County Extension Agent

April 18, 2016 - When you think of 4-H most think of a youth organization that provides opportunities with the livestock, horses, food, fashion, photography, shooting sports and leadership, just to name a few.  These projects are some of the banner programs that are offered but 4-H is more than that.  This year, Shelby County 4-H has kicked off a new project, Taxidermy.

The taxidermy project blends many skills together to make this project a success.  Patience might just be the most important one learned.  It takes lots of time, dedication and skill to harvest the animal from the wild and mount so that it still looks alive.  The tools of the trade are scalpels, needle and thread, caulk air paint gun, dermal tool, hide preservative, and of course polyurethane foam mounts.  The habitat can be made from drift wood, foam insulation, plaster of Paris and even bondo.

Shelby County Extension will be hosting a 4-H Taxidermy project contest, and project viewing open to the public.  The contest is scheduled for April 26, 2016 at the Center Community House Rock Building from 5:00pm – 7:00pm.  I would like to encourage the public to come and look at all awesome mounts ranging from raccoons to deer, 26 projects to be exact. The projects can be viewed starting at 7:00pm.

Subvmitted by Lane Dunn

April 1, 2016 - Submitted by Lane Dunn - Thank You!!! The 4-H & FFA Shelby County Livestock Show Raised over $77,991. The Shelby County 4-H and FFA Livestock Show Committee would like to thank the businesses and individuals who so generously donated funds for the 4-H and FFA youth. Thanks to the Buyers and Contributors:

Hawkeye Hunting Club, Farmer’s State Bank, Shelby Savings Bank, Tyson-Carthage, XTO, Border’s Poultry Supply, Shelby County Farm Bureau, Smith Sawmill Services, Mackey Cattle Company, Heritage Land Bank, Raymond Construction, Deep East Texas Electric Co-op., K&L Contractors, Keith Oswalt Logging, Wiggins Farms, 4-C Electric, Cobb Hatchery, Timberlake Farms, Joaquin/Timpson Quick Stop, Triple J Feed, Texas State Bank-Center Branch, General Shelters, Hunter Buildings, Fish & Still Equipment, MDD Enterprises, JC McSwain Logging, Boles Feed, Roscoe McSwain Logging, Woodman Life Chapter #250, SGM Trucking, Sabine State Bank, Texas Bank & Trust, Ward Animal Hospital, First Financial Bank, Panola County Processing, Shelby Veterinary Associates, Center Tire Company, Kay Ranch (Atwood & Paula Kay), Few Ready Mix, Dean’s Hardware, Bounds Insurance, Morrison Insurance Agency, Pup-N-Sudz, Chance & Julie David, Ace Hardware of East Texas, Toledo Finance Corp, Hopkins Wrecker Service, Harkness Litter Service, Donald & Lois O’Rear Farm, Cockrell Farms, Odessa Link, Link Charolais, Klein Cattle Company, Hammer Equipment, Toledo Automotive, Mike Parker for 123rd District Judge, 96 Equipment, Inc., JML Management, Ultra, Shoop Insurance/LPL Financial/Cash Now, Judge Charles Mitchell, Nix Forest Industries, Dr. Danny P. Windham, Farmer’s Insurance-Joe Bill Mettauer, Dairy Queen, Chris Mayfield State Farm, Dance Furniture., Center Glass, Jack’s Saw Shop, Ihlo Sales, Steel Building Supply, Running “M” Feed, Ross Sawmill & Lumber, McDonald & Sons, Charles & Anne Eades, Hudson Auto Parts, Tammy Steptoe Real Estate, Dr. Dixon Golden, Worsham Grocery, Payne’s Community News, Town & Country Real Estate, Hughes Florist, Hardy’s Machine Shop, Deuce & Kim Wulf, Joanne Shillings, Ronald Bogue-A Color Salon, Monco Motor Company, Billie Sue Payne (Payne’s Rentals).

