Mullenix kim
Extension Beef Specialist and Associate Professor / Auburn University

In the southeastern U.S., with ample rainfall that often occurs during December, January and February, we generally notice that our pastures become more wet, and the return of mud on tractor tires is a staple on the farm. Rainy winters combined with hoof action, tractors, ATVs and other equipment moving in and out of hay-feeding areas can quickly turn a pasture into muck. When cattle have to move through muddy, wet areas, this increases their daily maintenance energy requirement. This spends valuable energy reserves, which can be used to support processes such as lactation, growth or reproduction. While the realities of mud are part of the winter management season on the farm, there are several strategies that can help lessen its impact on the beef cattle herd:

  1. Learn about your farm’s soil type. Certain soils drain easier than others. Within an individual farm, there is usually some variation in soil types and slope conditions that favor better drainage. Think about what could be done to better utilize these areas as winter feeding sites.
  2. Change the logistics. Start feeding hay at the back of the pasture area and move toward the front or vice versa. Moving the hay-feeding location in a common feeding area (commonly referred to as a "sacrifice paddock") may help decrease traction in a single-use area during the season. Use lighter-weight equipment when possible, like a side-by-side.
  3. Address infrastructure needs. Feeding pads with heavy-use area protection may be an option for reducing the muddy footprint at winter feeding sites on the farm. Check with your local NRCS office for detailed plans on proper sizing, location and construction. It is critical that these pads be maintained correctly each year with the accumulated organic matter scraped off and spread on fields.
  4. Consider alternative feeding strategies. Practices like unrolling hay and bale grazing are possible ways to increase animal nutrient distribution across fields, while reducing the concentration of muck that may accumulate in a single area.

Although mud is a part of everyday life in wet periods of the year, there are many valuable management practices that can be put in place to reduce the negative impacts on cattle and pasture condition over time. These practices should be carefully planned and done in a timely manner to be successful. Contact your local extension office with questions related to winter management, or visit our online resources for additional information.