Fall is here, and forage growth will slow down dramatically soon. When the grass stops growing, problems with mud get worse.
Areas around waterers and locations where hay will be fed are not going to hold up well to traffic when the forages are not able to heal those areas. Muddy conditions will tend to get worse until the ground freezes or spring comes. Now is the time to look over the areas that have been an issue in the past and consider options for improvement.
It is easy to see the lasting effects of damage to forages in these areas well into the next grazing season. We can also observe problems with soil erosion and the effects on water quality. In addition, many research studies have documented the long-term impacts on livestock housed in muddy conditions.
Research conducted at Ohio State in 2019 showed that pregnant cattle housed in muddy conditions during their third trimester needed 20% more energy to maintain themselves compared to those in non- muddy conditions. This is due to the reduced insulating ability of wet, mud-covered hair, as well as the energy needed to walk through the mud. Often it is not possible to provide enough additional energy with hay and a supplement will be needed. In many cases, these animals will lose body condition which can delay their ability to breed back early in the next season.
We do have some options to reduce mud. Bale grazing by setting out bales when the pasture is dry and then moving fences to make bales available as needs could be an option. Another possibility is unrolling bales in rotating locations to keep animals from congregating in small areas for extended periods of time. In some situations, these alternatives may not be great options. Unrolling bales without the aid of a hill or unrolling attachment can be a good fitness exercise but could also end in a strained back or heart attack.
Heavy Use Pad
For locations, such as around stationary waterers or feeders, a heavy use pad may be a great alternative. While heavy use pads can be made from concrete, many people take the less expensive route of using geotextile fabric and gravel. This type of pad will not be as durable as a concrete pad but can be a relatively low-cost choice that will reduce the amount of mud and its associated problems.
Heavy use pads should be constructed with a slight slope of about 1/4 inch per foot to help water drain away. Greater slopes could result in water running fast and eroding the surface of the pad. The geotextile fabric is water permeable but drainage away from the pad is important to maintain a solid base. The pad should be large enough to extend 12 feet beyond a waterer or feeder to allow space for animals to move while staying on a solid surface.
The area for the pad should have the topsoil removed and be graded with the slight slope mentioned above. Any wet areas should be eliminated, or they will create problems when placing the stone on top of the fabric. Geotextile fabric is placed on the graded soil. The fabric will typically come in 12-to-15- foot widths. When multiple pieces are needed for cover, overlapping the pieces by 2 feet is recommended.
Coarse ground stone is placed on top of the fabric. Using #53 or #57 stone works well as it has a variety of shapes and sizes and will pack together. This layer should be 6 inches thick and should be well packed.
Finally, about 2-3 inches of screenings or other finely crushed stone should be added to make a smooth surface for the animal’s feet. This should also be well packed.
Heavy use pads are not the same as concrete surfaces. They are not designed to hold up to aggressive scraping. It is OK to leave some residue on the pad when cleaning it off. Occasionally finely crushed stone additions should be made to extend the life of the pad.
With proper construction and care a heavy use pad can provide many years of relief from muddy conditions. For more information, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service has detailed plans for construction.
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