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Oklahoma Conservation Districts: Vigorously Promoting Water Quality and Soil Health at 85 years old



By Bryan Painter

What was the door opener?
What was the need or idea that led you through the door of your local Conservation District office for the first time?
There is a better than average chance several producers pushed that door open for the first time in 2022 to apply for Emergency Drought Cost-Share Funding. The Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Districts are glad you did and hope to see you again soon under better circumstances than a weather disaster.
However, the odds are even greater that you or a neighbor had a good working relationship with your district before the bottom of your ponds took on the look of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Afterall, Conservation Districts are not exactly newcomers to your Oklahoma community – in fact, 2023 is a historic year.
It has been 85 years since the McIntosh Soil Conservation District was the first district to be organized in January 1938. That same year, the Arkansas-Verdigris SCD, now the Tulsa County Conservation District, and the Garvin Murray SCD, now the Garvin Conservation District, made history as the first districts to begin program operations in November 1938.
If you have not been through the door of your local Conservation District or visited with them on the phone or at an event, we would like to share with you why now is the time to do so.
Oklahoma’s 84 state-appropriated Conservation Districts tirelessly strive to provide and administer programs to help people conserve, improve and sustain natural resources and the environment. This may be through consultations, renting equipment, Field Days, operation and maintenance of the nation-leading 2,107 upstream flood control dams or a host of other services. We thought we would narrow the focus and offer a snapshot of what you might find at your local district.
These examples come from efforts of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation District’s five Outstanding Area Conservation Districts in 2022. The overall Outstanding Conservation District will be recognized this month at the OACD State Meeting, scheduled for February 26-28, 2023, at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City.
Area I: Alfalfa County Conservation District
Who is your prescribed burn buddy? This Conservation District, based at Cherokee in northwest Oklahoma, fits the description of a prescribed burn buddy for the Alfalfa County Prescribed Burn Association. The district serves as the burn association’s headquarters and is a strong advocate for this practice.
“The Alfalfa County Conservation District is a huge supporter of this much needed service to our community. Annual dues are 25 dollars. If you plan to burn, this is the best decision you could ever make,” the District’s Annual Report stated. “There is a burn trailer available with the necessary equipment, along with the technical assistance needed to complete a successful and safe burn.”
Those wanting to rent the trailer must have a burn plan in place and be a member. Burn plans are kept on file in the office, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service can assist with burn plans. Prescribed burning is a key land management practice used to restore and maintain native plant communities to their former diversity and productivity for livestock production and wildlife habitat, along with reducing fuels and damage from wildfires.

Area II, Payne County Conservation District
Based in Stillwater, The Payne County Conservation District in 2022 proudly opened their Education Pavilion. The District, with the help of a grant from Friends of Blue Thumb and a grant from Xerces, was able to plant 130 pollinator plants and will be planting more seeds this fall. Jake Linneman prepped the bed, Ray Moranz, Jim Ellis and Anita Kaufman planted all of the plants and kept them watered.
“We are excited about adding this element to our outdoor classroom and look forward excitedly for all the plants to mature and feed pollinators for years to come,” Kaufman said. “We will also use this as a teaching area to show others what plants they can plant to get the best results.”

Area III, Wagoner County Conservation District
This northeastern Conservation District, based in Wagoner, has been a major supporter of the Conservation and Agricultural Reach Everyone Project, a collaborative effort being led by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts with the Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, and partners agencies/organizations in Texas. The CARE project places an emphasis on assisting socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers/ranchers, while working with this targeted group to expand their knowledge of innovative technology, soil health, and invasive species eradication that will assist them in sustaining their farms.
“We can’t stay in the past,” CARE Champion, Major T.J. Love said, in an OACD video. “I’m not saying we need to forget about the past by no means, we’re not acting like the past didn’t happen, but right now we’ve got to move forward. That’s what I want to do as a CARE Champion in Wagoner County. I want to help bridge that gap between minorities and what happened in the past … There are great opportunities out there. There are great programs out there to help any farmer be successful, but we just have to take that initial step and that step may be walking in and letting go of the past and having that mindset of well they won’t help me anyway. The initial step is letting that go. I want to empower, I want to motivate and I want to encourage.”