Kaiden Buckley and Sucely Chaj Aguilar - Bonus Mile WalkersJanuary 29, 2016 - 680 Center Elementary students and staff dusted off their walking shoes and joined in to “Walk Across Texas.” The school formed 36 teams and competed with each other to see which team could walk the most miles over eight weeks from November 2015 – January 2016. Their goal was to walk at least 830 miles (the distance from Longview to El Paso) in eight weeks.

At the conclusion of the 8 week program, the teams walked an astounding 53,248 miles with Mrs. Cordray, Mrs. Radney, and Ms. Gipson’s classes placing first place for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. Second place teams included Ms. Cox, Mrs. Hooper, and Mrs. Gregston’s classes. Coming in third place was Mrs. Elder, Mrs. Masterson, and Ms. Lyles’s classes. All students were presented certificates of participation.

Over 50 students walked additional bonus miles outside of class and their names were placed in a drawing for a girl’s and boy’s bike which was donated by Center ISD Nutrition Department and Southwest Food Service Excellence. The winners of the bikes were Kaiden Buckley from Ms. Sullivan’s class and Sucely Chaj Aguilar from Mrs. Caraway’s class.

Special thank you to Mrs. Norvell, Center Elementary principal, Mrs. Bretos, Center Elementary PE teacher, Food Services, and the Center ISD School Health Advisory Committee for making this program a success.

Walk Across Texas, sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is a fun, flexible, and FREE way to encourage people to exercise. For more information on wellness, nutrition or fitness programs, call Jheri-Lynn McSwain, CEA-FCS at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Shelby County at 936-598-7744 or email at

1st Grade Top Walkers – Mrs. Cordray’s Class

2nd Grade Top Walkers – Mrs. Hooper’s Class

3rd Grade Top Walkers – Ms. Gipson’s Class

Submitted by Jheri-Lynn McSwain


December 4, 2015 - It’s a safe bet you probably had turkey for Thanksgiving and have been having some leftover turkey since then. While we all enjoy a turkey sandwich throughout the year, the turkey industry certainly enjoys the holidays. It is estimated that we eat just over 16 lbs. of turkey each year and the US produces about 6 billion lbs. each year.

Turkeys are native to North America. They are a type of poultry that belong to the order Galliformes, along with chickens. There are two species of wild turkey: the North American Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and the Central American Ocellated Turkey (M. ocellata).

Although domesticated over 500 years ago, it was only in the 20th century that turkeys were fully utilized for their meat. Prior to this, turkeys were selected for their plumage and exhibited in poultry shows. Turkeys were taken to Europe by the Spanish, who had found them as a favorite domesticated animal among the Aztecs. The Aztecs used turkeys as a source of protein (meat and eggs) and used the feathers for decoration.

The most common variety grown commercially is the Large White, but there are many other breeds of turkeys to choose from.

Turkeys used in breeding are raised to 28 weeks of age under environmentally controlled conditions. Controlling the length of daylight is extremely important. Breeder turkeys are never allowed more than 10 hours of light daily as they are growing so they are not prematurely stimulated to lay eggs. During the 28 weeks of grow-out, hens will grow to 24-30 lbs and eat about 102 pounds of feed. Males will grow to 50-70 pounds and eat over 200 pounds of feed.

Since natural mating puts the female at risk of injury commercial meat turkeys are all bred artificially. This is unique in the poultry industry. Toms are raised separate from the hens, semen is collected from the toms, and hens are artificially inseminated once every seven days depending on fertility rates. Females begin producing eggs around 28 weeks of age and will lay efficiently for 26 weeks. An average turkey breeder female will lay 100-130 eggs per laying cycle.

Poults (day old chicks) are placed in a rearing house where they are raised under environmentally controlled conditions. Ventilation of the turkey house is critical for controlling temperature and humidity in the grow-out house. Birds used solely for meat production are grown to different sizes depending on the market that they are meant to fill. On average, a hen turkey will consume around 35 pounds of feed and reach 14-20 pounds in 12-14 weeks. Toms will consume about 90 pounds of feed and reach 35-42 pounds in 16-19 weeks.

According to the most recent numbers I could find, US growers raise 248.5 million birds each year. And unless you had ham or some other fare, one of those birds was served at your Thanksgiving table.

