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Leading By Example

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Jimmy Emmons

Jimmy Emmons admits some of his ideas about conservation techniques have been met with a bit of skepticism over the years, and that’s why the Leedey, Okla., farmer, chooses to lead by example. Instead of pushing others to try out his techniques, he shares his findings and results with anyone who wants to learn. His desire to be a steward of the land, and his dedication to teaching, has led Jimmy to hold several major positions in agriculture over the years, from serving as President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, to his current title of Southern Plains Coordinator for USDA, FPAC.

Emmons and his wife Ginger, along with longtime employee Karson Liebold, farm and ranch on several thousand acres in Dewey County. The land has been in the Emmons family since 1926, when his grandfather, Marvin Curtis Emmons, moved to the area. A major event just a few years after the Emmons settled in the area that would set the course for generations of conservation efforts.

 “My grandparents started farming on the South Canadian River, and in 1934, the Hammon Flood happened. It rained 14 inches in one night, and killed several people,” Jimmy said.

Prior to the torrential rains, Jimmy’s grandfather had started a small ditch across the farm to take water from one area to another. “That night it burst that ditch out to a creek that was 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide,” Jimmy shared. All the topsoil had washed off into the river. “He preached really hard about conservation, and that really instilled in me that everything we do on the land has a consequence. Conservation has been a passion of mine for several years.”

Karson, who has worked for Jimmy and Ginger for more than 12 years, has enjoyed learning about the affects of conservation practices on the soil. “It’s amazing. I’ve gotten to watch the soil change. It’s funny, because at my previous job, it was all about wheat. I remember when I first started here, I was looking at a field and thought to myself, ‘Look at all those weeds!’” He laughed, and added, “It was canola. I had no idea of the things that could be grown out here. We prove every day that you can have a lot of diversity, and obviously having that diversity benefits your soil.”

Maximizing Resources

The Hammon Flood was an outlier; water is a precious commodity because rain is so scarce. Jimmy knew he needed to maximize his natural resources.

As with most farmers, the Emmons originally tilled the soil, but that changed in the mid-1990s. “I can hardly stand to see tilled ground now, because I know the damage it does to the soil. Tillage is just like a wildfire or a tornado to the soil. It’s devastating,” he said. “I grew up with that and thought we were doing what we were supposed to do, but now I know better.”

Over the years, Jimmy has learned more conservation practices that might benefit his land, utilizing crop rotation, cover crops, and planned grazing management. Ginger, whose main focus is the cattle, shared, “Once we got into the cover crops, the grazing has been fantastic for the cattle and the land. We can run our cow/calf pairs or our weaned calves on it.”

One method of grazing the Emmons have implemented is high-density grazing. They divide a field into sections, which are approximately 20-acre plots. Then, with an electric fence, they graze the area hard for a couple days. Once the area has been grazed, they move to the next parcel. “You just keep moving it. If you have had some rain, by the time you’re done with the last parcel you can move back to the first,” she said. “All that manure is contained, so that’s great for the soil. The cows do well with it, and it’s amazing how well it works all the way around.”

Jimmy noted, “We started planting cover crops right after we harvest our cash crops. We started grazing those crops to continue to improve the soil health, and it has grown from there, and greatly improved the function of the soil.”

The idea to use cover crops came when Jimmy heard a producer from Indiana speak about the practice at a national conservation meeting. “He showed photos and figures of his plots. He wasn’t buying any fertilizer for his cash crop, and he not only improved production, he also lowered the cost,” Jimmy said. “I thought to myself, ‘If he can do it there, why can’t I do it here?’”

The use of cover crops in western Oklahoma was somewhat controversial due to the scarcity of water, and Jimmy knew he needed to recruit some help.  “The big argument early on, and the reason I asked the NRCS for help, was that we can hardly grow crops out here. How can we grow continuously?” He added, “We quickly started learning that the evaporation rate was a lot greater in the summertime than what a cover crop would use. We figured out we were water ahead every time.”

