Mud management will be key again in 2019

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As we prepare for the New Year, it is no secret that 2018 was a tough one for farmers and livestock producers. Coming out of 2018 with rainfall reaching historic highs, there was no escaping the fact that if you were a farmer you had to deal with “mud.”

Now, while every farmer worth his salt has had to deal with inclement weather on countless occasions, it does not make it any easier, when the weather does turn from the mild temperatures and moderate rainfall that we are used to in Ohio, to what some felt was something closer to biblical proportions.

So for many farmers, 2018 was the year of “mud,” and will not be greatly missed. While many farms may have a plan of action of what to do when they are running short of hay or lack of water during drought-stricken years, many farmers don’t think about how they can best prepare for excessive rainfall situations.

Mud management

Mud management is something that slips many farmers minds but is something that everyone should consider. From creating ruts in pasture and crop field to foot problems and severely decreased rate of gain in livestock, mud can have a severally negative impact on your farming operations.

Excessive mud can cause livestock stress leading to decreased weight gain which affects a producer’s bottom dollar. There are many ways to help combat against the rising water levels and deepening mud, some of which may work better than other given a farmers particular situation.

Working areas/alleyways

Working tubs and alleyways by nature are high traffic areas for livestock that can create quite a mess. One way to help avoid creating a bog is to consider using geo-textile fabric with stone on top.

This will help create a more solid bottom that will allow livestock to be worked without the fear of tearing up the ground too badly. If you’re looking for a quicker and cheaper alternative, you can simply apply some type of bedding, such as wheat or rye straw, to help “firm” up the ground.

Using straw

Simply apply the bedding and allow it to sit for a period of time allowing it to solidify into the soil. The advantage of simply using straw is that it can be removed with a loader and applied to fields as fertilizer once the working area has dried out.

Pastures and Sacrifice Lots: Managing pastures in years of heavy rainfall can be challenging to say the least. With excessive rainfall comes excess mud and is unavoidable. Pastures can become severely damaged during periods of heavy rain by grazing livestock on the landscape.

One way to alleviate this risk is to either move livestock through pastures quicker to avoid days on pasture or consider building a heavy use area. A heavy use area (HUA) is a designated feeding/ confinement area that allows pastures to rest during times of inclement weather, therefore keeping livestock off of pastures to avoid damage.

An HUA is a fenced off area that’s sole purpose is to confine livestock to a specific area, usually constructed of either a gravel or concrete pad that allows the farmer to feed and care for the livestock without fear of damaging the area.

If an HUA is not possible, having a designated “sacrifice” lot can allow farmers to designate one or two fenced areas that save the rest of pastures from further damage, usually located near the farm headquarters.

The location allows the farmer to travel a short distance to care for the livestock without damaging other pastures by driving across them. These “sacrifice” lots serve their purpose but will require some management in the spring, through tilling and seeding back to grasses.

Using a hay ring

A popular way of feeding hay on pasture is to feed out of a round bale feeder or “hay ring.”

While this does offer a quick and easy solution to feeding, during periods of heavy rainfall it can create quite a mess. Livestock gather around the feeder for most of the day feeding and can unintentionally create a belly-deep mud bog if not managed properly.

One solution is to move the hay rings more frequently and feeding on hills avoiding low lying areas that likely to be saturated. Another solution is to “roll out” the hay instead of feeding in a hay ring. This simulates a more natural grazing pattern and keeps livestock moving through an area.

One of the benefits of rolling out hay is that it doesn’t damage the soil to the extent feeding hay out of a hay ring because livestock are not standing in one place for an extended period of time. It can also help to return organic matter back into the soil by distributing the forage over the pasture and with the help of the livestock incorporating the forage and animal waste into the soil.

With all the obstacles farmers have to face, being better prepared for excessive rainfall and having a proper management plan, could be the difference between managing a farm with mud, and having a mud farm.

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