Virginia has seen an abnormal winter with heavier than normal rain, blizzards, and even tornadoes. While your children may be enjoying puddle jumping parties on the farm, your cows do not fancy mud. Excessive rain on the farm can have serious effects on your cows affecting their health, milk production, and reproduction. Dairy cows are not like pigs they do not love bathing in mud! While rain is important for growing crops and greening-up pastures, the side effects of too much rain can lead to costly problems on the farm, some of which may be initially over-looked.
As we progress into the spring season, farmers need to be prepared for mud and temperature swings. Research has shown animals that live in excessive mud require 30% more net energy for maintenance requirements than normally needed. During cold weather months this can cause animals to lose weight at a faster rate because they cannot eat enough to even meet maintenance requirements. When mud is allowed to cake on the body, the cow’s hair cannot help regulate body temperature effectively—which can have a great impact in both cold and hot weather. Additionally, cows covered in mud usually have problems with increased insect pests.
Mud can also affect feed intake. According to the NRC, animals that must walk through deep mud to get to their food have a 5-30% decreased feed intake depending on the depth of the mud. In addition, feed that becomes contaminated by mud can cause a decrease in feed intake. Depending on the level of mud mixed with the feed, some cows may still eat it. However, that mud taking up space in the cow’s feed provides no nutritional benefit to the microorganisms in the rumen.
Mud is a significant problem in quality milk production. As mud cakes on the udder and teats it becomes a challenge in the parlor to effectively clean and sanitize the teat ends. Mud can harbor a good deal of bacteria which increases the likelihood of environmental mastitis.
Mud can create problems all over the farm. It causes equipment breakdowns and increased repair costs in the parlor. Veterinary bills will tend to increase with excessive mud as it affects all ages of cows and contributes to sickness and injury. Newborns and cows with health issues will be challenged more by a muddy environment.
Mud can be tracked into the feed storage areas, feed bunks, and bunker silos which can create not only feeding quality challenges but can wear down machines and equipment faster. A buildup of mud in animal housing areas can cause animals to fall, to get stuck in the mud, or to even die! Furthermore, mud can increase employee accidents on the farm.
The key to dealing with mud on the farm is being prepared! Cows do not do well living knee deep in mud and manure. We cannot control the weather but we can control and reduce the effects weather has on the farm. Drainage is key! Making sure water has a place to go will prevent pooling and help reduce mud. Removal of mud from key areas on the farm and developing travel lanes to pasture which prevent mud accumulation are very important. Animal housing and feeding areas are top priority on the to-do list for mud and manure removal.
Animals should not be standing in inches—much less feet—of mud. When this happens you can kiss money in the bulk tank goodbye. You may not think of mud causing drastic problems on the farm, but wet, rainy seasons with tons of mud have a cumulative effect that results in smaller and smaller milk checks. For more information, contact your local Extension Agent.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
February 26, 2016