Area IV, North Fork of Red River Conservation District
As mentioned, Oklahoma leads the nation in upstream flood control dams, which protects lives, infrastructure and property. The North Fork of Red River Conservation District is responsible for the operation and maintenance of 42 watershed structures, of which eight are high hazard in Beckham County. The District Technician works to keep the dams operational and clear of growth and debris and performs yearly inspections. The rehabilitation of Upper Elk Creek 23D watershed started in June 2021, and the final inspection was performed April 20, 2022. District personnel visited the site several times during the rehab to check on progress and to work with the landowner. In September, a re-dedication involved the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the National Association of Conservation Districts and others, with attendees including Congressman Frank Lucas and NRCS Chief Terry Cosby.

Area V, Johnston County Conservation District
The Johnston County Conservation District, based in Tishomingo in southeastern Oklahoma, purchased a hog trap with local funds to assist landowners in reducing the feral swine population. They have one trap and it is rented out continuously. The trap is available for a period of one month to landowners. It is a JAGER PRO system which operates from an app installed on the landowners’ cell phone. Because the board felt like it was a valuable tool to help landowners control the feral hog population in the area, they have graciously donated their time to deliver and install the trap. Feral hogs are a major problem for the agricultural community, as well as some urban communities, causing millions in damage to land and crops each year. Feral hogs pose disease risks to livestock, pets and humans.

Again, these efforts from the Oklahoma Association of Conservation District’s five Outstanding Area Conservation Districts in 2022 are a small sample of the great conservation work being led by local Conservation Districts throughout Oklahoma. Producers can contact their local Conservation District for more information. To find your local Conservation District, please go to

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Farm & Ranch

Mammals and Avian Influenza



Barry Whitworth, DVM, MPH
Senior Extension Specialist

Department of Animal & Food Sciences

Freguson College of Agriculture

At the writing of this article, High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been detected in over 83 million domestic poultry in the United States (US). The outbreak includes commercial and backyard flocks. Most people are aware that poultry may succumb to Avian Influenza but may not know that other animals can be infected with the virus. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a variety of mammals have been infected with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the US. The list of over 200 mammals includes bears, foxes, skunks, coyotes, etc. Even marine animals such as dolphins and seals have been found with the virus. Current Avian Influenza H5N1 infections in poultry, mammals, and livestock in the US can be found at the Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza website at

Recently, ruminants have been diagnosed with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the US. The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) reported that neonatal goats displaying neurological clinical signs and death were positive for Avian Influenza. The farm was located in Stevens County Minnesota. The poultry on the farm had recently been depopulated due to HPAI H5N1. According to AVMA News, ten goats died that ranged in age from 5 to 9 days old. Five of the goat kids tested positive for the virus. The strain of Avian Influenza found in the goats was very similar to the previous HPAI H5N1 strain found in the chickens and ducks. How the goat kids were infected is still under investigation. However, the goats and poultry shared the same area and water source.

Over the past several weeks, veterinarians and dairymen have been reporting unusual illnesses in dairy cattle in Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas. According to AVMA News and other reports, the illness appeared in approximately ten percent of the herd. The USDA reported that the illness had a rapid onset and tended to be in older lactating cattle. Clinical signs noticed were a decrease in appetite and milk production. Cows had thick yellow colostrum like milk. Some cattle had abnormal feces and fevers. Some respiratory signs were noticed. According to veterinarians involved in treating the cattle, the most helpful treatment was intravenous and oral fluids. Most cattle recovered in two to three weeks.

After a variety of test were performed on the cattle with the illness described above, no clear cause of the disease was found. This initiated the USDA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to begin a disease investigation. On March 25th, they reported that HPAI H5N1 had been found in the dairy cattle in Kansas, and Texas. Since this initial announcement, sick cattle in New Mexico, Idaho, Michigan, and Ohio were confirmed with the virus and other states were awaiting test results. Whether a correlation exists between the HPAI H5N1 diagnosis and illness in the dairy cattle is still to be determined.

HPAI H5N1 causes severe clinical signs in domestic poultry and normally results in high mortality rates. At the writing of this article, clinical signs in cattle have been mild and no cattle have died. For this reason, several groups have proposed that HPAI H5N1 should not be used to reference the disease in cattle. The adoption of Influenza A Virus-Bovine (IAV-B) or Bovine Influenza A Virus has been proposed. IAV-B will be used in the remainder of this article as the name of the virus.

