Extension Calling: Farm Stress

Extension Calling is a weekly radio broadcast done in collaboration between The Ohio State University and West Virginia University. Christine Gelley of Noble County OSU Extension joined host, Dan Lima of Belmont County OSU Extension for the show on Sunday, April 7 focusing on healthy ways to cope with farm stress.

Listen here: http://extensioncalling.libsyn.com/dealing-with-farm-stress.

The Farmer’s Line Between Stressed and Depressed

This article was originally published in The Journal  on April 1, 2019.

For many people living in temperate climates, there is a feeling of relief that comes with the change of the seasons from winter to spring.

In fact, according to Mental Health America, five percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal affective disorder (SAD or seasonal depression). People diagnosed with SAD often experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep problems, lethargy, weight gain, and/or social difficulties that are caused by reduced levels of serotonin and increased levels of melatonin. Both can be related to fewer hours of light in the day. Seasonal affective disorder subsides when light hours increase and life returns to normal for these individuals.

People in all lifestyles experience varying moods related to stress and environmental conditions. Some are completely normal and others may be chronic issues that influence mental and physical health.

The farming community is no exception.

In fact, people in agriculture are at a high risk for mental health issues when compared to the general population. Justification for this is related to the levels of stress farmers carry with them day to day and year to year.

Many farmers cope with their stress alone, which can compound the symptoms of anxiety and depression to unmanageable levels. It is startling that the rates of suicide among agricultural workers are up fifty percent compared to what they were in the 1980s during the farm crisis.

Mental health issues, like SAD, anxiety, and depression, can be very difficult to recognize early on and may persist for years before diagnosis. Fewer than fifty percent of Americans with mental health concerns seek treatment for their symptoms.

The line between feeling stressed and being depressed can be illusive. Some signs of stress shifting from normal to abnormal include a combination of these symptoms: sleep, appetite, and mood changes; reclusiveness, nervousness, and difficulty concentrating; illogical decision making; increased sensitivity to sight, sound, smell, or touch.

If you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described here, it is advisable to talk about them with your doctor and close people you trust.

Mental health services for farmers are being brought to national attention and are included in the new Farm Bill. Senate Bill 2712 requires the United States Department of Agriculture to establish a grant program and a National Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network to help coordinate efforts to address the lack of mental health services in rural communities across the country. These grants can be dispersed to state agricultural departments, extension services, and non-profit organizations.

Looking into the future, Noble County OSU Extension will be working to coordinate stress assistance efforts locally for our farmers.

As your local Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources, I cannot provide personal advice on mental health concerns, but I will advocate for your access to resources that can and will provide you with the services you deserve.

Additional information about stress management is available from OSU Extension online at: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5242.







Prime Time to Frost Seed

This article was originally published in The Journal  on February 25, 2019.

Mud, mud everywhere, and hardly a plant to be seen.

That is the case for many high traffic areas this time of year. Whether it is your pasture or your lawn, muddy patches are an eye sore and a threat to the integrity of your soil. It is in the best interest of the environment and visual appeal to have some kind of cover on the soil all year round.

Soil cover helps prevent erosion, which is extremely important. Displaced soil is a disappointing and detrimental loss from the source and often considered a pollutant where it ends up. Muddy areas are more prone to erosion, nutrient loss, and compaction. All of which reduce the productive potential of the site.

One of the ways we can improve muddy and damaged sites is to frost seed legumes in late winter. Most people think about planting as a spring activity, but mid-February is ideal for frost seeding. As the title implies, this practice is done while the soil is going through cycles of freezing and thawing. The change in temperature causes the soil to heave and resettle. This provides a great opportunity to broadcast legume seeds across the soil surface and for the seed to be worked into the soil gradually.

The most commonly used legumes are clovers. There are many types of clovers on the market for both lawns and pastures. You can chose tall or short growing types with traits that make them more adaptable to various conditions. Clover seed is also an economical choice for quick and easy improvements, because frost seeding only requires 2-4 lbs. of seed per acre.

