Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Disease kills 75,000 goats in Congo

UNITED NATIONS, June 26 (UPI) -- A livestock disease has killed 75,000 goats in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many more goats and sheep are at risk of contracting it, officials say.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said DRC authorities report 1 million goats and 600,000 sheep are threatened by peste des petits ruminants, considered the most destructive viral disease affecting small flocks, the U.N. agency said in a release.

"This is the worst livestock epidemic in the country in more than 10 years," the organization's representative in DRC, Ndiaga Gueye, said in the release.

Farmers, he said, have been moving their animals away from infected villages, which in turn has spread the virus to healthy flocks.

A recent emergency mission by the U.N. organization and the World Organization for Animal Health found the current outbreaks especially lethal, with an 86 percent mortality rate in goats.

An emergency FAO project will provide money for vaccinating 500,000 sheep and goats in areas not yet affected, raising awareness through rural radio and village meetings about steps farmers can take to prevent the disease and increasing surveillance for it.

The disease does not affect humans but can cause extensive social and economic losses, the release said.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Texas: Many areas backsliding into drought

Sunflower in bloom silhouetted by afternoon sun

Sunflowers bloom in the Texas Blacklands. Sunflowers have a wide planting window and are often used as a “catch” crop to replant when other crops have failed, according Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191,
COLLEGE STATION – While crops were doing reasonably well in Central Texas, much of the rest of the state is backsliding into drought pretty quickly, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.
“The area north of Waco, up through the (Dallas/Fort Worth) metroplex and a bit east of there, is in probably as good of shape as anywhere,” said Dr. Travis Miller, AgriLife Extension program leader and associate head of the Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences department. “Go a little south of there, into the Williamson County/Georgetown area – and it’s pretty darned dry.”
Listen to
Two-Minute MP3 Audio Texas Crop, Weather for June 26, 2012
Many counties south of that area haven’t seen a rain since about May 7, Miller noted.
In many areas, including Central Texas and the Brazos County area, the cotton crop is in pretty good shape, he said.
“Right here in Brazos County, we’ve had several good rains, and we’re in good shape for the time being,” he said.
Elsewhere, it’s dry or drier, according to Miller and the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“The southern Panhandle is particularly dry. There are some areas that have had some pretty good rains — and hail — but overall it’s dry,” he said.
The western Rolling Rlains is another really dry area where it’s going to be a moisture-limited crop, Miller said.
On a positive note, wheat was ready for harvest earlier than has ever been seen before, he said. A warm winter allowed some unusually early plantings and a wet spring offset some of the higher temperatures that came later.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Texas Crop Progress and Condition report for June 24, nine percent of corn was in excellent condition, 51 percent good, 30 percent fair and 10 percent either poor or very poor.
As for cotton, five percent was rated excellent, 31 percent good, 40 percent fair and 24 percent either poor or very poor.
As for sorghum, 10 percent was in excellent condition, 47 percent good, 28 percent fair and 15 percent poor or very poor.
As much as 37 percent of pasture and rangeland was rated as being in poor or very poor condition.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Map of the12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts
The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts
Central: Rain made all crops look good in many areas. Peaches and vegetables were maturing early. Wheat and oats were either grazed out or chopped for silage and not harvested for grain. Grasshoppers were damaging significant amounts of vegetation in row crops and hay fields. The forage and silage harvests were in full swing. Conditions remained steady from the previous week. Cotton looked good with low insect damage. All sunflowers were headed out and blooming.
Coastal Bend: In the northern part of the region, afternoon and early evening thundershowers brought much needed rain and lower temperatures. Cotton was blooming, and sorghum was changing colors. Producers were baling hay. However, in the southern part of the region extremely dry conditions prevailed. Many corn and grain sorghum fields were total losses. Pastures were dry, with only one cutting of hay taken to-date. Herd liquidation was ongoing. Ranchers continued supplemental feeding of hay where the stocking rates were high and pasture conditions low. Pecans looked good.
East: Rainfall ranged from zero to as much as 3 inches. Pastures remained in good condition. Weeds were a problem in pastures due to overgrazing last year. Heavy infestations of grasshoppers were reported. Cattle were in good condition with spring calves making good growth. Fly populations were increasing. Fruit and vegetable growers reported above-normal yields. Feral hogs continued to be a problem. In Houston County, early planted cotton was in excellent condition. Later planted cotton was approaching the first-square stage.
Far West: The region remained hot, dry and windy with highs in the 100s and lows in the mid-70s. Midland County reported a light rain with about a 0.5-inch accumulation. In Ward County, winds reached 20-30 mph. Parts of Val Verde County had 0.2 inches of rain. Glasscock County pastures remained green, but needed more moisture. Most rangeland and pastures were beginning to turn yellow and brown from heat stress. In Ward County, young cotton plants were growing. In Hudspeth County, the oat harvest was mostly finished, with most of the crop being baled for hay. In Howard County, thousands of acres of cotton plants were blown out by high winds. Livestock producers were weaning and selling calves early to reduce feeding costs, and save grass and water.
