Don’t Let Mud Rob You of Your Profits

Sponsored by: CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements

That wonderful time between winter and spring is affectionately known as mud season for many. Mud is a very real concern for cattle producers. Muddy cattle are more likely to experience cold stress, which increases energy requirements, costing you more money and reducing profits.


Mud contributes to cold stress by decreasing the insulating properties of hair. A dry, winter hair coat has separation between the individual hairs creating a protective pocket of warm air next to the body. Mud cakes the hairs together and removes this insulating layer of air. If the mud is wet, evaporative cooling makes the cold stress just that much worse. If cattle must lie in mud, they never get a chance to dry off and the cold stress continues.

Cold stress affects the body in many ways. The skeletal muscles shiver, the heart beats faster, breathing becomes deeper, and metabolic rate increases in all tissues. The end result is that a cow’s maintenance energy requirements increase. How much of an increase is dependent on temperature, wind speed, and hair coat condition.

Mud can take a toll on cattle even in more mild temperatures. Under wet, muddy conditions, cattle can experience cold stress in temperatures as mild as 60° F. It is estimated that for every 1° below the critical temperature, a cow’s maintenance energy requirement increases one percent. Additionally, for every 10° below the critical temperature, the digestibility of the ration decreases by one percent. So, you can see that even on a mild day, wet, muddy cattle will require higher energy content in their ration and may experience a drop in digestibility further exacerbating the problem.

Wind speed will also affect the critical temperature. We all know about relative wind chill from weather reports. For this reason, it is very important that cattle are provided with a wind break in winter pastures (either manmade or naturally occurring).

Prolonged muddy conditions will also contribute to the development of foot rot. When cattle stand in wet mud, the hoof and skin around the hoof soften and are much more susceptible to puncture injury. The bacteria that cause foot rot thrive in wet soil and can gain entry into the foot through an open wound.

To a certain extent dry mater intake will increase in colder weather; however, in muddy conditions, intake may actually decrease when conditions make it hard for cattle to get to feed. In severe conditions where mud is excessively deep, energy needs will increase due to increased effort for simply walking in addition to that caused by cold stress.

So now that we know mud is bad, how do we combat it? There are several simple management tips that can help decrease formation of mud in pastures and dry lots. 

  • Repair any leaking self-waterers
  • Rotate locations for hay feeders and supplement tubs within pastures or dry lots to avoid creation of holes and ruined turf
  • Create cement or crushed stone pads in front of permanent waterers or feed bunks to promote proper drainage and avoid creation of muddy holes
  • Maintain field ditches and drainage tiles where applicable.
  • For chronic wet areas, create a long term drainage plan.

Even with the best drainage plan and management practices, sometimes mud is unavoidable. During these times, if relocation to another area is not possible, consider adding bedding materials to extremely muddy areas to give cattle better footing and build up low lying areas. Make sure that cattle have at least some dry areas to lay down and a windbreak. If mud is unavoidable, be sure to provide extra energy in the diet to compensate for the extra needs due to cold stress and/or the extra effort needed to move around.

CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements not only offer supplemental energy and protein which help to improve forage digestibility, but also help move cattle to different locations within the pasture with tub placement to underutilized areas.