Safe Extension Cord Use to Prevent Fires

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHoliday fire safety starts with proper use of extension cords. Remember that these cords were meant to extend the range of a power outlet, not increase it. Here’s some tips for safe use of electrical cords this holiday season.

Keep the plug in part out of the tree. Even on a new cord it is not unheard of for there to be problems in the plug that result in flames. Quickly unplugging the cord solves that but if it’s ignited the tree there’s a much bigger problem to deal with.

Don’t run cords underneath rugs. Many people do this for safety reasons to keep the cord from tripping people, but it’s surprising how much some of these cords can heat up. Always thoroughly check the cord before plugging it in for nicks and places where the insulation is cut through a bare wire can increase the chances of fire. Holiday fire safety begins with safe equipment.

Because of small things likely to escalate around the tree this time of year have a properly charged ABC fire extinguisher near the tree in case there is a problem. Hopefully this won’t be needed but if it is this can save steps and precious time. A good holiday fire safety plan includes the “what if” and takes steps to insure a safe season for all.

Use caution running cords through doorways where they can be crimped better yet don’t do it! Not only can this create a problem but a cord can short and anyone stepping on it and the wet ground or snow can be in for an unpleasant jolt. While many think of holiday fire safety it’s easy to forget there are other safety issues also. For this reason keep cords from sitting in puddles, snow and ice.

Many use electrical cords for lights and lights on the tree but there are many who use outdoor cords also. Make sure that you use a cord heavy enough for the job. A light household cord that is overloaded in an outdoor situation can heat up. Holiday fire safety is always something to take seriously.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you add strings of outdoor lights many people also use timers and other gadgets to increase the efficiency and operation of the display. Keep these things protected as well as your cords and use only those products rated to be used outdoors. If you use more than one cord you might consider whether it’s better to install an outdoor outlet next year which not only makes things easier but increases your holiday fire safety plan.

Use caution running extension cords near or over baseboard or other heaters. These cords are not meant to withstand the heat these appliances give out. Uncoil cords to help prevent heat from building up in one area. Never take short cuts using a grounded plug in a two prong adapter. The ground wire is there for a good reason!

While we hear about recalls of vehicles and other items we often don’t hear about recalls involving electrical cords and power strips. Recalls can be issued for over a million cords but if you don’t hear about it and aren’t aware of it you can be using it. Holiday fire safety isn’t often thought of as searching for recalls of anything but toys and child restraint seats it seems, but that defective cord could be a means of incredible loss.

Watch for wear around the “plug in” part of the cord that can be weakened with repeated pulling it from the socket. If it is broken or worn through replace it. Even a $10 cord is much cheaper than replacing your home or losing a family member due to a fire especially at the holiday season.

Tragedy doesn’t take holidays and neither should holiday fire safety. Be alert, be safety minded and use electricity and electrical cords safely. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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Cow Productivity Depends on Cow Comfort

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACow productivity and cow comfort is something that often is pointed at dairy cattle. Beef cattle, too, are more productive when comfortable. The comfort of cattle is of primary concern among producers who not only want to maximize the care of the cattle.

Modern dairy cows are often a focus due to confinement situations that are needed from a labor standpoint. Many modern confinement systems provide shade, fans and even misters for cows in hot weather. Feed that is easily available is important as well as clean water – both make for more milk. While concrete pens are usually used for reasons of ease of cleaning, it can be hard on a cow’s feet and legs. For this reason a comfortable, dry, clean place to lie down is important.

Free stalls are designed so that cows walk in and lie down, helping to insure that the manure deposited when she stands up is in the gutter or at least at the back of the stall where it is easily scraped into the gutter to be scraped out. Sand, shavings, rubber and cow mattresses are all options that are used in dairies around the US.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basics of feed, water, shelter are a great deal towards cow comfort that certainly isn’t all. Dairies that dry cattle off for a rest grass based dairies and beef facilities also make use of pasture. Ground is easier on feet and legs, but more difficult to keep dry and sanitary.

Dry areas to lie down reduce the chances of mastitis and other problems. Cows will lay down in many areas and some cows are just messy and don’t seem to mind laying in manure, but most given a choice will choose a dry stall over a wet one.

Cow comfort of course goes much further. Keeping feet properly trimmed and maintained makes it easier for cows to walk without pain. If they are hesitant to stand or walk they won’t be up eating and, pasture or confinement, can lose production and condition.

Pest control is another important part of cow comfort. Cows that spend their time fighting flies aren’t eating or resting – both essential activities of a cow’s productive day. There are also diseases such as pinkeye that can be transmitted with flies. Pest control also includes controlling mice and rats around the feed supplies.

