Feature Contributors Archives for 2023-05


It always is amazing how stores change their inventory based on the holidays and seasons. Spring is near and you can tell based on all the lawn and garden materials that are being displayed. A big part of those are the chemicals that can be used. Safe use of these pesticides starts with understanding what a pesticide is. It starts out with understanding the word 'pesticide' and knowing its job is to "kill or alter a pest behavior".

Pesticides are then divided into specific types. For example, a fungicide controls fungal disease, an insecticide controls insects, and an herbicide controls herbaceous plants, usually considered weeds. Mouse and rat poisons are called rodenticides.

Pesticides can be purchased as bags of dust, soluble powders, and emulsifiable concentrates, as well as many other formulations. Each formulation has advantages and disadvantages. Rarely do I ever recommend a dust but there are a few cases where this is the proper product formulation to use.

There are pesticides that are classified as "Restricted use". These are available to licensed applicators. General-use pesticides are usually what is available to the homeowner. Clearly stated on the label, under "ingredients," one will find active ingredients and inert ingredients. When I talk to people about the use of a pesticide, I refer to the active ingredient because brand names can change.

The active ingredient is the pesticide, and the inert ingredient is the carrier or what the pesticide is put on or in. An example is very finely ground clay that may be used as a carrier for a pesticide sold as dust. In addition, the percentages of the active inert ingredients will be listed.

The label on this product is how this product has made it to market. The EPA regulates pesticides and they have deemed that if you follow the label, the benefits of the product outweighthe risk. The label is the law. You are to follow its instructions.

On the label are signal words that provide a general indication of the acute toxicity of the product. 'DANGER-POISON' with skull and crossbones denotes the most toxic products, and these generally require a license to purchase and use. 'WARNING' is the next category. The pesticides that come with the signal word 'CAUTION' are safer than the previous two groups.

It is important to read the precautionary statement found on the label. It has information on human and animal hazards, environmental hazards, and physical and chemical hazards. First-aid information is also included.

The directions-for-use section is essential to be read thoroughly before a pesticide is used. The directions area covers mixing rates, re-entry information, and how to store, dispose of, and apply the product.

Read the entire label before buying, mixing, using, storing, and disposing of pesticides so no harm is done to humans, animals, or the environment.

Only use pesticides when necessary and only at the least recommended label amount to control the pest. These are the recommendations for the safe and responsible use of a pesticide.

What is in your water

I remember at a field day some years ago when Jerry Perkins, one of my fellow grazing columnists, talked about how much his dairy milk production went up once he made some watering changes that increase the volume.


So much of our production depends on water. Every nutrition book lists water first as essential but we seem to take it for granted. Water is the most abundant nutrient in beef cattle accounting for approximately 98% of all molecules in the animal. Without water, they are all just jerky.


We are fortunate to have a lot water in our area and not have the issue of the western states. Water comes in different ways. Most of ours come from a well, some from a spring, pond, or creek. On my in-law's South Dakota ranch, it is all from ponds, and that can lead to water quality issues.


An experiment that Purdue did several years ago compare cattle production utilizing three water sources,   a well, a pond, and piped from a pond. Where cattle had access to pond water that they stood in, production was reduced. Cattle production with water pumped from a fenced pond was similar, but not as good, as a well.


The highest quality water in a pond is down about 1.5 to 2 feet from the surface. Cattle standing in a pond causes the water to be murky plus they add fecal and urine contamination. This not only is bad for the animals from a contamination standpoint but the excessive fecal phosphorus also leads to algae blooms.


The one of concern is called blue-green algae which is the more-properly called “cyanobacteria” as it is not an alga. Cyanobacteria produces a toxin called microcystin that causes rashes and makes people (and particularly pets) sick. There are over 2000 species of cyanobacteria and only 80 produce toxins and then they only produce them at certain times. So, you can test the water and the results are only at that point in time and could change the next day. Plus, when testing, is hard to find someone that is an expert in the area.


The toxin is generally near the surface along with the plant. This is another reason why drawing water from 2 feet down gives you better water. If you are watering from a pond, put in a structure, such as a solar panel to pull the water from the pond into a tank. They will drink from the tank before they will the pond.


For all water, the closer to the water source the cattle remain, the more often they will visit and each visit would be of shorter duration. According to a Missouri study, cows with water available within 800 ft at all times, drank 15% more water daily than cows that traveled over 800 ft to water.