Jimmy was energized by the early success of the tests. “When you start retaining what rainfall you have, that’s the key. You have to get it in the soil,” he said. “Although I was excited, I was still a bit skeptical at first. I bought my testers and we put moisture probes in the ground so we could track the water that was in the soil and see how fast it left.”

It was only a few years ago that the Emmons put an irrigation system on some of the farmland. At first, the ground could barely hold a half-inch of water before running off. A recent test showed infiltration depths of six inches! “You know, we’re working on a project right now with the Conservation Commission and the NRCS about infiltration rates. We’re seeing how much water we can take in and at what rate, and then we’re seeing how it is going through the profile,” he said. “I think it’s especially important for producers to understand the science of it. I believe it is something we have missed as a farming community; we’ve always been worried about how much it rains, but we haven’t been as concerned with how much we’ve had run off. I think we need to focus on infiltration.”

He admits that it all comes down to the bottom line. “You know, we are really concerned about inputs nowadays, but what we found out is if you have the biology really active in the soil, you don’t need near as much synthetic fertilizer. Every dollar you don’t spend is more dollars you have,” he said. “These days, we’re not so worried about the high yield as we are the profit potential. It’s been very good.”

Giving Back

It was only a few years ago that Jimmy was visiting with Sarah Blaney, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, and Trey Lam, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. The three were discussing cover crops. “Trey mentioned putting vegetables out there to see how they would work as cover crops. That started the conversation, and then it grew to, if this is going to work, what if we partnered with the regional food banks and donated the vegetables,” he recalled.

What started as a small idea has grown to include more than 30 gardens across the United States. “We have several across Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, and now we have some in California, too,” he said.

During good rain years, the yields have been abundant. “During those years, you can pick a half pickup load of vegetables, from squash, peas, okra, and more. One year we could pick close to 1,000 pounds in a day out of only a few acres,” Jimmy shared. “Some days were even more. This year we won’t get much, because we had so little rain, as well as the 100-degree days and the big wind. There are other gardens in the state that are producing well though.”

Produce from the crops go to nearby foodbanks in Woodward, Vici, and Taloga.

Volunteers are always available to help harvest the crops. Along with the foodbank volunteers, church groups, local FFA chapters, and more will come out to help. “It’s a very good project, and one we’re proud of. Not only do we help get fresh vegetables to people who need it, it also helps urban people interact with ag and learn more about where their food comes from.”

Read more about Jimmy in the September 2020 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Farm & Ranch

Inventions of Agriculture: The Reaper

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Agriculture has been a staple of human society since around 9000 BCE during the Neolithic Era, when humans began developing and cultivating their own food.

For centuries, food production was a slow, tedious process until the invention of agricultural machinery. One such invention was the reaper. Until its time, small grains were harvested by hand, cut with sickles or scythes, hand-raked and tied into sheaves.

While a few had unsuccessfully attempted to create a similar machine, it was Cyrus McCormick who would ultimately be credited with the invention of the first commercially successful reaper in 1831.

McCormick’s invention was a horse-drawn machine used to harvest wheat, a combination between a chariot and a wheelbarrow. He had joined together the earlier harvesting machines into a single, timesaving one. His reaper allowed producers to double their crop size, capable of cutting six acres of oats in just one afternoon. In contrast, it would have taken 12 workers with scythes to do the equivalent in the same amount of time.

McCormick had simply followed in his father’s footsteps. Growing up in Rockbridge County, Virginia, his father had also created several farming implements and even worked to invent a mechanical reaper of his own.

McCormick would patent his invention in July 1834, a year after Obed Hussey had announced the making of a reaper of his own. In 1837, McCormick began manufacturing his machine on his family’s estate.  

