It was going to be a cold night so Bruce and I had to work fast. Temperatures had been in the 40s and 50s for a few days and all the manure and water that was previously frozen had thawed to sea of six-inch muck. If we waited the muck would freeze solid, impossible to clear away.
Winter farming is a dance with weather that changes from day to day. Freezing temperatures turn boot-sucking mud into a solid surface; slippery and hard to walk on. A mini heat wave in winter can turn frozen surfaces into muck especially where there is manure. As soon as it turns warm the manure melts. Cattle standing in the muck makes it worse. We call these problem spots, “loafing areas.”
Clean loafing areas are important to cattle health. If cattle lie down in the muck they’ll get wet and cold. Besides animal health, there is another reason to keep cattle areas clean; food for human consumption. Think of it, if a mud covered animal goes to be processed that mud goes with them. It takes extra care to make sure all the muck is removed from the carcass. Processing houses take care with this step and have been known to refuse animals that are excessively dirty. Keeping livestock clean helps keep dirt out of the processing room.
In warm weather it is easier to schedule cleaning cattle loafing areas. Besides, in summer cattle are typically on pasture creating top-soil by putting manure directly on pastures. Winter, when we need to feed hay in one or two areas, is another story. When muck thaws we have to quickly clear it out before it freezes solid and is impossible to move. We also have to plan ahead about where to put the muck. Manure, great for gardens, will be in high demand in the Spring but in Winter we can quickly run out places to store it.
USDA has helped farmers like Miles Smith Farm build manure pits. Our pit is sealed tight to keep liquid manure out of the water system. This way the manure composts, won’t leach into the water system and will be ready to spread in the Spring. Watch how we use our bobcat to move manure into our manure pit.
Keeping livestock clean is a challenge, right up there with making sure the animals have enough food and water. It’s a job I call “Dancing with Weather.”