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Let’s be real for a second.
It’s spring, and it’s muddy.
Which means that it’s gross.
And it’s cold.
And there’s mud.
And that mud is hard to walk through.
And did I mention that there is so much mud?
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent the rain. And the rain’s obviously not a bad thing! However, too much of it can cause you to go a little, well, bonkers.
This year, we’ve had a ton of rain on our farm, and it’s been exceptionally cloudy. The end result of this is that we have more mud than we know what to do with.
I’m blessed that we have a Roomba to take care of the mud that gets tracked inside our house, but that certainly does not mean that we are without our fair share of muddy mishaps on the homestead. Out of desperation, I decided to delve a little bit deeper into ways that can make managing mud on the farm just a little bit easier.
This sounds like a pretty obvious question that we all know the answer to. Duh, mud is just wet soil!
However, mud goes far beyond that. Wet soil is a good thing – it drains quickly and dries out as soon as the water goes away.
Mud, on the other hand, is a different story. It is mucky soil that lingers long after the rain has stopped. It doesn’t dry – at least not for a long period of time – and can become smelly, sticky, and downright unpleasant.
Mud is created when several factors combine to create the perfect storm.
First, you have dirt.
Then, you have water, namely, too much water, like leakage or runoff. Heavy rain can also fit the bill.
Finally, you have some kind of deficiency in oxygenation. You might have poor drainage, limited aeration, or compacted soil particles that make it impossible for the soil to dry out.
Okay – so you have some mud. Big deal, right? It will dry eventually. No harm no foul.
Mud presents so many problems, many of which we have learned firsthand on our own farm. Here are some of the biggest issues that can arise when you have too much mud on your homestead.
Pests like to hang out when you have too much water. Mosquito larvae, anyone?
When you have too much water, nasty stuff will start growing in it. Whether it’s insect larvae or algae, stagnant water produces an excellent breeding ground for some of the most dangerous pests you can have on your homestead. Even rats and cockroaches are attracted to the mud.
Once mud sets in, you’ll have a hard time getting rid of it. Mud that has developed a grip on a homestead will be difficult to dry out and to cultivate. You’ll notice that you lose land area much more quickly when it’s covered in mud, which is a problem when you’re trying to gain some ground by developing tillable acreage.
When you have too much mud, you almost always have a higher incidence of disease. Mud makes it easier for bacteria, fungi, and viruses to hang out. These diseases can affect people, animals, and even plants.
Mud harbors dangerous organisms and makes it difficult for you to fight disease. Sheep can develop hoof rot from walking through the mud (which can often be fatal), you can develop rashes from exposure to too much mud, and your plant’s roots can rot when they become too sodden.
None of these are good, and all of them can be caused by an overzealous supply of the dreaded mud and muck.
Mud is substantially harder to walk through than regular soil. It freezes more quickly than regular dirt and makes it easy for you to slip and fall.
And not just you, but your livestock, can be affected by this. You will likely notice that your animals hurt themselves more often when they have to trudge through ankle-deep mud every day.
Now that you know the dangers of too much mud on the homestead, here’s what you can do to fix it. Luckily, it’s not as complicated as you might think.
Know that clay and silt are the two kinds of soil that are the most likely to promote mud production. If you are able to alter your soil by changing these clay and silt soils to loamy or sandy soils, you will be less likely to have mud year after year.
This isn’t necessarily something you will be able to do overnight, but gradually altering the structure of your soil by adding organic matter (like compost) can help alter the way your soil drains. It will improve the soil’s ability to drain and reduce the likelihood that it will become waterlogged.
Understand where mud is most likely to occur, and then take steps to prevent it using those areas. Here are the spots where mud is most common:
Identify any areas of high impact and traffic on your farm. Where do livestock and vehicles move frequently? This could be where you drive your tractor or where you turn your cattle out to graze. Areas around waterers, feeders, and gates are also considered high-traffic.
When you think about these areas, consider how you can build ground coverings or other constructs to help limit mud. Consider digging drainage ditches around waterers, for example, or mound your walkways so that the likelihood of mud is reduced.
Improving drainage is one of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of mud on your homestead.
Try to avoid level areas, as these limit flow. Add some drains and gentle downhill areas to get water off flat spots when it pours. You can do this in several ways.
The easiest is to dig swales to divert water away from muddy areas. If you have paths or walkways, you can crown these so that the water flows off the sides – just as it does on paved roadways. You can also dig ponds in naturally muddy areas so that you are able to take advantage of the land’s natural inclination.
You can also hardscape areas that are problematic, building drainage solutions or other non-agricultural structures to get rid of the problem. Installing gravel beds or even dumping a layer of gravel can also help reduce mud.
