In descending order, by date published.
Authors: Steve Higgins
Having backyard chickens can be a fun, educational, and rewarding experience. There are many reasons why people keep backyard chickens, with availability of fresh, colored eggs, food security, and enjoying the birds as pets among them. However, for some, the goal is to obtain the rich manure that chickens produce to fertilize their garden. There is no better farmyard manure for the garden, as far as the nitrogen content, than poultry manure.
Authors: Steve Higgins
The energy expended by a large animal traveling on a slope can be tremendous. To compensate, grazing animals create trails, which run parallel to a slope. These trails allow animals to graze the upper slope, while standing on flat ground, which provides energy and grazing efficiencies.
Authors: Steve Higgins
Many farms contain buildings that were productive long ago but contribute little to the farming operation today. A good example is a tobacco barn on a farm that no longer grows the crop. However, the application of land use planning concepts allows these barns to be repurposed or reprogrammed to significantly contribute to the farming operation. Once repurposed, these old barns can reduce labor, waste, time, and money while improving efficiency and profits.
Interest in suburban-urban poultry keeping continues to increase. The main reasons for keeping poultry are for eggs and meat, and to address food sustainability or security issues. Poultry are also enjoyed as pets, for ornamental purposes, and providing enjoyment. Poultry can contribute to pest control and provide nutrient-rich manure for gardening. However, there are also challenges to keeping poultry in a suburban-urban setting.
Weaning time is an excellent time for producers to make decisions to cull or keep cows. Culling is a management decision in which animals with substandard production performance or potential are removed from the herd. The easiest decision is culling open cows or cows with a bad temperament. Open cows are obvious candidates to cull. Poor disposition (temperament) of a cow is also a clear sign to cull. Docility is a trait that is moderately to highly heritable (0.36-0.45) trait in cattle, and from a behavioral standpoint, cows will exhibit either fight or flight response to people. If a cow is calving, fight or flight behavior is understandable; otherwise, aggressive behavior should not be tolerated.
Authors: Steve Higgins
A typical small ruminant operation needs to graze, feed and water animals daily. In addition, other activities such as milking, winter feeding, kidding or lambing, managing sick stock and handling for herd health need to be accomplished routinely or seasonally. An excellent way to promote efficiency is to create a centralized area or hub for all livestock related activities.
3/23/2021 (major revision)
Authors: Les Anderson, Michelle Arnold, Darrh Bullock, Kenny Burdine, Roy Burris, Ben Crites, Jimmy Henning, Steve Higgins, Steve Isaacs, Kevin Laurent, Jeff Lehmkuhler, Lee Moser, Gregg Rentfrow, Kylie Schmidt, Ray Smith, Chris Teutsch, Lee Townsend, Katherine VanValin, Paul Vijayakumar
Kentucky is ideally suited for cattle production. The main feed for cattle is a renewable resource Kentucky has in abundance--forages. The majority of the state's terrain favors cattle production over row crops. Kentucky farms cover 14 million acres, with approximately half of that occupied by forage grasses and legumes. Our natural resources and climate permit the growth of most cool-season and warm-season species. Water is readily available in all areas of the state, and we have a relatively long growing season.
Departments: Agricultural Economics, Animal and Food Sciences, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Entomology, Plant and Soil Sciences, Veterinary Science
Series: Interdepartmental (ID series)
Size: 4.50 mb
Authors: Steve Higgins
A raised bed is an excellent addition to many backyard gardens. A modification of this design may be of interest to gardeners. A raised wicking bed is a self-contained method for growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. The bed provides a built-in water reservoir that allows plants to water themselves. The design is ideal for individuals who are new to gardening, but experienced gardeners will find it helpful as well. The greatest benefit of this system is that it provides control of the water supply to the plants within the defined area.
Authors: Steve Higgins
A wicking container is a self-contained method for growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. This container provides a built-in water reservoir that allows a plant to self-irrigate. The design is ideal for individuals who are new to gardening or have limited space, but is also used by seasoned gardeners. The greatest benefit of the system is that it provides the plant with control of its water supply, which helps free up more of the gardener's time.
Authors: Steve Higgins
Water source layout is a critical infrastructure component for cattle and cattle producers. Strategic water resource layout is a part of a farmstead plan that does not always get adequate attention, despite its critical importance. Nonetheless, when farm infrastructure planning incorporates the latest practices, rules, and knowledge, the resulting design can satisfy generations of users.
