter months due to the lack of pasture availility and price of harvested feeds. Cattle producers heavily rely on pasture for grazing and with the persistent drought, pastures will need extended time for recovery. If possible, delay cattle turnout to allow for additional pasture recovery. If adequate pasture is not available, additional feeds may need to be provided to ensure requirements are being met.

However, providing additional feed may not be an economical or viable option. Feed already accounts for upwards of 70% of input costs for producers and needing to provide additional feed during the grazing season can drastically increase feed costs. Additionally, many feeds have drastically risen in cost and may not be available in the area due to the on-going drought.

Due to the rising feed costs and the lack of pasture, strategic culling decisions may need to be made. Some culling decisions are easier to make than otehrs, such as those cattle with production issues. Production issues can be varied, such as age, bad feet, bad teeth, bad udder, low-quality calf, thin cows, open cows, or late bred cows. Once these cattle have been culled, decisions become more difficult and are highly dependent on the goals of your operation. Other things to consider when making culling decisions include cattle efficiency and/or genetics. Efficiency can be defined in many ways depending on the operation, but a common method is pounds of calf weaned per cow body weight. Genetics is another area that is highly dependent on the goals of the operation. Old cows could be culled because their production has begun to decline, or the producer has moved on to different genetics. Young cows could be culled because they require additional labor and input costs, but they're the new genetic base for the operation. Another option is to reduce the number of heifers being kept for replacements.

Making these decisions is difficult and are highly dependent on the operation. Keeping accurate records of the cattle can help in making these grazing, feeding, and culling decisions as we continue with the drought. An addiitonal consideration when selling/culling cattle would be to discuss the strategy with the banker to determine what tax implication may be occuring and the best financial strategies moving forward.

Cover Crops as Partial Replacement of Summer Fallow

Clain Jones, Soil Fertility Specialist/Professor, Dept. Land Resources and Enviornmental Sciences, Montana State University; and Kathrin Olson-Rutz, Research Associate, Dept. Land Resources and Evironmental Sciences, Montana State University

Cover crops are one tool to improve soil health and long-term agricultural sustainability, especially when grown in place of fallow. This MontGuide summarizes the information in the MSU Extension bulletins Cover Crops; Soil Health, Cover Crops; Management for Organic Matter and Nitrogen, and Cover Crops; Soil Water and Small Grain Yield and Protein. See those bulletins for more details and all references. Our focus is on covers planted as partial fallow replacement in dryland systems of the northern Great Plains.

Cover Crops

Cover crops, also called covers or green manure, are crops grown between cash crops, generally for soil conservation purposes. They increase plant diversity, keep the soil covered, and increased the time that living roots are in the soil, especially compared to fallow. Covers are part of a regenerative approach to improve soil health. Benefits achieved depend on many factors including soil type, soil moisture, species planted, and when and how the cover in terminated. Cover success depends on the goal, which determines cover species selection and management. For example, decreasing nitrogen (N) fertilizer needs might require different cover selection and management than increasing infiltration or soil organic matter (SOM). It is unreasonable to expect a cover to provide all the potential benefits.

Soil Organic Matter

The key to healthy soil is having adequate SOM. Soil organic matter is composed of humus (stable organic matter) plus plant, animal, and microbial tissue in various stages of decomposition. Humus is the end product of decomposed microbes and plant residue. It makes up around half of the SOM. Humus in particular has high nutrietn supplying capacity and helps resist pH change. Plant residue is the fuel that feeds the soil microbes which drive SOM production.

Building SOM is slow; after 10 year of an alfalfa-grass or no-till recrop in Montana. SOM only climbed from an initial level of 1.40% to a final level of 1.47% in the top foot. In an extensive Saskatchewan study, SOM increased only 0.11% over 22 years, despite a wide-scale conversion to no-till. However, a small change in SOM can lead to large improvement in soil health.

Residue Amount

In Montana dryland cropping, each ton of aboveground residue formed about 0.4 ton SOM over a decade. The remaining 0.6 ton was used as energy by soil microbes and lost as carbon dioxide to the air. Soil organic matter can only build when residue input is greater than soil microbial appetite for fresh residue and existing SOM.

In the 10-year Montana study and a 10-year Saskatchewan study both in 16-inch annual rainfall zones, SOM waas maintained with 1.8 ton/acre/year dry, aboveground biomass input. The 1.8 ton/acre/year threshold is an annual average over several years. For example, 36 bu/acre continuous wheat, 72 bu/acre winter wheat-fallow, or one ton cover crop biomass plus 56 bu/acre wheat the following year are all rotations that could lead to 1.8 ton/acre/year residue. These production levels can be hard to meet, especially the crop-fallow yield, which is why it is nearly impossible to build SOM with fallow in rotation. The break-even amount is likely less than 1.8 ton/acre/year in locations and years with less rainfall because decomposition is slower in drier conditions.

Both the cash and cover crops on a given field need to be included in residue calculations. The longer covers grow, the more water is taken from the soil, causing lower grain yields the following year. Lower cash crop growth leaves behind less stubble. Cover crops only increase SOM if their residue is greater than the loss of cash crop straw caused by the cover's use of soil water.

In wet years or locations with around 6-inch growing season precipitation (April to July), a 2-year cycle of early terminated covers and wheat can return more residue than fallow-wheat. However, in dry years or locations, there is the risk that cover-wheat will not produce substantially more total residue over a 2-year cycle than fallow-wheat.

In regions with unreliable precipitation, the key is to select single or mixed species with reliable and acceptable biomass production. Well-suited, single specie covers often produce more biomass than a multi-species mix. However, mixes provide a better chance that something will grow well and that biomass will be more consistent across growing seasons. Timing the seeding of mixes can be a challenge in they include both warm and cool seaon plants and some species may produce a residue that challenges cash crop seeding with the equipment at hand.

