Rain is a Tricky Thing

We’ve all heard the Luke Bryan song “Rain is a Good Thing”. While it may be a catchy lyric, lack of rain can cause livestock producers to suffer from drought and heat stress issues, while too much rain can leave farmers dealing with flood damage.  This year has been especially testing from those aspects.  The southwest is on fire.  Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and areas of Texas, Kansas and Missouri are suffering from extreme drought and wildfires with surrounding areas battling through severe and moderate drought conditions.


In contrast, there have been 6 major flooding events due to excessive rain which have been declared disaster states this summer.  There is no denying drought is difficult to handle, but flooding can be just as destructive with obstacles of its own.

flood timeline

To summarize the timeline above:

  • May 30 – Tropical Storm Alberto’s heavy rainfall lead to flash flooding in 10 southeastern states.
  • June 18 – Heavy rainfall in a short period of time lead to flooding mostly affecting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and parts of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • June 20 – Heavy rainfall resulted in river levels rising and floods in northwest Iowa and southeastern South Dakota.
  • June 21 – Some areas of Texas received more than 10 inches of rain in a 48-hour period resulting in flooding.
  • July 3 – Torrential rains resulted in flooding in southern Minnesota.
  • July 17- Heavy rain resulted in flash flooding in Washington D.C. and Massachusetts.

Rain resulting in flooding has several destructive effects on agriculture.  First, damage to infrastructure such as roadways and powerlines.  Dirt and gravel roads may get washed away during a flood, which will limit a livestock producer from checking and accessing animals.  In the event of an evacuation often the animals are unfortunately left to fend for themselves.  It is a challenge to put those access points back in place to get any operation up and running after the flooding.  There will likely be damage to other assets as well such as outbuildings and machinery.

Second, the flood waters may carry sand and other debris with it.  This debris will settle on top of fields and may result in a barrier to the soil, creating a challenge when trying to plant crops or maintain a pasture.  Removing the debris and sand can be financially exhaustive and labor intensive.

Third, heavy rainfall producing floods will likely erode the soil and carry away valuable top soil.  The erosion itself, will leave gaps and divots in fields making the next planting season more difficult with new obstacles in fields.  The loss of top soil means the soil in the field will have less nutrients and likely will have lost aspects related to a healthy soil including structure and beneficial microorganism populations such as mycorrhizal fungi.  It will be important for crop producers and pasture managers to consult with soil health experts such as Lance Gunderson or Emily Shafto at Ward Laboratories Inc. to replenish nutrients and rebuild soil health after a flooding event.

Fourth, if there were standing crops or forages in a field during a significant rain and flood event, those crops and forages likely are damaged.  Powerful rains and hail can physically damage plants.  Therefore, if harvesting for grain or planning to feed these crops or forages mold and mycotoxins should be tested.  Additionally, corn, sorghum, oats, and other nitrate accumulating forages should be tested for nitrates due to the additional stress from flooding.

Finally, field operations may be hindered.  Planting, and harvesting of crops may be delayed due to wet sloppy fields.  If the areas affected produce hay, harvesting, drying and baling all present unique obstacles.

In conclusion, rain is not always a good thing.  Too little leaves us with droughts and too much results in devastating floods.  Always consider the obstacles of these disastrous events and make a plan before they happen to avoid panic when natural disasters occur.

More Resources:

Flood List

Farming After Flooding 

The Impact of Extreme Weather Events on Agriculture in the United States

iGrow Flood Resources


The Chicks Are Here! 10 Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiency in Poultry

Yet another sign that spring has arrived, baby chicks and ducks available for purchase at local farm and ranch supply stores.  Especially with the rise in popularity of raising backyard, “City Chickens”, I have received phone calls from owners with nutritionally deficient chickens in June and July, wondering what is happening to their birds and what they can do to solve the problem.  Nutritional deficiencies are especially difficult to sort out as many nutrients display the same symptoms, so the best option is to formulate a diet that meets their basic nutrient requirements based on species, physiological state, production type and production goals.  The 1994 Nutrient Requirements of Poultry is a great resource to balancing poultry diets, and Ward Laboratories Inc. can test your feed ingredients for protein, fiber, minerals and fat to ensure the most accurate formulation.  Here are 13 signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies common to poultry fed an unbalanced diet:

  1. Decreased or Lack of Energy

Lethargy in poultry can be a result of not enough available carbohydrates, low protein or not enough magnesium to support normal daily activity and function.

