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Cows standing in muck (Paul would not be pleased...)

 
Cj Sloane
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I'm looking for a solution to my cows standing in muck. Best case scenario is paddock shift of course but there isn't enough land/soil is not great yet so I must feed hay. The 2nd best scenario is to feed in multiple locations which I'm doing but both spots are mucky. I've added a 3rd & 4th feeding location but my options will be limited if the snow gets deep. I'll be adding more paddocks this spring.

If I had a tractor, I could clean out the spot but I don't. I could pay someone with a tractor to clean it out but I'd rather not... plus it doesn't solve the problem in the elegant permaculture way I'm hoping to find.

I thought I could make a trench to drain it but it's much harder than it appears.

So I'm wondering if there is another solution. I know someone who poured a concrete pad for their cows but that seems like overkill.

Do I want more drainage? Or less (so that the muck could run down a slope)?

I've put pigs in one location and it's still pretty mucky.

I've been repeating to myself "the problem is the solution, the problem is the solution." The problem (super mucky highly fertilized soil) could be the solution to the problem (very thin layer of top soil due to a logger pushing all the topsoil off the pasture) but I can't quite figure it out.
 
Jay Green
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Do you have barns or shelters at all? If so, you could try it the Salatin way. I don't care much for the man and his character but he does have a few good ideas about feeding cattle in the winter time that every farmer should look into. I've seen his barn and the finished product of his manure pack and it's just what the book says....ready to spread right on the fields in the spring. The added benefit is that his methods also cut down on winter chore time, keeps his cattle warm and clean and keeps all his manure where it will do the most good. I'd read his book Salad Bar Beef for the method...I used it for sheep and it was great.
 
Cj Sloane
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I have a 3 sided shelter but I don't see how it can help. It's just big enough to get them out of the rain (they are Belties and don't need protection from the cold other than a spot in the woods). It's too small to feed them in there. If it was big enough to store all the winter manure then that still gets me back to needing a tractor.

I'll take a look at the book though because I do feed the sheep in their shelter. I tried to use the pigs to clean it out but I'll have to finish what they missed. Last year I had to use a pick ax to get thru the hay. I'm actually thinking about removing the feeder from their shelter because it's such a drag to remove the matted hay by hand.
 
Cj Sloane
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I just came across a term I never heard: "bale-grazing." Here's an article on it. If I can get my hay delivered to the paddocks (tricky if muddy), that might work.
 
R Scott
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Last year when my tractor died, I ended up cutting up big round bales by hand and carrying them old school. If you look at antique stores you may find a hay saw made to do this, but I used an old crosscut saw.

This year I was forced to switch to small square bales through a series of tragedies--that may end up being a good thing. They are stored indoors and easy to haul in a wheelbarrow, on a wagon, or by sled in the snow. There is almost no waste and easier to feed everyone--the alpha cows tend to guard the big bale and not let the sheep or other cows in to the feed.

 
Cj Sloane
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I unroll the 4' bales by hand. I try to have them stored a little up hill from where I want them. I then cut the string and start peeling layers off. At some point I can't peel any more off so I roll it over. The first day I usually need some help but I'm often surprised that I (a 47 year old, 140 lb chick) can maneuver a 500/600 lb bale if everything is aligned just so.

When the bales are frozen to the ground, even my husband/human tractor can't move 'em so I switch to square bales for about 6 weeks. I have a new hay storage outbuilding so I wonder how much of a factor that will be. Plus, I finally have a farm truck so I could by a round bale and have it put on the truck and then roll it off. The round bales are just more cost effective.
 
Emil Spoerri
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You've got to make a small feedlot where the cattle can be fed hay and minerals and kelp and salt and vitamins + probiotics and apple cider vinegar you need to get wood chips and sawdust. Leaves and sawdust can help to keep it clean but they don't absorb very much usually and add nitrogen to the mix. Ideally you will use enough sawdust and woodchips that the bedding is almost totally dry. This if built up to several inches or feet will heat up and make a very comfortable and warm bedding for the cows.

If it is nearing spring and the ground is thawing and freezing is the time to plant most pasture plants. The frost heave will crack open the ground and allow new clovers and grasses to establish. You must keep the cattle off of them until they flower. When you first graze them, only graze them lightly and perhaps it is best if you plant oats or millet or barley or hairy vetch or crimson clover will also help to establish the perennial pasture plants you plant. If these can be allowed to seed and be eaten by cattle matured and rained on several times, so much the better. But of course you must be careful not to allow the plants to be too severely grazed. If there is good food that they have not yet eaten and they are through chewing their cud, move them onto the next plant.

Pasture management is the key to success. You must match the species with your grazing abilities. Some of the best grasses will be grazed out without sound management. You must either replant 1/4 of your pasture every year or manage your pastures better. Bluegrass and white clover seem to handle abuse in fertile soils. The best pastures for the poor farmer are made up of the weeds that grow in the ditches. Johnson grass, quack grass, kudzu, chicory, sweet clover,, cow parsnip, would be a good way to go.

