3 tips for reducing mud during the spring thaw

This week, much of the national media attention has been focused on Snowpocalypse 2015, or Snowmaggedon -- a massive blizzard that was predicted to hit New York City but didn't materialize, though Boston took a good beating. Meanwhile, back on the ranch in South Dakota, we’ve been enjoying balmy, spring-like weather with sunshine and 50-degree weather.

Typically in January, we in the Dakotas are battling freezing temperatures, snow, ice and wind, so it’s rare to have to worry about mud in the middle of winter in my neck of the woods. Nevertheless, these warm temperatures have thawed some of the frost in the ground, and our lots are looking a little sloppy these days.

“Mud causes lots of problems for cattle and cattle producers, including loss of feed nutrients from hay, calf scours, calving losses, etc. But, perhaps a bigger issue is the effect that winter feeding can have on your pastures,” says Roy Burris, University of Kentucky (UK) Beef Extension professor. “Isn't it time that you and your cattle quit slogging through the mud?”

 

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In a recent column in Ohio State University’s Beef Cattle Newsletter, Burris offers the following tips for managing mud during the winter months, using examples from UK’s Princeton cow-calf station.

1. Consider installing hay feeding pads.

Burris says hay feeding pads allow cattle from different pastures to access hay, and bales of hay can be added as needed. Plus, the pads can be scraped off and the manure and mud spread on pastures. He says it’s best to locate these facilities near all-weather roads for easy access and minimal pasture damage.

The benefits of using a hay-feeding pad or a rotational grazing structure include a reduction in environmental impact, and saving energy, labor and fuel. Plus, hay wasted can be decreased, pastures protected, and manure management improved.

READ: “Strategic winter feeding of cattle using a rotational grazing structure” by Steve Higgins and Sarah Wightman, UK Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and Jeff Lehmkuhler, UK Animal and Food Sciences

2. Cover areas around feedbunks with geotextile fabric and crushed rock.

At the Princeton facility, concrete feed troughs are used for silage and concentrate feeding. Burris says, “The concrete troughs are conveniently located by farm roads for minimal pasture damage and ease of delivery. Be sure to have adequate bunk space for the number of cattle that will utilize it, and an adequate area that is covered with geotextile fabric and rock around the bunks.”

3. Pour cement around waterers.

Pouring cement around electric waterers and stock tanks seems like common sense, but a common mistake is making the concrete pad only large enough for the cattle to stand on with their front feet. Doing so, doesn’t eliminate mud from building up where cattles' back legs stand, so the high-traffic area of the waterers still gets muddy.

Burris says, “Frost-free waterers will help control the problems with the water supply freezing up. However, mud can be a problem around the waterers, too. If you pour a concrete pad or prepare an area of filter fabric and rock, be sure the area is wide enough for the length of a cow and not just their front feet.”

Obviously, mud can’t be completely avoided, so I don’t plan to throw away my muck boots any time soon. However, there are many ways to reduce mud around the ranch, and that translates into less stress on cattle, people and equipment.

How do you manage for mud in your operation? Share your tips in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

 

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