North: Rain over the last two weeks helped pastures and hay meadows tremendously, but soil-moisture levels remained short to adequate. Hay supplies were much better compared to last year during the drought. All wheat and oats were harvested, with above-average yields of about 65 bushels per acre. There are some reports of fields that averaged more than 80 bushels per acre. Most corn looked very good at this time. Some fields showed damage from last week’s winds from storms. The damage was mostly confined to the edges of fields. The wheat harvest was wrapping up, and producers in all areas were baling hay. Soybeans were in fair to excellent condition. The oat harvest was nearly complete. Cotton was in fair to good condition. Sunflowers were maturing or drying down. Growers were expecting bumper corn and grain sorghum crops. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Grasshopper pressure remained extremely high. The populations of cicada killer wasps, red velvet ants and grasshoppers increased in some areas. Vegetable growers reported problems due to lack of pollination.
Panhandle: Hail destroyed approximately 5,000 acres of cotton and from 2,500 to 3,500 acres of corn in Deaf Smith County. Soil-moisture levels varied from very short to surplus, with most counties reporting mostly short to adequate. Most corn was in good condition. Sorghum was mostly fair to good. Cotton varied from poor to excellent condition, with most reporting good to fair. Wheat was being harvested and in from very poor to excellent condition with most reporting fair to good. Rangeland and pastures continued to improve, but were still in very poor to excellent condition, with most reporting poor. Cattle were reported to be in good condition.
Rolling Plains: Cotton growers nearly finished planting, but were having trouble getting some plantings emerged and established. High winds and heavy rain were hard on tender, new plants. Also, some producers were fighting sand blows. However, pastures looked good thanks to the rains, but needed more moisture soon to offset high temperatures. Producers worried what just one week of 100-plus days will do to dryland cotton. Hay fields were being damaged by grasshoppers. Livestock generally remained in good condition. Peach growers were harvesting, and reported good to excellent quality, with fair to good yields. Wise County reported pecan case-bearer moths found in traps.
South: Temperatures continued to rise, and rangeland and pastures declined due to the heat and lack of moisture. Ranchers were already searching for sources of alternative feed and water. In Webb County, most ranchers were debating whether to restock due to the high cost of replacements. In the northern part of the region, corn was in fair condition, but poor in the eastern counties. Cotton, however, was in fair to good condition throughout the region. In Zavala County, it was reported to be in excellent condition. In Frio County, the potato harvest was finished, and cotton was flowering. In Maverick County, farmers were busy harvesting vegetables and baling coastal Bermuda grass and sorghum hay. In Zavala County, farmers were actively irrigating cotton and spraying for light boll weevil infestations. Also in that county, cabbage and onion harvests were completed, corn-harvest preparations were in progress, and most sorghum had turned color. In Hidalgo County, growers were preparing to harvest sunflowers and grain sorghum, and actively irrigating sugarcane, cotton and citrus crops. In Starr County, there were some light showers. About 15 percent of Willacy County cotton began opening, and 75 percent of sorghum was harvested.
South Plains: Most of the region had warm, windy and dry weather. Some areas received spotty showers, with rainfall totals ranging from a trace to 0.8 inch. Several of the storms contained hail. Hale County producers were dealing with sand and soil crusting from last week’s storms. Producers throughout the region were running sand-fighting equipment to try to hold on to the topsoil. Weed and pest management was ongoing. Some producers were replanting sorghum where other crops were either hailed-out, blown out or lost to drought conditions. Irrigation was going full blast where water was available. Much of the cotton was fruiting with older cotton beginning to square. In parts of the region, rangeland and pastures continued to progress well, and cattle were in mostly good condition.
Southeast: In Brazos County, soil moisture was at acceptable levels, and everything looked good. Brazoria County had light, scattered showers with southerly winds and highs approaching 100 degrees. Rice, sorghum, cotton and corn were in excellent condition, but hay fields and pastures needed rain. Jefferson County received 1 inch to 2 inches of rain, but the area was quickly drying out with high temperatures in the 90s.
Southwest: A few counties saw temporary drought relief for pastures and forages thanks to scattered showers, but overall conditions remained very dry. Grasshopper pressure was high. Forbs and grasses went dormant and produced seed. Even brush was showing signs of heat and water stress, and was losing color. Many brush species were producing seed. Pastures continued to deteriorate, and and row crops began to show moisture stress. Cattle restocking rates remained low. Corn was drying down. Cotton began to set bolls.
West Central: Rangeland and pastures continue to decline due to the hot, dry, windy weather. Temperatures were expected to rise into the triple-digit zone in the coming weeks. A few areas reported scattered showers that benefited cotton, grain sorghum crops and pastures. Haygrazer was in good to excellent condition. Some producers began cutting and baling hay. Cotton planting was nearly complete. Producers were irrigating where possible. Dryland cotton was off to a good start. Sorghum in some areas began to show signs of moisture stress. Prussic acid and nitrate toxicity were becoming concern. Large grasshopper populations were damaging crops. Livestock remained in good condition, though herd numbers were still down. Most producers were not expected to rebuild herds to previous numbers due to slow pasture recovery and price of replacement heifers. Pecans looked strong, with irrigation of orchards under way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

