Everyone knows it – winter is coming. That means buying extra feed, doing chores in bulky coveralls, breaking ice on water troughs, and dealing with mud.
While producers might hope mud problems can be reserved for rainy spring seasons, the sad truth is winter mud is just as sure as the temperature change. The best defense farmers have against cold, wet mud that causes many livestock health and hygiene problems is management.
Many producers frequently move cattle to new ground during the warmer months when pasture growth is abundant, but once the grass growth slows or stops, this management practice can fall by the wayside.
Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri-Extension, urges producers to keep the cattle moving year-round.
“The mud issue requires constant management. This involves moving cattle to as well of a drained area as you can find,” he said. “We’re thankful for rocks at certain times of the year, and hills,” he went on to say since both of these geographical components of the Ozarks can help keep mud from accumulating. It’s also important to move your feeders, not just your stock.
“Move feeding locations so bale rings do not get mud accumulation around them,” advised Cole.
A well-bedded area offers cattle an attractive place to lay and rest, and provides a barrier against mud, as opposed to housing cattle on bare dirt. This is especially important for younger calves.
“Provide creep areas for young calves so they can rest in a dry-bedded area. A low electric fence wire may provide a nice dry, or at least a dryer area in which the calves can loaf. Placing straw or stalks in it will attract them to it,” suggested Cole. Planning ahead earlier in the year and putting in some type of drainage material in your housing areas so you can put bedding on top of it is a useful mud management strategy.
“Strategically placed crushed rock, gravel or limestone helps. Building a mound and capping it with limestone is helpful if the area is very flat,” Cole said.
Watch Your Numbers
Even the best mud management plans are useless if winter cattle housing areas are overstocked. Too many animals in a small space will lead to accumulation of manure, urine and mud. Without enough space and comfortable, dry places to bed down, cattle will become stressed and unhealthy, which leads to reduced performance and potential loss of income.
“Don’t crowd the livestock into too small an area for an extended period of time. Performance of growing cattle in mud is reduced if they don’t have a dry place to lie down and they have to wade through mud that’s over hoof deep,” cautioned Cole.
Winter mud doesn’t have to be an issue on your farm, as long as you are dedicated to managing your herd in such a way that it reduces, or even eliminates, mud problems.