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Pugging Prevention For Wet Winter Grazing

Last week Troy Bishopp described how he met the challenge of grazing with wet weather and late freezing temperatures. (Of course the best prevention is some snow – which many of you are getting this week.) Here are some more suggestions from Victor Shelton for managing your grazing to prevent damage to your forage. Plus he adds some ideas for improving pastures with new seedings. Enjoy!

It is 45 degrees outside today as I write this article. I normally appreciate mild winter weather, but when it rains, and temperatures remain above freezing, except for a frivolous teasing of heavy frosts, a pasture can get pretty ugly. I for one wouldn’t mind a little free concrete right now, you know, frozen ground. For many of us, 2018 was an extremely wet year. Some parts of Indiana, including where I live ended up with over 60 inches of rain. That makes me think of a Clint Eastwood quote, “If you think it’s going to rain, it will.”

Strip grazing stockpiled forage is usually a delight. Of course, it is best accomplished under dry or frozen conditions. If the pasture of stockpile is heavy (at least 3,000 pounds of dry matter per acre), then it can often be grazed even under fairly wet conditions without too much long-term damage but, you will need to have a watchful eye.

Under wet conditions make sure you are providing sufficient allotments daily according to your set time frame. If livestock start to run low before the next move, you will often see some pacing along the temporary fence line as they patiently (not) wait for the next move. Their pacing creates a lot of soil disturbance and pugging. Pugging can quickly turn a nice pasture into what appears to be a wallow. The hooves create pockets of compacted soil that bury the remaining plant tissue quickly. These highly disturbed areas of bare soil are then prone to erosion, especially if they are on sloping land and will most likely be a weedy mess next spring. You can reduce the impact by allocating out a little more than normal and by not being tardy in rotating to the next allowance.

Fields that are grazed with less forage mass present under these same wet conditions will have more damage. The lack of surface plant material along with the reduced complementing root structure is more prone to pugging, compaction, and more visual soil and thus even erosion. Okay, we have all done this at one time or another, by accident or simply neglect and the first thing to cross your mind when you see the field all mucked up is, dang, that’s not very pretty and it won’t look much better next spring.


I hate bare soil. Bare soil is nothing less than a missed opportunity for forage production and at the same time an invitation for unwanted plants and weeds. Come spring, something is going to be growing in that bare spot and you will want it to be plants with some grazing or biological benefits. Now is a great time to look at the situation and opportunities to improve.

The livestock still need mineral and water. Most likely than not, particularly due to the time of year and less use of temporary water systems, permanent type water tanks are used. When permanent water tanks are used, the moves or allocations of stockpile usually start from that location and move out from there with no back fencing so livestock can go back to the water and mineral if it is left at the same spot. Under wet conditions, some trailing is inevitable in that path to the water. There is not a lot you can do about it under wet conditions. I probably try to extend temporary water systems way beyond a sensible time frame just to reduce this disturbance. I have found that feeding a bale of hay unrolled on that area as the last event for that field for the season is not a bad idea.

Those are my suggestions. Do you have some others? Share them with us all in the comments below.

Keep on grazing!

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Victor Shelton
Victor Shelton
For more than 25 years, Victor Shelton, Indiana agronomist and grazing specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has provided advice about grazing’s best practices. He travels across the state conducting pasture walks, working one on one with farmers and participating in grazing talks. He also writes a newsletter called "Grazing Bites" as a way to talk about current and seasonal grazing issues and what farmers need to be prepared for.


  1. This is my greatest challenge as a grazier in California, in a region where the ground never freezes. I recently acquired a lease on the coast with well-drained soils, on a slight slope. With well managed rotations I think that I can maintain soil cover. As for the home place, with clay soils and an intense Mediterranean rain cycle, I’m out of ideas. Lighter, thriftier cows makes a difference, along with avoiding herding on particularly soppy days. The elk herds make their own puggy mess as theyd pass over the ground, so I spend a fair amount of time contemplating how much impact is “natural” within our context. It always cracks me up to be on a hike with a botonist and see him get excited about a little rare native annual who is making a living in a pugged up spot I had been embarrased to let him see.

  2. What about keeping the animals off the pastures entirely during muddy times and housing them in all-weather surfaced lots and feeding hay? How do the pros and cons weigh out?

  3. We too have more muddy winters in Wisconsin. When I mud up a paddock, it’s an opportunity to drill in grasses and forbs in the sward in addition to clover.

    Generally, clover no-tilled into a dense sward is the only thing competitive enough with existing grasses, but with excessive damage and mud the grass component is set way back in Spring. Introducing meadow fescue and meadow brome, or other grasses, allows it to establish and compete well.

    Still get some weeds the second season.

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