UConn

Risk Management Technology: Robotic Milking Machine

On October 26, 2017, UConn Extension and CT Farm Risk Management program teamed up to host the Robotic Milking Conference at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. The conference program boasted an impressive lineup of farmers, researchers, and industry professionals. All seemed to advocate highly for the incorporation of the technology into the dairy industry. The event was attended by a range of local CT dairy farmers, most of whom who have already employed the technology in their dairy farming operations.

Robotic milking machines are hardly a novel technology, being commercially available since the early 1990’s. Since then, the technology has evolved to include a range of benefits to both the farmers and cows alike. The robotic milking machines are voluntary meaning that the cows only get milked when they are ready. Upon entering the system cows are weighed and the teats are cleaned. The systems utilize a quarter-milking strategy, allowing for each teat to be milked individually. After the milk has been extracted cows return to the herd.

 

Much data is provided during the milking process that gives farmers a better idea on the health of the cows as well as the quality of milk collected. This information allows farmers to make more informed decisions about the herd and provides for the early detection of health problems. Measurements such as somatic cell count, total plate count, and milk fat percentage determine the quality of milk. Farms which have adopted the use of robotic milking machines tend to see an increase in both somatic and total plate count within the first year. This is especially important for larger farms where somatic cell count tends to be lower than in smaller operations.

 

As times change, it is important for businesses to evolve. Robotic milking machines are playing an integral role in the evolution of this industry. The availability of reliable labor in agriculture is becoming incredibly pressing issue. This technology provides for the adaptation to a changing environment and allows farmers to spend their time doing more important things such as marketing and developing plans for the ever-growing agrotourism industry. For more information on this technology please visit the UConn Extension or CT Farm Risk Management website.

Ten Tips for the April Gardener

Ten Tips for the April Gardener

flower

Click on highlighted links for additional information.

  • Prune old, leggy growth from heather (which flowers on new growth in late summer) but prune heath (which sets its flower buds in late spring) just enough to shape it in the early spring.
  • Start dahlia tubers in pots indoors in a cool spot. Pinch back tips when they reach 6” and transplant outdoors when the ground temperature reaches 60°F.
  • Inspect houseplants for pests and use low-toxicity insecticidal controls as needed.
  • Place seedlings in cold frames around April 25 or later to harden off.
  • Continue to directly sow​ ​peas, ​carrots, ​radishes, ​lettuces, ​and​ ​spinach every two weeks through mid-May for staggered harvests.
  • Spread​ ​fertilizer​ ​under​ ​apple​ ​trees​ ​and​ ​small​ ​fruits​ ​except​ ​strawberries​ ​which​ ​are​ ​fertilized​ ​in late​ ​August.
  • Apply pre-emergent crabgrass weed control when the forsythia bloom.
  • Early spring is a great time to spot spray or hand-dig dandelions. If spraying, choose a product that won’t kill grass. If digging, wait until after a rain, when soil is soft.
  • Celebrate​ ​Arbor​ ​Day​ ​on​ ​April​ ​26th​ ​by​ ​planting​ ​a​ ​tree. Choose planting sites based on exposure to sun, shade, wind and distance from water source.
  • Check for raised mole tunnels in the yard and plan to put down a grub control product as necessary (the presence of moles does not mean there is a grub problem) between mid-June and mid-July.

For more information contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center.

Real Farmers, Real Risks: Sentiments from Freund’s Farm

Tucked away in the northwestern most corner of the state, Freund’s Farm sits on 600 beautiful acres, proudly serving as one of Connecticut’s most notable and progressive dairy farms. The farm was started in 1949 by Eugene and Esther Freund. The operation has grown over the past 70 years and now boasts a herd of nearly 300 happy, healthy Holsteins. The family has done well to evolve with changing times, outfitting their operation with solar power to help reduce costs and their impact on the local environment. Freund’s Farm also employs the use of robotic milking machines which greatly improves the efficiency of the milking process while keeping their cows content and productive.