When designing barns, shelters or even feeding areas in pastures keeping the focus on cow comfort pays off whether it’s 2 cows or 2,000. Observe cattle daily for signs of soreness or injury.

Keeping up on cow care basics is important but it also is important to think from a cow’s preference, not a human one. Don’t let dominant cows keep more submissive ones from the feed – make sure there is plenty of bunk space for all to eat without harassment or fear.

Plan well for cow care and productivity. Your cows depend on you as much as you depend on them, and a good cow is too expensive to replace in rotation before her time. Take care of your cows and they’ll take care of you.

Draft Animals Offer Alternatives

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADraft animals are important around the world for getting in to places that mechanization can’t get to. A working draft animal is a valued transportation for carts as well as a means to move heavy loads. Cutting hay, plowing, powering a treadmill and packing are but a few tasks made easier without fuel with animal power.

While in the US we look at primarily the dog, mule, donkeys, draft horse and oxen these are just a few of the animals used for power. Camels, dogs, elephants, water buffalo and caribou all work for people also and as working animals there is a much different view.

Jobs the draft team can do include milling grains, hauling logs, lifting loads, plowing and farming, operating bellows and hauling loads.

The most powerful of draft animals and the longest lived is unquestionably the elephant. Normally it is the smaller Indian elephant used, valued in hilly terrain and serving as work animals since well before the birth of Christ. However, with mature males being aggressive and much larger as well as the elephant in general eating more than 500 pounds of forage per day, there is limited use for these amazing animals from a draft standpoint in the US.

For American uses equine and bovine are mentioned as draft animals. The draft horse, mules and oxen have their supporters and their critics. Both are threatened today. Modern agricultural practices of farming thousands of acres and sometimes tens of thousands of acres make the draft animals outdated. However, as indicated by the spike in fuel prices that can change quickly when grass becomes cheaper than diesel to get the fields tilled. Additionally draft animals are renewable.

The reasons for using draft animals are many. There is no foreign fuel required to power them. They can get into the fields earlier than heavy machinery. They cause less compaction of the soil and a draft mare can produce offspring for more power.

However, the critics have points also. They require care every day, whether you work them or not. They need time to learn how to do their jobs, and they are powerful enough there is a risk of injury. They are prone to injury themselves and if it happens when you need to get in the field then you can be stuck unless you keep extra animals. They take room and pasture.

Of course these arguments can be balanced by injuries happen with machinery also, and machinery is also prone to break down. Most owners don’t consider the daily care a bad thing but rather point towards it is time spent with animals they are truly partners with.

Draft horses have a long history in America. All have become more show than working but there are still many people who log and farm with horses. There are several main breeds. The Shire is a tall heavy breed originating in England and often called a Clydesdale. Shires often have more “feathering” on the lower legs. Clydesdales have become easily recognized due to their appearance on Budweiser advertising. Percherons and Belgians are actually more popular than the other two breeds. Suffolks are the only breed developed for farm work, and are always chestnut in color with minimal white. America’s only native draft horse, the American Cream, is critically endangered with just a few hundred remaining. Draft horses can weigh over a ton and a pair that are well trained are worth a great deal to someone who wants to work them.

Other heavy breeds not commonly seen as draft horses include Halflingers, Norwegian Fjord, spotted drafts, Gypsy horses and sometimes Friesians. These are all breeds suitable for light draft work on a farm.

Draft horse prices can vary from $1,000 to $4500 and more for show animals. For those serious about purchasing there is quite a few to pick from in the $2500-5,000 range in almost all breeds. Some examples in a recent advertising listing is a Belgian mare broke to ride and drive for $1900, a black Percheron mare for $3200, a Clydesdale gelding for $2,000 and a pair of Percheron mares for $6,000.

Donkeys and mules are another popular equine but unlike draft horses cannot reproduce themselves. Commonly they are the product of a large jack and a draft mare.

Oxen were often preferred over horses in early American farm life. Indeed 100 years ago there were several breeds that were viewed as triple purpose. These included Brown Swiss, Devon, Charolais, Simmental and Ayrshire. Today an overwhelming dominant breed in dairy and another in beef have all but eliminated some breeds but the Brown Swiss and Devon (now usually called Milking Devon) remain as favorites among oxen people with many shorthorns and other breeds also used.

The advantage to oxen they’re cheap. Oxen are often castrated bull calves from dairy operations so the price for a pair of baby bull calves is but a few hundred dollars. Typically oxen are not dehorned so many have horns. A pair of oxen, first called “working steers”, take a great deal of time to train and learn to handle.

