When mud gets too deep, make mounds
by Dr. Jim White, Director of Livestock Nutrition
Several years ago, MFA conducted a weaning trial at the former research farm in Marshall, MO. The mud became so deep in the pens that the animals had to be combined and moved. As a result, their performance was 25 percent lower than expected.
As a rough guideline, 4 to 8 inches of mud will reduce feed intake by 15 percent as compared to a mud-free yard. More than 1 foot of mud can reduce intake by 30 percent. Calves will seldom gain enough weight when losing that much feed intake, given that at least 60 percent of intake is used for maintenance.
Usually, a pen needs a slope of 3 to 5 percent to ensure adequate drainage and decrease mud buildup. Mounds should be high, dry and tied into concrete aprons and waterers, providing cattle the opportunity to eat, sleep and drink without walking through mud. Mounds also provide some protection from the wind in the winter, but more importantly they reduce the negative effects of mud.
Reducing mud and providing a covered area in the pen also help animals stay thermoneutral, which means they don’t have to expend energy to maintain normal body temperature. Hair provides insulation by trapping air close to the hide and decreasing heat loss from the body. Moisture, mud or manure results in a matted hair coat, which has much less insulation value. When wet, animals are considered thermoneutral at an ambient temperature of 60 degrees. With a dry hair coat, the same animal may be thermoneutral if it is 20 degrees.
Consider the limitations of jumping through mud. If it is too much of a struggle, cattle will skip trips to feed and water and performance will suffer.