Including legumes in the cover is important when the cash crop receives little or no N fertilizer, as they provide N for subsequent crops.

Small grain yield

In semi-arid regions of Montana, the soil water used to grow covers is usually greater than soil water saved through reduced evaporation or increased snow capture. Therefore, subsequent wheat yields are often lower following covers than fallow. An exception is in shallow or sandy soils with limited water holding capacity where soil water, thus grain yield, is more likely to ve similar following cover, recrop or fallow. If the goal of a cover is to increase SOM, then some cash crop loss can be expected. Over time the increased SOM should increase soil water to increase cash crop yields.

In water-limited conditions, early termination of covers by small grain boot, or legume by early to mid-flower stage, preserves soil water for the next crop. In several Montana sites, wheat yields were an average of 8.6 bu/acre less after cover terminated by first bloom than after fallow. Small grains following late-terminated covers (pod to almost seed set) yielded an average of 15.3 bu/acre less than after fallow. In higher rainfall sites (greater than 6.5 inches April to July), grain yields were not significantly less after covers than fallow, regardless of cover termination timing.

Wheat yields can vary depending on the cover composition. Wheat yields tend to be higher after legume cover than non-legume cover, and lower after tap-rooted or fibrous-rooted covers than legume and brassica covers.


Nitrogen is released as cover residue decomposes. This can be used by future crops, lost to leaching if no crops is in place to take it up, or slowly accumulate in SOM. Covers can add available N when legumes are included and maintain available soil N by trapping residual N (catch and release N). Although legumes can fix N, thye will use available soil N if levels are high, before fixing much N, so they do not always increase spring plant available N (PAN) compared to fallow.

Plant available N is high (after substantial cover decomposition) when the cover biomass is 75 to 100% legume and low if legumes make up less than 25%. A minimum of 40% legume biomass in a mixture has been suggested to supply, rather than tie up N, in soils following covers. Nitrogen fixation varies by legume species and relies on healthy root nodulation. The bacteria responsible for nodulation (rhizobia) thrive and increase N fixation in soil conditions that support healthy plant growth.

Covers can reduce soil N compared to fallow; therefore, soil testing in the spring after covers is important to avoid over-or under-fertilization. The amount of fertilizer N a producer can back-off of a fertilizer N recommendation based on a spring soil sample is called 'N credit'. This is the additional amount of N that will be provided by legume residue during the following growing season and is difficult to measure. As a rule of thumb, the N credit from an annual legume cover grown once is 20-30 lb N/acre. After a third time in rotation with small grain, the N credit from an annual legume cover may be 30-50 lb N/acre.

For Small Grain Yield

In cool semi-arid regions, the N release can be too slow to meet small grain's early growth N requirements. Yet, if fall conditions are moist and relatively warm, legume cover may decompose quickly and lead to vigorous early small grain growth. If the growing season turns dry, that growth cannot be sustained resulting in low grain yields.

Nitrogen benefits to subsequent crop yields may be realized only after multiple years of legumes in rotation. Plant available N from pulse residue takes time to build but tends to be available for an extended time; N from legume residue may still supply N for grain planted at least three years later.

Fertilizer N rates can be reduced from standard guidelines when legume covers are used due to increase fertilizer N recovery and N supplied in the long term. Reducing fertilizer N rates in turn will minimizing leaching loss and slow soil acidification from ammonia-based N fertilizer which is a growing soil health issue in Montana croplands.

For Small Grain Protein

Small grain protein is usually greater after legume covers than fallow. Legume cover benefits to small grain protein occur after fewer rotations than necessary to see N benefits to small grain yields. Wheat grain following pea cover may reach or exceed the protein cut-off level required to avoid protein discounts, despite receiving less fertilizer N than wheat after fallow.

Other Benefits

Soil aggregation increases the soil's ability to absorb and hold water and resist wind and water erosion. Covers provide living roots, plant residue, and microbial activity which all contribute to improved aggregation and water infiltration.

Microbial activity appears to be more dependent on residue amount than the diversity of plants making up the residue. However, as N concentration of the residue increases, so does microbial activity. Terminating covers before plant maturity and including legumes in the cover are ways to increase residue N.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal function (AMF) help plants take up water and nutrients. They are largely responsible for forming soil aggragates. Oat cover or mixes containing oats may increase AMF root colonization and growth of the following crop. The AMF benefit directly from soil N provided by legumes, and indirectly if ammonium-based N fertilizer is reduced because of legume supplied N. Fungi biomass decreased when more than 45 lb N/acre was added as ammonium nitrate mid growing-season because of localized soil acidification by the N fertilizer.

Soil temperatures at a 2-inch depth was lower by 5 to 15oF with covers than fallow from late June through late August (the last temperature measurement) even well after cover termination. Lowered summer afternoon temperatures should decrease evaporation and likely benefit biological activity.

Legume cover residue may release more P and provide it early in the next growing season than mature legume or non-legume cash crop residues. In an Alberta study, clover and pea covers terminated at 50% bloom released 10 to 11 lb P2O2 /acre for the next crop, while canola, wheat and pea grain residue released less than 2 lb P2O2 /acre. Grass covers are well suited to catch P (and N) runoff or deep seepage in acidic or sandy soils, which do not bind P.


Covers are a tool to provide resude for soil health, build soil organic matter, and provide plant available N. However, in water limited systems, growing covers uses soil water and often reduces subsequent cash crop yields.