Prevention of IAV-B and/or other foreign animal diseases relies heavily on biosecurity. Livestock producers should have a proper biosecurity protocol in place. One key to biosecurity is to try to prevent contact with wildlife. While this can be difficult, keeping wild birds away from feeding and watering areas should be a priority. For more information on biosecurity, livestock producers should visit The Center for Food Security and Public Health at

The finding of IAV-B in dairy cattle has no impact on the safety of US milk and dairy products. Milk from all sick dairy cattle is discarded and pasteurization kills most bacteria, viruses such as IVA-B, and other pathogens.

On April 1, 2024, the CDC reported a positive human case of Avian Influenza H5N1. The person had been close contact with dairy cattle thought to be infected with IAV-B. The patient has conjunctivitis and is recovering. This human infection does not change the CDC’s assessment of H5N1 virus human health risk. The risk continues to be low. However, individuals that deal with animals or birds suspected of having Avian Influenza virus should wear proper protective equipment.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. Further testing will be required to understand the role that HPAI H5N1 virus played or did not play in the above situations. In the meantime, livestock producers who have questions about sick animals should contact their veterinarian. Also, livestock producers should be protecting their livestock with a good biosecurity plan. Livestock producers wanting additional information on IAV-B in ruminants should contact their veterinarian and/or their Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension County Ag Educator.


American Veterinary Medical Association (2024, March 27). AVMA News.  

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2024 April 1). Highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) Virus Infection Reported in a Person in the US.

USDA APHIS (2024, April 1). Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Dairy Herds: Frequently Asked Questions.

 World Organization for Animal Health (2024 March 27). WAHIS.

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Farm & Ranch

Hazards of Backyard Poultry



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

Having backyard poultry is a popular agriculture enterprise. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 0.8 percent of all households in the United States have chickens. People keep chickens for a variety of reasons with table eggs being one of the more common reasons. Unfortunately, some of these poultry producers are not aware of the hazards that come with keeping poultry because many times they carry pathogens but appear healthy.

Chickens are carriers of several zoonotic diseases. These are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. According to a recent survey in Pennsylvania, a majority of backyard poultry producers were aware of the dangers of avian influenza. However, this study also revealed that far fewer producers were aware of the risk of possible exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter. The lack of knowledge about the hazards of raising poultry likely contributes to the continued issues of Salmonella outbreaks associated with backyard poultry. In 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,072 illnesses of Salmonella linked to backyard poultry, and 272 of those patients required hospitalization. Oklahoma reported 43 individuals with the disease.

Direct contact with chickens is not the only way to be exposed to the pathogens they carry. The environment in which they live can be a danger due to air quality and waste in the soil. The air in a poultry coop is composed of dust particles, ammonia, pathogens, poultry droppings, and other materials. Breathing the dust while cleaning a poultry coop has been associated with respiratory issues in poultry workers. One study found that human infections are associated with contact with poultry waste and soil. Backyard poultry producers may be exposed to poultry droppings when cleaning equipment or pens.

Most zoonotic diseases can be prevented. Proper hand hygiene is one of the best disease prevention tools available. According to the Pennsylvania study, most poultry producers wash their hands after having contact with their birds. However, that same study found most poultry producers do not wear gloves or cover their mouths when handling animals or animal manure. Backyard poultry producers should wear proper protective equipment when cleaning equipment and pens.

Poultry producers can protect themselves by following some simple rules.

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after having any contact with poultry or any area where poultry are located.  If soap is not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Do not kiss or snuggle birds.
  • Do not allow poultry to enter areas where food and drinks are prepared, served and stored.
  • Do not eat or drink where poultry are located.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.
  • Clean equipment associated with poultry outdoors.
  • Older adults, pregnant women, children under five, and immunocompromised individuals should be extra careful around poultry.
  • Wear protective clothing, shoes, gloves, and a face mask when cleaning poultry houses.

Having chickens in the backyard can be very rewarding experiences. However, poultry owners should be aware of the potential hazards associated with backyard poultry production and protect themselves. If poultry producers would like more information about hazards associated with backyard poultry, contact your local veterinarian and/or Oklahoma State University County Extension Agriculture Educator. Also, the CDC has a website dedicated to backyard poultry producers’ health. The website can be accessed at

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Farm & Ranch

Inventions of Agriculture: The Reaper



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.


Carstensen, Fred. (2005) Agricultural Machinery Industry. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved from

Cycrus McCormick, Mechanical Reaper. (2022) The National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved from

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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