By: Bill Halfman, University of Wisconsin-Extension
As we move out of winter and into spring, prolonged periods of mud and moisture can significantly hinder cattle performance and profitability. Mud and deep manure problems can also be encountered inside buildings during the spring thaw and wet season if pens become dirtier and deeper in manure than is ideal.
For cow-calf producers, mud can negate the insulation value of the hair coat. Of distinct concern are newborn calves born in or near mud holes or muddy areas. Calves can become chilled by mud, trapped in it, or sickened by pathogens thriving in it. This is why it is so important to closely monitor calving, routinely check cattle, and move cow-calf pairs to fresh pasture soon after calving. Additionally, mud on udders contributes to poor udder hygiene conditions. And can increase the risk of foot problems such as foot rot.
Mud creates suction on hooves and makes it more difficult for cattle to move around in a muddy area. They expend more energy moving through mud. One only has to walk into a feeding area with deep mud once to realize just how difficult it is to take steps. Boots must be held securely on feet or the mud will claim them quickly.
With mild mud conditions, just 4 to 8 inches of mud, cattle dry matter intake is reduced by 15 percent versus what it would be under the same conditions without any mud. When severe mud conditions are present, 1 foot or more of mud, dry matter intake plummets by 30% relative to the same conditions without any mud. It is no wonder that it becomes challenging to maintain good body condition on cows and desirable weight gains on calves when mud is all around.
From a feedlot prospective, when cattle are standing in four to eight inches of mud, gain can decrease by nearly 15 percent. A feedlot with mud that is belly deep can depress gain by nearly 25 percent. Consequently, the negative impact of mud on feed efficiency can result in up to a 56 percent increase in cost of gain as more days on feed are necessary to reach finish.
Factors that figure in to this profit loss situation include: 1) Cattle make fewer trips to the feedbunk during muddy conditions which results in lower feed intake. 2) Cattle utilize more energy slogging through the mud to reach the feedbunk. Muddy conditions can increase energy requirements by 10 percent. 3) Wet cattle in cold weather need to metabolize more energy to stay warm, also resulting in reduced growth and production.
Pen maintenance and design in combination with management and plenty of bedding can greatly influence the level of moisture in the cattle housing areas. Proper drainage and prevention of runoff water from entering pens is the first step in reducing mud within the pen. Providing adequate space per animal can reduce mud depth especially in the high traffic areas around water troughs and feedbunks. Moving cattle to different areas during this time and perhaps constructing some feeding areas and other heavy use areas will help get through mud season.
Beef producers may want to consider checking with their land conservation and or NRCS office to see if cost sharing is available to help with construction of improved cattle housing facilities to help combat the mud.
Although adverse weather conditions cannot always be predicted or prevented, preparing for these unfavorable circumstances by having a plan in place can help.