Even though those muddy areas seem devoid of life right now, rest assured that some of the previously present plant material will grow back, along with some weeds. To promote the growth of the clovers and suppress weeds, keep the grass canopy below 6 inches in early spring to help light filter through the plant canopy.

For more information about seed selection and/or how to frost seed, reach out for more information by calling the Extension Office at 740-732-5681 or emailing gelley.2@osu.edu.

Weird Weather, Weird Eggs

This article was originally published in The Journal  on February 18, 2019.

With weird weather can come weird eggs.

A couple weeks ago we gathered our first “fairy egg” from our flock. I went out one Saturday to check on the chickens, shooed a broody hen off the clutch, and there, among the normal eggs was a miniature, creamy brown, speckled egg.

Oddities like this can really make my day. I took the dainty egg inside, resisted the urge to wake my daughter up from her nap to show her how adorable it was, and started researching the reasons why this little egg was laid.

The formation of an egg takes about 25 hours from start to finish. The reproductive tract is very sensitive to changes in the environment and stress. Stress can cause the hen’s system to speed up or slow down and lead to odd developments.

A fairy egg is a tiny egg with no yolk. Usually stress during ovulation (when the yolk is released from the

ovary) is what creates a fairy egg. This can happen if the albumen (egg white) begins forming before the yolk is released. Then the egg continues to develop the membrane and shell.

Immature hens are more likely to produce odd eggs because their reproductive systems are still developing. They can also be more sensitive to stress.

Stress can be anything from temperature swings to loud noises.

In our case, I think the stress that lead to this fairy egg was caused by a drastic drop in temperature overnight, but it could have been any number of things.

Whatever the reason for this tiny, yolkless egg, it was a fun chance for the whole family to learn more about the development of life and food.

Chick season will be here soon. If you are interested in raising poultry for food or fun, start planning now. To learn more about how to select chickens for your home flock, consult this OSU factsheet “Chicken Breed Selection” by Extension Educators, Sabrina Schirtzinger and Tim McDermott: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/anr-60.

Where is everybody under 65?

This article was originally published in The Journal  on February 11, 2019 and republished by The Firelands Farmer. 

Last Monday night, I was in another county helping my colleagues teach a recertification class. All of the attendees had previously completed an initial training to certify their ability to use fertilizer and/or pesticides appropriately and were due to renew their licenses to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

We had a dozen people in the audience, most who have been through multiple three-year cycles of recertification since their initial licensing.

During a break between topics, one of them pulled me aside and asked, “Where is everybody under 65?”

We looked around, and noticed that the majority of the audience was near or past the average retirement age.

“I ask myself the same thing regularly,” I told him.

The truth is that across our country the average age of the American farmer continues to creep up year after year. They are continuing to farm well into retirement. They are experienced, capable, and knowledgeable, but the clock is ticking on how much longer they can carry the weight of feeding America. Eventually, they will retire or pass on and a new generation of farm managers will inherit their responsibilities.

In our region of Ohio, many of those farmers that are positioned to fill their shoes work a full-time, off-farm job. They often are working in partnership with an older relative, a sibling, or their own children. Schedules are tight, money is tight, and daylight hours are gone too soon.

In the midst of all those factors, it is understandable that other tasks are of higher priority than attending a class on one of the rare evenings they have free. At the same time, these farmers probably need the help of Extension the most.

Family farm relationships can be challenging; learning how to calibrate a sprayer can be mind-boggling; keeping farm records up to date can be difficult; calculating which type of lime is the best value can be confusing. That is what Extension is here for, to help farmers develop these kinds of skills.

Do you farm in partnership with someone that fits this description? If so, please encourage them to utilize the services Extension has to offer. It is crucial for the future of agriculture that we reinforce an understanding and appreciation for the value of the next generation of farm managers. We want to see an influx of 20, 30, 40-something aged farmers at our programs.

