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Keep Cows Clean
Low-cost laneways tame mud.
Nothing can be more discouraging to both beginning and experienced graziers
than having to cope with muddy cows. But the good news is there are many
cost-effective ways to keep cows clean, even during soggy spring weather.
While mud is a particular concern for dairy farmers, beef and sheep
producers also need to pay attention to proper laneway planning and management
says Rob DeClue, conservationist with the Chenango County SWCD and Graze-NY
technical specialist. "You can have great forage ready to graze. But if
you can't get the animals to the paddocks, it won't do you any good,"
observes DeClue. "For many graziers, laneways are the weak link in their
grazing system, and when the going gets muddy some of them give up."
Many of the potential benefits of grazing -- such as less prep time
before milking and fewer foot- and udder problems -- won't be realized if your
cows have to waste energy slogging through the mud getting to and from the barn,
he adds. "Plus the general public -- which is concerned about animal
welfare -- associates clean animals with happy animals," he observes.
DeClue offers these farmer-tested tips:
Start at the
barn door. What good are great laneways if your barnyard is a mess? Be
sure to channel roof water and divert other runoff away from loafing areas.
up close first. Focus your efforts on high-traffic laneways close to the
barnyard. Management -- not money -- might be a better way to tackle wet spots
farther out in your grazing system. For example, plan to mechanically harvest
paddocks that may be tough to reach in spring without forcing your stock through
ahead. When setting up your grazing system, skirt wet spots when you locate
your laneways. Recall places where existing pastures were slow to drain or
cropland was often too wet to work, and route laneways around them. Where your
stock must cross draws, intermittent streams or hollows that are wet after
storms, consider building a stabilized, durable crossing.
the problem into the solution. Where hardpan soils limit drainage, you can
often remove the topsoil, bulldoze the subsoil to form a raised lane, then grade
and crown it so that surface water flows away from the path.
high traffic areas. Lanes close to the barn take a constant beating. They
may require more intensive work, says DeClue. He recommends this strategy:
First, excavate the top foot or so of soil from the lane. Then line the area
with geotextile fabric, fill with coarse aggregate (such as clean bank-run
gravel or equivalent), crown above the original grade, top with 1-inch or so of
mixed-size crusher dust or lime dust, then roll. The dust acts as a weak cement
to help bind the larger aggregates. The cohesive surface helps prevent cows
from tracking stones onto concrete pads where they can cause stone bruises.
In a recent posting on the graze-l internet discussion group, Ohio
dairyman F.W. Owen described how he avoids stone bruises by substituting the
tabs punched out from asphalt shingles, available free for the hauling from a
local factory. Other farmers suggested cushiony "chips" made from old
tires that are often available locally. But they also cautioned to avoid those
that may be contaminated with metal fibers from steel-belted tires and to check
with local environmental authorities first.
Many farmers are
tempted to skip the geotextile fabric, which keeps the animals from punching the
aggregate down into the soil. But in DeClue's experience, the relatively low
cost of the material (usually about $.60 to $.90 per running foot for 12.5-foot
wide stock, depending on the type used) is worth it, in most cases. "Barring
native gravel, a tough hard pan or bedrock near the surface, it's just a matter
of time before the aggregate will get swallowed up, and you'll have to haul in
more," he explains. As the muck oozes up from below, animals also are more
prone to bruise their feet on the embedded stones.
laneways. Many farmers have minimized mud problems by building double-wide
laneways close to the barn, splitting them down the middle, and alternating from
side to side as needed. Sometimes it might be necessary to form a temporary
lane with portable fence along the inside edge of a paddock or major subdivision
to route cows around a wet spot in the permanent laneway.
the far reaches of your grazing system, DeClue suggests building a single
permanent "backbone" fence instead of two laneway fences. Form a lane
with temporary fence on one side of the backbone to reach paddocks on that side,
then flip the lane to the other side to reach the other paddocks. On remote
laneways that don't get much use, the sod may be tough enough to support cows
even when it's wet, assuming that they'll only need to use the lane a few times
before extended rest.
your water. Locating water tanks in your laneway increases traffic in the
lane and can lead to more mud problems. Water distribution systems that feed
movable tanks connected to strategically placed hydrants with 50 to 75 feet of
above-ground hose allow you rotate and rest areas muddied up by the animals.
your weight. Keep tractors and heavy equipment off of your livestock lanes
-- especially when it's wet -- or build a heavier-duty lane designed to take
Technical assistance and cost-sharing is available for many of these
strategies. For more information, contact your local NRCS or SWCD office or
call the Graze-NY toll-free hotline: (800) 472-0399.
the money you spend making improvements doesn't look good going out," says
Lee Wilson, dairyman and NYPA chair. "But the cows sure look better coming
Kill Two Birds With One Stone
Peter Mapstone, who grazes 100 cows and heifers in Manlius, N.Y.,
found a creative solution to mud problems that keeps his cows' feet dry and
their thirst quenched. Mapstone had a neighbor skim the clay off a
perennially wet spot at the top of a hill, excavate the underlying shale to form
a nearly half-acre pond, and relined it with the clay. After the 12-foot-deep
pond filled, Mapstone used 1.5-inch plastic pipe to gravity feed the water to
his pastures and barn.
The neighbor also formed a half-mile 1- to
2-foot thick lane by grading and rolling the excavated shale. "The shale
is sharp but it's pretty soft. There's a lot of dirt mixed in with it so it's a
lot like crusher-run. The roller packed it down hard with no sharp edges
sticking up," says Mapstone. "It works great. The cows never sink in
more than an inch." Mapstone also used some of the shale in his
barnyard, and sold some to help pay for the project.
©1997 Committee for
Sustainable Farm Publishing
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