In 1970, the Freunds took advantage of a surplus of an unlikely resource, cow manure, with the invention of Cow Pots. These thoughtful and eco-friendly pots have become a favorite of gardeners from all walks due to their biodegradability, making seed starting a breeze. The resourcefulness of the family over the years has made them a leader in sustainability, receiving the US Dairy Sustainability Award of Outstanding Resource Stewardship. Freund’s Farm has also established a successful bakery and farmer’s market, providing their local community with fresh local food. Despite the often-risky nature of dairy farming in CT, the Freund family continues to solidify their position as an industry leader due to their ingenuity and dedication.

UConn Extension had an opportunity to talk with Ben Freund of Freund’s Farm about some of the risks associated with dairy farming in Connecticut and the role that insurance plays to alleviate some of the associated stressors. The biggest risk to dairy farming is often the weather, a factor that can hardly be controlled. However, market variability is a risk to which there are a range of mitigation strategies. Both the costs of inputs and the market price of milk fluctuate often. The Freunds work closely with insurance agents to customize government subsidized insurance plans to meet the farms needs and guarantee the price of milk for a certain period of time. The flexibility of the plans allows the farm to maintain operations even when the market price of milk does not meet expectations. Ben Freund asserts the insurance is “an important tool” and that “having some sort of risk mitigation on the farm is worthwhile to understand and use”. You can watch Ben Freund’s entire video at the CT Risk Management website under the “Resource Library” tab.

Real Farmers; Real Risks: Interview with Norton Brothers Farm

 

Norton Brother’s Farm is a seventh-generation family-owned fruit farm located in Cheshire, Connecticut. The farm has been owned and operated by the Norton family since the mid-1700s and boasts a long-standing, proud history with the town of Cheshire. Bridsey Norton, father of the Norton Brothers (Judson and Donald) who operated the farm until 2001, also served the town of Cheshire as first selectmen. The farm now rests in the capable hands of Tim Perry. Together, with help from the family, Tim continues the tradition of providing the local community with fresh fruit, vegetables, and an impressive range of homemade farm-market goodies.

This proud Connecticut farming family currently operates on about 107 acres of land, producing everything from apples, peaches, and pears to blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Their expansive pick-your-own operation begins in June with their various berry crops and runs through to the fall, where locals can choose from an overwhelming 34 varieties of apples. Hayrides, pumpkins, and scarecrows offer families a fun and immersive experience during the harvest season. When the Christmas trees and holiday decorations arrive, patrons can find their way to the family’s dairy barn farm stand for the perfect holiday gift, whether it’s local cider, jams, and farm-fresh pies or one of their carefully curated seasonal gifts. The Norton Brother’s farm has something for everyone throughout the year. They invite you and your family to come join them for a wholesome, local experience: farm tours, birthday parties, or even just a family picnic.

Farming is a risky business and even a farm as historically successful and well-loved as the Norton Brother’s farm faces its share of challenges. To find out a bit more about the Norton Brother’s farm, UConn Extension reached out to Tim Perry to see what happens behind the scenes. When asked about some of the biggest risks that he faces, Tim sings the same tune as many other Connecticut farmers: weather, weather, weather. “The weather is hard to predict and out of your control. And it’s becoming more unpredictable – from 22 inches of rain in a month to frost before bloom. It used to be that we had a frost every 10 years, that’s not the case anymore”, says Tim. When asked about risk management he says it’s really a toss-up, “You can try frost protection. Depending on your operation it can cost up to $100,000. I know people who get the fans, get the heaters, and still lose everything. Plus, oil is at about $4 per gallon now.” A lot of times it’s about doing the best you can and rolling with it. But what about when preventative measures aren’t enough?

We asked Tim about crop insurance as well. We wanted to know if he utilizes crop insurance, the role it’s played in mediating farm risks and if he would suggest it to other people. It turns out he is a huge proponent of crop insurance. He stated that they now have every crop insured, “Peaches are the largest users of crop insurance. It’s almost a yearly thing now. Not that we’re getting rich from it, but it helps to offset costs.” This is also the first year that they are trying out insurance for blueberries, “As far as we know, we’re the first ones to have blueberry crop insurance, at least with the company we use.” He says that crop insurance is a tool for farmers, just like a tractor or the sprayers. They utilize it to the best of their ability. But what about the costs, difficulties, or aversions to crop insurance?

