Mud Prevention

Mud is a thick, sticky substance that seems to form overnight in livestock paddocks and pastures, and whose only function is to pull shoes off of man and beast, strain ligaments and tendons, and provide safe harbor for pests like bacteria and fungus. Sound like fun?

Well, if it doesn’t, we have some alternatives for you. Surfaced paddocks are an excellent way to save your pastures from overgrazing and compaction, while providing a safe and dry place for your livestock to stay during the winter months.

Like nearly all home improvement projects, the most important step is the prep work. For any paddock to function well, the designated area must be scraped of any existing organic or loose, mud-making material. A slope of 1-2% away from the barn or other shelter is also necessary to help drainage and extend the life of the footing. Install gutters, downspouts and an outlet (or rain barrel with an overflow) to get the roof run-off diverted away from the paddock. In an average year with a rainfall of 45 inches, a 12 foot by 12 foot roof will shed over 4,000 gallons of water. Just re-routing this water can significantly reduce the accumulation of mud within a livestock keeping area.

Please view photos describing the mud prevention process.
So now you’re ready to install the new footing. But which do you choose?

Hogfuel, Pole Peelings & Wood Chips

Hogfuel, pole peelings or wood chips are an inexpensive route that can be used for almost any type of livestock. Make sure that the product is free of construction debris and does not contain toxic plants like black walnut and rhododendron. For animals like sheep, goats, and cows that are difficult to pick up after, a hogfuel paddock provides a mud free surface that can just be scraped away and composted after a season or 2 of use.

After preparing the area, a 2 - 4 inch interface layer of either flakes of straw, old hay, or large crushed rock needs to go down to help improve drainage. If rock is used, this layer needs to be locked into place with either a roller or plate compactor to provide a level sub-surface. A final 18 inch layer of hogfuel is spread out on top. After about a week or 2, this will compress to a mat of about 10 inches, providing a firm footing for your animals.

Gravel & Sand
Gravel or sand is an excellent option for horse paddocks. While the initial cost of installation is higher, the paddock, once installed, will provide many years of mud free footing if regularly maintained. To install this paddock, the ground surface should be graded and sloped. A layer of non-woven Geotextile fabric, grids, or large crushed rock spread and compacted as mentioned above will prevent the footing material from sinking into the ground, stabilize the subsoil, provide improved drainage and increase the load bearing capacity. Finally, a 4 - 8 inch surface layer of crushed 5/8 or 3/8 rock (minus or washed), pea gravel, or coarse builder’s sand will provide you and your livestock with excellent drainage and a long term solution to mud.
Hogfuel, Pole Peelings or Wood Chips
  • Low cost
  • Low daily maintenance
  • Nutrient run-off is minimized
  • Animals are more susceptible to thrush and rain rot
  • The material will decompose over time and will need to be removed and replaced
  • Some animals are allergic to cedar
Gravel or Sand
  • Easy to pick
  • Material does not need to be replaced
  • Secure and firm footing
  • A separate place to feed must be available
  • Higher cost to install
  • Paddocks must be picked daily and raked regularly
More Information
As you can see, there are several options to choose from, and they all have their positive points and drawbacks. It is important to take your animal’s type and temperament, as well as your own needs and resources into account when choosing which footing to install. For more information, designs, or technical assistance to install a mud free paddock, or other best management practices on your farm, contact your local Conservation District.