Please visit the Highmoor Farm website for the University of Maine Strawberry Integrated Pest Management Newsletter No. 6, July 16, 2014, “Renovation and Weed Management Issue.”
Please visit the Highmoor Farm website for the Universithy of Maine Sweet Corn Integrated Pest Management Newsletter No. 4, July 18, 2014, “Corn Earworm Counts Climbing.”
The Bangor Daily News reported on a meeting at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro. About 150 growers, processors, vendors and suppliers gathered at the wild blueberry research facility to listen to David Yarborough, a blueberry specialist for UMaine Extension, discuss this year’s crop and the latest research projects. “Although we had a late start to the season, we’ve had plenty of rainfall — ample rainfall, really — and wild blueberries like cool and wet conditions,” Yarborough said. “So growing conditions have been fairly optimal.” Yarborough said Maine’s crop usually averages about 90 million pounds, and this season he expects the yield to be in the range of 90–95 million pounds.
Spotted wing drosophila captures are becoming more widespread this week, although numbers are still quite low.
Please visit the Highmoor Farm website for the July 17, 2014 Spotted Wing Drosophila Update, where you can subscribe to updates.
Sarah Redmond, a Maine Sea Grant aquaculture specialist at the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, was interviewed for a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report about beer made with seaweed at the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. in Belfast, Maine. David Carlson, the company’s owner, has been consulting with scientists including Redmond about using seaweed in the beverage. Redmond said if researchers can figure out how to farm seaweed on sea farms, then there will be a more sustainable source that could lead to innovation and new products, such as fertilizer, food ingredients, nutritional supplements or beer. NPR also carried the report.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension will offer a workshop for farmers on how to detect internal animal parasites from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9 at J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center, 160 University Farm Road, Old Town.
Doctors of Veterinary Medicine Jim Weber and Anne Lichtenwalner will demonstrate how to use a microscope to identify common internal parasites of sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas. Cost is $30 per person; registration is required and space is limited to 20.
More information including how to register is online. To request a disability accommodation, call 207.781.6099 or 800.287.1471 (in Maine).
This Little Piggy
By Donald E. Hoenig, VMD
One snowy December a number of years ago, I witnessed three large (400-500 pound) sows fall through the floor into the manure pit of an old dairy barn in Turner, Maine, while they were eating stale donuts. It was about a 10-foot fall, but fortunately none of the pigs were injured and once we realized that, we were quite amused by the whole situation. Nonetheless, they were now enclosed in the manure pit of a barn that had been boarded up for the winter. My colleague and former Maine Department of Agriculture employee Dr. Chip Ridky and I were herding the sows together, getting ready to blood test them as part of the state’s disease certification program. The sows had pushed aside several of the floor boards, which were not nailed down, and fell. Now we had to figure out how to get them out of the pit. The farmer got out his chain saw, cut a big hole in the plywood wall and we lured the pigs out of the pit (with more stale donuts) and went on with the catching and blood testing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pigs lately because I’ve been helping some Maine swine farmers work through a variety health issues in their animals over the past few months. In addition, a devastating disease called porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) that was detected in the U.S. a year ago has many of us on edge. In just over a year, PEDv has been found in 30 states (fortunately not in Maine yet) and has killed more than 7 million baby pigs. Maine has tightened its import requirements for swine this spring in an attempt to keep the disease out.
The issue of swine welfare has also been in the news in recent years because of a housing method widely used in the raising of pigs called gestation crates. After sows are bred, they are often placed in gestation crates for the duration of their pregnancy. These crates allow the sows to stand up and lie down freely, but do not enable them to turn around. They are provided with ample food to meet their metabolic needs and free-choice water. One of the main reasons that swine farmers began using these crates decades ago was to reduce the incidence of fighting among sows. Sows can be extremely aggressive to each other when grouped together and fighting can often result in serious injuries. On farms that use gestation crates, sows will spend their entire adult lives in this type of confinement, which is why the practice has been so controversial.
