Mud, Manure, Pasture Management
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Photo credit: Andy Bauer.
If you keep animals on your property, then mud and manure are already part of your daily life! Luckily, there are efficient ways to manage mud, manure, and pasture conditions for a healthy environment and livestock. These strategies can be used for a variety of livestock, from horses to cows to goats, and whether you have one animal or an entire herd.
Why it’s important
Managing mud is important for animal health and water quality. Muddy areas in the winter (which become dusty areas in the summer) can be caused by overgrazing, ineffective gutters and downspouts, or concentrated use by livestock.
When left unmanaged, mud can cause serious health problems for your animals, such as hoof damage and exposure to disease. Muddy areas can also be a source of water pollution as they facilitate the transfer of contaminants into nearby waterways.
Tips for managing mud:
- Create a heavy-use area
Install a heavy-use or “sacrifice area” to keep your livestock off wet pastures in winter and early spring.Read "Goodbye Mud and Dust" (PDF)
- Or lay geotextiles!
Lay a prepared surface, such as gravel, chipped wood, or geotextiles, to provide safe, absorbent footing.Read "Geosynthetics 101" (PDF)
- Redirect rainwater
Improve water drainage by grading surfaces away from heavy use areas and installing gutters and downspouts to redirect rainwater away from high-traffic areas.Read "Dealing With Drainage" (PDF)
- Add plants
Plant rows of trees and shrubs to separate dry lots or pastures from nearby streams.
- Adopt a grazing schedule
Adopt a rotational grazing schedule to prevent pastures from overuse.See pasture management
Why it’s important
When managed correctly, manure can save you money and contribute to the productivity of your land by acting as a fertilizer. Planning a manure management system is essential to controlling its volume, odors, and potential for disease.
Composting is a great way to recycle the nutrients in animal waste while preventing pollution. If left unmanaged, manure can cause health issues for your animals and contaminate streams, well water, and irrigation water.
Tips for managing manure:
- Remove it
Remove manure from pastures frequently. This allows easier waste removal and improves living conditions for animals.
- Separate and cover it
Keep manure piles on a concrete pad. Cover the piles to protect them from rain and prevent pollutants from leaching into water.
- Compost it
Set up a manure composting system to reduce the volume of manure on your property and create a valuable soil supplement.Read "Compost and Use Horse Manure" (PDF)
- Spread it
Harrow or drag pastures to spread manure. This allows manure to break down more efficiently while providing nutrients for plant growth.
Why it’s important
Good pasture is essential to the health of your livestock. If unmanaged, livestock will overgraze pastures by eating preferred grasses down too far and allowing weeds and less desirable grasses to flourish. If livestock are left on a pasture too long, it can result in soil compaction and create mud that is difficult to manage.
Giving pastures adequate time to recover from grazing improves the productivity of your fields and ensures that your animals are provided with the best forage possible.
Tips for managing pastures:
- Observe the height
Observe grass height carefully. Do not allow animals to graze below 3 inches – this will stunt plant growth.
- Mow often
Mow the pasture before weeds go to seed. This helps stimulate equal growth of desirable plants while minimizing reproduction of weeds.
- Divide it up
Break large pastures into smaller parcels and adopt a rotational grazing schedule. Allow animals to graze in one pasture while the others recover. For best results, follow an established pasture management schedule.Read "Monthly Pasture Management Schedule" (PDF)
- Protect it during wet months
Create a sacrifice area that animals can use during wet months. This will protect pastures from soil compaction and mud.Read "Creating and Using Sacrifice Area" (PDF)
- Test the soil
Test pasture soils every three to five years to determine whether compost or fertilizer applications are needed.Learn About Soil Testing