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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

How Mud Can Affect Animal Performance

Dairy Pipeline: February 2008

M. Chase Scott, Extension Agent, Southwest Virginia
(276) 223-6040;

While mired tractors and sucked-off boots are annoying reminders of the inconveniences of mud, its effect on animal performance is often overlooked. Animal performance, whether that is making milk or lbs. of growth, is determined by the nutrients the animal is consuming, one of which is energy.

As the environmental temperature decreases below the thermo-neutral zone the maintenance energy requirement increases. The thermo-neutral zone is between 23º- 77ºF, depending on cattle age and size. The maintenance energy requirement is the amount of energy required to maintain an animal, not including growing, producing milk, or maintaining pregnancy. Exposure to mud affects the energy requirement of cattle in two ways. First, the animal has to exert more energy to move from point A to point B. Second, mud caked to the animal decreases their insulating capabilities. The caked mud acts as a “wick” that draws energy out of the animal in cold temperatures. Table 1 shows the negative effect different depths of mud, relative to the animal, has on weight gain.

As seen in the table housing cattle in mud not only looks bad, but can also be expensive. Loss of potential gain affects the overall feed efficiency of the animal, translating into a higher cost per lb. of gain. Another consideration when reviewing Table 1, it takes less mud to reach the hock on younger cattle. This cost is further compounded by current high feed cost. As you look at your operation this winter consider the following:

►If using movable hay feeders and/or troughs, move feeders often to minimize manure/mud accumulation
►Consider rolling round bales of hay out
►Rotate feeding areas
►Restrict cattle access to poorly drained areas
►Scrape feeding pads more often

Table 1. Loss of gain caused by mud, 21 to 39ºF

Mud depth on the animal
Potential Loss of Gain
No Mud
Dewclaw deep
Shin deep
Below hock
Hock deep
Belly deep
a Beef Feeder, University of Nebraska, August 1991

Beef Feeder. 1991. A sure cure to sure footing. University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture. August


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