Nutritionally, one serving of turkey has 291 calories, 13.6 g fat, 0 carbs, and just over 39 g protein. This makes turkey a relatively inexpensive source of protein, with more protein per gram than both chicken and beef, while remaining lower in fat and cholesterol than other meats. It also delivers vitamins and minerals, especially niacin, which facilitates the conversion of food into available energy, and Vitamin B6, which is important for the health of the nervous system. Turkey also has selenium, which is essential for proper thyroid and immune function.

Refrigerating and freezing the turkey from a few days ago is your choice - but it is recommended to refrigerate within 2 hours - use within 4 days - or freeze for up to 4 months. With store bought fresh turkey, you have 2 days to cook. And if you never got around to thawing and cooking your frozen turkey, you can keep it for 12 months in the freezer.

November 13, 2015 - As winter approaches, the days get shorter. We are cut back on the number of daylight hours we have to work outside. We probably each need to consider cutting back on our work activities so that we can spend time with friends and family during the holidays.

And I start getting calls on cutting back trees and shrubs. In general the dead of winter is a great time to cut back on most trees and shrubs. They are in their dormant stage and can take it quite well. If you are itching to start now, I’d encourage you to wait a little longer. These last waning days of autumn still give our perennial plants time to store up reserves in their roots. This storage of energy allows them to emerge strongly in the coming spring.

Typically I encourage folks to wait until after the holidays have passed before you do any serious pruning. Serious pruning can be defined as cutting back more than one third of a plant. Caretakers of the SFA arboretum taught me that you can typically cut back perennials by a third anytime during the growing season so long as you do not do so during time so great duress – such as in the middle of a drought. Many blooming plants will often re-bloom wonderfully with a light topping throughout the summer.

Winter pruning of most shrubs such as roses can be done anytime during the winter according to a regionally known horticulturalist, Felder Rushing. In Rushing’s excellent book, Tough Plants for Southern Gardens, he says there are really no rules across the board for pruning roses. He says to forget any specific rules you may have heard over the years and simply cut back all the stems of repeat blooming varieties by half!

Regarding landscape trees, let me first share some wisdom that I heard many years ago from renowned Dallas horticulturalist, Neil Sperry, “no plant absolutely has to be pruned.” A plant will grow naturally so long as it has water, sunlight and nutrients.

We choose to prune back trees and shrubs because a branch is in the way or because we simply desire a certain shape or perhaps more blooms.

So, what about the crepe myrtle? Crepe myrtles are beautiful plants that can be categorized as large shrubs or small trees. Many standard varieties can reach 20 feet, 25 feet or even 30 feet tall. If you desire a smaller variety, there are dwarf types that grow only to four feet and even miniatures that stop at one to two feet in height.

October 29, 2015 (Flyer) - As the year winds down and we start thinking about how to improve best management strategies for our cattle operations, weed control often comes to mind. There are several ways to improve pastures and control weeds. The most common two practices used in East Texas are mowing and spraying. There’s nothing better looking than a fresh mowed pasture after it has received a rain and it starts turning green but those weeds are still there and are utilizing the much needed rain.

Identifying and spraying weeds are excellent ways to improve pastures. Appling the herbicide at the correct rate and time can help eliminate those pesky weeds for the whole season. John Roach, a range and pasture specialist with Dow AgroSciences, will cover weed identification and make herbicide recommendations.

An underutilized way to help control weeds is through soil fertility. When the soil has the proper nutrients and the pH is between 6.2 and 7 the grass will be able to thrive. When you have a thick stand of grass you will have fewer weeds and also the grass will have a vigorous root system allowing it to handle drought and heavier stocking rates better. Dr. Leon Young, director of the SFA Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Lab will be presenting how to understand your soil test.

Private applicators and commercial applicators are required to have CEU’s to maintain and utilize the license. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Department of Agriculture are proposing changes to the CEU requirements and the cost of the license for these applicators. I will be presenting the proposed changes along with the current laws and regulations for these applicators. There will be 3 CEU’s offered at this program: 1 hour in General, 1 hour in Laws and Regulations and 1 hour in Integrated Pest Management.

