Thursday, July 4, 2013

On Coping with Mud


This barn in Spokane, Washington suffers an annual muddy season.  (Photo:  )

  In many places in the United States, and in the world, there is a muddy season. In some places this occurs in Spring, and in others Winter, or it can occur following hurricanes or floods.  In some places this can be an annual issue.  In forested regions this can be less of an issue because the excess water of a rainy season can be absorbed by trees.  Conversely, when there has been timbering or desertification, or any other disruption of vegetation or soil, flooding and the following muddy season can be much worse.  Mud can actually be dangerous to animals and to human beings.  Large amounts of mud can result in unstable ground and an animal or human being can actually sink and become stuck  When this farm was new and the grasses and shrubs had not yet established  themselves, I once sank up to my thigh in one area.  Fortunately, I stopped moving and my husband helped me to get out.    Usually, mud is simply a terrible annoyance for human beings who need vinyl or latex boots which need to be removed upon entering the house.  Many people who live in urban or suburban areas are pretty well shielded from the muddy season and so an urban dwellers shoes tend to look different from many of the shoes and boots in my own collection.  I do have some "grown-up lady" shoes, but most importantly I have a series of boots which get me through the seasons.  I have a pair of tall vinyl boots which are ideal for deep mud, standing muddy water, and the occasional floating horse manure.  I have an ankle height pair of good grip shoes which I consider my muck boots.  I wear these many times while scooping manure into a wheelbarrow which I then run to a place at the side of the forest where there is a large composting pile.  I have two pairs of leather sneaker style shoes which I use for working with the horses when it's dry out. These are by far the most comfortable.  I also have one pair of steel toed muck boots which I have never worn.  I bought them originally thinking that I was being smart about protecting my toes from perhaps a careless horse.  Since then, I rethought that a horse coming down on a shoed toe might break it, but that a steel toe might cut off my toe entirely should a horse inadvertently jump on it.
                 Mud isn't merely an inconvenience to livestock. It's also a general hazard.  First of all, it's easier for a trotting horse to slip injure a leg, and potentially fracture one, for which he would be euthanized.  Secondly, manure and urine can become mixed into mud and this can make it more difficult to remove from the animals area.  This can attract more flies, and then you potentially have more disease.  This is more easily said than done sometimes because a thousand pound horse can generate as much as 55 pounds of actual manure, and the pine shaving bedding adds even more to the pile.  Miniature horses create less, but not as much less manure as you might at first think.   Surviving mud with livestock is as simple as doing some very important things.  Mud also creates a soup of bacteria, viruses and some nasty fungi.  Many fungal infections which can be resistant to treatment can become established when an animal is exposed to a large amount of mud over a period of time.   In addition, mud is very much an astringent. Too much water or mud that is not removed from a horses hooves can not only lead to a fungal infection, but can also lead to cracking.

muddy hooves    (photo:  )

1. Before you get the animals you are going to have, look up the recommended size for grazing areas.  An alpaca might need 25 square feet for each animal whereas a Belgian horse could need 150 square feet for normal storage.  Don't overpopulate your fields as it not only will decimate the grass you have, but it will be much more prone to being tuned into a mud patch by heavy rains and animals treading it into a marshland.  Too many animals in one space not only increases the potential for disease between them, and increases erosion in your fields, but it heightens possessiveness and aggression within the animals themselves.

2. Regularly remove stool and urine saturated pine shavings or urine saturated hay.  I do this twice a day.

3. If possible, prepare a couple of different grazing sites for your animals.  This way when a particular shed row or region is muddy and marshy your animals can have a vacation from that area, and you can too !

4. Set up a compost pile.  Many farms compost different species manure separately. We do this because some people want horse manure for their vegetable garden.  Others want alpaca stool composted.  A few want chicken manure, but be careful because chicken manure needs to be fully composted before being used for gardens as it's so high in nitrogen that it can burn grass and shrubbery.   Well composted manure can be sold for a pretty substantial chunk of change depending upon where you are located.

