Is mud costing your farm money?

Winter always seems to create unique challenges with livestock. From keeping ice off the water troughs to providing feed with enough nutrients to maintain the animal’s needs, each year seems to be different.

On the other hand, one thing that seems to occur every year is a time period dealing with mud. Late winter is the time of year mud really creates problems for farmers and livestock in Ohio.

Managing mud

Mud increases stress for the livestock and the farm manager. The way you manage, or don’t manage, muddy conditions affects your livestock’s performance and may have a big impact on damaging forages in your pastures.

Smith (1971) reported that cattle in frequent deep mud could require 30 percent more net energy for maintenance requirements than normally needed.
A University of Nebraska study (1991) found nearly identical results. The National Research Council (1981) reported that small amounts of mud (4-8 inches deep) can reduce feed intake 5-15 percent, while larger amounts of mud (12-24 inches deep) could reduce feed intake 15 to 30 percent.

Couple these together and you see how performance (maintaining/gaining weight or milk production) can quickly be lost.
This amount is hard to calculate, but it is a cost producers are paying for even if they don’t realize it. Are you losing enough to pay for a feed pad you are not building?

Forage plants damage

Mud seems to appear when there is no longer stockpiled forage left to graze and we feed hay in round bale feeders. The worst time occurs when ground that has been frozen begins to thaw. This is when conditions get ugly in a hurry. It is also a time when damage to forage plants in pasture feeding areas happens quickly.

Livestock movement around bale feeders can causes significant damage to forage plants and their root systems, but hauling hay through soft fields can also cause a lot of damage. Four wheel drive tractors may even make problems worse because now we don’t get stuck and the ruts get deeper and more widespread.

Use foresight

Rutting fields with tractors may be eliminated, or at least greatly reduced, if producers use foresight and place bales while the ground is dry or frozen enough to support the tractor and bale weight.

Place bales in rows with adequate spacing (usually 20 feet or more on centers) to allow movement around the bale once the ring is in position. One strand of electrified polywire or polytape can be used to keep cows out until a bale or row of bales are used.
Provide a one- to three-day supply for the number of livestock being fed. Then move rings accordingly to help keep mud to a minimum.

Calves can also benefit when bales are preset. By placing your hot wire in the top position on step-in posts young calves will move through under the wire to lie in clean areas next to unfed bales.

These areas tend to be drier, provide a wind break and reduce the amount of time calves lay next to bale rings where they may be stepped on by cows.

Divide livestock

Dividing livestock into smaller groups and using multiple bale rings can have advantages too if more than one water source is available or if you can split a tank so two groups can have access. Boss cows and older large cows often push timid smaller cows away from hay rings.

This additional activity causes more tracking around bale feeders. Grouping animals accordingly can reduce some of this conflict and allows the farm manager to feed better quality hay, if necessary, to animals that still have additional growing requirements and need a higher level of nutrition.

Reducing mud conditions

Muddy conditions at livestock watering areas or feed bunks also have negative effects on livestock production. Geotextile based pads and lanes can be installed to reduce or eliminate some of these muddy conditions. Properly located heavy use feed pads is another way to reduce the effects of the mud and maintain livestock performance.

Everyone’s feeding situation is different on their farm, but we all have to deal with mud it seems. Reducing muddy conditions can result in increased animal performance, improve profits and cause less stress for producers. Undamaged forage plants can grow better root systems and produce more forage. Reducing mud helps control erosion so topsoil remains on the farm.

Are you adequately controlling mud on your farm?

About the Author

The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Monroe County, Ohio. More Stories by Mark Landefeld

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