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How do I repair pugged pasture?

Livestock may damage pastures when the soil is waterlogged. Wet soils are less able to carry weight than dry soils. Hoofprints that cut into the sod, make mud, and/or fill with water are called “pugmarks”, which is where the name “pugging” for this type of damage comes from.

Pugging can reduce pasture yields between 16% and 80% in the following 12 months, depending on the soil type, how wet it is, the stocking density, and how long livestock are in the paddock[1]. Some of this yield loss is due to plant damage, such as burying or bruising leaves.

The rest of the yield loss is a result of soil compaction in the root zone. Smearing and compression from hooves in the mud destroy the soil structure and pore space. These are necessary for water to drain through the soil, rather than run off the surface. Compacted soil limits the ability of roots to grow down through the soil profile, which in turn reduces the plants’ access to water and nutrients at depth.

Pugged pastures also have bare soil that allows weeds to encroach. Timely repairs are important to keep weeds out of the pasture. In addition, the pugged surface can sprain ankles, and is rough to drive over.

Preventing pugging

Preventing pugging is often easier than repairing the damage. Take preventative action when wet weather is in the forecast.

Move livestock to a barn or dry lot and feed stored forage until the ground dries.
Move livestock to a sacrifice paddock and feed stored forage until the ground dries. Ideally this paddock is well-drained. The sacrifice paddock may be an under-performing paddock that is scheduled for renovation anyway.
Use on/off grazing during wet conditions to maintain high-quality pasture while minimizing pugging.
Reduce travel through high-traffic areas by using different gates to enter and exit the paddock.
Move water troughs and salt/mineral feeders daily.
Create temporary laneways with electric fence to concentrate damage to smaller areas.
How to assess a pugged pasture
Tools required:

A quadrat (either 1 square foot or 0.25 m2) or hula hoop
A tape measure or ruler
Select several areas across the pasture to gain a representative view of the pugging. Use the quadrat to help estimate the percentage of the pasture area that is pugged. Use the tape measure or ruler to measure the depth of the pugmarks. Table 1 combines these factors into a severity rating.

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