In 1847, McCormick recognized Chicago as the future of the agricultural machinery industry. The railroad to Galena was nearing completion, the Illinois and Michigan Canal would soon be open, and a telegraph link to the east was coming. So, in 1847, McCormick, together with his partner and future Chicago mayor Charles M. Gray, purchased three lots on the Chicago River and built a factory where they would produce the reaper. It was the first of many industrial companies that would make their way to the area, making Chicago an industrial leader.

McCormick wasn’t done yet. He purchased an additional 130 acres in Chicago in 1871, but the Great Fire of 1871 threatened to destroy his company when the factory burned. It was his young wife, Nettie Fowler McCormick, who pushed the company forward when she went to the site just days after the fire and ordered the rebuilding of the factory. By 1880, McCormick was the largest machinery producer in Chicago and employment reached 7,000, a whopping fifth of the nation’s total.

McCormick joined the companies of Deering and Plano to form the International Harvester Company in 1902. At its height, the company controlled more than 80 percent of grain harvesting equipment in the world. While the Great Depression would hit Chicago’s agricultural industry hard, McCormick’s invention of the reaper forever changed the face of agriculture.

Resources

Carstensen, Fred. (2005) Agricultural Machinery Industry. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/29.html

Cycrus McCormick, Mechanical Reaper. (2022) The National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved from https://www.invent.org/inductees/cyrus-mccormick

Although the author has made every effort to ensure the informa­tion in this article is accurate, this story is meant for informational purposes only and is not a substi­tute for historical documents.

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Farm & Ranch

Scrapie

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Barry Whitworth, DVM
Senior Extension Specialist Department of Animal & Food Science Ferguson College of Agriculture

Scrapie is a chronic, progressive disease of the central nervous system that affects sheep and goats. Scrapie is the oldest of the group of neurodegenerative diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). Some of the other TSE are Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy known as mad cow disease, Chronic Wasting Disease which is found in deer, and Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease which is found in humans. TSE are protein-misfolding diseases that lead to brain damage and are always fatal.

The cause of Scrapie is not completely understood, but evidence indicates that an infectious protein referred to as a prion is responsible for the disease. These infectious prions cause damage to the normal prion proteins found in the brain. The mis-folding of the proteins lead to brain damage and the presentation of clinical signs of the disease. Prions are very resistant to destruction, so once in the environment, they are difficult to remove.

Scrapie is believed to primarily be transmitted by the oral route. Typically, lambs and kids might ingest the prion when they come in contact with the infectious agent through placentas and birthing fluids from infected ewes and does. Older animals may be exposed to the prions this way as well. Colostrum and milk are also sources of prions. Other secretions such as urine, feces, saliva, and nasal secretions may contain infectious prions as well. Once ingested, the prions cross into the lymphoid system. The prions will incubate for a long time usually two to five years before entering the nervous system.

Genetics plays a part in Scrapie infections. Certain breeds are more susceptible to the disease due to genetic composition. Genetic testing is available for producers to help them select breeding stock with resistant genes.

Clinical signs most commonly associated with Scrapie are intense pruritis, ataxia, and wasting. Early in the disease, small ruminant producers may notice slight changes in behavior with sheep and goats infected with Scrapie. Initially, animals may have a staring or fixed gaze, may not respond to herding, and may be aggressive towards objects. As the disease progresses, other clinical signs noticed are progressive weight loss with normal appetite, incoordination, head tremors, and intense pruritis. In the terminal stages, sheep are recumbent and may have blindness, seizures, and an inability to swallow. Once initial clinical signs are notice, death usually occurs in one to six months.

The gold standard for postmortem (dead animals) diagnosing of Scrapie is the use of immunohistochemistry test on brain tissues as well as microscopic examination of brain tissue for characteristic TGE lesions. Live animal diagnosis is possible by testing lymphoid tissues from the third eyelid and rectal mucosa scrapings.

