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March Madness (and muddiness): how to deal with mud to keep your livestock healthy

By Claire LaCanne

Spring is here and we are getting bursts of warm weather. Our blanket of snow is melting, leaving behind spring’s most infamous trademark – mud. As spring changes the environment on our farms, there are several things to keep in mind while transitioning our livestock into the spring season.

Now that the spring thaw has begun, we should give special attention to the mud that typically follows snowmelt so we can address the issues the mud creates for our livestock.

Warm, wet or damp environments provide optimal living conditions for many pathogens which can lead to issues such as foot rot, illness, and even breeding and birthing issues.
Animals in these wet, warming, and muddy conditions are susceptible to illness. To keep your livestock healthy, it is crucial to keep them clean and dry. This may require adding extra bedding and changing bedding more often during this mucky weather. If you don’t know when to change bedding or how to check if there’s enough bedding, test it out yourself. Kneel down onto the bedding. If your knees are wet when you stand up, that means that your animals are getting wet and require new or additional bedding materials. Plan ahead so you don’t have to haul large loads of manure and bedding when it’s the muddiest. 

Be especially careful with newborn animals, because mud and dampness can take away the insulation value of their coat of hair. Young animals may get trapped in mud, get sick from pathogens that these conditions foster, or become chilled if covered in mud. This is why it’s important to monitor birthing, routinely check livestock, and move mother-offspring pairs to fresh pasture or a clean area.

It’s not practical to expect that you can totally eliminate mud on your farm, but do your best to manage your pastures, feeding areas, and other high-traffic areas to minimize the mud. You could start by thinking about the geography of your land and taking an inventory of the soil types, slopes, and wet spots on your farm. Some soils drain better or are less prone to becoming mucky, and these spots may be good places to select for high-traffic uses. Buildings surrounded by mud can’t be moved, but pens and paddocks could temporarily be relocated to manage mud as much as possible.

Mud also causes your animals to expend more energy to satisfy their daily needs. Mud creates suction on hooves (similar to the suction on our rubber boots when we’re trekking through the muck), and makes it more difficult for animals to move around. Breeding may be affected, feeding typically decreases, and it becomes difficult for your animals to maintain good body condition. 

To say that spring is a busy season for farmers is an understatement. Plus, a good chunk of your spring is dedicated to the fields. But keep your livestock in mind, because taking the time to keep them clean and comfortable is essential to keeping them productive and healthy.