On my farm, I did not follow that rule and cattle would come up as a group from over a thousand feet away. The boss cows would stand at the tank and chase the others away even though they were done. Eventually, after several fights, the cows would water and turn to go back to the pasture leaving the calves behind where they would get a short drink and then scurry back to their moms. Without adequate water, they would be trying to reach what little is left in the bottom of the tank, they could hardly reach. Calves are the money part of the cow/calf business and the part that should be getting adequately watered.


Adding extra tanks with free-flowing valves or putting in a creep gate that allows calves their own water is what was needed. I added more tanks.The real key is to get the water closer to the grazing cattle. Several USDA programs will help you achieve that goal.


Even well water has its issues with livestock. Sulfur can be of concern. Looking for a source of water,my South Dakota in-laws drilled a well 4,000 feet deep only to come up with stinking sulfur water. Lots of volumes but useless water. Sulfur is even more of a concern as cattle feed that includes distiller’s grains is higher in sulfur.


My well has a slight smell due to manganese. If the water is allowed to set for a day, brown coloring develops and precipitates out. It also forms a black slime almost like crude oil in water troughs. I do have to clean my water often. Livestock seems to drink this water with no problems.


The other well pollutant is nitrates. Many years ago, we had nitrate test strips at a farm show and we invited people to bring a water sample. Although not an official experiment, people with well depths of less than 25 feet tended to have nitrate issues. A lot of those are the old 2-inch wells. Knowing about this issue, I rented a house that had a shallow well. When our first child was born, I had the water tested for nitrates and found it to be over two times the acceptable limit for nitrates. We made sure his formula came from bottled water as well as our drinking water. Babies are the ones really susceptible to nitrate problems.


Livestock can also have nitrate issues. There are two scales used to indicate levels. In humans, drinking water tests can be expressed as a 10 mg/L standard expressed as nitrate-nitrogen (N) or its equivalent of 45 mg/L expressed as nitrate. Know which way they are expressing the number. Water nitrate-nitrogen (10 scales) levels of 100 ppm or less are generally considered safe, while levels between 100 and 300 ppm are questionable for livestock consumption. Nitrate-nitrogen levels in cattle drinking water of more than 300 ppm are generally considered unsafe. What can be affected first are pregnancy rates. Thinking back my landlady told me they use to have issues when they had cattle with low conceptions. Cattle also get nitrogen from feed sources. You have to look at the total picture. 

Pond weeds

Pond scum; now those are some words that can have many different meanings.


I have people describe what is floating on their farm ponds in many different terms. That may be due to the fact that there are many different plant species found in a pond.


When we talk about controlling pond weeds, we need to break them down according to where you find them; things floating on top, ones that are rooted on the bottom and still seen on top of the pond, and others that stay below the surface and those, like cattails, that grow along the edges.


The scum at the top is generally algae. It is also known as phytoplankton. A phytoplankton population that colors the water is called a “bloom.” In quiet water, blooms can produce surface scum as well as green, red, black, or oily streaks. When these algae die off, they can cause fish kills as they use up the oxygen in the decomposition process.


Blooms occur in waters that have abundant nutrients. These nutrients often come from nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers that reach the water. The best practice for managing blooms of microscopic algae is to prevent these nutrients from entering the water. Many lawn fertilizers have no phosphorus and that is fine as there is generally enough phosphorus in the soil for an established lawn.


Every year we hear about poisonous blue-green algae. It is really not technically an alga but a group of organisms called cyanobacteria. These have the ability to produce toxins, but it gets very complex as they can turn on and off production. Even though cyanobacteria are present that does not mean the toxins are being produced. You cannot tell if a bloom has toxins by looking at it. Even an analysis of the water is only good for a short period of time, because these plants are floating on the surface that is where the toxins can be found. This is why animals drinking from scummy surface waters can be exposed to toxins.


One plant that is often confused for algae is duckweed. These are referred to as free-floating plants. It is good to know the difference because the type of chemical control varies for each plant type. Duckweed can be distinguished by two very small leaves whereas algae is a type of mat where no one plant can be distinguished.


Algae are best controlled by copper products such as copper sulfate and copper chelate. They need to be applied just as the waters are too warm in the spring for best control. During this spring warm-up algae that have dropped to the bottom floats to the top. These products do no good on other pond weeds like duckweed.


There is a wide variety of pond weeds and chemicals that can be used for their control. Some of these chemicals are very expensive and also very good. Identifying the plants, you are dealing with is essential for control. It is important to use the right herbicides as some of the non-active ingredients in these products can be toxic to fish. Just because you can use a product on your lawn or farm does not mean it can be used around ponds.


Purdue has put together a very good publication on pond weeds. If you are interested in this area, give the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service office at the fairgrounds a call at 574-223-3397. We can help you out