He says, “You have to spend to benefit”. Saying that most people will always try to shoot for the lower end of the scale for premiums, “…but you’re not going to start seeing benefits till you spend a bit more on the premiums.” As far as the aversions to crop insurance, what have you heard? Again, he says it’s all part of the business, “It may be more paperwork, but take the time. No one has a better idea of what’s going on on your farm than you. You know what you pick, you know what you produce. Spend the time with the companies and make sure you pick the plan that right for you.” All in all, it seems that Tim has taken the time to educate himself on crop insurance. It’s also apparent that crop insurance plays a recurring role in mediating risks at the Norton Brother’s farm. To hear more about Tim Perry’s take on crop insurance, check out his video on the UConn Risk Management’s website under the resources tab. And to learn more about the Norton Brother’s farm itself, you can visit their website at www.nortonbrothersfruitfarm.com, or check them out in person at 466 Academy Road, Cheshire, CT.

Connecticut Dairy Seminar

dairy seminar flyerThere is still time to register for this year’s Connecticut Dairy Conference, which will be held on March 20, 2019, at the Doubletree Hotel, Bradley.  We have a full day of presentations on timely topics. Our afternoon speakers and topics are included below in this update.
In addition, we are offering a special opportunity for those attending the CT Ag Day events; you can attend our program in the afternoon free of charge.
Please register for the full day or half day so that we can plan accordingly.
Also, there is a reduced rate for students; $25.00.

Information is available at: http://bit.ly/Mar20Dairy.

Or, you can download the brochure.

Tackling the climate change challenge, one place at a time

climate corps students in classClimate change is perhaps the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, and just thinking about it can make someone feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

How can the next generation of environmental professionals be prepared to deal a problem that big?

One answer could be found this fall in the Climate Corps class taught at the University of Connecticut by Sea Grant’s Juliana Barrett and Bruce Hyde, land use academy director at UConn CLEAR (Center for Land Use Education & Research). Now in its second year, the course invites students to tackle this global challenge on local scales, methodically breaking it down into more manageable parts.

Read more….

Story and photos by Judy Benson

Preventing Early Childhood Obesity

UConn Allied Health Sciences community outreach program
Lindsey Fenn working with a group of children and their parents.

Preventing obesity in early childhood is a critical issue being addressed by a multi-disciplinary team from UConn. It’s one of three complementary projects led by faculty in Allied Health Sciences, and is funded by a grant from the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. The project focuses on preventing obesity in early childhood by offering parents of economic disadvantage simple and feasible feeding practices to develop healthier food preferences for their children. Valerie Duffy, PhD, RD, and Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA from Allied Health Sciences and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity are the co-PIs.

Lindsay Fenn, RD, is a masters’ student in Health Promotion Sciences in Allied Health Sciences, and has conducted nutrition outreach education with family resources centers in East Hartford. Fenn conducts outreach education for three different schools, although the majority of her time is spent with Early Childhood Learning Center at Hockanum School. There are multiple partners in East Hartford that the team works with to reach audiences and broaden their impact. These include the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) centers, the Hunger Action Team, and Foodshare mobile sites.

“I ran workshops for parents on picky eating and eating healthy in general, mainly with preschool ages,” says Fenn. Each workshop is approximately one hour. She begins by working with the parents, while the children have supervised play time. Next, there is a workshop for the kids, and parents are encouraged to be involved in this segment, cooking with their kids.

UConn student Lindsey Fenn works in the community for her internship with the UConn Allied Health Sciences program.
Lindsey Fenn (far right) with a mother and child at a community outreach program.

“Programs for kids are interactive, for example, we had them make banana snowmen with pretzels for the arms and carrots for the nose. We get the kids involved so they will eat healthy foods and try new things,” Fenn adds.

Part of the project at Hockanum included a Farm to School program where they built a garden, and took the classrooms outside, planted seeds, and then volunteers weeded the gardens over the summer. Lindsay attends the community dinners at a local church, and covered nutrition topics with the participants at the dinner. She is currently working with the Mayberry Elementary School and focusing on healthy eating around the holidays.