  • In water limited systems, cover termination by first flower minimizes next crop yield loss due to cover water use.
  • Residue gained by growing past flower does not offset the water use and subsequent residue loss due to lower cash crop yields.
  • Crover species should be selected that produce reliable biomass, keeping in mind seed costs and equipment availabilty.
  • Legumes need to comprise more than 40% of a cover crop biomass to contribute soil available N.
  • Soil testing should occur in the late fall/winter or the following spring to adjust N fertilization rates following covers.
  • It usually takes several legume cover rotations to provide an N benefit for subsequent cash crop yields. In a wet fall/early spring, N release may be early and go to yield. Generallly N release is later and cash crop protein is often higher after legume covers rather than fallow.

A good way to start regenerating soil health is to reduce fallow, increase the frequency of live roots and the amount of plant residue on a given fields, and include legumes in rotation to supply N.

View PDF

Noxious or Native Plant?

A noxious weed is a plant that can negatively impact agriculture or native ecosystems, and management of these plats to prevent them from spreading is required by law. In Montana, noxous weeds are non-native species. Native plants, by comparison, are those species that were here prior to European settlement. Native plants are important habitat for wildlife and livestock, contributre to healthy soil and clean water, and beautify the landscape. Some native plants look very similar to noxious weeds, and sometimes they can be killed or injured by noxious weed control. This series of videos explores why it is important to think about native plants when managing noxious weeds and compares identifying features of noxious weed and native look-alike pairs. The series will help professional and private landowners manage noxious weeds while conserving native plants and promoting healthy vegetation.

View Noxious or Native Videos (YouTube)

The Most Important Part of an Ag Operation is YOU

There's no question - working in ag is tough. Producers are so attuned to their operations that they notice instantly when a piece of equipment isn't running right or an animal's behavior is off. The Montana Farm & Ranch Stress Assistance Program wants to help our ag communities take note of their own wellness in the same way by connecting Montanans involved in Ag with tangible, effective resources to assist with mental maintenance.

A Message for Montana's Farmers and Ranchers

Sulfur Cinquesoil

Article is from Montana Weed Control Association Facebook Page

Sulfur Cinquefoil is another noxious weed that plagues the State of Montana, and can be found throughout most of our counties. While Sulfur Cinquefoils are problematic for plant diversity like other noxious weeds, there are also native Cinquefoils that are less aggressive and add to plant diversity. Knowing these differences can mean the difference between fighting an aggressive weed, or helping it to thrive on your lands in the long run. To help you differentiate between Sulfur Cinquefoil and others, the MWCA page on Sulfur Cinquefoil has been posted along with the Montana Field Guide's page on Cinquefoils to help with comparison.

MWCA Page on Sulfur Cinquefoil

Montana Field Guide Page on Cinquefoils

Managing Grass in a Drought-Ravaged World

2022 Spring - Lives & Landscapes Magazine - Rick Caquelin, Retired USDA NRCS State Range Specialist

There is no doubt about it, across most of Montana the 2021 growing season left a lot to be desired. Over most of the easter two-thirds of the state, precipitation was 60% of normal or less. These areas were also affected by unusuallly hot temperatures. A rare, late August rainfall created a small burst of fall green-up that quickly whithered in the face of continued dry conditions and the appetites of voracious grasshoppers before fall frosts could mark the end of the growing season. So, what do that leave us expecting for pasture and range conditions in 2022?

To best manage perennial grass plants in 2022, we must understand what happened during the 2021 growing season. In the spring, the grasses utilize stored energy to begin growth, like drawing down a batter. In a year with adequate precipitation, plants produce enough leaves to photosynthesize and replace their energy stores. In 2021, plants were only able to grow a limited number of leaves and stems which significantly reduced theier ability to produce energy. This was especially true if the plant was grazed in May and June. In August, during the brief green up, the plants had to draw on their energy stores yet again to make new growth. If plants were grazed during this time, it stressed them even further.

Recognizing the condition our plants are in right now is instrumental in applying proper management to ensure recovery from last year's dry conditions and the grazing use that occurred. Currently, the plants in our pastures have a reduced capacity to resume growth when good growing conditions return due to lower energy storage in the crowns and roots. There are little or no green leaves remaining in the base of the plants to jump start photosynthesis this Spring.

So, how do we plan our Spring and early-Summer grazing to allow grass plants to recover to full potential as soon as possible?

  • Identify the areas in pastures with the most grass remaining from last year and start grazing there. These areas will likely be on slopes, far corners, and areas further from water. While salt and mineral placement can encourage animals to use these under-utilitze areas, herding or temporary fencing are much more effective tools to get livestock to use of these areas. Plants in these locations will be the most vigorous in the pasture, and while grazing in these areas, weaker plants in more favored grazing areas of the pasture will be able to take advantage of early warm, moist days to begin to recover and grow.
  • Minimize pasture size to no more than needed for the length of time planned to graze. This will concentrate the grazing in one area while maximizing the acres not being grazed, allowing the plants in those areas to grow and begin to recover.
  • Minimize grazing period length, especiallly during May and June, but managing grazing timing even through October can benefit plant health and production. This can be difficult for land managers to accomplish, but there are two very good reasons to do it. There is more control over total use of individual plants, preferably leaving 3 or 4 green leaves on grasses to speed recovery through photosynthesis. It also allows plants in every pasture more time to recover during critical growth in May and June because of reducing grazing time in each pasture at a critical time. When conditions for growth are good, plants can grow 2 inches of new growth in a week, so to keep animals from grazing regrowth, rotations of 7 days or less are the most beneficial for maintaininig grass health and productivity, but even 10-14 day rotations will yield some improvements. And remember, grazing can always resume after the plants have matured and to remove forage to a level that is appropriate.
  • Finally, grazing can onlly be managed this intensively for a short period of time, make it from mid-April to mid-June when grasses are growing and recovering.

