LOOKINGGLASS, Ore. — Whether it is for commercial or comfort reasons, Oregon State University Extension specialists stressed during a recent workshop that management of mud and manure is important for animals.
Shelby Filley, a livestock and forage specialist, and Sara Runkel, a small farms specialist, conducted the Mud & Manure Management workshop Oct. 11-12. They shared information during a three-hour evening classroom session and then led the participants to three different properties in the Lookingglass Valley west of Roseburg, Ore., the next morning to observe pros and cons when dealing with mud and manure. The respective sites were home to commercial pigs, recreational horses and commercial cattle.
“Some people are doing a really good job of dealing with those materials and others are at a loss of what to do,” Filley said of manure and mud. “It can be expensive dealing with them, but for a commercial operation it pays. And people do spend money to provide comfort for their pet animals.
“This workshop is just a chance to get people to think about possible problems with mud and manure,” she added.
“Most people don’t think about mud until it is ankle deep,” said Runkel.
The management of mud and manure is especially important in western Oregon and Washington. Winter rains in these regions add a lot of moisture to the ground, but it usually isn’t cold enough for long enough to freeze the ground for an extended time, which would eliminate muddy messes.
Data from the OSU Extension shows that a 1,000-pound cow produces 7 cubic yards of manure every six months, a horse produces 5.5 cubic yards every six months, a pig 1.5 cubic yards, a sheep a half cubic yard and a chicken a quarter cubic yard.
For some of those animals, standing around in the muck can have an impact. The extension specialists explained that animals can lose up to 7 percent of a possible weight gain when standing in hoof-deep mud. That percentage increases up to 35 percent when the mud is belly deep. Those percentages were determined by a study conducted by Kansas State University and the University of Nebraska.
Mud also increases the chance of calves having scours and cattle getting footrot. These issues can also affect other types of livestock.
Some ways to ease the mud problem is to spread wood chips or gravel in designated feeding and watering areas where livestock congregate. Recommended depths are 6 to 12 inches of wood chips or 6 to 8 inches of gravel.
Geotextile fabrics can be laid down under the wood or gravel. The fabric will provide soil stability and load distribution and it will prevent the base material from mixing with the footing material while allowing water to pass through.
The land around a feeding site or barn can be slightly sloped to increase draining from the area. The feeding structure, if mobile, can also be moved occasionally, preventing mud and manure from accumulating in any one place. Placing the feeding area away from water resources also helps to spread the mud and manure around.
Diverting runoff rain water away from areas where animals gather is also key to managing the build up of mud and manure. Drainage ditches, culverts, and rain gutters and downspouts on barns can be used to divert runoff water. Planting grass or other vegetation can also help in soaking up drainage.
When collecting manure and piling it up, it is important to cover it up, either under a roof or under a tarp so rainwater can’t turn it into runoff. Manure runoff can leach nitrate-nitrogen into drinking and groundwater sources. The runoff can also contaminate water with bacteria.
When water quality tests are taken and there is contamination, inspectors can trace it back to the source, creating a problem for the livestock owner.
Composting the manure properly can turn it into a low-cost fertilizer that can be returned to the livestock pastures. Keys to making compost include maintaining the manure pile at 131 degrees for three days to kill parasites, weed seeds and pathogens, and turning the piles to release trapped heat and gases.
Help with manure and mud management can be obtained by contacting OSU Extensive specialists, Soil and Water Conservation Districts or the Natural Resource Conservation Service.