Typical prices for an older started team recently advertised are a pair of Brown Swiss of about 1,000 pounds each for $1500; a pair of red shorthorns weighing 330 and 350 for $1200, a pair of Holsteins started on farm and logging chores for $1600 and a pair of 800 pound Chianina Holstein steers for $3500, the latter offered due to owner’s health. More finished teams include a pair of Brown Swiss tipping the scales at 2100 pounds each for $3200, a pair of Ayrshires the same size for $2750, and a massive pair of Holsteins for $3200. The latter were a 4-H project team and were 5’9″ each at the shoulder and weighed 2516 and 2688 pounds each large enough to learn to do some serious work!

The advantage to oxen is long standing that they could be used for beef if injured although many who handle them can get quite attached to their animals. The disadvantage is that they are a one time thing as castrated animals they cannot produce offspring. Like horses, oxen usually have names and are commonly purchased in pairs. Like other cattle they are creatures of habit so purchasing as a team is common. Single animals can be purchased but team animals are often yoked a particular way, with one steer always on the left and the other always on the right. For those who view cattle as being stupid animals working with oxen can be enlightening! Young steers are started very young, with basic training beginning at just a few hundred pounds, long before working on a load.

Draft power can do many chores around a farm from hauling logs, manure and hay to tilling fields and a wide range of other chores involving moving things from point A to point B. Some oxen are even taught to carry a rider.

Draft animals will need plenty of forage, feed, shelter and training. While many working at home can work barefoot some areas require shoes (yes for oxen and horses!). From a care standpoint they are low maintenance but some of that care is a part of normal working of the animal. This can include grooming before and after working, attention to health care and monitoring any cuts and scrapes they might pick up.

While they are a good alternative for many to a tractor they do require time. Many owners see this as a benefit, not a liability.

Heating Without Gas

A while back I was reading a copy of “Out Here”, a magazine put out quarterly by Tractor Supply Co., and it mentioned more than 600,000 homes in North America use wood pellets for heat. I kept reading…then thought about that in perspective.

We have public complaining about reducing demand for gas. We want independence and no relying on gas from other countries. And yet most of the country completely disregards DOING something to actually reduce using gas. We have so many alternatives here – not only passive solar systems but other alternatives. Another issue is the amount of waste – landfills absorbing yard waste and other biodegradable byproducts. Those can be used to reduce fuel consumption.

A couple hundred dollars you can put a solar heating in which uses the sun – free. Even if it raises the temperature just 20 degrees – that’s 20 degrees heated without burning gas. This option is discussed in further detail in the current “Mother Earth News”.

But there’s other options also. Wood pellets are made from sawdust, a “waste” product which otherwise could go to landfills. The basic process is drying the sawdust then compressing it into a pellet at a rate of 21,000 pounds per square inch. The pellets then are bagged and can be used for heating – reducing waste and reducing gas consumption. Pellet stoves have advantages beyond this. There is little ash left because the pellets burn completely. They produce virtually no creosote which is the cause of many chimney fires and a 40 pound bag can heat a home for a day. Instead of a one month $500 bill for gas – this could be your total winter’s supply in pellets!

There are stoves available that have another option still – corn stoves. These can use not only the pellets but when pellets are harder to find you can burn corn. Corn we can produce here in the US on an annual basis…so it further helps farmers by creating a demand for their product, which sometimes is otherwise unused. There is in years of drought a problem with a fungus on corn which prevents it from being used for food or animal food – but doesn’t stop the use of it for fuel.

There are stoves which can burn not only corn and pellets but other “waste” – cherry pits for example. There’s a cost to purchase of the stoves, and it does require electric to run the auger that brings the fuel to the fire…but remember, this is all US GROWN. We can grow corn…we can use waste from flooring and furniture manufacturing (among others) to make wood pellets. We don’t need to buy gas from overseas markets.

Some states have tax incentives for adding alternative energy systems as well as federal incentives.

There is not just stoves available but furnaces that attach on to existing heating ductwork. http://www.ruralenergyproducts.com/ is one of many sites that have both of these options.

Inventive readers of Farm Show magazine – www.farmshow.com – have had featured in the magazine their LARGE heaters which burn as a source of fuel large bales of hay and corn stalks.

With any of these heating system there is some maintenance to do – removing a small amount of ash and the “clinker”. Is it worth cutting costs in half to do this? Is it worth giving a market to our farmers and taking it away from oil companies? If you have room to grow corn your costs are further reduced…most don’t have the capacity to refine oil. This could be a boon to the small farmers trying to compete against major companies…and a means of independence.