NYC hires goats to clean up invasive weed

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Larry Cihanek, his daughter Lauren, and some of the goats they have leased to the city to clear a stubborn kind of weed in what will soon be Freshkills Park.

On a sweltering afternoon on Staten Island, the New York City parks department unveiled its latest weapon in the war on phragmites, an invasive weed that chokes the shoreline: goats. Twenty Anglo-Nubians, to be exact. With names like Mozart, Haydn and Van Goat, and with floppy ears and plaintive bleats, they did not seem fearsome. But on Thursday they were already munching inexorably through the long pale leaves in the first phase of a wetland restoration at what will soon be Freshkills Park.

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Van Goat with Mr. Cihanek, who has provided 20 of the animals.
Known for their unending, indiscriminate appetites, the goats are being rented by the city for the next six weeks from a farmer in the Hudson Valley. Parks officials are counting on the goats to clear the phragmites across two acres of wetlands that will eventually be cultivated with native grasses like spartina and black needle rush. The hope is that the goats will weaken the phragmites, setting the stage for another series of assaults on their stubborn rhizomes — applying herbicide, scarifying the earth and laying down sand.
In the short term, the goats are part of an unusual experiment to eradicate the pesky reeds, which were introduced from Europe in the late 19th century and which, once rooted, are almost impossible to eliminate. They have fueled brush fires across the region and pushed out other species along the East Coast.
But the farm animals are also being tested for their lawn-mowing prowess, especially at Freshkills Park, which is in transition from its former life as the world’s largest landfill to its future one — as the largest park to be developed in New York City in more than a century.
“We want to introduce the idea of using goats to help in vegetation management,” Eloise L. Hirsh, the administrator of the park, said. “The sanitation department mows us once a year. But this is 2,200 acres. We need help.”
The goats are perhaps the most vivid example of the lengths to which the city is going to turn a symbol of environmental degradation into one of ecological redemption. As Freshkills Park is developed in phases over the next three decades, it will be a laboratory for green practices; there are plans for composting toilets, green roofs, rain gardens and a native seed farm.
The official opening of the park is two or three years off, though it is open periodically for tours. Three of the four giant mounds formed by garbage are now capped, and the parks department will soon solicit bids on the first stage of development — 21 acres with walking paths and a bird observation tower overlooking the wetlands. Already, the landscape looks impossibly bucolic, with dragonflies and swallows darting amid lanky grasses and the occasional tree.
The goats only add to the pastoral image. On Thursday, Beethoven, with long white ears and a black body, and Van Goat, sporting a black stripe down his chestnut back, were contentedly exploring their new territory, plunging their mouths into dense stands of phragmites. Others trotted down to the shore of Main Creek, a tributary of the Fresh Kill. (In yet another act of environmental rectitude, parks workers will soon arrange logs made of coconut fiber along the banks to attract mussels, which prevent erosion.)
“The first test was to see if they would eat the phragmites, and they’re eating it, so they passed,” said Terry Doss, an ecologist with Biohabitats, a company specializing in ecological restoration that is advising the parks department.