5. If you have horses and rain is coming, and you anticipate mud, ask your farrier if he recommends using a water resistant hoof dressing.  Some hoof dressings can easily be painted upon the outside of a standing horses hooves helping to create a water seal and helping to limit drying, cracking and perhaps some fungal infections.  Ask him if he recommends the painting of an anti-fungal preparation on the underside of your horses hooves. This simple action can be the difference between needing to treat often for fungal infections, or simply doing this brief action in prevention of hoof problems.   In horses, prevention goes a very long way.

6. Once you've done all the mud preventive strategies above, if you still have a very muddy area, near or outside a stall or a barn perhaps, then you may wish to consider having gravel or a pile of pine shavings delivered there to help to create a more stable spot for the animals, and to facilitate drainage from that area.

7. Many people do not place gutters on barns when this is the very place you might need them most !
  Our barn gutters did not cost much to have installed, but they make a big difference.   Gutters need occasional maintenance too.  Make sure they are maintained and repaired properly.   One year an ice storm bent the gutters on one side of the barn and they tend to drain differently than they did.     A thirty foot by thirty foot barn can produce almost 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain, so gutters are very important.

8.  Once you have gutter downspouts consider salvaging the water off your barn roof.   Sometimes this simply keeps your closest areas to the barn from becoming a mudpatch.   Other times this can allow you to retain and use this water for plants, or even when filtered for animals in emergencies.  (Check your local laws. In Colorado, collecting roof water is illegal, as they are so desperate for water, they need it all to return to the ground and rechange the meager aquifers.)

 9.   Having a contractor or your husband if he is handy, place a concrete pad in key areas can be a very valuable strategy.  We have concrete floors in our horse stalls, and concrete pads inside our kennel "rooms".
Once, in another property we had, we had a concrete pad where we placed a shed for our rabbit hutch.  The concrete pad went a long way to keeping the area cleaner and odor free.

 10. I mentioned earlier that the removal of trees for the building of homes or farm buildings is a factor in increasing the mud in the regions nearest your animals.  Since trees absorb huge amounts of water, you might consider landscaping with trees.   Select your trees carefully for your area, and also select trees that might not mind absorbing some water for you.   Select their spots carefully not too close to foundations, and perhaps just outside a fence area.  These will also provide a little shade for your animals.  In July, in many areas, small trees which may grow quickly are forty percent off the normal price.   Make sure that the trees you plant are safe near your animals.  Pines should not be used near alpacas for example. When a lactating alpaca eats pine needles, it radically decreases her milk, for example.

11.  When we first start with animals or livestock we are happy enough to get ONE area fenced sufficiently for our animals.  However, attentive farmers often have fenced areas they live empty for periods of time to promote recovery.  Ideally animals should be rotated through multiple pastures in order to limit the damage to your pastures, and to the animals themselves.  Animals who don't get caked with mud in the first place, are also so much easier to keep clean !

12. When you have addressed most of your exterior muddy areas, you may wish to place a stall mat over the muddiest of areas. This can be cleaned later and will allow the animals ingress and egress to the barn without getting filthy.

There are many different types of hoof gels and protectants. Speak to your farrier or equine vet to help select the one that is best for your animals.

        Lastly,  we keep our homes and farm free of mud to help to avoid water collections in the form of unplanned ponds, and to mitigate mosquito borne diseases such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and other issues.  In some areas of the world, malaria can be an issue.  West Nile Virus is increasingly an issue where I am.  We keep our homes and farms free of mud because this is better for our animals, and certainly safer and more pleasant for us to work in while we must.  However, whether we own our farms or homes or not, eventually we or our families will plan to sell.  A farm or rural home for which drainage has been anticipated will look and smell much better and will sell for a higher price than one of which drainage issues have been a problem.  Addressing seasonal water drainage is therefore an important  investment issue.


Kristin said...