The grant through the Child Health and Development Institute began last year, and is building off of the relationships Fenn and the Allied Health Sciences team have built in East Hartford. “Our research question is to determine if parents are following the guidelines for feeding children ages 12-36 months,” Fenn says. “We also want to determine what the knowledge gaps are for these parents.”

The team at Allied Health Sciences are using a survey and other research to fill the knowledge gaps for parents of young children. The survey was created with input from multiple stakeholders. Staff at the family resource centers were involved in developing the survey to make sure it was a good fit for the populations served. For example, the survey was administered online with pictures to reinforce concepts. Fenn conducted the survey at the East Hartford WIC program, a daycare center, and the library, and had 134 parents participate.

“Our goal is to communicate consistently with parents in East Hartford,” Harris states. “We want to help them identify one or two behaviors that could be addressed with better communication, and that they are willing to change. These may be reducing sugary drinks, replacing snacks with healthier ones, practicing responsive eating, or adding variety to fruits and vegetables.”

The team focuses on two or three changes that a parent can make in their child’s nutrition. Follow up emails with participants build off of the previous work of the messaging campaign. Dr. Molly Waring is another Allied Health team member with expertise in social media as a communication tool. Social media platforms can be used for peer support after the initial communication from the Allied Health Sciences team members.

Initial analysis shows the results are supported by previous research. There is a lack of vegetable diversity and variety in children’s diets. Numerous parents cited that they are serving their children sugar sweetened beverages.

The next phase of the team’s research is convening focus groups at WIC and Hockanum in January and February that will talk about the main areas and gaps in knowledge that the research identified. Results are being shared with stakeholders so that they can also tailor their nutrition education messages to help parents decrease sugar-sweetened beverages and increase vegetable variety.

“I’ve gotten to know the different families, and received positive feedback about the workshops,” Fenn concludes. “It’s rewarding to interact with people, and see parents again after you’ve worked with them. They appreciate our work and say that we’ve helped them make positive changes.”

The grant is only for the project in East Hartford, however Duffy and Harris are developing a proof of concept through this project so that East Hartford can be a pilot for other communities to use communication in preventing early childhood obesity.

By Stacey Stearns

Beef Auction at UConn Scheduled for Oct. 21st

beef steer

UConn’s Department of Animal Science is holding their annual beef auction on Sunday, October 21st at the Cattle Resource Unit (Heifer Barn) on Horsebarn Hill Road in Storrs.

 The auction will be held at UConn’s Storrs Campus at the UConn Cattle Resource Unit (Heifer Barn) located on Horsebarn Hill Road. The event is free and open to the general public. Preview of animals begins at 10 a.m.; auction will be held at 12:00 noon; breakfast and lunch will be available for purchase. Please contact Mary Margaret Cole, Executive Program Director, UConn Livestock Units at Mary_Margaret.Cole@uconn.edu http://animalscience.uconn.edu/join.php with any questions. Please visit to join the email list if you would like to receive a digital copy of the animal sale list. 

Approximately 25 UConn animals are expected to be auctioned and may include Angus and Hereford heifers, steers, bulls and pregnant cows. The auction does not accept consignments. 

The Animal Auction List is posted 

at s.uconn.edu/beefauction. 

Climate Corps Course Shapes Career Choice for UConn Student

The UConn Climate Corps is an undergraduate classroom and service learning opportunity. The program consists of a 3 credit course (Fall semester) on the local impacts of climate change, followed by a 3 credit independent study (Spring semester) during which students work with Extension faculty to assist Connecticut communities in adapting to climate change.  In Spring of 2018 the Corps worked with the municipalities of Hartford, Westbrook, and Old Lyme. 

The Climate Corps is a collaboration of the Environmental Studies, Environmental Sciences, and Environmental Engineeringprograms, the Connecticut Sea Grant Program, and the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR)

A student in the 2017-18 class and shared her thoughts with Extension Educators Bruce Hyde and Juliana Barrett.

Bruce and students
Student teams led by Bruce Hyde and other CLEAR faculty will work with Connecticut towns as part of the UConn Climate Corps.

