Managing Mud on the Farm
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Winter in Union County is often synonymous with mud season. It can feel like the ground will never get the chance to completely dry up. And if you have livestock that creates the perfect recipe for mud. Mud can be incredibly detrimental for animal health and farmer sanity. Conditions like mud fever, bacterial infections, and even physical injuries can result from a muddy pasture. Here are some tips for dealing with mud on the farm.
Adding gutters to barns and other structures can help direct water away from the barn and high traffic areas, thereby reducing the potential for mud. Installing drainage systems, such as a French drain system, can also help direct water away from barns and other structures.
Sometimes moving a feeder around the pasture or unrolling hay bales helps spread out the manure build up and damage from hooves across the pasture. This strategy can be useful if the pastures are in good enough condition you can get a tractor in the field and you have enough space to spread your animals out enough.
Root systems of plants help prevent mud in two ways. Roots take up water for the plant to utilize and roots provide stability to the soil structure. Managing your pastures well helps keeps those plants roots in place. This means it is very important to avoid overgrazing. Leaving the proper residual height after grazing will ensure your pasture stand keeps deep roots. This requires some form of rotational grazing to give pastures a break. It is also important that animals be kept off of extremely wet pastures. If you have low lying spots in your pastures where water accumulates, set up temporary fencing to exclude animals from these spots, rotate animals out of that pasture, or move them to a sacrifice area until it dries up again.
Sacrifice areas are a designated place where all the damage and mud is allowed to accumulate, sparing the rest of your pastures, or this space can have a high traffic/feeding pad installed, either as a portion of the sacrifice area or the entire space (like a horse exercise paddock).
Mud is most commonly an issue in high traffics areas such as around gates, feeders and waterers, or in sacrifice areas. Many producers will place gravel or sand in these areas in an attempt to provide some footing for their animals. This can provide temporary relief from the mud. But over time, the footing will eventually migrate into the soil and the issue will begin again.
A way to prevent this is build a high traffic pad. The high traffic area should be excavated down to a stable base layer of soil. Avoid low lying areas or slopes, which will erode the traffic pad more quickly. The site ideally should be graded at a 1% slope, but no more than 5% to encourage drainage away from the site. Then place a geotextile fabric down. This fabric has small pores that will allow water to pass through without letting soil particles through.
This provides extra stability to your footing and preserves it for a longer-term solution. The next layer will be crushed stone gravel. This layer needs to have larger pore sizes between particles for better drainage. Then a layer of fill sand or finer gravel on top can be added to help create good footing. These layers should be compacted down and then your high traffic pad will be ready for use. A publication by the University of Kentucky estimates that a high traffic pad like described here typically costs around $.80 per sq/ft.
Even though mud may seem inevitable with a very wet winter, there are ways to manage mud in a farm setting. Consider the time, cost, and resources required to select the best management strategy for your operation. If you need help coming up with a strategy to prevent mud on your farm, feel free to give me call at 704-238-7196 or email me at Rachel_owens@ncsu.edu.