Livestock Letters Walt Bumgarner

Earlier this month, I talked a little about using this time of year to get ready for spring. You know, doing all of those chores now that you would love to put off until the weather is a bit warmer. I hope that you have been doing some of those.

As I am writing, the weather is warming up in Southwest Pennsylvania and the forecast is fairly warm and wet for the next week or two.

Warmer and wet means one thing, mud, which plays havoc with livestock, with pastures and paddocks, with equipment and with you.

My wish every year is to have sunny low 20-degree days throughout the winter and then go straight to mid 60-degree days. None of this back-and-forth, especially back-and-forth with rain.

My grandfather always told me frozen ground was “poor man’s concrete.” My grandfather was a smart man.

Mud makes us change our management. When you put on your boots to head out in the mud to do chores, you instantly burn more energy. Just walking around and checking your animals takes more out of you.

What do you think it does to your animals? They get a workout just walking to get a drink of water.

University of Nebraska researchers published a study in 1991 that estimated the loss of gain, in feedlot cattle, due to mud.

Here are the numbers they came up with: dewclaw deep mud, 7 percent loss; shin deep, 14 percent; hock deep, 28 percent; and belly deep, 35 percent.

Remember, these numbers are for feedlot cattle. What do you think the impact is on your brood cows? These animals probably move around a lot more than a steer in the feedlot, and they have a calf nursing them.

Are you feeding appropriately or after three or four weeks of muddy weather do you wonder why your cows seem to be losing weight?

We all have read articles about things we can build to help combat mud. Such things as installing hay feeding pads, putting geotextile fabric and crushed rock near feeding areas, and pouring a little concrete in heavy traveled area, such as waterers, make a dramatic difference.

However, if you haven’t already done some of these, how do you make it through this spring?

Water sources are always a major concern. Reducing water splashing and water loss makes a huge difference.

I read an article recently where the author said, “Sturdy trumps cheap.” Broken waterers lead to more mud and the probability that you will need to change the location.

Plan where you put your waterers, build them right the first time and make sure you keep them well maintained.

Where do you feed round bales? Hay feeding is a major source of pasture damage at most farms. Be aware of where you place bales. Is it a low spot in the field that gathers water? Is it a firmer spot that water flows around?

Do you start putting bales near the gate because it’s easy and quick, and work your way out into the field as mud and ruts accumulate? You may want to start at the far point and work your way back to the gate.

When you check your cows, are you driving out in a truck or a tractor? Stay in shape and check those cows on foot or finally break down and get that ATV your kids have always been wanting.

Anything you can do to keep your fields protected from overuse, soil compaction and rut development will pay dividends down the road.

Mud is not just an eyesore and an inconvenience. It can drastically depress your bottom line. Do your best to manage mud this spring and make plans to alleviate the spots around your farm that are of major concern.

It will be money well spent.

Walt Bumgarner is a Penn State Extension livestock educator in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

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