So mark your calendars and come join as at the Community House for this beef and forage program on November 17th The meal starts at 5:30pm and the program at 6pm. Preregistration is $10 per person at the door is $20. Checks or money orders made payable to Youth Ag Fund. This program and meal are sponsored by Dow AgroSciences and Crop Production Services.

Lane Dunn is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Shelby County. His email address is

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

October 8, 2015 - We are writing to let everyone know that there will be a combined 4-H monthly meeting for the month of October. All three clubs, Center, Joaquin, and Shelbyville will have their meeting on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at the First Baptist Church, Felllowship Hall at 6:00PM in Center Texas.

We will be having a guest speaker at this meeting. Please make every effort to attend this meeting. We think that it will be a very informative meeting.

September 28, 2015 - Join over 591,000 young people in Texas in celebrating the many years of accomplishment and service the 4-H organization has provided during National 4-H Week slated for October 4-10, 2015.

Did you know that 4-H is the nation’s largest youth organization? Worldwide, there are over 6 million youth who participate. 4-H is in all 254 Texas counties, in all 50 states and in more than 80 countries. Over 591,000 of Texas young people are involved in 4-H. All you have to do is look at your local level to find young people taking the lead in addressing today’s challenges. In Texas, 4-H is a part of The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, a part of the Texas A&M University System. 4-H takes research-based information from the nation’s land-grant universities to youth in urban, small-town and rural communities. In Texas, 4-H is headquartered on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station.

Using the four-leaf clover for its emblem, each leaf carries an H. The four H's on the four-leaf clover stand for head, heart, hands and health. 4-H follows the philosophy of learning by doing. Youth develop life skills through hands-on projects that range from citizenship to expressive arts, communication to foods and nutrition, and leadership to science and technology. 4-H is for youth in grades 4 through 12. Youth can belong to 4-H individually or as members of clubs and groups. They can make new friends, visit new places, go on trips, attend workshops and conferences, host meetings and help their communities. 4-H is where young people explore, learn and discover in a safe environment. In 4-H, youth find their true passions, gain confidence and give back to their community. Celebrate 4-H as youth step up and take responsibility for their future and ours.

A National Positive Youth Development study shows that 4-Hers are nearly 5 times more likely to graduate from college, 4 times more likely to actively contribute to their community. 4-H members are also 3 times more likely to be physically active than non-4-H members and 2 times more likely to pursue a career in science, engineering or computers.

The 4-H program in Texas also is led by 29,996 volunteer 4-H leaders that serve and devote their time and talents to the youth of Texas!

Thanks for all you do to support and promote 4-H! For more information on the Texas 4-H program and how you can become involved at the local level, call the Shelby County Extension office at 936-598-7744.

Lane Dunn is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Shelby County. His email address is Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating

August 24, 2015 - Perhaps one of the more iconic trees growing next to older homes in east Texas is a fig tree. Figs are one of the first fruits planted by settlers. Figs are also mentioned numerous times in the Bible.

If you are looking for a great addition to your landscape that can be expected to produce, consider figs. When planted in a good location, figs can thrive and do exceedingly well for many years.

When choosing a site for figs, select an area that has sun for most of the day. Although figs can be grown in all types of soil, they do not tolerate poorly drained sites. Avoid sites and soils where water stands for more than 24 hours after a rain. In areas of poor drainage, roots receive insufficient oxygen, which results in stunted growth and eventual death of the tree.

If you already have a fig tree and it survived the water-soaked soil earlier this year, then you are probably in the clear.

There are three more commonly recommended varieties for this area. ‘Celeste,’ which is the most cold hardy, and is very productive. ‘Texas Everbearing’ is another common, hardy variety with large early fruit. ‘Brown Turkey,’ is another old favorite that does well. Some say it is the same variety as ‘Texas Everbearing’ and some say that it is similar but not the same variety. These last two can sometimes injured in freezes, but come back to bearing quickly.

Soil moisture must be managed carefully because most roots of the fig trees are close to the soil surface and can easily dry out. Figs are very susceptible to soil-borne nematodes that feed on small roots and reduce water movement into the tree. For these reasons, apply water to the trees as drought develops. Slight leaf wilting in the afternoon is a good indication of water stress.

