Well, that time of year is almost upon us. You know what these coming winter months mean — greasy, slimy, aggravating mud. It makes a mess of your tractor, your livestock, and occasionally, you may have to rescue one of your boots from its miry clutches.
So how do you handle this part of our winters and how it affects your pastures? I know many of us would love to see 20-degree days all winter long so that the ground stays frozen and we could graze stockpiled forage or haul round bales out to the fields without the muddy mess.
Not that easy
Unfortunately, it is never that easy, so surviving the winter without destroying our pastures takes some management.
If you keep your livestock near a barn or building during the winter it is important to consider how the roof runoff from any these buildings is handled.
There should be gutters and downspouts running to a suitable outlet in order to keep clean water clean and away from the area where the livestock will be.
If not, this water will just add to the complications of mud management.
Deal with mud
One way to deal with mud is to confine the muddy area to one paddock, referred to as a sacrifice paddock. While you and your livestock still have to deal with the mud, it is better than destroying all of the pastures on your farm.
When utilizing this option, you must choose your location wisely. If at all possible, choose a somewhat level, well-drained area that is positioned well away from drainage areas, streams, ponds or ditches.
Public perception is also important to consider when choosing a location. Having this area right next to your neighbor’s house or right next to the road might result in poor neighbor relations.
One last thing to consider if you go this route is the work that will most likely be needed to smooth the area out and reseed it in the spring in order for it to become productive again.
Another option that is commonly used to manage muddy areas is a heavy use pad. These are pads used for feeding livestock and are constructed of gravel or concrete. Sometimes access roads are built in conjunction with these pads to provide a solid pathway for equipment to travel to the pad.
Typically the livestock are not locked on the pad area for the entire winter. Stockpiled grass or hay is fed in the pastures when the ground is frozen and not susceptible to damage, while hay is fed on the pad when the ground is soft and could be damaged by livestock and tractor travel.
Proper use and management of heavy use pads is essential to make them a worthwhile practice for your operation. If left unmanaged and unmaintained you will still end up with a muddy mess.
Proper use of a heavy use area:
Animals should not be locked on or restricted to the pad except during extremely wet periods.
Excess feed and manure buildup should be removed when it impairs the function of the heavy use area.
The area around and leading to the heavy use pad should be maintained in order to prevent erosion or rutting due to animal or tractor access to the pad.
A sod area must be maintained around and downhill of the pad at all times.
Proper maintenance of a heavy use area:
A concrete heavy use area is designed to be scraped or cleaned three or more times a year. Concrete should hold up to these frequent cleanings without damage to the pad.
A gravel heavy use area is designed to be scraped or cleaned about three times a year. More frequent scrapings will decrease the life of the pad.
Avoid spinning tires or short radius turns which may create depressions in the access area to the pad.
Ensure that the pad is smooth and is draining well. Do not allow built up manure to confine water on the surface of the pad. For gravel heavy use pads — after scraping or cleaning, compact loose aggregates with at least one pass over the surface with tractor tires.
Maintain any drainage features near the pad to prevent runoff onto the pad.
Add bedding as needed to help solidify the manure and provide a better situation for the livestock.
Remove the manure from the pad as needed in order to prevent runoff of manure from the pad during a rain or snow event.
Repair any damaged areas adjacent to the pad or enlarge the pad following the original engineering plans for the pad installation.
Inspect haul roads and approaches to and from the protection area frequently to determine the need for stone or other stabilizing materials and repair roads as needed.
A healthy area of sod must be maintained in the area around the pad to filter and trap sediment and pollutants, bare areas should be reseeded or filled with gravel as needed.
Manure will be removed from the pad when the accumulation is enough to create a risk of runoff or cause a limitation for the livestock.
Apply manure to areas of the farm that are both low in fertility and provide a low risk of runoff to nearby streams or ditches.
If you need assistance with managing your pastures, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office. Natural Resources Conservation Service offers conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program which provides agricultural producers with cost-share for heavy use pads and other conservation practices. The 2010 ranking period for Environmental Quality Incentives Program will take place mid-February, so apply now.