To be honest, I’ve never seen a gestation crate other than in pictures because I’ve never been on a swine farm in Maine or Massachusetts that uses them. Most of our swine farmers do use something similar called a farrowing crate, but it is only used just prior to the time that a sow gives birth through weaning (usually about 3-4 weeks) and helps protects the baby pigs from being crushed if the mother sow inadvertently rolls on top of them. In 2009, while I was the State Veterinarian, a bill came up in the Legislature, proposing to ban gestation crates in Maine. Interestingly, there was minimal opposition to the bill from Maine swine farmers because none of them were using gestation crates. Our swine farmers have always group-housed their sows, which allows for full freedom of movement except for the time spent in farrowing crates. The bill passed and gestation crates have been banned in Maine since Jan. 1, 2011.
Several other states — generally those that do not have a significant swine industry, including Florida, Arizona, California, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio, and Rhode Island — have also banned, or plan to ban, the use of gestation crates. A large number of major U.S. companies, including Smithfield (the country’s largest pork processor and hog producer), McDonald’s, Campbell’s Soup, Tyson, Costco, and Target have all announced they will eliminate gestation crates from their pork supply chains (USA Today, Jan. 7, 2014). Smithfield has asked contract growers to end the use of gestation crates by 2022.
Have you ever thought about this issue? Do you think sows should be able to stand up, lie down, and turn around freely? Do you buy your food based on a company’s adoption of certain humane or ethical principles? Are you willing to pay extra for this food? If you do, how sure are you that these principles are being followed? A topic for another column, I think.
It may make me sound like a politician, but my thinking has evolved on this and many other issues surrounding farm animal welfare. I’ve come to believe that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare serve as a good foundation: Freedom from hunger and thirst; Freedom from discomfort; Freedom from pain, injury or disease; Freedom from fear and distress; Freedom to express normal behaviors. I believe that the fifth freedom — for an animal to express normal behaviors — applies in this case, and I am glad that the swine industry is moving toward eliminating gestation crates. I’m also glad that I still get to work with many swine farmers. They’re great people and I’ve gotten some interesting stories out of those experiences.
Dr. Hoenig retired as the Maine State Veterinarian in 2012 and, after completing a year-long Congressional Fellowship in Sen. Susan Collins’ office in Washington DC last year, in January 2014 he started working as a part-time Extension Veterinarian for University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Dr. Hoenig invites you to submit questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Answers to selected questions will appear in future blog posts.
A University of Maine Cooperative Extension composting course was mentioned in a Portland Press Herald feature on composter Geoff Hill, 67, of Belgrade. Hill said he first became interested in composting on April 22, 1970 — the first Earth Day — as a way to improve the planet’s health. In the early 1990s, he took a UMaine Extension course to earn the title of Master Composter. He also joined the Maine Compost Team, a group that won the gubernatorial Teamwork Award during his time of service, between 1992 and 1997.
The Associated Press reported officials with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association say late blight symptoms have been found in a potato field in Buxton. According to officials, late blight is a nontreatable disease that affects potatoes and tomatoes and spreads rapidly in warm and wet conditions. UMaine Extension and MOFGA ask growers and gardeners to take precautions to prevent infections and spread of the disease, according to the article. Maine Public Broadcasting Network, The Republic, Portland Press Herald, WLBZ (Channel 2) and WABI (Channel 5) carried the AP report.
David Handley, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension specialist of vegetables and small fruits at UMaine’s Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, and Renae Moran, a tree fruit specialist with UMaine Extension, were interviewed for a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report titled “Climate change presents Maine farmers with new challenges.” Handley spoke about testing new crops for the region, such as grapes, as the climate changes. Moran, who is currently testing several varieties of peaches, plums and cherries, warns climate change is unpredictable and more research is needed before any farmer is recommended to make a big investment in traditionally warmer weather fruits.