Mulching with straw or grass clippings helps maintain uniform soil moisture and reduces weed competition for available soil water. Water stress frequently causes premature fruit drop of Texas fig varieties which do not have true seeds. This problem is very common in hot, dry areas when the fig tree is grown in shallow soil and roots are nematode infested.

Trees planted in shallow sites are subject to injury or death when the soil is saturated with water. Good water management, including regular irrigation and mulching, helps maintain tree health and vigor and reduces fruit drop.

Mature fig trees can produce approximately 50 pints of fig preserves each year depending on whether you preserve them whole or mashed.

Here is a great and easy fig jam recipe taken from So Easy to Preserve and the Cooperative Extension at The University of Georgia.

Fig Jam
2 quarts chopped fresh figs (about 5 pounds)
¾ cup water
6 cups sugar
¼ cup lemon juice

To prepare chopped figs – Pour boiling water over figs; let stand 10 minutes. Drain, stem and chop figs.
To make jam – Sterilize canning jars. Measure and add ¾ cup water and sugar to figs. Slowly bring to boiling, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly until thick. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add lemon juice and cook 1 minute longer. Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

August 14, 2015 - Wouldn’t it be great if this summer’s brutal summer heat could make a better vegetable garden next spring?

It can, with a seldom used practice called soil solarization.

Soil solarization is a simple, safe, and effective control of plant parasitic nematodes, soil borne plant pathogens (diseases), and some weed pests. It offers an alternative to some pesticides and the lengthy crop rotations now needed to control many damaging soil pests. In addition, this procedure may give good weed control in situations.

Radiant heat from the sun is the lethal agent involved in soil solarization. A clear polyethylene mulch is used to trap solar heat in the soil. Over a period of several weeks to a few months, soil temperatures become high enough to kill many of the damaging soil pests and weed seed to a depth of nearly 8 inches.

None of these pests will be eradicated from the treated area, but their numbers in the plow layer (top 6 to 8 inches) will be greatly reduced, allowing successful production of a crop.

The soil to be solarized must be worked up to seed-bed condition--that is, cultivated until it's loose and friable with no large clods or other debris on the soil surface. A garden tiller will eliminate clods or other debris that create air pockets that reduce heating of the soil and keep the tarp from fitting tightly over the soil surface. A clean, flat surface will also prevent the accidental puncturing of the thin plastic mulch by debris.

Make sure moisture levels are adequate for working the soil before laying the plastic tarp. If the soil is dry, water the areas to be solarized before laying the tarp. This is crucial because most soil pests are more sensitive to high temperatures in wet soil than in dry soil. When possible, lay a soaker hose or drip irrigation lines under the tarp to maintain moisture levels during soil solarization. Tarped raised beds may also be watered by flood-irrigating the adjacent furrows.

You can use any cheap plastic painting “drop cloth”. Using two layers of thin plastic sheeting separated by a thin insulating layer of air will increase soil temperatures and the overall effectiveness of a solarization treatment. The edges of the sheets must be buried or otherwise secured to prevent blowing or tearing of the tarp by the wind.

For effective solarization, the edges of tarps laid over raised beds must be buried in the adjoining furrows. Expect some increase in pest and weed problems along the edge of the stripped mulches. Do not cultivate solarized areas, because healthy weed seed will be brought to the soil surface.
Long, hot, sunny days are needed to reach the soil temperatures required to kill soil borne pests and weed seed. The longer the soil is heated, the better and deeper the control of all soil pests and weeds will be. During our hot summers, a solarization period of 4 to 6 weeks should be all that's needed to control nematodes and soil borne plant pathogens.

For those concerned about beneficial microbes, populations of beneficial, growth-promoting and pathogen-antagonistic bacteria and fungi quickly recolonize solarized soil, adding a biological control component to soil solarization.

Soil solarization will tie up land for a period of 1 to 3 months. If you have plans for a fall garden, this will definitely interfere. But the results of letting our hot summer work for you can be fantastic.