By: Carl C. Stafford, Senior Extension Agent
Warm season grasses were growing naturally across Virginia at the time the first settlers arrived and you can still find these native grasses today along roadsides and in isolated, unmanaged open spaces. In the old days, meadows and open spaces between the old growth forests supported these important native grass plants including Blue Stem, Switch grass and Indian grass. They were part of the food supply for large grazing animals as well as habitat for a whole host of smaller mammals and birds. Unfortunately these native grasses were forced out continuously grazing livestock.
Ongoing research in Virginia since the first energy crisis in the 70’s began investigating the role of warm season grasses as a source of bio-mass – basically to determine how many tons can be produced per acre. This line of study is gaining new appreciation today as scientists pursue alternative and renewable fuels and new sources of income for farmers. Warm season grasses will produce significant tonnage on limited rainfall and with minimal fertilizer inputs and could hold the answer to some energy questions.
The value of warm season grasses to wildlife has always been present and helps us understand the continuing emphasis by private groups, state and federal agencies on this important use. Some producers have successfully established warm season grasses to enhance wildlife food and cover. Birds of all kinds benefit from having warm season grasses available for nesting, food and cover. I am hearing quail calls now because of habitat provided by my neighbors Conservation Reserve Program land. Government cost share programs are available to make establishment of warm season grasses more affordable. Water conservation is also an added benefit from these programs. Our government conservation agencies install plantings as buffer strips alongside streams, waterways or near surface water impoundments.
Readers know from other articles that I have a particular interest in grazing livestock. The more days of the year you can graze your animals the more they are working for you and your bottom line. Warm season grasses provide an abundant supply of forage during a time of year when we need it. They actually grow better during the hotter day, longer days of summer. Agronomists suggest having 10% of your pasture devoted to some type of warm season grass to help you graze through the summer months. We can not count on the kind of grass growing conditions we had this summer, but we can count on warm season grass to grow during the most difficult summer conditions that we can expect. When you combine these many values, native warm season grass could have more potential uses and benefits than any other type of grass available.
Here in Virginia, Ben Tracy is our warm season grass specialist and in Tennessee, Pat Keyser is the point man on this subject. The USDA NRCS is making warm season grass a special emphasis for its benefits both to wildlife but also to grazing livestock. A new program: “Working lands for Wildlife” gives emphasis for the use of warm season grasses by both grazing livestock and wildlife. Specialists now believe these two uses can co-exist.
The Culpeper 4H embryology program set 300 chicken eggs on April 10, across 14 classrooms in five Culpeper County Elementary schools. Candling took place on April 24 to find out if the eggs were producing a chick, many were. Incubation progressed over 21 days and hatch took place on May 1. Children welcomed the newly hatched chicks which go to local poultry farms to be reared. Experiencing the magic of life through embryology is one way children can learn to appreciate nature and science.
JoAnna Kilby, 4H program assistant can be reached at the Culpeper Extension office, located at 101 S. West St., 540-727-3435, ext. 354, or by email at email@example.com .
By: Carl C. Stafford
Senior Extension Agent
Readers remember my article from earlier this month describing an annual rite of spring with the setting of chicken eggs at Culpeper schools. The Culpeper 4H embryology program set 300 chicken eggs on April 10, across 14 classrooms in five Culpeper County Elementary schools. Today marks the end of the second week of incubation and time to check on the chicken embryo’s progress.
Candling is the term used to describe this visual test, coming from the original use of a candle providing enough light to illuminate the contents of incubating egg. Signs of life are the presence of blood vessels noted as lines scattered across the egg, or a dark shape at one end of the egg that can represent an embryo and if you are lucky and can wait, it will move inside the egg. A perfectly clear egg has no signs of life.
Today and since the advent of electricity, special lights “candle” the eggs. A flash light can also work or a directed light from an incandescent bulb. Candling uncovers one of the mysteries of life – are the eggs going to hatch? Laurie Hughes, 4H volunteer and Joanna Kilby 4H program assistant candled the first eggs of the season in Mrs. McFarland’s class at A.G. Richardson Elementary.
The 4H embryology program began under the leadership of retired 4H agent, Mason Hutcheson and continues today with 4H agent Cristy Mosley leading our youth programs. An effective method of teaching is to learn by doing, 4H embryology does this. Children are excited about and interested in the incubator in their classroom, they turn eggs, watch the temperature, maintaining humidity, and candling charts incubation progress.
Hatching is next on May 1 and we know not every egg will be a success, so remember, don’t count your chicks until they hatch. Contact information available at: https://culpeper.ext.vt.edu/
By: Carl C. Stafford
Senior Extension Agent
Hatching chicken eggs is a fond childhood memory as fertile eggs were placed under a broody hen each spring when I was growing up. The incubation period of 21 days was only the beginning of a fascinating show of chicken behavior, culminating with the eggs hatching. The new chicks, called biddies, instinctively know to follow their mother hen for food, warmth and safety. Baby chicks can walk the instant they are hatched as they must find food soon. Hearing the hen’s maternal clucks, they zero in on a seed, a bug, or a tender blade of grass.
Today in the Culpeper County School System at Farmington Elementary, 4H Program Assistant Joanna Kilby began an annual rite of spring with the setting the first eggs of the season in Rebecca Mazuch’ second grade classroom incubator. 4H volunteer Lori Hughes joins in the coordination of the Embryology program across 14 elementary classrooms in 5 schools. In total, they and their cooperating teachers will set more than 300 eggs this week. The Culpeper program began under the leadership of retired 4H agent, Mason Hutcheson and continues today with 4H agent Cristy Mosley leading our youth programs.
The teachers know to tell their students not to count their chicks before they hatch. An old saying spelling out that not every egg will produce a live chick. About half is a good number according to Joanna and they teach the children about these failures as well as the expected success of newly hatched chicks at the end of the 21-day incubation period.
Stay tuned for an update on hatching day May first in Culpeper County schools.