Winter is here! With the change of seasons in Western Oregon comes an onslaught of rain, making managing mud in pastures, around barns, and in other high-traffic areas a challenge. Not only is mud a nuisance, but it can also cause a variety of health issues for livestock, including hoof rot for goats, sheep, and cattle. If livestock gives birth in mud, it greatly increases chances of scours, coccidiosis, and bacterial infections in the naval. In horses, mud can cause issues such as rain scald and thrush.
Summer dry periods cause mud to turn into bare ground that can cause excess dust, leading to another set of problems. Dust can get into animals’ lungs to exacerbate existing health issues and reduce overall lung function.
There are a couple of short-term solutions you can apply quickly for managing mud in winter:
- Provide a temporary surface to walk on. Laying down old stall mats or even rubber conveyor belts over high-traffic areas can provide a drier surface to work on.
- Provide lots of high-quality bedding for animals (such as straw or wood chips), or keep livestock in covered areas if possible. Keep animals out of low-lying pastures or near water bodies.
- Cover or tarp your manure to prevent it from washing into nearby streams or from leaching into the water table. Manure contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and can contaminate wells and cause issues in creeks and lakes!
In the long run, there are many ways to prevent pastures and barnyards from becoming a muddy mess in the winter:
- Create a sacrifice area. This is a well-drained area typically near barns or shelters that keep horses or livestock off pastures during the rainy season. These areas are usually constructed with sand or small gravel to prevent mud. Sacrifice or heavy-use areas promote pasture growth by allowing grasses to recover throughout the winter and prevent further damage while pastures are dormant.
- Add gutters and downspouts to all barns or structures with impervious roofs. Divert rainwater away from where livestock or horses are located. This can reduce the amount of water pooling in or around animal containment areas. Be sure to divert rainwater away from roads, pathways, or other high-traffic areas!
- Fence animals out of creeks, low-lying pastures, or other chronically wet spots, especially during the rainy season. When animals have unrestricted access to creeks, ponds, or other natural water bodies, they can cause major damage to natural areas, including bank erosion and increased nutrient content.
- Build a manure composting facility. Keeping manure out of sacrifice areas will prevent mud build-up. Using a manure composting facility decreases the volume of manure and keeps it covered. Once manure is composted, it can be applied to gardens, crop fields, and pastures to provide nutrients.
- Create a rotational grazing schedule. Move animals through pastures throughout the year to prevent overgrazing or deterioration of pastures. Fence off big open pastures into smaller management units to allow more efficient grazing strategies.
Finally, contact Tualatin SWCD (or your local Soil and Water Conservation District if you’re located in another county) to help with conservation projects! We can help with any of the projects listed above and many more!