Beef cattle production is directly affected by soils, but active soil management is limited. Most producers' soil management decisions are limited to submitting a soil sample, getting the analysis back, and then applying the tons of fertilizer or lime recommended at the bottom of the sheet. Meanwhile, producers request assistance to reduce or eliminate mud, weeds, gully erosion, and compaction (if they have identified compacted ground). Occasionally, producers don't have enough forage or hay to get cattle through drought or winter because of low forage production. These issues may have little to do with soil fertility but instead be directly related to soil properties.
Authors: Steve Higgins
A typical cow-calf grazing operation needs to feed and water cattle on a daily basis. Ideally, this is accomplished by rotating cattle from field to field and providing them with a convenient source of water to drink. Cattle operations can better manage cattle when facilities are designed to meet the needs of cattle and the producer. Land use-planning can increase production and reduce production costs.
Understanding soil mechanics and management in winter-feeding areas could improve beef cattle production, with less effort on the producer and cattle. This publication is intended to guide evaluating soil strength for winter-feeding areas, the pollution potential of winter-feeding areas, and to provide solutions for correcting structural deficiencies and reducing mud on both the ground and on the cattle.
Authors: Steve Higgins
The benefits of lanes can be applied to pasture-based Kentucky cattle operations of any size. Lanes can be used to move cattle from pasture to pasture, and to access structures or barns, handling facilities, load-out areas, and areas with shade.
Authors: Steve Higgins
Livestock housing, whether simple or sophisticated, must perform the required functions. It should meet the thermal and physical needs of the animal; it should provide a place to store and feed materials without damage or loss; it should increase the performance of cattle; and, it should allow the producer to conduct all chores associated with cattle production efficiently. A building can contribute to management efficiency and animal performance, which itself is defined by productivity, health and welfare. The building should create optimum environmental conditions for cattle by providing light, air flow, appropriate flooring, space, and ventilation.
Authors: Steve Higgins
Barn floor design is critical to the physical and thermal comfort, health and safety of cattle. Generally speaking, barn flooring is the surface on which an animal stands, lies down, and excretes its urine and manure. Therefore, to meet animal needs, it must be durable, not slippery, and well drained, as well as comfortable, warm, and dry. In addition to providing animal comfort, the flooring should easily be cleaned. No single material, from concrete to soil, meets all of these specifications.
Authors: Steve Higgins
The loose housing system increases the productivity of the replacement herd and the stockman by providing the optimum environment for production and management. While there is work in creating the system upfront, the design will reduce effort later by creating greater efficiency, flow, and movement of materials.
Authors: Steve Higgins
The creation of a creep pen or pasture area can be accomplished using various methods and materials. Using what is on hand and/or revitalizing an unused area of the farm that has infrastructure may reduce expenses. The cost of one fallen calf could pay for the implementation of the practice. This practice may benefit spring calves over fall calves, so that might be a consideration when choosing a time to plan construction of your creep area.
Winter feeding of cattle is a necessary part of nearly all cow-calf operations. In winter months, livestock producers often confine animals to smaller "sacrifice" pastures to reduce the area damaged from winter feeding. A poorly chosen site for winter feeding can have significant negative impacts on soil and water quality. Such areas include locations in floodplains, such as those along creek bottoms or around barns near streams. These locations are convenient, flat areas for setting hay ring feeders; however, their negative effects on water quality outweigh the convenience.
One of the most challenging and costly aspects of beef cattle production in Kentucky is winter-feeding. Many producers complain about the time required to feed stored forages, the mud, the drudgery that it creates for the operator, and the decline in production. The intense traffic associated with winter-feeding on unimproved surfaces causes mud, compaction, erosion, and loss of desirable vegetation, often resulting in annual pasture renovations to address areas impacted by winter-feeding practices. Fenceline feeding systems offer an alternative to traditional in-field bale feeding during the wet winter conditions that Kentucky often experiences. These structures can be utilized to reduce the impact of winter-feeding on pastures and improve the operational efficiency of a winter-feeding area.
Planning and design are critical steps when modernizing a farm to meet the current and future operational needs. Farm renovations and redevelopment must always consider the cost/benefit of changes, while staying consistent with good agricultural practice guidelines that conserve labor and the resources of the farm. The process of developing a farm map will be used to guide producers on the concepts and considerations necessary to make decisions related to planning renovations and developing new infrastructure on the farm.
Research shows that cattle benefit from summer shade and winter shelter. Pastured cattle seek shelter around structures, under trees, and in forested streamside zones. These areas are often heavily trafficked and become muddy, compacted loafing areas. Mud creates further stress on cattle and compounds the problems of temperature stress and feed inefficiencies. One option that could be used to lure cattle from these areas and provide winter shelter and summer shade is a constructed windbreak fence on a mound.