Educators like myself are trying to reach out to those younger farmers to get them the tools they need to be successful. Our resources are available through one-on-one interactions in the office or the field, workshops, field days, fact sheets, videos, podcasts, and social media.

So, share the information with your young farmer friends, encourage them to go to the trainings, and maybe offer to take their kids to sports practice and ice cream while they spend a few hours polishing their skills.

You need them for the future of your farm and America needs them for the future of food.

Find information about first-timer trainings for Pesticide and Fertilizer Applicator Certifications, Beef Quality Assurance, A.I. School, and more below and online at www.noble.osu.edu. Call or email Christine at 740-732-5681 or gelley.2@osu.edu to learn more.

Forage Focus

This article was originally published in  The Journal on January 28, 2019.

In today’s world, multimedia resources are intertwined with the average American’s daily activities. From social media to YouTube, a vast amount of information is available at the tip of your finger on a mobile device.

Extension has been making greater efforts to be present on those media platforms and utilizing non-traditional teaching methods to get information out to Ohioans. If you utilize YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you can find OSU Extension channels and accounts providing educational resources in the forms of articles, videos, photos, and more.

If you are a livestock or forage producer, there is a new OSU Extension program available for you on YouTube called ‘Forage Focus’. This program is produced by The Ohio State University South Centers and is created by county agricultural educators. The primary goal of the program is to address timely topics for pasture based livestock managers.

Forage Focus airs live on the third Thursday of the month at 10 a.m. on YouTube at www.go.osu.edu/sclive. Videos are then posted on the South Centers YouTube channel and shared on social media. I invite you to tune in for the live stream and to share videos you like on your social media accounts.

Some of the topics addressed on the program so far have been, “Ten Tips for Buying Horse Hay”, “Forage Considerations Around Pipelines”, “Rabies in Livestock”, and “Soil Health Under Saturated Conditions.” Coming up in the February show will be “Frost Seeding Legumes.”

You will hopefully recognize the host of the show, your county ANR Educator- me. If you have ideas for upcoming shows, please contact me with suggestions. This program is an effort to provide the information our producers need in an engaging and simple format.

You can find all the Forage Focus programs posted at https://www.youtube.com/user/southcenters. Check them out!

Videos are also re-posted on this blog at https://u.osu.edu/gelley.2/videos.

The Crockpot Approach

This article was originally published in The Journal on January 21, 2019.

In last week’s column, I shared some of the insights gained from attending the American Forage and Grassland Council’s Annual Conference and promised to continue this week. The story I shared last week was about forage tragedy and triumph. This weeks’ is about getting started farming without inheriting it or marrying it.

Two beef producers led the session I attended on this topic. Wesley Tucker, an Ag Economist for University of Missouri Extension, shared his story of starting from scratch, as did Dr. Jason Salchow, who is a veterinarian and custom grazer. The approaches they used were very different.

Mr. Tucker had farmed with his father as a young adult, but one day his dad said, “Son, this farm isn’t big enough for the both of us.” So, he started his own beef operation without owning any land.

His strategy was to rent as much grazable land as he could handle and rotate his cattle from one place to another. He would calculate the cost of feeding hay and the cost of renting the land. If the land was cheaper than buying hay, then he determined it was worth the cost to rent. Although it had many challenges, the system worked and he turned a profit. However, at the end of his presentation he said, “I have failed.”

When he first started this system, he was single and had time to run from one rental site to another checking cattle. After starting a family, he took his daughter along with him. She enjoyed helping move temporary fence and riding in the truck. His daughter is now ten years old and according to Mr. Tucker, “she hates the farm.” He continued to say, “I have failed because my daughter hates the farm. She hates it because instead of spending dedicated time with her, I’m checking cows before and after work.”

The take home message of his story was to be smart and economical, but don’t forget that your time has value too. You should be careful how you spend it.