Preparing for the Breeding Season

Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Breeding season success begins with management decisions made during calving. Here are a few tips for preparing for a successful breeding season.

  1. Nutrition - Ensuring all cattle are meeting their nutritional needs is an essential first step to having a successful breeding season. One way to determine if nutritional needs are being met is to monitor body conditions score (BCS). Thin cows require additional time to return to estrous and may be delaying in rebreeding. Providing thin cows with additional nutrients and maintaining moderate body conditioned cattle may improve breeding success. This is especially important this year due to the lack of moisture in some areas, where additional supplementation may be needed prior to breeding. Don't forget about your bulls. Your bulls should be adequate condition to travel long distances to breed, feed, and water. Spermatoza quality and quantity can be impacted by poor nutrition. Ensuring a good nutrition program for your bulls will aid in maintaining sperm production during breeding season.
  2. Vaccinations - Prebreeding vaccinations should be given 2 to 4 weeks prior to breeding. Heifers will need 2 doses of the vaccine given approximately 3 weeks apart, with the final dose given 2-4 weeks before breeding. A good vaccination protocol is essential to maintaining herd health and preparing for the breeding season. Contact your veterinarian to determine which vaccines will work best for you.
  3. Bull Breeding Soundness Exams (BSE) - The BSE is an exam conducted by veterinarians that includes a physical exam, semen evaluation, and an internal and external exam of the productive tract. Evaluating the feet, legs, teeth, eyes, flesh cover, and scrotal circumference and shape is included in the physical exam. The semen evaluatin includes semen normality and motility. The BSE should be conducted 30 to 60 days prior to the beginning of breeding. It is important to note that the bull's sperm production cycle is approximately 60 days, and if illness, injury or other issue occurs, this could negatively impact the BSE and breeding capability of the bull and may need to be re-evaluated. An additional BSE can be conducted at the end of the breeding season to determine if bull fertility decreased throughout the breeding season.
  4. Inventory - Prior to the breeding season, take stock of your current inventory needed for the breeding season. This is especially important for those using AI. Inventory includes supplies needed, such as CIDRs, vaccinations, AI injectables (GnRH and PGF), and semen. Herd inventory is also crucial to a successful breeding season. Determining which cows you will cull and which ones you will keep, do you need to purchase another bull, or do you need to improve your herd genetically. Assessing inventory early will enable you to be better prepared for the breeding season.
  5. Prebreeding Checklist - Checklists allow a rancher to be better prepared. Creating a prebreeding checklist and gathering the supplies in a central area will keep things organized when the breeding season begins.

Garden Tip of the Week

Planting Bare-Root Trees

Bare-root trees should be planted in the early spring, when they are dormant.


Bare-root seedlings should be planted as soon as possible upon receiving them. Ideally within 24-28 hours. Store them in a cool humid location until youu are ready to plant, keeping them in the original packaging. Protect the roots from drying out or freezing. Make sure to not leave the roots exposed to air and direct sunlight, and keep them protected while transporting them.

When you are ready to plant them, soak the roots in water for 1-2 hours. Inspect the roots and prune out any damaged ones.


The planting hole should be the same depth as the root system, but twice as wide. Mound some soil at the center of the planting hole, and spread the roots over this so they are evenly laid out. Backfill with the original topsoil, making sure that the trunk flare (the location that the trunk begins to widen where it meets the roots) is above the soil line. Planting too deeply can kill a tree. Gently tamp down the soil around the base of the seedling to prevent air pockets, and water thoroughly. Give it a gentle tug to make sure that it is in place.

For more information

Planting bare-root trees (Iowa State University)

Planting bare-root tree seedlings (Penn State Extension)

It is Tick Season - Statewide

Resharing an article from April 6th, 2021 by Laurie Kerzicnik

The common ticks in Montana this time of year are the Rocky Mountain wood ticks. Dermacentor andersoni, and the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. Ticks can be transported into the home from pets and humans. The two species look very similar. The two species of black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis and I. pacificus) that vector Lyme disease have not become established in Montana although they are occasionally brought into the state by travelers (both humans and pets).

The Rocky Mountain wood tick is found on livestock, companion animals, and human in the spring and summer in Montana. It likes stream corridors, grassy meadows, and south-facing sagebrush slopes. It can transmit viral Colorado tick fever (CTF). Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), bovine anaplasmosis, and tularemia. The American dog tick is found in eastern Montana. It is one of the major vectors of RMSF and can also transmit tularemia. Neither the Rocky Mountain wood tick nor the American dog tick transmit Lyme disease.

Rocky Mountian spotted fever transmission is rare in Montana; most cases occur in the southern Atlantic Region. The tick must remain attached for at least 10 hours before transmission of RMSF can occur. In many cases, a blotchy red rash will appear on the extremities, often starting with the wrists, palms, and soles of the feet.

Colorado tick fever occurs only in western states. In Montana, cases have been diagnosed west of the Continental Divide-southwest and south-central Montana. Symptoms of CTF occur within four days and include chills, headache, fever, muscular aches, and general malaise.

There have been no Montana-acquired cases of Lyme disease at the time this was written, and it is unlikely this will change in the foreseeable future. Questions about Lyme or other tick-borne diseases should be referred to a competent physician.


Use a repellent like DEET or picaridin especially on plant and socks when in ticky areas and check for ticks after being outdoors. If in a brush-type area on an area with tall grasses, always do your tick checks right afterwards.