Farm gates are a necessity for controlling traffic and increasing security. There are many design considerations for optimizing a system of farm gates. Very few gates incorporate all the recommended design components that will be discussed in this publication. However, to move people, materials, equipment, and livestock through a gateway, the gateway should economize time, be navigable, and operate in an efficient manner. Time spent operating a poorly designed gateway is time wasted and a hindrance to production. This publication is a guide to aid producers in creating more functional designs for gateways.
Opening farm gates for trucks, tractors, equipment, and livestock is unavoidable. However, opening a large gate, or a set of gates, for a person on foot is extremely inefficient, especially if the entrance does not put the producer where they need to be. An inconveniently located gate can lead to additional steps and unnecessary movements. Opening gates may require dealing with clasps, chains, or ropes just to get the gate unfastened. The gate may then have to be lifted or dragged open and closed. The bottom-line is that entering a poorly installed and unmaintained gateway can make the experience of opening and closing gates a time consuming nuisance.
Abundant, clean drinking water is an essential nutrient for livestock. The obvious water source that is recommended by veterinarians is city water. However, city water has its drawbacks. City water distribution systems are often expensive to install and have a recurring usage charge. In some instances, city water is unavailable, may have inadequate pressure, or producers consider it too expensive to operate, forcing them to use streams and ponds to water livestock. Collecting rainwater from a catchment area, is a low cost, high quality alternative water source that can supplement traditional water distribution systems and improve the environmental quality of farming operations. Rainwater harvesting involves the collection of rainfall from rooftops or land based catchments systems for storage and distribution as needed. Capturing rainfall has the added benefit of improving water quality by reducing soil erosion and runoff. Strategically installed rainwater harvesting systems can be used to direct stormwater around sensitive areas of the farm where animal waste is present, thus reducing the potential for nutrient and pathogen delivery to nearby waterways. Rainwater harvesting and stormwater management techniques can also reduce the volume of water that must be managed in liquid manure management systems by diverting clean water away from manure pits and lagoons.
Many livestock producers would say that mud is a natural part of livestock production. But the creation of mud costs producers money and makes them less competitive. Livestock that walk through mud require more feed for energy but actually eat less because walking in mud requires more effort to get to feed and water. Therefore, mud decreases average daily gains. Mud accumulation on the coat increases the amount of energy needed to generate heat in the winter or to keep cool in the summer. Also, it can lower sale prices due to hanging tags. The creation of mud also increases animal stress and leads to a variety of health problems, including protozoan and bacterial infections. It is essential that livestock producers understand that mud hinders cost-efficient livestock production and efforts should be made to limit the creation of mud. This publication explains how mud is created and describes different types of hardened surfaces and pads that agricultural producers should use to reduce mud creation and ultimately increase production efficiency and protect natural resources.
Kentucky's abundant forage and extensive stream system have helped the Commonwealth become the largest beef producing state east of the Mississippi River. While streams and ponds serve as a water source for many operations, livestock can quickly degrade soil and water quality by trampling streambanks and defecating and urinating in and around waterbodies. These actions increase sediment, pathogen, and nutrient loads to streams, rivers, and lakes which in turn can causes eutrophication. To help protect the health of Kentucky's soil and water, producers can implement best management practices (BMPs). These practices help reduce the sources of pollutants and/or the transport of pollutants to waterways. One such practice or BMP is limiting cattle access to streams and ponds. When producers exclude livestock access to stream and ponds and their associated riparian buffers, an alternative source of water is required. Automatic water fountains are one commonly used means of providing cattle with water from an alternate source. A water tank constructed using a heavy equipment tire may serve as a viable option for supplying livestock with an alternate source of water.
Water is the most essential nutrient for cattle production. Water is used in almost every bodily function, including digestion, milk production, and excretion. Given the role and function of water in relation to animal production, health, and welfare, it is critical that abundant, clean water is available in any livestock production operation. Livestock must have immediate access to water within every paddock of a rotational grazing system to realize maximum efficiency and production.
The traditional farmstead planning process might have been ideal for farming operations set up on blank slate farms that were surveyed based on 640-acre sections. However, these concepts are more challenging for irregular shaped farms in Kentucky with existing structures built more than a half century ago. Older farm buildings may be underutilized because they were constructed using what would be considered obsolete technologies today. It is essential that producers take the time and obtain the necessary help to develop their farming operation plan in order to realize their potential and achieve their goals.
