Scratching Ain’t Polite

There’s a story I heard the other day, over at Sewell’s, about one of our Tennessee cousins having one of our other cousins from Texas to come and visit recently. It seems cousin Tex, who is very well off, climbed into the passenger seat of Cousin Harley’s old rusty pickup truck and headed out to take a look around at what was growing on the Tennessee rock farm that Harley is very proud to call his own. From the very beginning of the trip, Cousin Tex could only expound upon the size of his Texas holdings, and Cousin Harley was soon getting a total “fed-up-ness” of his proudness.  

When the truck went by a field of Jersey dairy heifers, Tex asked, “What are those?”  

Harley said very proudly, “Those are the best Jersey replacement dairy heifers you will find east of the Mississippi River. Their production history will be second to none.”  

“Why, we have deer on my ranch bigger than those under-fed things,” Tex said, as he puffed on a huge cigar.  

The truck now approached a large pond located between two beautiful green valleys that would be the envy of any good farmer. “What kind of fish do you have in that little mud hole,” Tex said with a snicker.  

“That’s my spring fed pond that provides water for our entire herd and has some of the largest bass you have ever seen in it,” Harley said, trying to out do his cousin.  

“Well, if that is all you can do, you need to build something larger,” Cousin Tex said. “If you were in Texas, you would have to fill it in due to it being a mosquito hazard.”  

Harley had just about had all that he could take, when, just as he made a turn onto the farm’s dirt road, he had to stop for a large snapping turtle sitting in the middle of the road. The turtle was a big one and about as mean looking as anything you had ever seen.  

“What in the world is that?” Tex asked, somewhat in a shocked manner.  

Harley saw his chance to win the “whose is bigger” contest, and said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. You act like you have never seen a Tennessee tick before.”  

With the current hot and dry weather we are having, Tennessee ticks may not have the chance to grow as large as the one Harley showed to his Texas cousin, but they are really hungry about now and looking for a meal. Tall grass and weeds are prime places to encounter their presence, so try to remain in paths, lanes and clearings. Yards can be kept clear of these unwanted visitors by mowing weekly. They carry dangerous diseases, and this time of the year, ticks are no laughing matter, so please take precautions.  

Another group of pests (without legs) gaining a lot of attention these warm days is poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. I have never experienced their itchiness and seem not to be allergic to urushiol oil, the sticky, resin-like substance found inside the plants. But, I do respect them and try to avoid handling them unless I have on gloves and long sleeves.  

Bayer Advanced, a business group of Bayer CropScience LP and part of the Bayer AG family, say that half the U.S. population is allergic to urushiol oil. But, they also say it’s not just the allergy to urushiol that’s a problem “” it’s how potent it is.  

They say it only takes 1 billionth of a gram of the oil to cause a rash. That’s not much oil to cause the distress that comes from it getting on your skin. One trip in the forest could cause 500 people to itch from the amount that would fit on the head of a pin. And, urushiol oil can stay active on any surface for up to five years, even on dead plants.  

The Bayer group says you can take control of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, before they take over your yard and farms, by keeping your lawn and fence line clear and trimmed, and cut back the undesirable plants to ground level every time you see green growth.  

There are brush killers in concentrate form available from Bayer that is a chemical alternative to chopping, that kills the brush down to the roots so it won’t come back. I have tried it and it does work. Some other brush killers kill back the vines but don’t kill the roots. Before you know it, you’re back spraying again.  

It even controls kudzu. If it will kill kudzu, the plant that ate the South, it will surely help get rid of the itchy stuff as well.  

Avoid the Tennessee ticks, kill out the plants that contain urushiol and enjoy an itch-free summer. Itching often comes at the most inopportune times and in the strangest places.  


Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at