The city received a grant of $350,000 from the state for the wetlands project. (The cost of renting the goats from Larry Cihanek of Rhinebeck, N.Y., is $20,625 for the six weeks.) If the goats prove successful, Freshkills Park may one day have a permanent herd. “It’s exciting to be able to replace what would be a carbon-polluting mowing strategy with a more natural approach,” said Andrew Deer, a landscape architect for the parks department.
While goats have been deployed for phragmite duty elsewhere, some ecologists are skeptical.
“I’m not a big fan of goats,” said Bernd Blossey, an associate professor of natural resources at Cornell University. “I understand why people are desperate to try them. But they will eat the leaves but not the stems, and they also don’t like getting their hooves wet.”
Professor Blossey is experimenting with moth caterpillars, which can weaken phragmites. In the 1990s, he was successful in unleashing leaf beetles against another plant invader, purple loosestrife, which is not nearly the scourge it once was.
But as the goats made their debut this week at Freshkills Park, any such doubts were pushed to the background. Ms. Hirsh was already looking ahead to a day when goats not only keep phragmites in check, but also put Staten Island on the artisanal food map. “We would like to have a cheese manufacturer here,” she said. “I know there will be lots of skepticism. But it would be a pretty eloquent statement about how you really can restore land that was formerly very damaged.”

Toxic algae blamed for cattle deaths in Georgia

By Sandi Martin
UGA Public Affairs

Monday, June 25, 2012
Pond owners warned to be vigilant about potentially deadly algae blooms

Athens, Ga. University of Georgia researchers have determined that toxic algae killed four cows on a cattle farm in Gwinnett County. A recent perfect storm created the right conditions for a toxic algae bloom in ponds, they say, warning property owners to be vigilant about keeping livestock and pets out of water that has become discolored or opaque.

The toxic algae has been found in at least one other pond less than 10 miles from Atkinson Farms in Dacula, and researchers say it is very possible these are not isolated incidents.

Pond owners should be mindful of the risks associated with toxic algae and take proper management steps to prevent or lessen the formation of an algae bloom, said Rebecca Haynie, a toxicologist with the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. However, there are numerous species of common algae in the Southeast that are capable of producing toxin. So just because you have a bloom doesnt mean you have something toxic in the water.

Haynie and other researchers have been working to clear up the algae bloom in cattle farmer Bill Atkinsons pond, taking water and fish samples and treating the water with algicide. Algae are a naturally occurring phenomenon, Haynie said, and typically flare up and then clear on its own.

Atkinsons pond is the worst-case scenario, resulting from a recent perfect storm of conditions. Warmer than average temperatures and drought leading to increased water clarity and an influx of nutrients from the surrounding pasture created ideal conditions for an algae bloom.

Unfortunately for Atkinson, the dominant species in the bloom was the toxin-producing species, microcystis. This blue-green algae, or cyanobacterium, is a potent liver toxin. Haynie said that when the Warnell team tested Atkinsons water, the toxin level were so high they were out of test range. Her team has treated his pond with algicide twice to attempt to alleviate the bloom.

Color changes in a pond can be a clue to farmers or pond owners that a bloom has happened. Bright green water or water with a pea-soup-like surface scum should be avoided, and special care should be taken to keep pets and children away.