An appropriate topic for our weather the last few months! This is not supposed to be a rainy season (ours is usually Jan-Feb). While my animals have a large area they can roam, goats think they will melt in the rain and have been spending all their time in the barn. I can't keep it cleaned out.

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks for your comment Kristin. Somehow I managed to keep the tone of this post constructive and informative. However, personally I am very challenged by all this rain and the mud. I normally place a high priority on all the animals being comfortable and dry. I have had great difficulty this week keeping everything as it should be. It's been like farming in a mud wrestling arena ! Twice this week I have had mud splashed in my face while working with horses. I have washed clothes a couple of times each day because my socks and slacks have been wet or muddy when I have come in from taking care of animals. I am tired of hosing down horses and dogs because of the mud. This is JULY and we are swimming in mud, and this doesn't help in terms of horsefly abatement wither ! Hope it gets better for you too !

kymber said...

Jane - you KNOW that i printed this post off to put in the "for the future" binder! very, very informative! we don't really have a problem with mud the way other folks do, but still good info to have on hand.

as well,it being Independence Day, i thought i would return the favour of you re-writing Oh Canada for me. teehee. here goes. *cough* ahem* cough*

to the tune of the start and stripes, in a high-pitched voice:

oh say, can you see that great landmass to the south
what so proudly stand free and they got some good trout
whose strong men and their women, are very patriotic
and i am going to stop here, it is sounding idiotic!

i am not as good as you at re-writing anthems! yours was awesome!

Happy Independence Day to you and yours!

your friend,

JaneofVirginia said...

Dearest Kymber and Jam, Just your names make me hungry, thinking about all that great food you both make, and then place on your blog for the rest of us to either be inspired, or to get hungry !
Thank you for the Independence Day wishes. I am absolutely touched by your writing a parody of our national anthem ! It is very much appreciated. Daniel used to be an incredible writer of parodies to songs all of us know. I suppose I write parodies to tunes we all know in remembrance of him. The US having some good trout is about all that can be said which is positive at the moment with our bumper crop of politicians with odd ideas in power. Thank you for your kind wishes. Please pray for the United States of America. It certainly seems to have seen better and certainly freer days. Love to you both,

kymber said...

Jane - you are so very welcome - but like i said, your parody was perfect! and i have it on good authority that america has a lot of good trout fishing. that, and the fact that i needed a word to rhyme with south - bahahahahah!

all of Daniel's qualities really speak to the quality of his character. i would have loved to have met him here but i will meet him "up there". jambaloney does parodies of songs too and he is pretty funny!

we pray for America, and for all of our American friends. if America goes down, it could take us with it. the continent of North America is as strong as it is because of our long-standing good relations. i fear for both of our nations...but i also hope. i think good, patriotic Americans have finally been pushed too far and i think we are going to see some much-needed real "change" soon.

love always to you and yours, Jane.xox

JaneofVirginia said...

Thank you my dear friends. I am a Canadian at heart, and kind people like yourselves are one of the reasons why !

Linda said...

I have read that the best way to mitigate mud and problems is to put wood chips in the area, not bark. This will help with the slippery part, the standing water part and erosion. I do believe conifers are not recommended.

Even my hens make a mess. Often I get in the house after walking through wet grass and find my shoe sole still carries a half cup of chicken poop mixed with pine straw, feathers, and leaves. So, I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is the deal with mud and larger animals like horses.

I have a pair of rubber boots bought only because I got chickens.

JaneofVirginia said...

Yes, although conifers might grow quickly, for many reasons they are a bad idea in animal pens. I use pine shavings inside each 12x12 stall in the stables, and last month this cost me hundreds. Although you could put some in the main pasture, you could not put enough to make much of a difference except in spotty areas. The other problem is that just as the shavings do in a compost pile, they absorb water and they rot. The rotting material smells, attracts insects, (especially TERMITES) and is a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, and then it infects animal feet. (And is can infect human nails also.) I am especially concerned about termites in the barns and wooden animal structures like the kennel. This is a high termite area. One of the reasons we don't have a mailbox at all is that at the first farm, a salt treated post was eaten THE FIRST YEAR, by termites. They ate long paths in it, in no time.
The best strategy in a corral is to keep them grazing in another area until the water drains away, the mud dries, and grass grows again, fairly quickly.