Nutrients are constantly cycling through farms. Nutrients come onto a farm in the form of feed, commercial fertilizers, manure, or compost, and they leave the farm with harvested crops, sold livestock, and off-site disposal of manure and other waste. Sometimes nutrients are even lost to the air, soil, or water. Nutrient management allows farmers to use nutrients wisely for optimal economic benefit with minimal impact on the environment.
Once a drought occurs, it can be difficult to effectively manage your resources and overcome the conditions that drought creates. At the heart of effective drought management is preparedness. A systems-management approach is an ideal tool for drought preparedness, as its goal is to improve each component of the farming operation (soils, forages, facilities, stock, etc.) and improve the connections between the components (i.e. the system). The goal of this publication is to aid beef producers in implementing best management practices (BMPs) that take a systems approach to maximizing farm water use efficiency, while operating under the assumption that water is becoming an increasingly uncertain resource that is vital to the future of the farm.
Strategically locating the watering facility will also provide production benefits such as increased forage utilization and improved access to water, and may possibly reduce the cost per pasture of providing water. This publication will provide guidelines for the location, design, and construction of all-weather surfaces for cattle watering facilities.
Liquid manure storage structures, such as a lagoon, holding pond, or pit, serve an essential purpose on an active livestock operation. However, when this structure is no longer actively managed it can become a major liability to the producer because of its potential to have a discharge. The discharge from a liquid manure storage structure can contain pollutants such as nutrients, heavy metals, hormones, pathogens, and agriculture chemicals, all of which can pose serious threats to human health and aquatic ecosystems. Because of the pollution potential, livestock producers ceasing their operation are required to close their liquid manure storage structure(s) as part of their Kentucky No Discharge Operational Permit. To help offset the costs of closing the structure, producers may want to apply for cost share funds through the Division of Conservation. Before beginning to close a liquid manure structure, the Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW) must be provided with a closure plan. This publication outlines the preferred practices and steps for closing a liquid manure structure to meet the guidelines of the KDOW.
As health and food safety concerns grow, dairy producers are facing more stringent regulations. In 2010, the European Union (EU) set the somatic cell count (SCC) upper limit, an indicator of milk quality, for exported milk at 400,000 cells per milliliter. However, the current U.S. SCC limit is 750,000 cells per milliliter. As of January 2012, any U.S. milk used in export markets must meet the EU standards. It is projected that US milk processors will gradually adopt the EU upper limit, making it difficult for dairy producers to sell milk containing more than 400,000 somatic cells per milliliter. Dairy producers will have to find innovative and cost-effective ways to reduce the somatic cell count of their milk. This publication will discuss how agriculture best management practices can be used to lower SCC.
Producers must understand that dry cows and bred heifers are the next milking herd, so focusing on their management can maintain or actually increase future profitability. This publication focuses on environmental management strategies that improve dry cow and bred heifer performance.
On-farm composting can provide animal producers with a convenient method for disposing of animal mortalities and also provide a valuable soil amendment. In addition, the finished compost can be stockpiled and reused to help compost other mortalities.
Animal mortalities are an expected part of animal production. Depending on the scale of the animal enterprise, animal mortalities can overwhelm the producer with a large number and mass of dead animals. This publication provides guidance to the producer for handling animal mortalities in accordance with Kentucky law.
Some farmers are reluctant to talk about the environment, but because farms are under increasing review by state and federal regulatory agencies, producers need to be familiar with environmental issues and regulations. Implementing best management practices (BMPs) can help farmers continue to protect the environment and increase productivity.
Kentucky's cattle industry represents the largest beef cattle herd east of the Mississippi, ranking eighth in the nation for number of beef cows. This industry is extremely important to Kentucky's economy. This publication discusses site evaluation strategies, production area management techniques, and a variety of facility types for intensive cattle production that preserve natural resources and improve production.
Nutrients are constantly cycling through farms. Nutrients come onto a farm in the form of feed, commercial fertilizers, manure, or compost, and they leave the farm with harvested crops, sold livestock, and off-site disposal of manure and other waste. Sometimes nutrients are even lost to the air, soil, or water. Nutrient management allows farmers to use nutrients (specifically nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) wisely for optimal economic benefit with minimal impact on the environment.