There is no treatment available for Scrapie, so prevention is key to controlling the disease. Following biosecurity protocols is a good starting point for preventing Scrapie. Part of the biosecurity plan is to maintain a closed flock and only buy replacement animals from certified Scrapie free flocks. Producers should limit visitors’ contact with their animals. Sanitation is important in lambing and kidding areas. Manure and bedding contaminated with birthing fluids and placentas should be disposed of properly. Genetically resistant animals should be used for breeding to produce genetically resistant offspring.

It should be noted that there is a novel or atypical form of Scrapie. This disease may also be referred to as Nor98 variant. This atypical version of Scrapie was initially found in Norway. It has been diagnosed in the United States as well. The disease is usually only found in a single old animal in the flock or herd. The brain lesions in atypical Scrapie are different from classical Scrapie. Currently, experts believe that natural transmission of atypical Scrapie is not likely.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been battling Scrapie for decades. According to recent information from the USDA, the United States (US) is close to accomplishing eradication of the disease. In order for the United States to achieve Scrapie free status, no sheep or goats can test positive for classical scrapie for seven years and a certain level of testing needs to be done each year that represents the sheep and goat populations within the country. Small ruminant producers can assist the USDA eradication efforts by contacting the USDA when they have an adult sheep or goat exhibiting clinical signs of Scrapie or an adult animal dies or is euthanized. Producers should contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian, Dr. Rod Hall at 405-522-6141 or the USDA Veterinary Services at 405-254-1797. This will aid the USDA in reaching sampling testing goals. There is no charge for the collection or testing of the samples for scrapie. 

Scrapie is a disease that needs to be eliminated from the US. Once eliminated, the US will have additional export markets for sheep and goat products. Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service has an informative fact sheet on Scrapie. Please visit the Local County Extension Office and asked for fact sheet VTMD-9135 or producers may view the fact sheet online at  https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/scrapie.html. Also, the USDA National Scrapie Eradication Program website has valuable information as well at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/sheep-and-goat-health/national-scrapie-eradication-program

References Cassmann, E. D., & Greenlee, J. J. (2020). Pathogenesis, detection, and control of scrapie in sheep. American journal of veterinary research81(7), 600–614. https://doi.org/10.2460/ajvr.81.7.600

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Farm & Ranch

Avian Influenza Update

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Barry Whitworth, DVM

Area Food/Animal Quality and Health

Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma

High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to be a problem in commercial and backyard poultry in the Unites States (US) with over 60 million birds affected. Since the start of the outbreak in 2022, 879 flocks (347 commercial and 532 backyard flocks) have been confirmed with HPAI in the US. Many wild birds and mammals have been affected as well. Five backyard flocks and one commercial flock have been confirmed with HPAI during this outbreak in Oklahoma. The latest was detected in a backyard flock in Carter County on October 16, 2023. For a complete listing of domestic birds, wild birds, and mammals affected by HPAI visit 2022-2023 Detection of High Path Avian Influenza website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/2022-hpai.

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral disease. The virus is classified as either Low Path Avian Influenza (LPAI) or HPAI depending on the virulence. This virus infects many food producing birds such as chickens and turkeys while it commonly resides in migratory waterfowl and many other wild birds. Most often ducks, geese, and wild birds harbor the virus in the intestinal tract without having any clinical signs of the disease. The virus is shed in the feces and respiratory secretions from infected birds. Poultry can be infected with the virus when they come in direct contact with infected birds or consume feed that is contaminated with the virus. The virus can be spread indirectly through objects like shoes, clothes, or equipment contaminated with the virus.

Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on the severity of the virus and the organ system affected. LPAI usually results in no clinical signs or only mild problems. However, HPAI has many different clinical signs. Death with no symptoms is a common finding. Respiratory problems such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharges may be seen. Depression resulting in loss of appetite and decrease consumption of water may occur. Egg production may be impacted with a decrease in production and/or softshell or misshapen eggs. A bird’s comb, wattle, head, eyelids, and hocks may swell. Combs and wattles may turn purple. Nervous system disorders including tremors, incoordination, and unusual positions of the head may be seen. Diarrhea has been reported in some cases. For more information about clinical signs visit Defend the Flock-Signs of Illness at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program/outbreak-illness/outbreak-illness.