We use pine shavings inside the pens of some of the messier chickens. It's funny that some chickens who are fairly neat, and then others who make a terrible mess ! I love chickens, even though they can make quite a mess.
Rubber boots are good to have no matter what ! Thanks for your post, Linda.

BBC said...

Back in the 80's I bought 20 acres north of Spokane to build an off grid house on, when we started moving onto it in April it turned out to be a very wet spring. Only had one spot I had to bridge before making a good driveway but to make a long story short one day I jumped off the bed of the truck and the ground rippled out, like tossing a rock in a pond. Weird, the ground seemed firm enough but had enough moisture in it to do that.

JaneofVirginia said...

Yes, BBC. I would not have believed it had I not seen that myself once ! During the construction of one of the farms we had a delay and some heavy rain. The dirt turned to a thin ocean of mud that would ripple when something was thrown into it. That was the year I discovered that mud when deep enough can behave like quicksand.

BBC said...

You talked fences a while back. One mile up Mount Pleasant road is an old ten acre homestead, apparently they had a lot of rocks to clear the field/area of. What the hell, use them to make fence posts. It just takes some critter fencing wrapped in an 18” to 24” diameter and a lot of labor picking rocks, seems like a pretty good use of the rocks to me when you also need a fence.

I damn sure picked plenty of rocks as a kid on farms, farm kids were free labor other than having to feed and clothe them. Today’s kids should have to go pick rocks instead of spending so much time on their tech toys.


Kristin said...

Don't even get me started on the flies....that may have to be your next post lol.

It's still all-out mud wrestling today. I was late feeding last night and one of my goats decided to break through the fence into the other side of the barn rather than brave the rain to graze! Ugh.

JaneofVirginia said...

Kristin, For me to post on flies I would have to have something smart or valuable to say, and I am afraid that the battle here is still being fought. The only great idea I have had thus far regarding flies is that we built the barns a substantial distance from the house, so the flies don't yet reach the house. We have quite a few large horseflies down by the barn and smaller biting flies out by the kennel. I did hang fly paper from the rafters and that is effective but it's such a hazard to animals and those of us with long hair ! Tractor Supply does have some plastic containers with a syrup one can add to attract the flies and then they can't get out. I did buy them but haven't had five minutes yet to set them up. I would actually like an electric fly zapper, but that will need to go on the list of things to afford !
I am just about out of clean and dry mud shoes. Hope your faring better than that !

JaneofVirginia said...

Gosh, we are one of the places that actually has that many rocks ! (This area had multiple old goldmines from the 1890s and they were mined again in the 1930s. I love the look. It appeals to my sense of reusing everything and I think they look very charming. However, I have lots of snakes. The snakes would probably live in and lay eggs within the rocks here, and this would create a new hazard. Black snakes here can be aggressive but they are usually harmless. The copperheads were abundant a couple of years ago and we did kill a number of those.
My kids do pick rocks. We put them in several piles according to size, and we use them in landscaping. This is how my kids became rock hounds and collect and can tell you about mining gold, mining tellurium, and how gold was extracted from rock locally.
Thanks for the great fence pictures !

BBC said...

I'm reminded of a home made flying bug catcher I once saw, a small light is mounted in the end of a square frame with a small fan mounted in the other end, a pair of panty hose or fine net bag is mounted on the fan end, bugs are attracted to the light and the fan sucks them into the net.

BBC said...

Flies avoid areas of confusing reflecting and flashing lights, they mess with their eyes that they depend so much on to survive. You need to make some little disco balls, hahahaha