When you force your livestock to trudge through the mud in order to navigate the terrain, you require them to expend much more energy. Think about how much more difficult it is for you to get through the mud versus walking on dry ground – it tires you out!
This kind of unnecessary energy expenditure can make it difficult for your animals to put on weight and stay healthy. It also increases the likelihood of foot rot, which causes the skin to break down and attract bacteria near the hoof. This can cause serious swelling and even permanent lameness.
Provide a dry area for your animals at all times. If you can’t manage this, at least make sure feeding areas are dry.
Pick well-drained areas in which to concentrate your feeding, and consider grazing livestock out on cornstalk or tillable acreage until things dry up.
You may also need to provide additional feed to make up for the extra calories burned by trudging through all that mud.
Spread your livestock out over as much and as many different pasture areas as possible. Livestock of all kinds are hard on the land, and when you consistently graze livestock in the same area, month after month, year after year, you will be left with very little besides mud.
Move your animals as often as possible. You can move chickens in a tractor every single day, and you can mulch or re-seed your land to help prevent degradation in between grazing patterns.
Bedding is important in keeping your animals dry. Even livestock who are housed outdoors need bedding to help keep them dry. Just remember that too much bedding can actually be problematic, as organic matter will break down and create more mud.
When in doubt, deep packing your bedding areas can help your animals stay up on high ground. While you’ll have to do some extra work to get the manure out of there, it will be well worth it if your animals are able to avoid foot rot and other infections.
When you have piglets, calves, lambs, or other livestock being born on the farm, you need to work hard to make sure they aren’t exposed to cold, wet conditions. Mud reduces the insulation value of hair, and makes it easier for animals to become chilled or sickened by the diseases that thrive within it.
When you are preparing your animals for birthing, make sure they aren’t going to give birth near muddy swales or in muddy sections of the barnyard. Move them inside or to fresh pasture whenever possible, and check them routinely to make sure everything is going as planned.
Know, too, that mud can also impact the success of your animals in breeding. If your animals are routinely housed in muddy areas when you turn out your bulls, rams, or boars, you might have limited success in breeding because mud makes it so much more difficult for the breeders to get traction.
As tempting as it may be to add organic matter, like dried leaves, straw, or hay to your mud to try to get it to dry up, know that this can be a major mistake. When you add these materials to mud, they will help absorb some of the moisture – at first.
Over time, however, they will begin to decompose, producing more water and muck as they do so. Don’t give in to the temptation to add organic matter to mud during the muddy season – but know that adding compost during the summer months can help improve your soil structure later on down the road. Timing here is key.
A bare spot is rarely a dry spot. Plants help protect the soil from erosion and mud. They also improve soil structure. When your fields are bare – such as when your garden is barren between plantings – you might want to add a cover crop (we chose winter peas this year and it made a world of difference!) to prevent some of that erosion. If this isn’t possible, consider planting in raised beds to reduce soil impact.
You can also use mulch to provide a layer of protection around seedlings. This will help reduce the risks presented by too much mud during the spring planting season.
As we already mentioned, too much organic matter can be a devil in disguise when it comes to dealing with mud on the farm. However, flax straw is a good way to manage mud without worrying about it breaking down and causing more problems over time.
Flax straw was once used to make bricks that made the Egyptian pyramids. Flax straw takes a very long time to rot, so you don’t have to worry about it causing more mud. You can dump square bales of flax straw in problem areas of your livestock pens, and it will help to reduce erosion and keep things dry.
You’ll see it in most of my articles – I’m a huge fan of planning! The easiest way to limit mud on the homestead is to plan around it.
It’s an inevitable feature of farming, and one that you can easily plan around. For example, if you are blocking out a new garden, think of how you can lay it out so that it improves the drainage capacity of your soil. If you are setting up a building, consider how you can redirect runoff from the roof so that a mucky mess isn’t formed around the perimeter of the building.
Using intelligent rain catchment systems can help prevent mud around buildings, too. You can use a rain barrel that diverts gutter run off into usable irrigation systems, or you can channel water into rain depressions. Planning can help turn your problem into a solution for another issue you may be having on the farm.
When push comes to shove, what you really need to remember is that there is often no way to avoid mud on the farm – particularly in the wet, rainy days of spring. However, you can work with it to develop solutions that will suit your needs. As long as you are able to adapt and overcome, you will be able to make the most of mud on your farm – no matter how much you may have!
What other tips do you have for managing mud on the farm? Make sure you follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for regular updates and photos! We’d also love it if you’d subscribe to our email newsletter, where we will offer regular updates, discounts, and information on all the latest homesteading information. Thanks for reading!