Clear as Mud

Mud is a problem for cattle; it slows and complicates feeding, exposes herds to greater pathogen loads, and can increase their energy requirements if it mats down their hair coat. Mud increases the probability of nutrient runoff, impairing the environment and losing fertilizer nutrients that are needed on the farm.

The infrastructure solution. Adding concrete feeding structures and other all-weather surfaces can minimize or reduce mud. Installing heavy use pads using filter fabric, rock and limestone is also very helpful. Disadvantages include cost, difficulty in having enough area for larger groups of livestock, and the need to scrape and handle manure that has to be reapplied to fields. To get more information on these options, google ‘UKY all weather surfaces.’

The feeding solution. Feeding methods can be altered to reduce mud. Unrolling round bales moves the hoof traffic around the farm, but generates more waste than other methods. Bale unrolling will spread manure and urine over a larger area than with ring feeders or feeding structures.

A feeding practice that is gaining in utility for some Kentucky producers is bale grazing. This feeding method places bales across the feeding area in late fall. Temporary fencing is placed around these bales to allow allocating this forage to livestock as needed over the winter.

The forage solution. Maintaining heathy vigorous stands of grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue for overwintering areas will help. Bluegrass is a sod-former and the foliage of tall fescue resists the weathering that happens with orchardgrass. Grass stands managed for well-managed residual heights will have greater root volume in the soil to support hoof traffic.

The re-seeding method. Farm layout and management needs often mean some fields are torn up every year. To bring these fields back into some level of production, consider reseeding with temporary forages.

Perennial and annual ryegrass provide short term options that are quick to establish and relatively inexpensive. Annual ryegrass will establish very quickly and is inexpensive; however annual ryegrass will only survive to mid-summer. Perennial ryegrass survives two seasons but is a bit more costly and slightly slower to establish. Unlike other cool season grasses, ryegrasses can be broadcast on top of the ground and will still germinate and take root if rains are consistent. Even when overseeding ryegrass, dragging is recommended. Use 25 to 30 pounds of seed per acre at a minimum.

mudCrabgrass can be seeded with ryegrass or alone if the seed will be lightly covered after broadcasting. These seed will lie dormant in the soil until the warmer weather of late spring. Crabgrass will provide grazing late into the summer, given good emergence and strategic applications of nitrogen.

Calling these ‘solutions’ is a bit of an overstatement. But infrastructure, feeding methods, forage management and even reseeding are tools to help deal with mud.

Happy foraging.

~ Dr. Jimmy Henning, reprinted from The Farmer’s Pride.