An enhanced vegetative strip is a best management practice that can be installed to protect surface waters from pollution produced by animal production facilities. Most people think of a vegetative strip as a grassed area or waterway, but when intentionally installed and properly managed, an EVS can be much more effective than a simple grassed filter strip. If properly managed, enhanced vegetative strips can be used to trap, treat, and absorb pollutants, which can be removed from the designated area by harvesting or grazing.
A karst landscape develops when the limestone or dolostone bedrock underneath the soil dissolves and/or collapses due to weathering. A karst system can be recognized by surface features such as depressions, sinkholes, sinking streams, and caves. In karst systems, surface water and groundwater are interconnected: surface water runoff flows into sinkholes and sinking streams and recharges the groundwater; likewise, springs maintain stream flow in the dry season. Kentuckians living in karst areas need to be acutely aware that any pollutants that reach either surface water or any karst feature can pollute the entire groundwater system (also called an aquifer). In addition, the cave system that accompanies a karst aquifer can allow pollutants to contaminate miles of water resources in just a few hours.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that agricultural sediment, pathogens, and nutrients account for more than 50 percent of water pollution in the United States. Animal confinement facilities, widely used for holding, feeding, and handling animals, are potential sources of that pollution. The pollution load of these facilities can be reduced by installing and maintaining best management practices. The BMPs may be implemented as part of permit compliance or may be used to ensure that a permit is not needed.
Kentucky's abundant forage makes it well suited for grazing livestock. Livestock producers can make additional profits by adding a few pounds before marketing calves; however, adding those pounds requires keeping calves during the winter months, when pasture forages are dormant and supplemental feed is required. The areas used to winter calves need to be conducive to feeding and need to avoid negatively impacting the environment, especially water quality.
This publication provides livestock producers with instructions on how to install a stream crossing that provides animal and vehicular access across streams. This best management practice (BMP) is intended for use with exclusion fencing that restricts cattle access to the stream. Implementation of a stream crossing with exclusion fencing will improve water quality, reducing nutrient, sediment, pathogen, and organic matter loads to streams.
Kentucky's abundant forage makes it well suited for grazing livestock, but the pasturing and pasture feeding of livestock need to be managed. Allowing cattle to behave as they would naturally can lead to overgrazing, congregation in sensitive areas, buildup of mud, loss of vegetation, compaction of soils, and erosion.
Abandoned wells are often the only structures remaining after an old house or barn has been removed. If left unmanaged in agricultural areas, these abandoned wells can pose a serious threat to livestock and human safety because of the large surface openings they often have.
Gully erosion creates large eroded channels that become problematic for many farms. Gullies form in natural drainage swales when vegetation in the swale is lost through overgrazing or tillage practices. They cause valuable soil to erode, and they form large channels that drain runoff into streams. This runoff can carry sediment, nutrients, and pathogens that can degrade the water quality.
Water supply is a key component in livestock production. One option producers have when providing water is to develop an existing spring, which occurs when groundwater running along an impervious rock layer hits a fracture and discharges on the surface.
Cattle maintain their body temperature in winter by burning more calories, which requires them to consume more feed. Livestock producers use wooded areas to provide protection for cattle from wind and low temperatures. That protection enables the cattle to conserve energy and eat less. Using wooded areas for winter feeding makes practical sense, but producers need to consider several environmental issues when planning for it.
Shade is a must for pasture-based grazing systems. It curtails heat stress, which is detrimental to cattle and causes a decrease in milk production, feed intake, weight gains, and fertility.
In Kentucky, cattle on pastures are often watered by streams. Although this practice solves water requirements for cattle, providing livestock free access to streams and riparian areas can lead to a contaminated water supply and damaged ecosystems. A better solution is to implement riparian buffers with limited access points to streams or provide alternative water sources. This practice can protect water quality, increase herd production, and provide other landowner benefits. The purpose of this publication is to explain the role of riparian areas and how they can benefit the livestock producer, the herd, and the environment.
Most farmers in Kentucky can identify with a myriad of problems associated with mud forming around high traffic areas, including areas around horse and cattle waterers, feed bunks, round bale feeders, walk paths and gate entrances. Mud is usually a result of animals congregating in and around these areas, but increased traffic can enhance the problem. In many cases, finding solutions to mud problems on farms is not the issue--the issue is determining how to make solutions economical.
The average Canada goose produces more fecal waste than a dairy cow on a per-weight basis. In addition, gaggles of resident Canada geese have been associated with problems of over grazing. Having large amounts of fecal waste around a riparian area that has limited vegetation can lead to the runoff of nutrients, sediment, and pathogens, which can contaminate ponds, lakes, and streams in Kentucky.