Cloth and stone: Geotextile fabric, rock layers build solid heavy use pad reputation

SALEM, Ohio – Heavy use pads do what their name suggests: protect heavily used areas. They can reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and improve aesthetics around the farm.
“Nobody likes to see cattle or livestock in mud up to their knees,” said Pete Conkle, district program coordinator for the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District.
Putting one in may be easier than you think.

Ideal situation
Livestock heavy use pads are designed for use no more than 30-45 days per year, Conkle said.
Don’t expect the pad to hold up with constant traffic. The ideal situation for a livestock operation is to feed on the pad and expect the animals to loaf in another area.
Plan for about 70 square feet of pad per cow or horse, Conkle said.

Siting
A pad doesn’t have to sit on level ground, but needs a firm foundation. Choose an area that’s not in a floodplain, and avoid low-lying areas when possible.
Some plans might also require surveying to determine slopes and whether fill dirt is needed.

Construction
Construction includes excavation to scrape away topsoil or organic matter. The base layer of a heavy use pad is the hardpan.
The second layer is a sheet of geotextile fabric made of polypropylene fibers. The fabric separates the soil underneath and gravel above, increasing the stability of the ground and drainage of the site.
“A lot of guys dump tons and tons of gravel in a wet spot and it all disappears. The fabric keeps that from happening,” Conkle explained.
The fabric spreads surface weight more evenly, making the pad durable enough to support livestock of any size as well as tractors and other farm equipment.
The third layer of the pad is 6 to 8 inches of limestone, typically grade 304.
The final layer is a load of screenings, which create what Conkle calls a sacrifice pad. The layer is just 2 to 3 inches deep.

Cost
The estimated cost of a heavy use pad – siting, excavation, materials and labor – is $1 per square foot.
“When you figure the amount of stone or concrete you’d use [to fill an area without a pad], this works out to be a fairly cheap option,” Conkle said.
The 2002 farm bill set aside money for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, commonly known as EQIP, that can help farmers pay for the installation of a heavy use pad.
Conkle said farmers can apply for the federal cost-share dollars through their county conservation district, and qualifying farmers can receive 50 percent of the cost of their project.
In Ohio, more than $10 million has been allocated for EQIP in 2005.

Maintenance
Heavy use pads should be scraped clean with a front-end loader to avoid build-up of manure, hay and other materials.
If the sacrifice layer wears too thin and scraping breaks through to the rocky layer, it’s time to patch and replace. Regular maintenance should take place every three to four years, Conkle said.
Each is designed with an estimated life of 10 years, but Conkle said proper construction and care can pay off.
“If you take care of that top layer and manage it right, I think it can last the lifetime of a farm,” he said.

Good things
In the three years Conkle has been in his position, the district has coordinated and installed at least 12 heavy use pads in the county.
He said he’s never heard a bad word from any of the farmers who have made the investment. In fact, he likes the idea so much he uses one at home.
“[The pads is] a real win-win for livestock, farmers and the environment. You’ll have less soil erosion, runoff, sediment and manure problems,” Conkle said.
“I can’t see why anyone would go without one.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)
Learn more:
Ohio Natural Resources Conservation Service Web site
www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov
Search “livestock heavy use area”

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

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