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Take steps to mitigate excess mud where it already exists, and plan for muddy conditions in the future.

Elizabeth Hodges, Staff Writer

February 20, 2024

3 Min Read
cattle in feedyard
MANAGING MUD: Cattle in feedyards can decrease their performance under muddy conditions. Acting quickly and preventing the effects of above-average precipitation and mud are vital. Curt Arens

With unseasonably warm temperatures after substantial snowfall, the weather has created the perfect storm for muddy conditions. The feedlot sector has been hard at work trying to provide adequate response and maintain performance for cattle in the Midwest.

“Winter weather is a large drain on body heat,” says Galen Erickson, Nebraska Extension feedlot specialist. “[Cattle] can experience three to six times more heat loss than a dry animal.”

Erickson says that looking out at the yard and seeing cattle lying down, that’s a good sign. When mud reaches up to 7 inches deep, animal health might be a bigger concern than performance.

Performance of feedlot cattle in these conditions can also take a hit, depending on the depth of mud.

Erickson reports findings from the 2011 Nebraska Beef Report from Terry Mader, emeritus professor of ruminant nutrition.

“With mud of 2 to 7 inches, there is an estimate of a decrease in gain up to a pound a day with more mud,” the report said.

But that’s not all. With more mud, there is a negative impact on dressing percentage when cattle are shipped to the packer.

Actionable steps

While these conditions are less than ideal, there are ways you can combat the mud now. Alfredo DiConstanzo, Nebraska Extension beef systems educator, gives four practical ways that you can mitigate risk once mud has taken over the feedlot:

1. Bed cattle. While getting cattle to high and dry areas may not be possible based on the feedyard design, bedding can be a useful tool. “If we were to prorate it, perhaps 4 pounds of bedding per head per day would be sufficient,” DiConstanzo says. “In some cases, we have used as much as 8 pounds per head per day.”

2. Reestablish pen drainage. DiConstanzo recommends that feedlot operators break down soil dams in swales and fence lines. This will allow ponded water to be drained from the pens.

3. Relocate animals. By relocating animals, the stocking rate pressure will be relieved. In cases where certain pens are in worse condition than others, depopulate pens posing the greatest risk.

4. Add aggregate. An aggregate that is preferred for limiting mud accumulation is crushed limestone. This is used to restore critical access. It is important to choose a larger size for the base material.

Preparing for the future

To prevent future mud disasters in the feedlot, it is important to know how to mitigate risk. Erickson gives some options that are being researched right now to prevent unsafe conditions for both cattle and handlers in the feedyard.

An option that could be used is creating mounds with other support options. This allows the cattle to stay high and dry when unusual precipitation happens.

However, Erickson recommends that clean pens be maintained going into these winter weather conditions. The manure can act as an excellent sponge and soak up some of the extra moisture that accumulates. Having bedded areas will give the cattle a good place to lie down, where they are not using more of their energy on maintenance.

For more information on how to manage a muddy feedyard, visit beef.unl.edu.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Hodges

Staff Writer, Farm Progress

Growing up on a third-generation purebred Berkshire hog operation, Elizabeth Hodges of Julian, Neb., credits her farm background as showing her what it takes to be involved in the ag industry. She began her journalism career while in high school, reporting on producer progress for the Midwest Messenger newspaper.

While a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she became a Husker Harvest Days intern at Nebraska Farmer in 2022. The next year, she was hired full time as a staff writer for Farm Progress. She plans to graduate in 2024 with a double major in ag and environmental sciences communications, as well as animal science.

Being on the 2022 Meat Judging team at UNL led her to be on the 2023 Livestock Judging team, where she saw all aspects of the livestock industry. She is also in Block and Bridle and has held different leadership positions within the club.

Hodges’ father, Michael, raises hogs, and her mother, Christy, is an ag education teacher and FFA advisor at Johnson County Central. Hodges is the oldest sibling of four.

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