By Dr. Kim Mullenix
Rainy conditions have left much of Alabama in a mess over the last several weeks. When deep in the throes of hay feeding season, it seems like there might not be much relief in sight for navigating muddy pastures in order to feed cattle. Excess mud can increase energy requirements because of the extra work to get to/from the feeding. Mud also reduces the insulating value of their hair coat. A study from the University of Nebraska reported that 4 to 8 inches of mud can reduce feed intake by 10 to 15%.
While mud cannot be eliminated, there are several management tips to consider that may help reduce the stresses of mud on cattle and those tending to livestock during the winter.
Dr. Kim Mullenix, an Alabama Extension beef cattle specialist, offers the following management tips for producers.
1) Higher ground – Identify areas in the pasture that are well-drained and tend to dry out faster when feeding hay during the winter. Low lying areas are more prone to water retention and will not dry out as quickly.
2) When checking cattle, minimize vehicle traffic. Use smaller vehicles such as an ATV, etc. or check cattle on foot where possible.
3) Bale grazing – Setting out round bales prior to feeding on firm ground, then fencing them off with electric fence and moving to new bales as needed one-by-one may be a way to reduce mud. Several trials have noted that this works especially well in stockpiled fields where cattle can both graze and eat hay as needed.
4) Consider putting in a heavy use feeding area. A heavy use pad provides a feeding area for livestock that can reduce mud creation and erosion. Geotextile cloth and stone is a practical choice to ‘reinforce’ frequent feeding areas. Ground coverings must cover a large enough area to be effective (i.e. a small pad may become surrounded by mud!). While this might not be an option in the midst of the rain and muck, it is something to consider for the future.