Mud Matters: Simple steps toward health management

Driving around the Hood River Valley in winter, it is easy to notice a lot of damaged pastures and livestock standing hoof-deep in mud. This time of year we tend to accept mud as a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can avoid most mud problems by taking a few steps to manage the soil and water on your land.

Mud happens when soils become saturated by winter rains and hooves or equipment mix the top layers of soil with manure and water. Animals and equipment allowed on wet soils compact the lower layers, reducing the ability of the soil to absorb water.

Mud poses much more risk than simply being a nuisance. Animals standing or walking through mud can be exposed to foot and other health problems. These moist areas are breeding grounds for bacteria, flies, and other parasites. The areas that were mud in the winter will turn to dust in the dry summer months.

Mud is also damaging to the environment. Runoff of sediment contaminates surface water and is detrimental to fish and aquatic wildlife. Runoff also means you have lost precious topsoil that supports a healthy pasture and flourishing plants.

n Begin by removing livestock from pastures, and confine them to a holding area, paddock or corral during wet winter months. Careful consideration should be given to the location of these livestock holding areas. Choose a well-drained area away from existing streams, ponds or other clean water. Gravel, sand, woodchips or other paddock footings can be used to keep mud from forming in these areas.

n Install gutters and downspouts on all structures on your property, including barns and sheds. A 1-inch rainstorm on a 30-by-30-foot roof can produce upwards of 558 gallons of water. Use your downspouts to direct clean roof runoff into ditches or heavily vegetated areas. This will prevent clean water from picking up pollutants and minimize soil erosion and mud around structures.

n Cover manure and soil piles as well as areas of ground that are not vegetated. By simply tossing a tarp over these mud-producing areas, you can avoid potentially sticky situations. A tarp-covered manure pile will protect water quality by not leaching nutrients into surface or groundwater.

n Plant native vegetation as a buffer for runoff in the wet areas of your property. Vegetation reduces mud in several ways. Raindrops will be slowed down by the foliage, reducing the water’s ability to erode the soil. Roots of the plants will also hold soil in place and slow water down allowing the ground to absorb more water and reduce runoff. Conifers will continue to uptake water throughout the winter months, minimizing the amount available to run off.

Clean water, less mud, and healthier livestock are the result of following these simple management practices. Please join the effort to keep our creeks, rivers and streams healthy.

There is plenty more you can do to improve the soil and water health on your property and technical assistance and supplemental funding is available. For more information, contact your Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District at 541-386-4588 or

— Submitted by Kris Schaedel on behalf of Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District.

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