I'm Just Mud About You "Mud, Manure, and Livestock"

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Practical Mud and Manure Management Practices

The Humane Society of Utah receives numerous complaints each year, primarily in the winter, spring, and during periods of high precipitation, concerning horses and other livestock housed in corrals and paddocks filled with water, mud, and manure. While many owners may feel that this is unavoidable, it doesn’t have to be. Steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate mud and manure accumulations on livestock property.

The June 2005 issue of the Bay Journal noted that “In the 1700s and 1800s, farmers sometimes couldn’t figure out what to do with all the manure coming out of their animals. The waste would build up in barns until farmers would invite neighbors — usually with the inducement of plentiful alcohol — to a “dung frolic” to help clear the mess.

Others resorted to more drastic means. In 1825, one Pennsylvanian reported that “the dung has accumulated around some barns in such great quantities as to render access to them so difficult that they have been burned and new ones built.”

Living in mud and manure is unhealthy for horses and livestock and can lead to soil compaction, erosion and manure runoff. Mud can harbor bacteria and fungal organisms that cause health and hoof problems. Wet conditions can soften the hoof and sole, causing cracking and splitting, making horses more susceptible to stone bruising and other lameness. Thrush is a fungal infection that affects the frog of the hoof and also is caused by wet, muddy conditions. It can cause abscesses, rain scald, and other diseases. Animals fed near mud and manure suffer from increased internal parasitism infestations. Such conditions can also contaminate drinking water, harm wildlife, and reduce property values.

Wet animals can also suffer from low body temperatures, especially when exposed to wind; which, in turn, causes unthriftiness and even hypothermia. Animals in such conditions burn significantly more calories, just keeping warm, and require more feed. Slick footing can result in injuries.

Insects, that breed in mud and manure, are annoying and carry disease and their bites cause allergic reactions. Flies lay eggs in the top few inches of moist manure. Removal of this material from stables and paddocks on at least a weekly basis breaks the fly-breeding cycle. Keep stables as dry as possible and limit mud in paddocks and exercise areas. Remove manure and bedding at least every three days to help prevent parasite and worm infestations.

Exercise areas, paddocks or corrals should provide a minimum of 200 (300-400 is recommended) square feet of room per adult horse. Several long, narrow runs are best. The minimum width should be about 14 feet. Locate these areas on fairly level, relatively stone-free, welldrained soils.

It is estimated that a 1,000 pound horse can produce 8-10 tons of manure, at a rate of as much as 2 cubic feet per day, including bedding. The ideal would be to remove this manure every one to three days to prevent the buildup of a soupy surface layer, however, it’s usually impractical. Removal of this by-product helps control odors, flies, run-off, and rodents attracted to the refuse, scattered hay, and wasted grain.

If you are experiencing excessive manure, mud and run-off, consider reducing the number of animals you maintain on the property. General guidelines recommend 1-2 acres for grazing use for a 1,000-1,200 pound horse or mare and foal to cycle nutrients from manure and urine and to provide adequate space for meeting the social and exercise needs of horses.

The first steps include making sure that you have gutters and rain spouts which direct water away from your animal-holding areas to stop it from mixing with manure and dirt. Grade the surrounding area to keep surface water from running over or through the manure and into streams, irrigation, other surface water, and adjoining property. Grass filter strips around the edges of an exercise area will reduce any pollutants that might leave the site.

The next step is to provide some type of proper footing in paddocks, corrals, and other highuse areas near mangers, watering troughs, and gates. Areas around barn or stable entrances, paths, gates and other places where animals congregate can become overly muddy. Up to 18" of wood chips provides effective footing for most horse and livestock owners.

Animals on wet soils create mud, over-grazing, and trample forage. Proper footing, a minimum of 3" deep, allows the animals to get up out of the dirt and allow rainwater to drain through. Footing material may include: chipped or shredded wood products (also reduces urine odor), gravel (no larger than 3/4"), or coarse sand. Avoid feeding horses on sand as ingesting sand or dirt particles with hay can result in “sand colic”, a serious and potentially life-threatening digestive disorder. Less mud also reduces nutrients and sediments from running off and polluting surface water and neighboring property.

If you already have mud, you can either remove some of the existing mud or put in footing material at a ratio of at least 1:1 (if you have six inches of mud, you’ll need at least six inches of footing material. If the soil is very mucky or clay-like, you may want to first lay down some type of geotextile fabric, which can be purchased through garden and hardware stores and helps keep the soil from working its way up into the footing, and then place the footing material on top.

As a temporary measure, you can use a front-end loader or tractor to pile manure into mounds in corrals or paddocks to form dryer “islands” for your animals until the weather warms up and these areas can be scrapped and new footing material is hauled in.

It is your responsibility as a horse or livestock owner to provide safe and humane housing for animals in your custody. Please take the appropriate steps to improve your animals’ environment.