Pen maintenance now to prevent mud issues later

South Dakota State University Extension

In many cases the performance and cost of gain of backgrounding or finishing cattle depends on the quality of their feeding environment.   Our cattle could possess the greatest genetics the industry has to offer and be fed the most finely-tuned ration science can design, but if the feeding environment is too stressful those cattle simply will not perform as well as expected.  As little as 4 to 8 inches of mud can reduce performance and feed efficiency by about 13%.
There’s been a great deal of interest in the last several years in confinement systems (monoslopes, hoop buildings, etc.) that are designed to minimize the impact of the South Dakota environment.  Those systems have proven to be very effective, however the reality is that the majority of cattle will spend at least some time in an outside yard.  Considering both the value and cost of gain we’re seeing in the beef industry today, there’s an opportunity to improve the bottom line of cattle backgrounders and finishers by paying some extra attention to open lot maintenance.
For a lot of cattle feeders in South Dakota, especially backgrounders, the summer months represent a great time to address and correct any problems that might be present in open lots.  There is usually some time during the summer when the pens are drier and are empty, giving us the opportunity to do some prep work ahead of the fall run.  All of these work to our advantage in preparing pens.
If there are any serious issues with drainage in the yard, these should be addressed first.  A major principle to follow would be to keep upstream water diverted away and prevented from flowing into the feedyard.  Water that never makes it into the pen can’t cause any additional mud problems.  This would be an ideal time to examine the upstream water flow and see if any of the diversion structures need some additional maintenance.
Dirt mounds in an open yard also need to be maintained to keep them working as designed.  The cattle should be able to walk from the concrete apron to the mound without having to walk through any potholes or muddy areas.  Compacted soil should be used to build back up mounds or fill in low spots rather than using manure scraped from the pen.
Equipment such as a box scraper do an excellent job of creating a smooth surface that helps prevent water from standing in depressions like hoof prints, etc.  It’s important not to completely scrape all the way to the soil; leaving a thin layer (≈ ½”) of manure helps form an impermeable soil/manure interface that minimizes the amount of water leaching into the groundwater. The manure that accumulates under fences and feed bunks are often overlooked.  These areas can be significant breeding areas for flies, and can sometimes contribute to holding runoff in the pen instead of allowing the water to continue to flow into the containment structure.
The fall calf run seems a long ways off during the long days of summer, but weaning time will be here quicker than we realize.  Some steps now could help ease the mud and slop next spring.
Source: Warren Rusche


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