As beneficial as soil is, even we conservationists have a hard time extolling its virtues when spring rains turn farms to mud and the cows are standing in it up to their knees.
As every farmer knows, areas where animals are concentrated compacts the soil, destroys vegetation and leads to erosion and runoff. One of the most often used and economical best management practices we design for livestock operations are heavy-use areas (feeding/watering, loafing/exercise areas and travel lanes) that utilize geotextile fabric.
The installation of geotextile fabric combined with limestone can help provide a proper surface that animals, humans, vehicles and equipment can travel on, and can also provide erosion control benefits.
Simply put, geotextiles are synthetic material which allows water to move through but keeps soil and gravel separate. By keeping soil and gravel separated, the fabric improves the stability, load bearing capacity, and drainage of the site.
Geotextile fabric is easy to work with and to install. SWCD technicians can help provide technical assistance, but the basic steps are to clear and grade the area, trench the perimeter of the area and secure the ends of the fabric with stone and place limestone on the fabric after its been installed.
We recommend a topcoat of finer stone that will fill in the cracks if livestock will be using the area. This adds to their comfort, since it is easier on their hooves. Since geotextile fabric provides separation between soil and gravel, or other earthen materials, the annual addition of gravel is usually not necessary as with conventional driveways and farm roads.
If the area where the geotextile fabric was installed receives manure, it can be scraped periodically with a skid loader, but stone may have to be added periodically to maintain the original depth.
Another great practice is stream crossings, where the bed of the stream is improved with geotextile fabric and limestone, and the passage is fenced to minimize crossing options to the improved area.
In Holmes County, our technician has estimated the cost of installing a heavy use pad to be between $.95 and $1.35 per square foot. The initial cost will be offset by the amount of limestone saved, not to mention the improvement to animal health and operator disposition from not fighting mud.
The fabric should function for 10 years or more. Cost-share may be available through the USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Improvement Program. Contact your local NRCS/SWCD office for more information.
In addition to livestock use, this fabric is also great for driveways, in landscaping and even under play areas for the kids. Last year, Holmes SWCD sold more than 5,800 running feet of geotextile fabric. We stock three different widths — 15 feet, 12.5 feet and 7.5 feet.
If your county’s SWCD does not sell geotextile fabric, they should be able to tell you where to buy it.
Holmes SWCD will be making presentations about heavy-use pads and other practices using geotextile fabric at the North Central Ohio Dairy Grazing Conference Jan. 26 at the Buckeye Event Center in Dalton, and at the Trail Supply Open House/Holmes SWCD Update meeting Feb. 7. Contact Holmes SWCD at 330-674-2811 for more information.