For commercial and backyard poultry flocks, the best defense against HPAI is a sound biosecurity program. Biosecurity is the development and implementation of management procedures intended to reduce or prevent unwanted threats from entering a flock. The protocol is designed to reduce or prevent the spread of unwanted threats through the flock and eliminate any unwanted pathogens that may enter the flock. Lastly, a biosecurity plan is designed to prevent threats from infecting neighboring poultry operations. Biosecurity can be broken down into four basic areas which include traffic, isolation, sanitation, and husbandry.

The first line of defense should be limiting the traffic that enters the area. Poultry operations should have a perimeter buffer area (PBA). For backyard poultry operations, this could be a fence. In commercial operations this may be a fence or road that surrounds the facility. All entry points need to be clearly marked with “Do Not Enter” signs. In a study by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) evaluating factors associated with introduction of HPAI in layer farms in the US, the presence of a gate was found to be protective against the introduction of the virus. Gates with signage may encourage people to follow biosecurity protocols.

Inside the PBA, a line of separation (LOS) needs to be established. The LOS isolates the birds from possible sources of infections. The LOS is usually the walls of the poultry building plus the entry point.  No person should cross this line without following proper biosecurity protocols. Producers should provide visitors with clean coveralls and disposable shoe covers. Visitors should wash their hands before and after visiting the facility. All visitors should dip their shoes in a disinfectant solution when entering and exiting the facility. Also, no other animals, wild or domestic should cross the LOS.

Sanitation is one of the most important parts of a biosecurity plan. All equipment, feeders, waterers, and buildings need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. First, all fecal material and dirt should be physically removed. Next, disinfectants must be applied and allowed sufficient contact time to work properly. Foot baths need to be properly maintained. The property outside the poultry house should be kept mowed and cleaned. Failure to keep the grass cut and/or to promptly clean up feed spills is associated with HPAI.

Poultry producers must also practice good animal husbandry. Flocks need to be observed several times per day. Producers need to collect and dispose of dead birds frequently. Producer should know the clinical signs of a sick bird. Any unusual increases in sick or dead birds should be reported to proper authorities. Backyard producers have several options. They can contact their veterinarian or Oklahoma State University County Extension office. They can also contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian at 405-522-6141.

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) has guidelines for a biosecurity protocol. Commercial and backyard poultry producers should examine the NPIP 14 standards of the biosecurity protocol. Any areas that do not meet the standards need to be addressed. The NPIP biosecurity audit form can be found at http://www.poultryimprovement.org/documents/AuditForm-2018BiosecurityPrinciples.pdf. Additional sources for backyard poultry producers can be found at the USDA Defend the Flock website at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov, Protect Your Poultry From Avian Influenza at  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_health/bro-protect-poultry-from-ai.pdf or Oklahoma State University fact sheet Small Flock Biosecurity for Prevention of Avian Influenza ANSI-8301.

Avian Influenza is a major threat to the US and Oklahoma poultry industry. It is the responsibility of all commercial and backyard poultry producers to do everything in their power to protect this industry.

Reference 

Swayne, D.E. and Halvorson, D.A. 2003 Influenza. In Y. M. Saif (ed.). Diseases of Poultry, 11th ed. Iowa State Press: Ames, Iowa, 135-160.

Green, A. L., Branan, M., Fields, V. L., Patyk, K., Kolar, S. K., Beam, A., Marshall, K., McGuigan, R., Vuolo, M., Freifeld, A., Torchetti, M. K., Lantz, K., & Delgado, A. H. (2023). Investigation of risk factors for introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus onto table egg farms in the United States,

2022: a case-control study. Frontiers in veterinary science10, 1229008.

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