NRCS’s Victor Shelton is in the middle of a wet and muddy spring in Indiana. He tells us, “As much as I like the warmer days right now, I probably wouldn’t turn down some frozen ground to reduce mud and the impact of very saturated ground. One guy told me that if it were just a hair warmer, he might go barefoot since he was tired of getting his boots stuck in the mud.” Here’s his suggestion for prepping for these conditions in the future.
If you are not prepared for wet weather, then it can be quite frustrating. Mud is certainly worse around feeding, watering, and other concentrated areas. One of the best solutions for these concentrated areas is to install a conservation practice called a Heavy Use Area Protection (HUAP), e.g., feed and watering pads. HUAPs are fairly simple to construct and better yet, very economical. Retired NRCS technician Mary Lee Smith recently noted that HUAP’s were the best thing since sliced bread; just a fantastic practice! While it’s not likely that you can install one during a wet spring, put these installation instructions in your back-pocket for a summer project. And remember that HUAPs are available for cost-share through some NRCS and conservation district programs. Contact your local USDA field office for more information.
Heavy Use Area Protection
You start by leveling the area to remove excess organic matter and manure, and also top soil if necessary to get a firm foundation to build on. Geo-textile fabric is the first layer, then crushed limestone, which is usually #53’s and applied 6 to 8 inches deep depending on the site and conditions. Follow by topping with a couple inches of lime. The lime makes it easier to scrape and/or clean later and a little lime spread out on the field or pasture certainly won’t hurt anything. The lime actually packs down very well when it’s dry. Tractor tires or hooves can also do a good job of packing while still under dry conditions, so it’s best to build during the summer, long before you would need it.
These pads supply a firm well-drained area for feeding hay in rings, silage in bunkers and for areas around watering tanks and existing feed bunks. Similar designs can also be used for concentrated walking areas and lanes. If you happen to be on softer or consistently wet soils, then a layer of #2 lime stone may be needed underneath for a firmer base over the geo-textile fabric.
Keep Enough Forage on the Ground
The less growth present above and below the ground, the more potential damage to a field when livestock are present. That’s a problem if, like here in Indiana you suffered from drier conditions last August and September, and stockpiled forage, additional hay cuttings, and fall annuals were just not what they should have been. This lack of sufficient growth reduced fall and early winter grazing days and root growth. That growth is important because it not only provides some valuable forage to graze, but good top growth means good root growth. The combination of the two is stabilizing when grazed under wetter conditions.
Truthfully, once the frost layer breaks through and conditions are wet like they are right now, you are usually better off having animals off the pasture and in a sacrifice area, especially if you are working with soils with fragipans. Soils with fragipans (a thin and very heavy layer of pure clay) tend to hold the water more at the surface level, keeping the top layer very wet and more likely to be damaged by livestock. It is better to sacrifice a small area than a whole field that might require totally replanting afterwards.
If this is what you’re headed for, choose your sacrifice area with care. When areas such as creek bottoms, woods and erodible sloping ground are used as a sacrifice area, water quality is almost always adversely affected. Try to choose a stable site that is suitable for these areas and rotate them if possible and save a grass filter strip between the site and any water bodies. Sometimes, these sacrifice areas can be paddock(s) that you plan to renovate anyway. Ideally, plant a cover-crop such as oats, sorghum-sudan or millet on the area after excess manure is collected and spread appropriately where needed. These areas can then be grazed later in the year.
Keep on grazing!