Removing a tick from your skin:

You want to find and remove ticks as soon as possible. There are some common folklore tick removal methods such as "backing out the tick with a burning match" that should not be attempted. This method is not safe and doesn't work. It is important to try to thoroughly remove the tick and the mouthparts. The tick has mouthparts which are barbed and used for insertion into the skin. These break off, it can be a further source of irritation and possibly infection. Also, the crushing of the mouthparts can allow for disease transmission to occur through the skin if not removed properly.

Place forceps (try to use blunt curved forceps or tweezers) around the tick mouthparts as close to the skin as possible. Remove the tick with a low, steady pull away from the skin. Don't jerk or twist the tick. Avoid getting or crushing any tick parts on you. Disinfect your skin with alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water.

In Montana, we cannot test the tick itself for diseases. View further information on testing ticks for diseases and where you can send them. You must keep the tick alive to test for disease.

Further information resources:

Ticks of Veterinary and Public Health Importance in Montana

Tick-Borne Illnesses

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Ticks

Scouting for Grasshoppers

May 12th, 2022 - Kevin Wanner

After a few yeras of high grasshopper populations many are eager to start spraying this spring. Vigilant scouting is important during grasshopper outbreaks - pesticides applied too early or too late are likely to be ineffective. Control measures should not be applied until the grasshoppers have hatched and their numbers can be estimated.

Egg hatch can begin during May and can continue through the summer, but timing depends on the species of grasshopper and the weather. David Branson (USDA - ARS Sidney) suggests the grasshopper hatch this year could be delayed by a week or two dur to the cool spring winter (unless the upcoming weather becomes warmer than average).

For rangeland grasshopper control, Gary Adams (USDA - APHIS Billings) indicates that optimal timing coincides with the 2nd and 3rd instar stages. Typically, rangeland treatment in Montana occurs during the 2nd to 3rd week of June but could be delayed this year. Specific timing depends on weather and is based on scouting and staging the grasshopper population.

For grasshopper control in crops, I do not recommend spraying before most of the eggs have hatched and the pest numbers can be counted. Sprays applied before egg hatch will not have sufficient residual activity. Juvenile and adult grasshoppers can migrate into crops from surrounding grassland, regular scouting is advised through the summer.

Treatment thresholds are based on the number of grasshoppers per square yard. The square foot method of surveying grasshoppers; The number of grasshoppers in a one square foot area is estimated visually and randomly repeated 18 times while walking a transect. The total number of grasshoppers is tallied and divided by two to give number per square yard. Alternatively, four 180-degree sweeps with a 15-inch diameter sweep net is considered equivalent to the number of adult (or nymph) grasshoppers per square yard (NDSU Extension).

For more information on scouting methods, thresholds, and insecticides in rangeland and crops, refer to the High Plains IPM Guide:



Small Grains

What is the Farm Service Agency (FSA)?

New 6/22 - Kate Binzen Fuller, MSU Extension Agricultural Economics Specialist and Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administers many loan, direct payment, and other agricultural assistance programs. People who can benefit from FSA program include farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural producers, including those getting started in agriculture. Many programs provide financial assistance to farmers in the time of distress.

FSA began as an agency in 1993 in response to needs during the Great Depression. Over time, the FSA has served many roles, including providing medical care, promoting of cooperatives, and mediation services to help farmers avoid foreclosure. FSA's programs have changed over time and many are updated with the Farm Bill, which is legislation passed roughly every five years. The information in this MontGuide is current as of April 2022 but will change.

How can FSA help me?

The programs and funding that FSA offers have changed over time. Some have requirements surrounding agricultural production history. The local FSA office can help determine eligibility for programs.

Current Programs include:

  • ARC and PLC. Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) are two "safety net" programs designed to help producers of specific crops in times of lower revenues or prices. Participating in these programs requires "base acres", which are determined by planting history. In Montana, wheat and barley make up the largest shares of base acreage, but 17 other crops are also eligible. To find out if a farm has base acres, contact the local FSA office.
  • Disaster Assistance. Several programs pay farmers and ranchers in natural disasters such as flooding, drought, and extreme cold. Producers can determine if they are eligible through FSA's Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool.
    • Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). In contrast assistance programs that address the disaster after-effects, producers must sign up for NAP in advance. NAP is similar to crop insurance, but it generally covers types of crops that other forms of crop insurance do not. It can also be used to cover grazing and forage crops. While NAP has service fees and other costs, in many cases, substantial discounts and fee waivers are available for beginning farmers, limited resource producers, veterans, women, and racial and ethic minorities. Find more information about NAP here.
  • Farm Loans. FSA offers a large range of loans for starting, improving, expanding, and transitioning farming and ranching operations. These loans can be used for various purposes, from securing land, purchasing grain bins and other storage, to operating loans that finance agricultural production. Additionally, FSA's Emergency Loan program can provide financing to help recovery following natural disasters. For direct and guarenteed loans, targeted funds are set aside for historically underserved groups, and specific laons are available for youth agricultrual projects and Native American Tribes. Farmers and ranchers can answer a few questions to determine what loan products may be right for them using the Farm Loan Discovery Tool. FSA has loan servicing options for borrowers who cannot make scheduled payments on their loan debt to FSA.
  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The CRP pays farmers and ranchers to apply certain conservation practices and remove land from production for between 10 and 15 years. Several different programs cover a variety of land and contracts. Information about CRP, including signup deadlines, can be found here.

Going to FSA for the First Time

FSA farm and tract number(s) are needed to participate in FSA programs. A farm number indentifies all land that is part of the operation and shares the same owner and operator. Tract number(s) uniquely identify the seperate continguous pieces of land with common ownership being farmed or ranched.

