Managing Mud Season
By : Ted Wiseman, OSU Extension, Perry County (originally published in Farm and Dairy)
This is not a new topic or an issue that we haven’t seen before. But this past year has really been a challenge for ruminants. In a normal year mud season was early fall, then freeze in the winter and then reappear in March. This year it started after last September’s dry weather, and since then it’s been mud season. This has made feeding forages and maintaining pastures very difficult. To further compound the problem last year’s first cutting hay was of very low quality. I hope that you have taken forage samples and are maintaining body condition scores in preparation for the newborns arriving soon if not already.
Not only is the mud situation bad for our pastures and feeding areas, it also increases the nutrient need for our livestock. Reports have indicated that cattle in muddy conditions may require 30% more net energy for maintenance. Shallow depths of mud (4-8”) can reduce feed intake 5-15% and when mud is 12-24” deep, feed intake can be reduced by 15-30%. To make matters worse the first cutting hay made last year is not even good enough to meet a beef cows needs.
Driving around southeastern Ohio these past few months, we are going to have a great deal of work to do this spring in re-establishing feeding areas and some pastures. There a few places that will probably re-establish themselves, but those are very few. Depending upon how deep the mud and ruts are in your fields, you may be able to simply do a mud seeding (formerly known as frost seeding). If the ground requires some extensive tillage, leveling and weather conditions do not improve in time. It may work best to do a light seeding this spring and wait till early fall to complete any groundwork and then reseed.
Traditional early spring mud/frost seeding works best with seeds that are small and get good soil contact like legumes, typically red clover. Grasses like perennial rye grass have been used with some success. However, with all the exposed soil we have this year it may just be possible to seed other grasses. I know many do not like fescue, but we do have available some endophyte free and novel endophyte varieties that would be good to put into the mix, especially in those high traffic areas. If you have a small area and are willing to put some effort into managing a grass, Kentucky 31 infected fescue might be an option. I know many have a great dislike for this grass because of the endophyte issue, but it is a tough grass and is a good sod builder.
Mud/frost seeding is a low-cost method of trying to re-establish pastures and feeding areas. Once you decide you how you are going to repair these distressed areas, you will need to decide what forages species you are going to use and determine seeding rates. The wild card as always is dealing with weather conditions, but when in the past has that never been the issue anyway.
Heavy use pads are a great option to avoid muddy messes that we have been dealing with. Just reducing animal stress, hay losses and being able to manage manure through these extreme wet conditions quickly make these facilities well worth the investment. There are numerous options and designs when constructing these. Every farm and situation are different, but you can check with your local soil and water conservation districts for assistance in designing and financial assistance with construction.