March Madness calls for prep changes


March Madness is among us!

Many people have filled out their NCAA college basketball brackets and are watching as the crazy results tumble in, while others are looking at their farms and wondering what happened.

Farmers want to know when better weather is going to stay for good, rather than just visit like an out of town relative. This winter has been one of the most unpredictable and erratic of recent memory.

Little did we know that one day it would be 50 degrees and sunny, then next we would have a Winter Weather Advisory and looking at 5 inches of snow in our yards. And, yes, I’m talking about middle to late March.

Long winter

Nobody saw this winter lasting for as long as it has. Several farms are still feeding hay and for good reason. The forage in the fields has not yet had a chance to flourish due to cold weather and snow.

Some cattle are still kept on sacrifice paddocks and fed hay. Those sacrifice paddocks can become a muddy mess and a health hazard for livestock over time. The livestock may still be getting hay to eat, but they are burning up a ton of energy walking and even just trying to stand in extremely poor conditions.

Manure is also an issue in the sacrifice paddocks. I know that sacrifice paddocks are not meant to look pretty, they are just meant to get the job done, but there is a point in time where enough is enough and you just have to get the livestock out of there. If you don’t, your livestock will be walking, laying, and even eating their hay, in manure. Not by choice!

This extended winter has also created some ‘madness’ for producers who have had some early spring calving. With the weather the way it has been, it has been hard on producers that do not have the winter style setup for calving.

Some are being kept outside in the combination of frigid cold temperatures, higher than normal winds and heavy snow, an obvious problem for producers who were expecting mid 50s and at most rain to deal with.

Muddy conditions can also pose a big problem as the newborns have to attempt to take their first steps in knee high muck. The ground then freezes due to these crazy cold temperatures and creates ruts and holes that make it very dangerous for cattle to walk.

A winter that is pushing its way through March should raise some concerns if you are having not only the problems that were mentioned above, but others that may have been caused by this weather.

Several questions

There are several questions that must be answered so that you can properly plan for next year. Do you have extremely muddy conditions? Do you have forage ready for the livestock to eat? Did you store or buy enough hay to deal with these conditions?

Did you use a sacrifice area? If so, what are the conditions of that area? Did you have some early spring calves? If so, do you have the proper set up for them in these harsh conditions?

These are just a few of many questions that need answered to be successful next year. What can you do to fix or correct the problems you are facing today for next year? Prepare. Be ahead of the game. Look at what could happen and not at what should happen.

Changing your strategy to counteract the problems you are having this year is essential for future success. Plan ahead, with additional amounts of hay and feed, just in case you cannot release livestock into the paddock rotation on time.

Implement a Heavy Use Pad in the feeding area so that livestock are not struggling to stand while they are eating. If you put in a concrete HUP, you will be able to scrape the manure and mud to keep it clean for access. You can move livestock out of the sacrifice paddocks and start the rotation at a quicker speed and feed hay if adequate forage is not available.

Extra hay

This is where planning to have extra hay comes in. The quicker rotation will prevent too much damage to the paddocks in the rotation, while getting the cattle out of the sacrifice paddock so that it may start to recover. These are just a few suggestions to think about for next year’s planning.

When spring calving, sometimes those calves decide to come a little early. When planning for the combination of early spring calving and an extended crazy winter, some things to look at are having a separate area to move calves and mother to, especially if livestock are all kept on one sacrifice paddock.

Having some sort of protection from the harsh weather and hazardous conditions of the sacrifice paddock will be beneficial. Broken legs and pelvis are all too common. Having a form of shelter for the livestock, whether it is a wind break with trees, a valley area or a built structure would be advantageous.

A built structure such as a barn would be useful as it could serve for multiple uses, such as hay storage, then by the time March comes around a majority of the shelter would be open for other usage.

Ball in your court

There are many ways to run a farm, so remember, all of these are just suggestions on possible improvements so that March Madness doesn’t sneak up on you again in the future. Now that some of you have seen the results of not planning ahead, the ball is in your court to prepare for next year.


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Jason Tyrell is Agricultural Resource Specialist for the Guernsey Soil and Water Conservation District. He’s a graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in agricultural business management.



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