To get farm and tract numbers:

  • Find the local FSA office. FSA has an office in most rural countries and some urban countries. Producers can find their local office here.
  • Call ahead. An oppointment may be needed, and having one will help avoid a wait, even if it isn't required. The call can also answer questions about what to bring. Not every FSA office offers all services, and a call can provide information on what is available.
  • What to bring: Specific documents other than those listed below may be needed. But in general, be sure to bring:
    • Proof of identity: Identification may be required in certain cases. Examples include a driver's license, Social Security Card, or Tribal ID.
    • Land Records: Land ownership isn't required to participate in FSA programs, but if not, proof of leasing will be needed. Land records can include a copy of the recorded deed, rental, or land lease agreement.
    • Names, addresses, and Tax IDs: Provide the names and addresses of all interest-holders in the operation. These include landowners and business entity members. Tax ID numbers must also be provided for all interest-holders that will earn a share of payments.
    • Corporation, estate, or trust documents. Documents showing the operation's legal and/or tax structure may be needed.

Plant Identification Apps for your Smartphone

By Noelle Orloff, Extension Associate Specialist and Schutter Lab Diagnostician, Email Noelle Orloff


Smartphone apps are available for almost anything these days, including plant identification. Plant ID apps are a helpful tool to have in your botanical toolbox. There are two broad categories of these apps.

Some plant ID apps function somewhat like a traditional key in that they require the user to enter information about the plant in question and based on the information the app lists plants that fit the citeria. Two apps in this category that are especially useful in Montana include Montana Grasses and Wildflowers of Montana/Montana Wildflowers. The identification from these apps are only as accurate as the information entered; make sure to only choose a characteristic that fits your plant if you are certain you are correct.

Another group of plant ID apps uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to identify plants based on photos a user takes with their phone. There are a number of these apps available.

Evaluating Plant ID Apps

Noelle is often asked which of the AI apps I recommend. Thankfully, Dr. Erin Hill at Michigan State University has evaluated these types of apps for accuracy on a yearly basis, testing them against plants with a known identity in her neighborhood. In many cases apps correctly identified the genus of an unknown plant, while misidentifying the species. This has been my experience with these apps as well; they often help me get "close" to a plant's identity but require further work to get to the correct species. The study also found that apps are better at identifying mature plants compared to seedlings, and grasses may be more difficult for these apps to accurately identify compared with broadleaf plants. Based on Hill's criteria, PictureThis was the most accurate app for the past three years, and iNaturalist and PlantNet also performed well. There are other helpful apps available (for example Seek was mentioned in an informal poll of Schutter Lab Facebook users); test different apps on known plants in your area and see which one works best for you.

Tips for Using Plant ID Apps

Whichever app you choose; it is important to sue some critical thinking. Double check your identification using a trust resource. Find accurate photos of many naturally occuring plants online at the Montana Field Guide. The Latin binomial name will be the most helpful search term. Also check the USDA Plants Database and the Montana Field Guide to see if your identified plant is known to occur in Montana or not. To check your plant's identification with a real human, ask your local Extension office or your county weed district for assistance.

Further Information

For more information about this month's weed post, contact Extension Invasive Plant Specialist Jane Mangold, Past post are available in the Monthly Weed Post Directory.

View PDF

 Bumble Bees in Montana

Bumble bees are important native pollinators in wildlands and agricultural systems. Creating habitat to support bumble bees in yards and gardens can be easy and is a great way to get involved in native bee conservation.

BUMBLE BEES ARE IMPORTANT NATIVE pollinators in wildlands and agricultural systems. They are easily recognized by their large size and colorful, hairy bodies. Queens are active in the spring and workers can be seen throughout the summer into early fall. Creating habitat to support bumble bees in yards and gardens can be easy and is a great way to get involved in native bee conservation. Bumble bees are in the genus Bombus and the family Aipdae (includes honey bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, sunflower bees, and digger bees). There are approximately 250 bumble bee species worldwide and over 45 in North America north of Mexico. To date, 28 species have been documented in Montana. For more information about these 28 species, or to obtain a key for identifying bumble bees to species, please visit the Bumble Bees of Montana section of the Montana Entomology Collection website (mtent.org) and click on the "Bumble Bees of Montana" link.

Bumble Bees as Pollinators

While crop pollination services are normally attributed to honey bees, most people do not realize there are thousands of wild, native bees, including bumble bees, which play an important role in pollinating both wild and cultivated plants. In fact, native bees are often more efficient than honey bees at pollinating many plants.

Bumble bees are one group of bees that are able to "buzz pollinate," which is important for certain types of plants such as blueberries and tomatoes. Within the flowers of these types of plants, pollen is held in small tube-like anthers (i.e. poricidal anthers) and is not released unless the anthers are vibrated. Bumble bees buzz pollinate by landing on the flower, grabbing the anthers with their jaws (i.e. mandibles), and then quickly vibrating their flight muscles. The vibration effect is similar to an eletric toothbrush and the pollen is released. In many plants, pollination occurs as the pollen falls from the anthers to the stigma, thus fertilizing the flower. Pollination can also occur when pollen grains fall onto the bumble bee's body hairs and are transferred to other flowers as the bee moves from one plant to the next.

Life Cycle and Social Structure

Similar to honey bees, bumble bees live in colonies with overlapping generations, social castes, and division of labor (i.e. they are a eusocial species). In a bumble bee nest, there will be only one queen, an idividual that is often significantly larger than the other bees in the colony. The queen is soley responsible for laying eggs for colony growth. Throughout the summer, several generations of female workers are produced. In late summer the queen produces large females destined to be next year's queens and males whose sole purpose is reproduction.