Also I just wanted to say thank you for all the hard work you two put in to make this class/independent study possible. I had an amazing experience with it and met a lot of great people. I actually just accepted a really great post-graduation job offer from Homesite Insurance in Boston as a Catastrophe Risk Analyst, and half of my interview was spent talking about this independent study. I’ll be doing natural hazard risk modeling and identifying at-risk areas for certain natural disasters as a result of weather patterns, geographic locations, and climate change, which is something this independent study really prepared me for/got me interested in. This wouldn’t have been possible without you two and the Climate Corps class, so thank you so much!! Climate Corps had a huge influence on me, and for a while I wasn’t super excited about the sorts of jobs I’d be qualified to do with a Geoscience degree (consulting and cleaning up hazardous waste spills somehow didn’t appeal to me), but having this experience opened so many doors for me and exposed me to so many different things I could do. I’m really excited to start my new job because I’ve been able to combine a career with something I find super interesting, and I really have you two to thank for that.

I recommended Climate Corps to a bunch of people and I think one of my friends is signed up for it next year, so please keep doing this, it’s a great experience for us students (and I’m sure also for the towns we work with)! Thank you again!

No Place Like Home: Black Bears are Back

Tracy Rittenhouse and Mike Evans
Tracy Rittenhouse, assistant professor of natural resources and the environment, and Michael Evans, a Ph. D. student of natural resources at a barbed wire pen created to collect hair from bears on Sept. 18, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Connecticut is bear country. It may sound strange, but western Connecticut is home to a growing population of American black bears. While bears may at times look out of place in the fourth most densely populated state, black bears living around humans is becoming more and more common not only in Connecticut, but across North America. This new reality has instigated new research to understand how bears respond to development, and may require a shift in human perspective to coexist with bears.

Tracy Rittenhouse, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, focuses her research on how wildlife responds when habitat conditions change. Rittenhouse is interested in key questions about how wildlife interacts in their habitat and what happens as Connecticut becomes a more exurban landscape, defined as the area beyond urban and suburban development, but not rural.

Rittenhouse wants to see from a management perspective what species are overabundant and what are in decline in exurban landscapes. She is interested in looking at the elements of what is called “home” from the perspective of a given species.

In Connecticut, 70 percent of the forests are 60 to 100 years old. The wildlife species that live here are changing as the forest ages. Rittenhouse notes that mature forest is a perfect habitat for bears and other medium-sized mammals as well as small amphibians.

Black bears like this mature forest because they eat the acorns that drop from old oak trees. Forests are also a preferred environment for humans. Exurban landscapes that are a mixture of forest and city are becoming the fastest-growing type of development across the country. The mixture of the city on one hand and the natural environment on the other is positive for humans, but it is not yet clear if wild animals benefit from this mixture.

Exurban landscapes are ideal places for species that are omnivores and species that are able to avoid people by becoming more active at night. Species that shift their behavior to fit in with variations in their environment survive well in exurban locations.

Rittenhouse collaborates with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) Wildlife Division on real life wildlife issues. “Working with DEEP is my way of making sure I am asking research questions that are applicable to real world situations,” she said. “I often try to identify actions that wildlife management professionals or urban planners can take that will allow a species to live in an area. The action is often simple, often a slight change, but we hope that a small change may keep a species from declining or becoming overabundant.”

“We studied black bears by collecting hair samples. Collecting black bear hair is not as difficult as it sounds, as bears will use their nose to find a new scent even if they need to cross a strand of barbed wire that snags a few hairs. The hair contains DNA and therefore the information that we used to identify individuals. For two summers we gathered information on which bear visited each of the hair corrals every week. In total we collected 935 black bear hair samples,” Tracy says.

As Connecticut residents revel in the open spaces of exurban lifestyles, Tracy Rittenhouse and her students keep watchful, caring eyes on the effects of human behavior on wild animals that have no voice. Home may be where the heart is or where one hangs one’s hat, but for the wild critters of Connecticut, home may be a precarious place as they adapt to change.

Article by Nancy Weiss and Tracy Rittenhouse