Finally, a good freeze for Ohio?

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mud

Merle Haggard had a song that went, “If we make it through December, we’ll be fine,” and that seems to be the summary for the last two months here in Noble County. Once we came out of rainy December days, we also left behind some of the muddy, and messy conditions that producers had to deal with. 

Now, here in mid-January, we’re happy to have some bitterly cold nights and days, which have led to frozen ground, which make feeding a bit easier and more manageable in general. 

But with temperatures varying from zero to 45 degrees each day, can we expect the hardened topsoil to last, and what are some strategies to keep soil healthy, by keeping an armor on the soil, and not allowing erosion issues to take root? 

Movement

When the ground is compacted from the use of heavy farming equipment traveling on it while wet, plant roots can struggle to break through the hardened soil, often leaving soil bare and vulnerable. Bare soil can lead to erosion and soil break down over time. This can all add up to a serious problem that takes a lot of time, and money to remedy. 

To avoid causing this type of obstacle, operators can change tracks or paths that they utilize to access fields, hay storage or barns. Even if it means moving over, just the width of a tire, or changing the field access path completely, this tactic may be enough to help when the slime of just thawed ground can cause real lasting issues. 

Just a simple change in travel patterns can help save the armor on your soil, and avoid compaction that can lead to erosion and soil degradation. 

Permanent infrastructure

There are ways to handle winter feeding, in a more permanent manner, like installing a heavy use pad and an access road. These are both common strategies used by the Natural Resource Conservation Service and can be highly effective for protecting the soil, by giving a more manageable and long-term solution for field access and winter feeding. 

Heavy use pads can be made of heavy stone, or concrete, and are underlined with geotextile fabric to keep weeds from growing up through, and stone from sinking. Heavy use pads can be scraped clean of manure and reused for several years, especially if they are placed in an area where water can flow off and away from them, to help support their longevity. 

The same idea is true of stone access roads; they allow tractors and other heavy equipment to go through an area without creating ruts and slips along the way. 

Management

While these couple of practices may seem like a magic fix, producers should still consider what they are going to do for manure management with this system, and the cost versus benefit aspect of this install. 

The key to mud management is integral in how each producer operates their own place because we know that mud can affect the gains and the health of all livestock animals. Every producer out there has a different way of handling winter feeding. Some use sacrifice feeding areas, some have heavy use pads and access roads, while others unroll round bales in pastures, or feed from bale rings. 

While no one management strategy will fit every producer, we all know that weather affects us all, and sometimes solutions can be similar across several operations. If you find yourself in a place of needing some advice, or wanting some ideas on a particular system, practice or design, be sure to reach out. 

Folks at your local soil and water conservation district, extension educators, and NRCS personnel would love to help you while protecting our natural resources. The advice doesn’t cost a thing, but it could save a lot of your soil!

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Jessie Radcliff is the agricultural and natural resources technician for Noble Soil and Water Conservation District. She can be reached at jessie@nobleswcd.org or 740-732-4318.

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