Individual bumble bee queens spend the winter hibernating in compost piles, leaf litter, or other protected areas. In spring, queens emerge and begin foraging for sugary nectat that provides important carbohydrates needed for energy and protein-rich pollen. They also start searching for nesting sites. Nests can be found above ground in abandoned bird houses, grass tufts, and underneath wood, brush, or rock piles. But, they are most commonly found underground in abandoned rodent nests or other types of hollow cavities.

Once the queen has located a suitable nesting site, she begins constructing the nest by creating a small "honey pot" made out of wax secreted from her abdomen and filling the honey pot with nectar. Next to the honey pot, she constructs a second wax cell, or "brood clump," fills it with pollen/nectar mixture, and lays the first eggs of the colony into this cell. She will incubate these eggs while drinking nectar from the honey pot. The eggs will hatch in about five days and the larvae will feed together on this pollen mass, passing through four larval instars (i.e. feeding stages). In some species, the queen will feed the newly emerged larvae individually by regurgitating a pollen/nectar mixture.

The first generation of workers emerges as adults after four to five weeks. These often small-than-normal workers will take over the jobs of foraging for nectar and pollen, building and maintaining the nest, caring for the eggs and larvae, and defending the nest. Once there are enough workers to sustain the colony, the queen's only job is laying more eggs. By the end of the summer, new queens and males emerge from the colony. The new queens will feed on nectar, mate and then find a place to hibernate for the winter. All the remaining members of the colony, including the original queen (i.e. foundress), die at the end of the summer (unlike honey bees whose colonies are perennial and overwinter and survive for many years).

Threats to Bumble Bees

Natural Enemies: Like any other animal, there are many natural threats to bumble bee colonies, including pathogens, parasites, predators, and parasitoids. Pathogens include viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Parasites include mites and cuckoo bumble bees. Cuckoo bumbe bees are social parasites, meaning a queen will "hijack" an established colony of another bumble bee species, kill the queen, and rely on the already present workers to rear her offspring. Otehr insects, spiders, birds, and mammals are all known predators of bumble bees. Certain fly species, wasps, and some nematodes are known parasitoids of bumble bees.

Human-caused Stressors. Populations of some bumble bee species are in decline, and in some areas, bumble bees' native ranges are shrinking. These declines are likely due to a variety of factors. Urbanization and agricultural intensification have fragmented bumble bee habitat and caused a shortage of high quality food. Pathogens and parasites from non-native and commercial bees have been shown to spread to native bee populations. Competition from non-native bees may also increase stress on a colony. Chemicals in the environment like pesticides can have sub-lethal effects on bees, including reducing immunity, foraging capabilities, and overall health. Currently, there is a great deal of reserach being conducted on specific pesticides' effect on bees. If pesticide must be used, make sure to follow all labels directions carefully and spray in the evening when bees are less active. Changes in local climate may also impact bumble health in the future. Especially at risk from climate change are certain species, like Bombus kirbiellus and Bombus sylvicola, known to only inhabit high-altitude or artic environments.

Creating Habitat for Bumble Bees

Home-made bumble bee houses are typically not effective at attracting bumble bee tenants. However, there are some things homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers can do to attract and support these native pollinators. Namely, plant some of their favorite flowers. Bumble bees forage on a diverse array of plants that include flowering trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. It's important to choose several plant species with different bloom times in order to provide a continuous supply of food resources from early spring until late fall when bees are active. Early spring and late floral resources are especially important beause food resources can be limited at these times of year. Additionally, leaving the yard and surround landscape a bit "messy" can create essential nesting and overwintering habitat (e.g. compost, leaf, and brush piles). It is also important to provide access to fresh water either in a bird bath of shallow dish filled with pebbles if no other sources of water are available.

Fear of Bees?

Human's fear of bees is often unwarranted. Despite their large size and loud bussing, bumble bees are important pollinators and should not be fear. Only female bumble bees (queens and workers) have the ability to sting, but they are usually not aggressive and rarely sting unless threatened (e.g. getting too close to their nests). Although stings are rare, bumble bees can sting multiple times due to the smooth structure of their sting; honey bees, which have a barbed sting, can only sting once as it results in their death due to the sting become lodged in the recipient. Honey bees have much larger colonies and tend to be more aggressive when defending their nests and hony stores. In addition, some social wasps like yellow jackets, which are often mistaken for bees, are more aggressive because they are scavengers often found interacting more frequently with humans. However, caution should be taken near all bees in case of allergic reactions to stings. 

Additional Resources



Bumble bees are able to thermoregulate better than most other insects. When temperatures are too low for flight, they warm their bodies up by "shivering." Basically, they vibrate their thoracic flight muscles until enough heat is generated to allow for flight.

Some scientists once claimed that bumble bees defy the laws of physics by being able to fly with their large bodies and tiny wings. Obviously bumble bees can fly, even though they are not the most graceful of aeronauts. The trick is in the way the wings move - it's not an up/down motion, but more of a figure 8. The tiny changes in air pressure caused by these wing movements are what keep the bumble bees aloft.

While honey bees are the most economically important commercial pollinators, they are not native to North America. Colonists brought them from Europe in the early 1600s.

(View tables PDF)

Miller Moths

Laurie Kerzicnik ([email protected]) - June 28th, 2022

Army Cutworm, Euxoa auxiliaris (and others)

Miller moths are congregating around homes in Billings, MT and surrounding areas. Sometimes the moth populations can be in the hundreds to thousands. They are normally around for two to three weeks. Outbreaks are sporadic.

As adults, they are a nuisance as they are "passing through" in May and June during their migrations to higher elevations to oversummer. When they are migrating, they are feeding on the nectar of flowering plants in our yards, especially those with yellow or white flowers. Some preferred plants include Russian olive, spirea, euonymus, and cotoneaster.