Dr. Salchow, on the other hand, tried something different. He grew up in a farm family and decided to become a veterinarian. In the process, he accumulated a large amount of student loan debt, started a family, and soon realized that veterinary medicine was not his true calling. He made a rash decision to quit the practice, buy back part of his family’s farm, and focus on beef production. He shared that he does not recommend that exact strategy, but he does recommend perseverance and patience.

The past 20 years have been a long rough road for Dr. Salchow, his wife, and five children to get to where they are today. Currently they farm as custom grazers. They own the land and graze it with other people’s cattle. All their clients make monthly payments for their grazing services based on average daily gains. Clients maintain the liability for animal health and the Salchows maintain the liability for the land.

His wife maintains the records and he maintains the pastures and cattle. They are making money, they have gained the trust of their clients, and they are expanding. He continued to share that expanding would be a lot easier if his family’s farm hadn’t been separated by the previous generation in a divorce.

The leading cause of farm fragmentation in the U.S. is not urbanization, but rather death, divorce, and a family that cannot compromise. Dr. Salchow lamented over the loss of the American family farm by saying, “If you want to be successful on the farm, go home and love your wife. We have to be better husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. There is no success outside the home that can compromise for failure in the home.”

A fellow member of the audience tied Dr. Salchow’s comments back to liability insurance, to say that the best liability insurance you can hold for your farm is a good relationship with your family. That is the glue that holds the farm together.

Dr. Salchow’s take home message was that success in farming is like a crockpot, not a microwave. He said, “Everyone wants quick results, like a microwave. But, nothing good comes out of a microwave. A crockpot on the other hand, that’s what the good stuff comes out of, but you have to cook it low and slow.”

My advice for you after attending this session is to consider both of these producer’s approaches, their struggles, and their successes.

Neither presentation was about the animals or land as much as they were about relationships with your neighbors and your family. Success in agriculture requires capital, but it is built on perseverance and trust. Trust takes time to develop and perseverance is what drives the crockpot approach to success. Take the time to build trusting relationships with your family, neighbors, and clients. Those relationships are like insurance for your current struggles and future successes.

Forage Tragedy and Triumph

This article was originally published in The Journal  on January 14, 2019.

Last week I was given a wonderful opportunity to attend the American Forage and Grassland Council’s Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Thanks to the Ohio Joint Council of Extension Professionals, I was awarded a scholarship that covered over half of the travel and registration costs to attend.

As your county Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, I believe that expanding our knowledge and understanding of how to utilize forages to their greatest potential is of utmost importance. The American Forage and Grassland Council is the only national organization of it’s kind to bring together producers, academics, and industry leaders in one meeting space.

My number one goal when attending a learning and sharing conference is to bring back information that will benefit our community. There was a wealth of information presented at this conference, but two presentations really stood out to me and they were both delivered from beef producers, not academics.

One was a story of forage tragedy and triumph.

Buron Lanier of Piney Woods Farm in North Carolina, presented at last year’s conference about the efforts made to convert his farm from KY-31 fescue to novel endophyte fescue. A significant portion of his farm is dedicated to silvoculture, combining the production of pine trees and feeding stocker cattle. With great effort, he progressed into a 365-day grazing system. He had no need to feed hay and very little supplemental feed. The system was working marvelously.

But this year he had a different story to share. Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast in September 2018. Mr. Lanier had just started stockpiling his novel endophyte fescue for the winter when his farm became submerged by hurricane waters for over 5 days. The water levels were up to five feet in most of his pastures. He lost over 75 percent of his newly converted pastures. His neighbors also lost their KY-31 pastures and many of them lost their homes as well.

Due to his 365-day grazing plan, Piney Woods Farm had no stored feed. Mr. Lanier was devastated by the destruction, but his home was still livable, his cattle alive, and his family safe. Donated hay and feed were his saving grace. He has since learned how to feed cottonseed and plant by-products and low quality hay. Despite the set-back, he intends to re-establish his pastures back into novel endophyte fescue and begin again.