  1. Feather Abnormalities

There are several nutrients that when lacking in the diet can lead to abnormal feather appearance.  Deficiency of a specific amino acid, niacin, folic acid, cobalamin or zinc all can result in strange feathering.  Specifically, if feathers appear to be blackened vitamin D is most likely the nutrient missing from the diet.  Deficiency of riboflavin results in “Clubbed Down” a syndrome characterized by down feathers of newly hatched chicks growing curled up inside follicles.

  1. Depigmentation of Feathers

While lack of vitamin D results in blackened feathers, lack of lysine results in loss of pigmentation.  Copper and Iron deficiencies result in decreased specifically red pigmentations.

  1. Dermatitis and Skin Lesions

Irritation and inflammation of the skin can be the result of niacin, biotin, or pantothenic acid deficiencies.  Lesions specifically located on the foot pad can be attributed to biotin deficiency.

  1. Keratinization of Mucous Membranes

Keratinization is the process of filling cells with keratin protein, this prevents them from functioning and transitions the epithelial layers into a hardened covering.  The keratinization of mucous membranes in the body also decreases immune function of the epithelium.  This process is a symptom of vitamin A deficiency.

  1. Muscle Degeneration and Weakness

Depletion of muscles can be caused by thiamin or vitamin E deficiency.  “Crazy Chick Disease” is typically characterized by a chicken unable to support her own head due to muscle degeneration from lack of vitamin E in the diet.

  1. Bone Deformation and Weak Bones

Vitamin A deficiency can cause bone deformation and weak bones.  However, the three major nutrients associated with bone disorders are vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous.  Deficiency of calcium and phosphorous or the incorrect ratio of calcium : phosphorous, results in a condition known as “Cage-layer Disease”.  Cage-layer Disease occurs when chickens mobilize minerals from bone deposits to produce egg shells.  Chickens with this condition have weak, brittle bones and their rib cage is especially fragile and likely to break.

  1. Decreased Egg Production

Lack of vitamin D, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, or chloride is associated with lowered egg production.

  1. Thin Egg Shells and Decreased Hatchability

Thin eggshells and decreased viability of the egg can be signs of vitamin D, folic acid, magnesium or manganese deficiency.

  1. Neurological Disorders

Pantothenic acid and riboflavin deficiencies are both associated with neurological disorders.  “Curled Toe Paralysis” is a syndrome where lack of riboflavin in the diet affects peripheral nerves causing chicks to rest on their hocks and flex their toes due to paralysis of those muscles.

As you can see from the list of nutritional deficiency symptoms above, many of the same signs are caused by different micronutrients.  It is difficult to weed out the specific nutrient deficiency from the symptoms, which often occur in combinaion.  Therefore, the best way to avoid these issues is to reference the Nutrient Requirements of Poultry, test your feed ingredients at Ward Laboratories Inc. and formulate a well-balanced diet.

chickens (2)

Easter Eggs!

With Easter coming up this Sunday, I am reminded of two unique samples Ward Laboratories Inc. received this time last year.  We received two eggs to test just in time for Easter!  This producer wanted to do a small-scale experiment to determine if the eggs from chickens fed two different diets had differences in nutritional values.  Both diets were preformulated feeds from big nutritional companies.  One diet was considered all natural and the other was an organic feed.  Of course, this is not a properly performed experiment that would have impactful and meaningful results since only one egg per group was tested and the feeds may or may not have been formulated to have the same levels of key nutrients such as protein, fat, minerals and to provide equal amounts of energy.  However, in this case of only two eggs, the naturally fed egg had lower protein and higher levels of fat than the organic fed egg and mineral content was very similar between the two eggs.  More eggs would need to be tested to determine if these differences were just individual variation differences or if they truly were a statistically significant result of the diet.  Happy Easter All!