We have the technology to improve several issues in the US with one solution – alternative energy produced here at home to heat our homes.

<From the archives>

Did you know?

According to Plunkett Research 41% of the US energy consumption in 2004 was by Petroleum, with an additional 22% and 23% in coal and natural gas respectively. In contrast only 6% used renewable sources.

Bats in Need of Conservation

  • Bats are in need of conservation
  • Bats provide all natural insect control.
  • Bats do not harm humans.

Do you wish there was a better way to control mosquitoes? Do you enjoy attracting birds and butterflies to your yard? With a minor adjustment you can invite bats – and here’s why you should do so.

The often repeated fears of bats are of sucking blood and transmitting rabies. The fact is even the types of bats who do feed on blood don’t suck it, they lap it. You’re many times more likely to choke on your food, fall victim to a doctor’s mistakes, be hit by a car or struck by lightning than you are to be bitten by a bat. As with any animal if cornered and pestered they will bite to defend themselves. A bat house, hung 15 feet or more up in a tree, can be the answer to your neighborhood bug problem. With all the repellants, sprays, candles and other measures we take to repel bugs we ignore the most obvious ones – bats, purple martins and other birds that feed on them – all creatures who need help to survive.

There are hundreds of types of bats – some with common names like the brown bat or vampire bat with others less commonly heard of, such as the hoary bat. They are highly developed nocturnal insect eating creatures and, contrary to popular commentary, are not blind. They use sonar type echos to hone in on their prey. Between 60-70% of bats eat insects – not only mosquitoes but beetles, flies, crickets, gnats, mayflies, wasps and others. Some bats will eat scorpions, fish, nectar, small mammals and even pollen. Ten species in central America are carnivorous, with a meal specifically small birds, small mammals or other bats. Only three types of vampire bats consume blood, usually with a nip on livestock then licking the blood from the small injury.

Often people see what they think are birds darting through the bug filled air at night – and they may well be bats. A small brown bat colony for example comes out at late dusk – first searching for nearby water where they feed just above the surface. They can be poisoned with pesticides however so need a clean area to live. Red bats can hang in trees, often looking like a dead leaf. Their young are often destroyed by blue jays while adults must survive possums, hawks, owls, cats and people. They are apt to migrate, sometimes flying with birds.

Bats may use old buildings, abandoned mines, caves, rocky bluffs and other means of housing. For someone wanting to bring bats in a bathouse may be used. There are ways to live in harmony with bats. While there is fear of getting rabies from bats one statistic pointed out that world wide over 30,000 humans die from rabies annually – 99% of these were due to contact with rabid dogs. With dogs and cats often vaccinated for rabies, the chances from getting it from bats is very small. The most common bat normally found in bat houses is the big or little brown bat – who have been traced to four cases of rabies in US history. Their primary meals are insects. Some cases are preventable, such as the one who dunked a sick bat in his beer and was bitten. Still, adults and children shouldn’t handle the bats – just like any wild animal. If you should find a bat in the home it’s normally a youngster who simply wants out. Leaving a window or door open may allow him to escape or, alternate plan B can be implemented, using a small box to quietly cover the bat, slip another piece of cardboard to seal him into the box without touching him, and take him outside to release him. Bats may roost in attics, soffits, louvers, chimneys, under siding or eves, behind shutters, between concrete beams, under bridges and – of course – bat houses.

Bats help with pollination in some cases – such as the agave plants where seed production drops to 1/3,000th of normal with out bats. The agave plants are used to produce tequila. Many forest areas also benefit from the bat. More than half the bat species in America are on the decline or listed as endangered. These animals, perhaps not warm and fuzzy, have a vital part of the natural order. For those wanting to get away from chemical sprays bats will eagerly take a free invitation to the insect buffet over your fields. It’s quite probable that you would benefit and seldom see them.

Did you know…one little brown bat can catch hundreds of mosquito-sized insects an hour, and a typical colony of big brown bats can protect local farmers from the costly attacks of 18 million root-worms each summer. A bat colony is an obvious low cost solution.

10 Hay Stretching Tips for Livestock Owners

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting hay stored up for winter is better than money in the bank. When hay supplies are tight, it can be tough.

Many areas with drought or flood are having hay shortages this year. Making your hay stretch helps assure your animals will be fit and healthy all winter long. With owners of horses, goats, sheep, cattle and other animals competing for hay often what is available is expensive. Maximize your hay use. Depending on what part of the country you’re in some have more options than others.

1. Plant winter grass. With enough time to get established before cold weather this may be an option for some in warmer climates. Having some grass turnout can reduce the amount of hay needed.