As caterpillars, they are called "army cutworms" and are active in the spring, sometimes they occur so commonly that they can be seen moving in bands.

The term "miller moth" refers to a moth that is locally abundant and that has scales the dislodge from the wings. In our state, the most common miller moth is the army cutworm. Euxoa auxiliaris. The dominant miller moth species varies between states.

Miller moths have a one-year life cycle. Eggs are laid in the fall. The caterpillars will feed following egg hatch and then enter a semi-dormant state. They become active in the spring and will start feeding on winter wheat, alfalfa, rangeland areas, some vegetables, and turfgrass. Caterpillars feed mostly at night. They are most often located around field edges. Blackbirds will flock to crop fields to feed on the cutworms.

The adults will then migrate to higher elevations, feeding on the nectar of flowers. During their annual migrates, they fly from the eastern plains to the mountains, which can involve hundreds of miles. The adults then return to the plains in September and October. They also feed almost exclusively at night. During the day, they like to hide in small cracks and crevices, which can be in homes, under cars, and other areas around the home. THey don't reproduce or feed on anything within the home.

Miller moths are pollinators. They are also a big part of the grizzly bear's diet. Grizzlies can feed heavily on the moths in higher elevations (sometimes up to 40,000 moths per day in July and August). BIrds also feed on the caterpillars and adult moths.

Management: Turn off porch lights; they are attached to lights. You can also put a light source in another area with a bucket of soapy water underneath for them to fall into Vacuum up the moths when they are inside the home. Jingle keys or coins, as they don't like erratic noises. Insecticides are rarely effective against the moths, as they are not very susceptible to them.

View PDF

July 25th, 2022

Elevated Risk for White Mold (Sclerotinia stem rot) in Pulse Crops

Ulta McKelvy, Extension Field Crop Pathologist - July 7th, 2022

White mold/Sclerotinia Stem Rot of Pulse Crops

How to recognize white mold disease

Symptoms typically start to appear after the plant canopy closes. At the field level, you may observe patches of dead plants. On individual plants, characteristic symptoms include bleached stems and leaves, and under high humidity, a very characteristic white fluffy mold. Dark sclerotia also form on plant tissues. Sclerotia are the survival structures of the pathogen. Early infections can consist of a grey-brown rotted lesion (soft rot), possibly with brown ooze coming from the tissue. Wilting of tissue occurs within days of infection.

Disease Cycle

White mold is caused by the fungal pathogen Scleortinia sclerotiorum. The fungus is very long-lived in the soil and is favored by high humidity and temperatures of 50-78oF. Highly dense crop canopies high moisture from repeated rain events are conductive for disease development.

The fungus survives as sclerotia, which are small, round masses of hyphae coverered by a black rind. If you break them open, they are white/beige. The sclerotia lay on the surface of the soil or in the top 2" and can either germinate directly and infect the plant or form an inverted cup mushroom called 'apothecia' that ejects spores after canopy closure. Those spores can then infect through flowers, stems, or leaves. The pathogen generally needs to infect dead tissue before moving into living tissues, so frequently it enters the plant through dying flower petals and possibly through dying leaves in the lower canopy that are a normal part of the crop growth. Sclerotinia can also cause crown and stem rot, resulting in wilt.

White mold most frequently is introduce to fields in contaminated seed and builds up over a number of years before signficant levels of disease occur.


  • Fungicide Applications - After Sclerotinia infects the crop, there is no fungicide that can resurrect the crop. Preventative sprays of Endura (Boscalid) at the bloom period may have efficacy at preventing bloom infection by the fungus, but getting fungicide into the lower canopy to prevent crown and stem rot is diffuclt if the crop canopy is very dense. Strobilurin fungicides such as Headline and Quadris are not effective at preventing the disease. Note that products including Omega (chickpea only) and Endura (chickpea, pea, lentil) have a 21 day preharvest interval. For effective disease control good coverage deep in the canopy. If you choose to spray, there is no guarantee you will recover yield but you may prevent further infection. Please consult the MSU Extension Foliar Fungicide Table to identify suitable products. Michael Wunsch @ NDSU also has great fungicide efficacy date available for white mold control.
  • Crop Rotation - Sclerotinia has a very broad host range of broadleaf crops and weeds. Disease prevention through crop rotation is therefore limited, but rotation to small grain crops (grasses) can reduce the amount of inoculum. However, sclerotia can remain viable in the soil for 8+ years. Pulses included in cover crop mixes may also be a risk factor for disease development.
  • Tilage - Sclerotia can germinate in the top 2" of soil. Tillage buries sclerotia and infected residue and can prevent outbreaks in future years, but additional tillage operations in future years may bring sclerotia back to the soil surface.
  • Weed Control - Many broadleaf weeds serve as alternative hosts of Sclerotinia, so good weed control is important to prevent inoculum buildup.
  • Sanitation - It is important to clean equipment after performing any operations in an infected field to prevent spread of the pathogen to additional fields.
  • Prevention - Do not plant seed infected with Sclerotinia, or seed contaminated with sclerotia.
  • Partial host resistance - (from M. Wunsch, in 2016) - 'In a field trail conducted in Carrington in 2012, 'CDC Viceroy' (a small green lentil), 'CDC Impala CL' (a medium green lentil), and the large green lentils "Pennell' and 'Riveland' did not perform as well. 'CDC Richlea' exhibited intermediate performance. These results should be treated cautiously; they were obtained from a single trial in a single year, and additional testing is needed for confirmation.'

Where you can find more information

View Ag Alert