At the end of his presentation he shared that when something this devastating happens, you question all your motives for farming. He had retired as a successful entrepreneur and started a new venture, grazing stocker calves and farming trees. Why was he doing this? He was doing it for the future of his family, agriculture, and our country’s ability to feed itself. He determined that it is worth it to carry on.

You never know when devastation is lurking around the corner. In a business like agriculture, that devastation could be caused by weather or a market crash, or by the most common two factors, death or divorce. Appropriate insurance, business structure, and succession planning can help soften the blow if or when an unfortunate event comes along. Planning for the unexpected can help prevent complete devastation of the family farm, so please make a plan for your farm’s future.

Only two percent of Americans are farmers. They keep farming despite the risks associated and they often do it without the thankful support of the general public. They don’t farm to get rich, they farm to feed the world and our nation is indebted to them for their efforts.

Whether you plan on passing your farm on today or decades from now, it is crucial that you develop a business succession plan. The next local opportunity to attend an Extension program on this topic is in Morgan County. David Marrison will be leading a workshop with two opportunities to attend at the Morgan High School Vo-Ag Room in McConnelsville on January 28 and 31 from 6-9pm. The cost to attend is $20. For more information, call Morgan County OSU Extension at 740-962-4854. Registration is due by January 21.

Next week I will share a summary of another presentation with you. It focused on “getting started farming without inheriting it or marrying it”. Stay tuned.

Make Expectations Clear and Attainable

This article was first published in The Journal  on January 7, 2019.

Welcome to 2019! With the first week of 2019 behind us, many people are declaring and acting on their resolutions for the New Year. While many of them will fizzle out before spring, some will hang on and really make a difference in the lives of the resolving individuals.

As a realistic optimist with a type-A personality, I struggle with New Year’s resolutions. I hope for the best out of every day and strive for it, but I also expect each day to come with a struggle of some kind. The greatest of which is probably accepting that my best will not always be enough to meet the expectations of the world around me.  In turn, I have high expectations for the people I interact with daily.

In some ways these traits are positive and in other ways very negative. It is good to work toward goals and accomplish them, but the path to accomplishment should not be self-destructive. The tipping point between the two seems to be whether my expectations or the world’s expectations are clear and/or attainable. If expectations are not communicated clearly, they will not be met. If they are not attainable expectations for the individual, they will inevitably fail.

How does this relate to agriculture in 2019?

We all are a part of a complex relationship with the people and environment we live in. We all have expectations and ambitions. When we are working together as a team (you and your partner/employee/colleague/livestock/equipment/landscape etc.) it is important to begin the task with clear and attainable expectations for each other. This can help avoid unexpected turmoil in the midst of a task.

For example:

Before you approach feeding your cattle another round bale on a muddy slope with your old tractor on a rainy day, say your goal aloud.

“I am going to get the cows fed.”

Then consider the limitations of your partner, in this case, the tractor.

“I realized that my tractor cannot perform at full capacity in the mud and rain on a slope.”

Then adjust your expectations and plan of action to avoid turmoil.

“I may need to feed this hay in a different place. It will probably take longer than normal, but my tractor and I will accomplish this goal together safely.”

Whether your partner is a person, an animal, a field of crops, or a piece of equipment, they all have limitations. It is not reasonable to expect peak performance out of your partner if they are being pushed to perform beyond those limits. The same is true for yourself. That is where we break down and the damage often takes longer to repair than the task we needed to complete.

I hope that after reading this article you will be more mindful about communicating your expectations clearly to your partners for success. I hope that you will consider their limitations so that your expectations are attainable. I hope that you will find peace in times of turmoil. Finally, I hope that we will eventually get a break in the rain before spring comes. We all need some time to recover from the muddiness that was 2018.

If you would like to provide feedback on the type of agriculture and natural resource focused programming you would like to see from Noble County Extension in 2019, please call me or email anytime at 740-732-5681 or gelley.2@osu.edu. Extension is here to help you meet your goals in 2019.