Mud increases cattle’s energy requirement. When you “boot up” and head out to tromp through the mud, you are using more energy to travel through mud, too. Same goes for cattle … they are getting a workout burning expensive feed calories.

Meteer travis
Beef Extension Educator / University of Illinois

The added energy requirement results in less feed going to weight gain and performance. University of Nebraska researchers published common numbers associated with loss of gain due to mud.

  • Dewclaw-deep mud = 7% less average daily gain (ADG)
  • Shin-deep mud = 14% less ADG
  • Hock-deep mud = 28% less ADG
  • Belly-deep mud = 35% less ADG

Extended muddy conditions can also create health concerns. The constant moist environment can lead to breakdown of the skin. This opens the tissues up to bacteria and can lead to infection. Foot rot, digital dermatitis, mastitis and calf illnesses are all more common in moist, challenging environments.

A dryer, less saturated area for cattle is the answer to maintain cow performance and avoid health issues. Stockpiled pastures with good drainage can be a solution. However, stocking too many animals in a small pasture area or the trailing of animals across pastures can cause disturbance of the soil. If tracked up, the forage stand will be reduced and opened to weed pressure in the following growing season.

Concrete pads, heavy-use areas, barns and other structures to get cattle up out of the mud can be expensive solutions. If you continually deal with muddy conditions, they could be worth the investment. Geotextile fabric and rock is a good investment for temporary or midterm mitigation of muddy, wet conditions.


Destocking an area and spreading cattle out on cornstalks may help. University of Illinois research conducted at the Dudley Smith research farm showed no negative agronomic effect to grazing cornstalks. Removing cattle from cornstalks in midwinter to allow the freeze-thaw-freeze period to occur will help alleviate compaction. If cows are trampling cornstalks, providing extra forage and supplement may be necessary. Don’t overstock these areas, or mud and compaction could still be a problem.

Another option is to bed cattle. Straw, cornstalks, soybean stubble, wood chips, etc., help cattle stay up out of the mud. Cattle feeding areas exposed to the outdoors will likely need bedded or scraped regularly. Be mindful that this may be a temporary solution, as the more organic matter added to the pen can create more mud after time. Deep bed packs work well to keep building mounded areas for cattle to stay on “high ground.” Lots of bedding will help, but it will also likely result in more manure hauling.