Winter Mud Management Checklist
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- Create a sacrifice paddock or a dry lot with improved surface for drainage to keep your pastures from becoming overgrazed, particularly during winter. This area should be on higher ground located away from ditches, creeks, or water bodies. Using a sacrifice paddock keeps horses and livestock from destroying pastures during rainy conditions. Surround this area with a grassy buffer, such as lawn or pasture, to act as a filter and slow runoff.
- Use appropriate footing material in sacrifice and high traffic areas. Congregation areas around gates, entrances to shelter structures and around water tanks are the hardest to keep mud-free. If a full dry lot installation is not feasible, create gravel and/or rock dust pads in these difficult to manage areas instead. Remove top soil, use geotextile fabric to keep soil separate from footing and add 3-6 inches of gravel and rock dust or sand on top.
- Remove manure and wasted hay in your paddocks and sacrifice area regularly. All organic material eventually decomposes and leads to mud. Keep manure and wasted hay cleaned from paddocks. Do not add shavings or hay as a way to mitigate muddy areas, as it only worsens the problem.
- Deal with drainage. Look for ways to divert surface water away from barns and paddocks. Consider installing french drain lines, water bars (like speed bump for water runoff), grassy swales, or dry wells.
- Install rain gutters and roof systems on all barns, sheds, and outbuildings to divert clean rainwater from high traffic areas. This substantially reduces the amount of winter mud created in your sacrifice areas.
- Cross fence pastures and rotate horses to prevent overgrazing and soil compaction. Compaction of the soil makes water filtration and root growth difficult. Thick grass slows the water droplets to help infiltration and subsequent deep root systems act like a sponge to absorb water. Poor pasture management results in reduced quality and quantity of grass and increased soil erosion and water and nutrient runoff.
Although many improvements may need to wait for drier weather for installation, simple steps such as regular cleaning and using a sacrifice paddock can be implemented anytime. Reducing mud on the farm has many health benefits for your animals, makes winter farm chores easier and more enjoyable for you and decreases environmental contamination.