 
Emil Spoerri
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Willows and poplar trees would drink a lot of water and perhaps lower the water table.
 
Cj Sloane
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I do have a small feed lot but its on ledge. I thought the muck would drain downhill but it doesn't - no matter how soupy it looks.

I did stick some willow cuttings in a small hugelkulture along the edge of the fence but I think it will much easier to just cut some willow branches in the spring and cover with soil.

2 more paddocks going in this spring should help. I will look into the sawdust in the meantime.
 
Dan Sprenger
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We had a similar problem with our dairy back home. I know this might be a bit of a pain, but you could try setting up a gate so they leave their shelter/ go to feeders by a slightly different route each time. North the first day, west the second. That way you don't compact the soil. (this is part of why the ground won't take the water away)
 
Cj Sloane
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The problem is really right at the feeder. I've just locked them out of that spot though because it got sooo icy I was worried about them getting injured or worse.
 
andrew curr
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GRavel!!!
Round here its easy to nick a bit from the side of the road ,a few buckets makes a big differance (eco tax)
under gravel you could plant benificial /sturdy species eg fescue
 
Andy Reed
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I've had issues with this as well, and I have a few strategies to cope.
First of all it's better to have one bad area then the whole farm slightly damaged. The pasture takes a long time to recover and you lose a lot of grass growth.
Find the worst producing area on your farm, thats the sacrafice area. Focus your winter feed on the sacrafice area, and preserve the rest of your farm.
In spring plough up the sacrafice area and resow it in grass, or alternatively let it dry out then sow in corn after the last frost. Corn loves the nutrients from cow effluent. Then return it to pasture. Either way your worst performing area becomes your best performing area.
This way you improve your farm in a systematic way, and a permie principal 'find the point where you achieve the greates impact for the least work.'

Thats how I deal with it, I can't avoid making mud in a wet winter. You could build a feed pad, then you need the tractor though. Gravel will solve the mud, but you lose the nutrients, and the soil. Sawdust will be even worse, cows will churn that up in no time at all.

You don't have to spend all winter in the sacrafice area, but when it gets wet, and you know they are going to make mud wherever they go, thats when you use the sacrafice area. When it's dry you can feed the hay directly onto their new area of grass before they go onto it. They will eat it all and the grass at the same time.

If you can, keep an eye on whats happening to the effluent lechate when it's raining, because it can be abig problem if it gets into waterways. If it's running into a grass area, great, thats your nutrient cycle.
 
Cj Sloane
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Andy Reed wrote:...
First of all it's better to have one bad area then the whole farm slightly damaged


I do have a sacrificial paddock but I had to add a 2nd sacrificial spot due to where my hay is stored. I will be adding a few paddocks this spring so next winter I hope to move the mucky spot to where it can be put to best use.

I can't plow because I'm on ledge. I was thinking about sowing oats in the muckiest spot because I read that oats are the only crop that can be grown over manure and put it to nutritional use quickly. We shall see...
 
Jay Hayes
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C J,

I read where you unroll your round bales, but I think I understand you are still feeding them in your lot? If that is the case I can offer a small bit of advice.

In my neck of the woods most cattle folk have stopped using bale feeders. They will unroll each round bale at a different location in the pasture and allow the cattle to ground feed the hay. They only use their lots for mineral or grain feeding. The main problem is the equipment needed to move the large bales around. Most of the time folks will roll them down hill like you mentioned. By feeding in a slightly different spot every bale the mud is a lot less of an issue. The hay is consumed more efficiently since less of it is wallowed into the mud and since the cattle cannot be as picky as they are when eating an unrolled bale. Moving the bale location also stops from smothering the grass below with excess hay.

A lot of folks have taken to using portable mineral toughs along their farm roads too. That makes the only regularly used spot in the pasture the water source, also cutting down on the mud churning factor.

We get a lot of mud in the winter and it is a really good solution if you have the ability to move bales. It sounds like you don't really so it might not help.

When I was growing up my Dad and I used a method similar to bale grazing. It was mainly because we could only get to the farm a day or two a week so we needed a way to keep enough hay accessible. It worked, but I was far from a panacea.

Annual rye is a cheap ($0.77/lb), and easy to get, alternative to oats. It is a massive nitrogen hog and should work well if you are sowing directly into heavily manured areas. It grows quick and will quickly turn excess nitrogen into biomass.

J
 
Cj Sloane
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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I have tried to just roll some bales in different spots in the field but it didn't work well for me because they wasted too much of the bale. Plus, I don't have a tractor.

One round bale in a hay feeder for 5 cows will last 5-10 days depending on the weather, age of the cows, and the bales itself. A bale lasted half that long loose in the field.
 
Jay Hayes
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Yeah, I could see how a round bale would get stomped up pretty good by only 5 head. The roll out method works great when a bale only lasts for a day. More than that and you would end up with a bunch of muddy hay.

Good luck

J
 
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