The Latest from the Fannin County Extension Coordinator


Firewood Tips, Kissing Bugs, Pesticides and Children,  Fescue Toxicosis

Firewood Tips

By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

To me there is nothing more calming than sitting in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night. Gas is efficient and convenient, but it’s hard to replace the feeling of a wood fire. If you have fire burning devices, here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are buying and burning wood.

When firewood is first cut, it contains a good bit of water. One fresh-cut cord of oak may have enough water to fill five and a half 55-gallon drums. In a wood-burning stove or fireplace, that wood has to dry out before it will burn and boiling off all that water steals a lot of heat away from the house. Firewood should be “seasoned” before it is burned in the house. In general, the term means the wood has dried to a level that will allow it to burn easily and give up a high proportion of its heat value. Well-seasoned firewood will have dried to a point that less than 20 percent of its weight is water. When the wood is first cut, water makes up 40 percent to 50 percent of its weight.

How can you tell if firewood is dry enough to burn well? It’s not easy, but there are ways. One way is to split a fireplace log and look at the split surfaces. Recently cut wood will have a darker center with lighter, drier-looking wood near edges or ends, and wet wood will be easier to split than dry wood. When firewood is very fresh, the bark will be tightly attached. Bark on very dry logs can usually be pulled off easily. You can also hit two pieces of wood together and if the sound is dull then it’s full of water and not dry enough to burn. When dry wood is hit together, it will give off a louder sound. The real indication is weight. Because of the water in it, unseasoned wood is heavier. Use a bathroom scale to compare a fixed volume (such as a cardboard boxful) of dry firewood with wood of unknown moisture content. That will tell something about the degree of seasoning. At the same moisture content, pound for pound all wood produces about the same amount of heat. The difference is that some woods are heavier than others. Oak and hickory logs weigh more than the same size sweet gum or pine logs. That means you have to carry in and burn more pine or sweet gum logs to get the same amount of heat. Because it has more natural resins, pine actually yields slightly more heat per pound than hardwoods.

The sticky, gum-like resins in pine firewood have given some people the impression that it produces more residue buildup, called creosote, than hardwood but research has found this is not true. The buildup on fireplace or wood heater walls, chimneys and flue pipes seems more a result of burning wood at relatively low temperatures. When wood is heated, some of its chemical makeup is first changed to a gas and later ignited if the fire is hot enough but if the fire’s not hot enough, they become part of the smoke and if they contact a surface cool enough, they’ll condense back to a liquid or a solid there. Over time, this layer of creosote becomes thick enough that a hot fire will ignite it in place, causing a chimney fire. Filling a wood stove at night and closing the damper to reduce airflow can keep a fire burning all night with no more wood but it’s also likely to form creosote. Burning poorly seasoned wood also favors creosote buildup because evaporating water cools the burning process. Burning small amounts of wood at high temperatures is one solution to the problem, but doing that by hand makes for busy and sleepless nights.

If you are buying wood, make sure you and the seller are talking the same language. A cord is an official measurement and its 4 feet wide, by 4 feet high, and 8 feet long. Wood is often sold as a face cord but it is not an official measurement. A face cord is 1/3 of a cord because the pile is 16 inches wide instead of 4 feet wide. If you are buying it by the pickup load, keep in mind that a small truck has about ¼ of a cord, a half ton truck about ½ of a cord, and a long bed with racks might contain close to a cord.

So as the nights get cooler enjoy your fire burning devices, but use them appropriately with the proper wood. Also, if you did not change your smoke detector battery when the time changed, now is a good time to do it. Safety in the home is very important.

Kissing Bugs

Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

There has been a lot of press lately concerning Kissing Bugs and the disease that they carry. There is concern that they can pass it on to people. I contacted Dr. Nancy Hinkle UGA Cooperative Extension Entomologist about this and this is what she had to say.

Kissing bugs are actually triatomine bugs. They get their common name because when they bite people they bite on the face and lips. They survive by feeding on the blood of mammals and have been in Georgia for millions of years. They and their relatives such as leaf-footed bugs, wheel bugs, and stink bugs are common. Kissing bugs are not deadly and most of them are not infected with the parasite that causes Chagas disease.

The Chagas disease parasite is transmitted only by the feces of specific kissing bugs. In other words, being bitten by the bug will not harm you but rubbing the bug’s excrement in your eyes, swallowing or inhaling it, might make you sick. Symptoms of the disease include flu like symptoms, eyes swelling, and later on possible heart and digestive problems.

While Chagas disease is not uncommon in Central and South America, only 23 cases acquired here in the U.S. have been reported in the last 60 years. Areas of Texas just north of Mexico have lots of infected kissing bugs, and that’s why Texas is in the news.

For us here in the Southeast, the risk isn’t being bitten by a kissing bug (very little chance of that). The riskier behavior would be cleaning up raccoon, opossum, skunk or armadillo nests; that’s where the bugs live and where kissing bug feces are most concentrated.

We can get infected with Chagas disease only by getting the bug’s feces inside us – through a break in the skin, through swallowing, through inhalation, or through rubbing our eyes. Again, not much risk if we stay away from the nests of wild animals.

Not every potential reservoir is infected. Here in the Southeast very few of the bugs carry the parasite. In the U.S. we are more likely to die in an automobile accident than to ever in our whole lives get infected with Chagas disease.