Pond owners who suspect their water is suffering from an algae bloom can purchase algicide products from their local feed supply stores, Haynie said, reminding pond owners to pay careful attention to the detailed labeling on these products, particularly because copper-based algicides can be harmful to aquatic organisms, including fish. Using these products will only treat the symptoms: Haynie urges pond owners to address the causes of the bloom.

A few easy steps pond owners can take to help prevent blooms are to leave vegetated buffers around the pond, limit livestock access and dont over-fertilize the surrounding area. Atkinson completely fenced his cattle off from the pond and is pumping water to a trough to hopefully begin remedying the situation. Pond owners also can contact their local Cooperative Extension agent for more information.

Lawton Stewart, a Cooperative Extension animal scientist with UGA, said animals affected with the liver toxins often appear weak, exhibit muscle tremors, convulsions and have bloody diarrhea.

These toxins can be fatal if ingested in high quantities, he said. Diagnosis may be difficult because the symptoms may easily be mistaken for other disorders more commonly observed in cattle, so a thorough evaluation of the farm is essential to rule out other causes.

Dr. Lee Jones with the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine said he has received other recent reports of livestock found dead near a shallow pond, and an algae bloom is the suspected cause. Toxin levels of blooms can vary, he said, and toxicity depends on the amount of water ingested. There are three types of toxins: neural, liver (or hepatic) and a skin toxin that can cause a severe rash and itch.

The liver toxins suspected of killing Atkinsons cows, however usually do not cause sudden death, he said. Sometimes the animal may have colic symptoms like abdominal cramps, excessive drooling, lose their appetite and be very lethargic. Sometimes the effects are even delayed, Jones said, and animals wont get sick for three to four weeks after drinking the contaminated water.

Jones recommends that pond owners also contact their veterinarian if they suspect an algae bloom has occurred and they have pets or livestock who drank from the water. Veterinarians can conduct a blood test to confirm liver damage, he said.

Atkinson said he has let his cattle graze in a pasture near the pond and drink the water for more than 40 years without any problems until May 5. Thats when his first heifer died. Losing one head of cattle is not unusual, he said, so they didnt suspect trouble until a second one died on May 12. While he and his veterinarian investigated the cause, a third died on May 22. The fourth died on June 5. By then, theyd developed a strong suspicion the pond water was the culprit, and Atkinson moved his cattle away from the pasture and called Stewart at UGA.

Stewart referred Atkinson to Susan Wilde and Haynie at the Warnell School because of their work studying another deadly aquatic toxin that is likely killing American bald eagles who acquire avian vacuolar myelinopathy from the algae.

Atkinson said three other heifers have been exposed to the algae toxins; they have been sequestered and are being monitored. All of the cattle that have died or been exposed to the microcystin toxin are show cattle.

Pond owners can contact Wilde at or Haynie at if they suspect a blue-green algae bloom.

The UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources offers yearly classes on proper pond management. For scheduling information, see

Monday, June 18, 2012

Random photos from the ABGA National Show

If one wants to see the very best that the Boer goat industry has to offer, they must attend at least one ABGA National Show. This year's event, held June 11-16 in Duncan, Okla., drew hundreds of exhibitors and visitors. The competition of showing goats is just one aspect of this national gathering. There is much visiting, joking, eating, goat trading and — especially — making new friends. I have been covering the ABGA National Show since 1996 and I don't remember seeing  as many new faces as I did this year. But I was surprised that none of the "Old Guard" was there. We missed seeing the likes of Don Smith, Norman Kohls, Powell-Holman, Lynn Farmer and others. But there was no lack of exhibitors and viewers (or excitement). The barn was full of goats and over-flowing into a neighboring building. 

The quality and the size of the goats gets better each year.

Many exhibitors decorate their pen areas. It got my attention.

Kay Garrett (left) and Stacey Stoneman helped man the
Goat Rancher table on Vendor's Row. Many thanks to
both of them. They were there at all hours and were able
to answer visitors' questions quickly and professionally.

I love it when they turn the goats loose in the big ring for a better look. 
The goats have a ball running around, too, trying to elude
the ringmen and their hooks.

Shana May and friends react when her buck was named
Senior Grand Champion Buck. Check My Swag went on to
win the national title.

These guys were camped out at's booth.