Cold, wet and muddy conditions can lead to health problems in livestock of all ages

Pastures and fields are turning into muddy messes for many livestock producers this winter, making it difficult to negotiate trucks and tractors, but what kind of impact is it having on livestock?

According to the University of Missouri Extension, wet and soggy conditions can have an impact on overall livestock health, especially young animals.

Wet ground and mud can harbor bacteria, which can cause scours if young animals nurse mud caked udders. Persistent cold and wet conditions compound the problems, causing a loss of condition and performance in all ages of livestock as mud can negate the insulation value of the hair coat.

Mud also creates suction on hooves and makes it more difficult for cattle to move around in a muddy area, forcing them to use more energy.

Another concern for livestock producers during muddy conditions is foot rot. Information from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension states that normal healthy skin will not allow the bacteria involved in foot rot to enter the deeper tissues. Mechanical injury or softening and thinning of the interdigital (between the toes) skin by puncture wounds or continuous exposure to wet conditions are necessary to provide entrance points for infectious agents. Injury can be caused when animals walk on abrasive or rough surfaces, sharp gravel, hardened mud or by standing in a wet and muddy environment for prolonged periods of time.

What can producers do?

Confining livestock isn’t an option for many producers, so what can they do to manage mud? The following are a few tips from livestock experts:

• Avoid keeping livestock in the same early pastures for extended periods of time. Implement more frequent movements of livestock under rotational grazing programs. Lower stocking rates where possible. Move mineral and salt feeders on occasion.

• Reduce vehicle traffic through pastures as much as possible. This can help protect vegetation destruction, soil compaction and rut development. When possible, check cattle on foot or use the smallest possible vehicle.

• Improve livestock comfort. Extra bedding should be used in birthing and lounging drylot areas. Unrolling hay, rather than placing it in rings, will provide a dry place for calves. If using hay rings, move the rings frequently.

• Hay feeding is a potential source of pasture damage and mud development. If one or only a few hay feeding locations are used throughout the entire winter feeding period, mud tends to become a problem more quickly in those areas.

• If livestock are in barns or other shelters, clean out often and slope dirt and manure away from the structure, which will aid in drainage.

•Provide and maintain watering sources that reduce water splashing/loss.

• Be aware how mud problems might develop and plan to minimize them. If you start to feed hay at the front of the pasture near the gate, you might multiply mud problems as vehicle travel and hoof impact increases. It might be better to start feeding at a further end and work toward the gate. 

• Identify high-traffic areas. These are places that cattle or vehicles move across on a frequent basis, e.g. gates, cattle handling areas, and feeding/watering areas. Ground-level protection from mud development in these areas usually are high-traffic ground coverings: concrete feeding pads, geotextiles, rock base. If the covered area is too small it might become surrounded by deep mud that the cattle fight through for every feeding bout.


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