2. Increase fertility of pastures. Fertilize, mow and increase the quality of forages. If $100 in seed will increase this do so. If you need to run a soil test do so. Make the maximum use of what you have.

3. Rotate pastures. Don’t let horses or sheep overgraze what you have. Rotate to other pastures or dry lot them part of the day. Taking care of your pastures is vitally important when there’s little hay – that forage can make a difference!

4. Improve hay storage. Get it up off the ground so the bottom layer doesn’t get moldy. Cover it up securely and watch roof or tarp problems where a leak can mean loss of hay. If it’s 3 bales in some years that isn’t much – but for the person with a few goats that might be a weeks worth of hay! Keep hay dry and stored for maximum effectiveness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5. Use hay containers to reduce waste. Have feeders, tubs or some means to keep hay off the ground and reduce loss. Hay that is wasted isn’t feeding the animals it’s intended for. Some have gone to chopping hay and mixing with the grain.

6. Some horse owners are checking in to “complete” rations. Many caution to not eliminate hay totally even with these rations – without roughage horses are more prone to colic. One horse owner had the unfortunate issue of a major colic right before a big event – his horse was out of the action as was he. He’d not fed hay for 7 months and thought the “complete” feed was enough.

7. Check into hay cubes. These can be soaked for better digestibility – by soaking small amounts and breaking them up even small fainting goats can eat these without a problem. For horses, the recommended amount is three pounds a day depending on size of the horse – but much less than people think they need to feed! A 50 pound bag will last one horse several days.

8. Stretch some hay with beet pulp. Soak it before feeding or use it for no more than 10% of the ration. It’s highly recommended to soak it – beet pulp swells up when moisture is added to it and if this is in the belly after eating it can cause some digestive upset if too much is eaten. Simply use a tub, colander, bucket (depending on how much you’re making) and add water until it starts to pool then let it sit 15-20 minutes. Stir up to insure all gets wet. Do not store it wet – it will go bad. Key thing – keep it dry and stored in clean tubs, wet thoroughly and feed it fresh.

9. Use pellets for part of the ration – although alfalfa pellets are most common many areas have feed stores that offer an oat/brome pellet or something similar. These can stretch hay supplies.

10. Feed by weight and pay attention to what the animal eats. Tossing a flake into the stall is easy – but is that flake 8 pounds or 20 pounds? This makes a big difference in the ration! If you are using beet pulp, hay cubes, pellets and/or pasture you’ll want to adjust they hay down and might feed just five pounds of hay per horse.

Many have had to already begin selling animals, knowing their hay supplies wouldn’t last through the winter or being unable to find hay. Other people in other areas have long since laid in their winter supply and are good for the season. Of course watch what your animal’s condition is and adjust accordingly – common sense says when it’s freezing they’ll need more than they will when it’s 70 degrees; and if they start looking ribby up their feed a bit. But with the shortages in some areas and the difficulty in finding and storing hay stretching what you do have becomes more important!

Septic Tank or Sewer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABe it sewer or septic tank, care of it isn’t something we think about much until it doesn’t work. It’s one of those things taken for granted that when we flush the toilet or pull the plug in the bathtub or have a clear drain in the shower that “stuff” goes in there and goes away.

A sewer system, hooked to conventional disposal means, is usually the choice many make. They don’t concern themselves with care of it, which may be a mistake. Some areas hold the homeowner responsible for cracks or damage to the line running to the home. Many items, such as grease, coffee grounds and egg shells can cause problems. These items can be composted, but shouldn’t be disposed of in your sewer line. Other things to avoid dumping – motor oil and other toxic contaminants. The disadvantage to sewer systems – when one has a problem everyone can have a problem. Also there is a monthly fee associated with it for maintenance. Often the initial cost is less, because it’s just the line from the home to the public main.

A septic system, on the other hand, is independent. It’s “off the grid” for waste the way alternative energy is for power. The advantage to that is being in control of your system. With basic maintenance it is low cost. It will need pumped every few years. The waste collects in a septic tank which then wastes fall to the bottom and fluid drains out to lines, and is absorbed into the soil. Avoid driving heavy equipment and anything else that might damage the line over it. Standing water, a change in the grass or odor are all signs something is wrong with the system. Avoid heavy use of chlorine or other toxins that kill the bacteria in your tank. Some even “feed” these bacteria, which break down the waste and reduce the frequency the tank needs pumped. Soil that drains well is needed for maximum performance of a septic system and there is little serious maintenance if good habits are maintained on a daily basis.

If you have a choice, have soil that drains well often the septic system is the choice of home owners. Without the above, tied to sewer lines might be a better option. Consider your use and costs.