What can you do to avoid running into a kissing bug? Keep bugs out of your home by turning off porch lights at night to avoid attracting the bugs. Seal around doors and windows with weather-stripping and replace door sweeps. Keep in mind that if cold air can’t get in, neither can kissing bugs.

Freezing cold nights are sending kissing bugs into hibernation, so the risk is even lower this time of year. When temperatures rise in the spring a granular barrier of insecticide might keep them out, but removing hiding places such as wood piles, heavy mulch, and loose leaf litter will be more effective. If you have a pet that goes out doors and sleeps inside be sure and check their sleep area and keep it clean.

Pesticides and Children

By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

One of the popular catch phrases of the last few years has been “do you know where your children are?” Well let’s look at a different spin on that phrase. “Do you know where your pesticides are?” As you start thinking about that question, keep in mind that it is your responsibility to keep them away from children. Many times we take pesticides and their safe use for granted, but pesticides are a serious business.

The next question I would like for you to consider is “what is a pesticide?” The basic definition is a product that will kill a pest. These products include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, miticides, and others. At one time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considered anti-bacterial soap as a pesticide because it killed bacteria. As you can see, there are a lot of pesticides in the world today. So often the biggest misuse of pesticides is with the homeowner. Doubling the rate of the mix is not good and it is illegal. Always read and follow the label directions.

Proper storage is important too. Young children are at risk from pesticides as they are often stored improperly. The danger is closer than you think and now that the weather has cooled, children are spending more time inside the home. According to an EPA survey, 50% of all households with children under the age of five have pesticides in unlocked cabinets within the reach of children. Approximately 75% of households without children had unsecured pesticides.

Many children are poisoned inside their own homes. Proper protection from pesticides is everyone’s business. Pesticides should be kept in their original containers to prevent accidental poisonings. Our children are many times more curious than us older folks. If you know that there are chemicals easily reached by children, you should take care and remove those items from the reach of the little ones.

If you need to discard some pesticides, you should be aware of a few facts. Try to use up or give away leftover products rather than discard them in the trash. Mix only as much as you need and follow the manufacturer’s directions on the label for safely disposing of any pesticide or household chemical.

Never pour chemicals together before disposing of them. Dangerous chemical reactions may occur and do not put leftover supplies down the drain unless it’s recommended on the label as a safe means of disposal. Do not pour concentrated chemicals or pesticides on the ground either because groundwater and wells may become contaminated. You should also never attempt to burn hazardous chemicals as a means of disposal.

Instead, dispose of unwanted pesticides by wrapping the container in newspaper, placing the wrapped container in a bag and disposing with the family garbage. It is illegal to dispose of more than one gallon of liquid at a time. Cat litter can be used to soak up liquids before disposal. Some products can and should be recycled rather than discarded. Preventing environmental contamination is always better and more cost effective than clean-up efforts.

For more information on properly using and handling pesticides, contact me at the Gilmer County Extension office.

Fescue Toxicosis

By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

As cooler weather is coming into Georgia, the UGA Beef Team and UGA Extension Beef Specialist Dr. Lawton Stewart would like to alert cattlemen to be on the lookout for cattle suffering from a condition known as fescue toxicosis. This condition will show up as fall calving cows that are having premature and/or light calves and/or producing little or no milk (agalactia.)

As the name implies, this condition is in Tall Fescue. Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue is the most common pasture forage grown in North Georgia. It is a good forage grass, but it is naturally infected with a fungal endophyte. The plant and endophyte have a symbiotic relationship; the plant provides an environment and nutrients for the fungus, and the fungus produces alkaloids that help the plant with drought, pest, and grazing tolerance.

These alkaloids affect animals grazing it, especially in extreme weather conditions (i.e. heat or cold.) Typical symptoms include lower gains on growing animals and lower conception rates on cows. According to Dr. Stewart, we typically do not see severe symptoms during this time of year due to relatively mild conditions. However pregnant cows consuming “hot” fescue in the last trimester of pregnancy are more likely to be affected by the symptoms above.

This year has created a “perfect storm” to create fescue toxicosis in brood cows. Dr. Stewart has seen an increase of this condition across the state, but I have not heard any reports of this in our area. The increase is due to the following three conditions: 1) Drought stress. After fescue goes through a stress such as drought, alkaloid concentration tends to increase. This is due the plant and fungus trying to recover. 2) Temperature and moisture. This fall has been unseasonably warm and wet, and both of these conditions are favorable for increased forage production in fescue pastures and hay fields. 3) Fertilization. The application of Nitrogen increases the alkaloid concentration.

Although there is no immediate cure, the following may help alleviate the symptoms until a more permanent solution is available. The most effective strategy is to remove the animals from the infected Tall Fescue pastures. If you are seeing these symptoms and you are unsure if your tall fescue is infected are not, there is a 95% chance that it is infected. If at all possible, move these animals to non-infected pastures (i.e. Bermuda grass, winter annuals, etc.). If it is not feasible to move the animals, then diluting the fescue with other feed sources will help. This could include free choice hay from non-infected fields, supplemental feed. Additionally, if temporary fencing is available, strip grazing can be utilized in addition to supplementation to limit feeding on the remaining fescue. Ultimately, the only long-term solution is to replace the endophyte-infected Tall Fescue with another forage material. These can include fescue varieties with novel endophytes that do not affect the animals, Bermuda grass, and/or other forages.

For more information about forages, contact me at the Gilmer County Extension office.

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