More Q&A With Seth Nagy

— Written By and last updated by

There were some great questions that came into the Caldwell Extension Center this week. I’d like to share three interesting questions. I hope you find these questions and answers helpful.

Question: Over the weekend, lightning hit a large white pine on my property. What can I do for the tree?

Answer: Trees, because of their height, are natural lightning rods. Damage to the tree can be minimal or quite extensive.

tree struck by lightning

Lightning caused the damage to this white pine tree. Time will tell if the tree will survive.

The water, or sap, in a tree is a better conductor than wood. Lightning damage is related to where moisture is concentrated in the tree. If the tree is actively growing and the roots are sending water to the leaves, then the lightning strike will create an explosive separation of the bark. However, if the sap is down and there is more moisture in the center of the tree than under the bark, the explosive force will originate from the center of the tree and may cause extensive damage.

Damage from a lightning strike is sometimes not easily assessed. With some trees, the trunk is split to the center and the damage is obvious, and the tree must be taken down. Some trees die immediately from seemingly small external damage. Other trees will live on seemingly unfazed by the event.

If the bark is damaged from the lightning strike, it exposes the tree to damage from insects and diseases. If a tree survives a strike, it may have secondary problems in the future that need to be addressed.

I like to take a “wait and see” approach when possible. Large trees are not easily replaced, and I like to keep trees if possible. However, sometimes trees die and they have to be removed. Time will tell about this one.

Question: We have a heifer that calved. She had a big calf and we had to help pull the calf. Now the mother will not let the calf nurse. What can we do?

Answer: Heifers are young “cows” that have not had a calf, so heifers are going through the calving process for the first time. When the calving process is difficult, the heifer may associate the newborn calf with the discomfort of calving. For this reason, she may not want to let the calf get near her to nurse.

If this happens, the goal is to get the heifer to accept her calf. Bottle feeding is an option, but it is best to get the mother to do her job. The best and safest way to get the heifer to accept her calf is to restrain the mother and get the calf into position so it can nurse.

calf nursing

This first calf heifer was put in a head chute to give the calf an opportunity to nurse. Hopefully maternal instinct will take over form here on out.

To help the calf get started, milking the mother by hand and getting the milk on the calf’s nose can help. Once the calf starts nursing, often the mother quickly accepts the calf. However, sometimes the heifer will not accept her calf.

It is best to get the calf nursing within the first eight hours after delivery. This is so the first milk, called colostrum, can get into the newborn calf. Colostrum provides immunity from the mother to the calf. Colostrum is essential for the calf to live.

The calf will quickly lose its ability to absorb the antibodies through the gut lining. Although eight hours is the optimum time for antibody absorption, something is always better than nothing. Getting the calf to nurse is always the best choice. Long term, it is best for the heifer to take care of the calf.

Question: What is this grass?


Ryegrass is loved by cattle farmers and hated by wheat farmers.

Answer: This is annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum). Ryegrass is a cool-season annual grass that can be planted in the fall for harvest or grazing in the spring. The heat of the summer slows its growth and causes senescence or plant death. However, ryegrass is a prolific seed producer, and it may come back the following year.

Although cattlemen love ryegrass, it is a weed for wheat farmers. Ryegrass grows at the same time as wheat and other small grains such rye, oats, barley, and triticale.

Ryegrass has a very distinctive seed head as shown in the picture. I think it looks like a tractor tire tread pattern with the angle of the alternating seeds on the seed spike. Looking at the seed head is the easiest way to recognize this grass species.

Although ryegrass is a weed for wheat farmers, it does make excellent hay and forage for cattle. The best hay I’ve ever tested in Caldwell County was from a wheat field that was taken over by ryegrass. The farmer abandoned the wheat and baled the ryegrass, and I took a sample and sent it to the Forage Lab for testing. The hay was 13% protein and 77% digestible (TDN).

I guess this just confirms what is one person’s problem is another’s gift.

For answers to your agricultural questions, call the Caldwell County Extension Center at 828-757-1290 or visit us online anytime at