Sep 19, 2014
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Muddy Pens Cause Decrease in Cattle Gains

April 28, 2014
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Muddy pen conditions can cause decreased feed efficiency, increased animal energy expenditure and decreased profitability for the producer.  

Muddy pen conditions can cause decreased feed efficiency, increased animal energy expenditure and decreased profitability for the producer.

By: Kaitlin Morgan, K-State Research & Extension News

Livestock producers may not be able to eliminate all the stress placed on herds by Mother Nature, but if they want to maximize animal performance they should make management decisions to minimize animal exposure to mud and provide protection from adverse weather conditions.

Chris Reinhardt, extension feedlot specialist for Kansas State University, understands that part of raising cattle is dealing with the weather and encourages livestock producers to take precautions that reduce stress from muddy pen conditions.

"Rain, snow, ice and extreme temperatures are a part of life in Kansas," Reinhardt said. "However, each of these factors can steal a measure of the animal’s performance as that animal moves outside of its comfort zone, called the thermal neutral zone."

Thermal neutral zone for healthy cattle is 23 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature outside falls below or rises above the animal’s comfort zone, the body needs to produce more energy to stay cool or keep warm.

Feedlots and winter-feeding sites can quickly become muddy after receiving moisture and animals are active. If cattle are too tightly confined and feeding grounds are not sufficiently spread out even calving pastures can become riskily muddy.

Reason for Concern

Reinhardt explained that producers should be concerned with the effects of mud in their pens because of four main reasons.

  1. Slogging through a muddy pen increases the amount of energy cattle expend, thus reducing the amount of energy left for gain.
  2. Mud on the hide reduces the insulation effects of the hair coat, increasing cold stress, reducing energy left for gain.
  3. Muddy lots in a feed yard make lying down to rest uncomfortable, resulting in more time spent standing, increasing energy expenditure, reducing energy left for gain.
  4. Muddy hides reduce dressing percentage at the packing plant, causing an increase in processing costs.

"Under stress-free conditions, only about half of animals’ normal daily energy intake goes toward gain," Reinhardt said. "All these increases in energy expenditures dramatically cut into what is left over for gain."

The National Research Council reported that mud four to eight inches deep can reduce feed intake of animals by five to 15 percent.

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When the temperature drops between 21 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit, mud that is dewclaw deep has the potential for a seven percent loss of gain and the percentage doubles when the mud reaches shin deep.

Prepare for Mud

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