An ounce of prevention
Wet lanes with ruts can cause cows to become muddy, and be difficult for walking and moving equipment.
Photo by Kevin Janni
The National Weather Service is predicting spring floods in 2011 to be much above normal for the Mississippi river and its tributaries from St. Cloud to Red Wing, the Minnesota River, the St. Croix River and Red River in Minnesota, and the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. Wet soil conditions from last fall combined with abundant snow this winter are setting the stage for major widespread spring flooding across the Midwest. With this in mind, now might be a good time to begin preparing for the spring thaw and wet conditions around your dairy and neighborhood. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Conditions this year may require more than an ounce of prevention.
Planning ahead is always a good idea. One way to begin planning is to take an inventory of problem spots from previous years and consider actions you could take to prevent or minimize the problems.
Most Minnesotans are well aware of spring load restrictions that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN DOT) imposes during the spring thaw. Load limits are imposed to prevent damage to roads and pavement when water is trapped in the sub-grade above the frost during spring thaw. The trapped water weakens the sub-grade, and heavy loads can damage the road and pavement above. Limiting vehicle loads minimizes pavement and sub-grade damage. Dairy farms have very large loads coming and going. Although milk hauling is an essential routine task, feed and bedding can be stockpiled to avoid having to haul partial loads because of weight limits. You can check for MN DOT load limits on the web or by calling toll-free 1-800-723-6543.
A wet spring and flooding can cause additional problems for a dairy depending on location and terrain. Clearly if your farm is located in a flood plain, it is important to begin planning now. Feed or bedding stored in an area that may flood or become muddy during the spring thaw may be worth moving or using before it becomes water logged or inaccessible.
Almost every farm has some low spots that collect snow melt and rain runoff. These wet spots may be small but this winter's large snow piles may keep them wet for an extended period of time. If cows, people, tractors, trucks or other equipment need to go through them every day, they can become deeper and larger making it harder to run a grade A dairy.
Low spots along farm lanes and roads can remain wet, muddy and rutted before the frost goes out. Ruts can form near the edges of concrete pads, bunker silos, watering troughs and low wet areas. These wet and rutted areas can make feed preparation and feeding more difficult as feed wagons sink into the soft ruts. The dirt that is picked up by the wheels and brought into feed alleys or bunker silos can get into the feed and make it less palatable.
Cow yards and pasture lanes can get wet and muddy too. Cows that walk through the muddy areas get dirty and can contribute to an increase in somatic cell counts.
Here are some things you can do, right now or later to reduce problems with muddy lanes and cow yards.
- Lanes that commonly get muddy can be built up. Drainage around roads and lanes can be enhanced to drain snow melt and rain runoff away and limit the moisture that collects in the sub-grade above the frost during the spring thaw.
- As you dig out from each snow storm, either blowing or piling the snow off to the side, think about where the snow melt will go this spring. Now might be a good time to move some snow so that the snow melt does not flow through low spots where cows, people, tractors, trucks and other equipment move through.
- Think about things that you can do to divert snow melt and rain drainage through and around your yards. Keep runoff out of cow yards to help them dry out more quickly in the spring. Also, divert roof runoff to keep it from entering cow yards or running through low spots that animals, people and equipment must go through.
- For a longer term solution, consider paving lanes or building all-season lanes using geotextile fabrics. Geotextile fabrics can be used around watering troughs and adjacent to concrete pads. To learn more about building an all-season lane or pad you can purchase a copy of AED 45, Using All-Weather Geotextile Lanes and Pads for $5 plus shipping and handling from MidWest Plan Service.
Published in Dairy Star February 4, 2011