“Even with the high levels of moisture in the northern parts of the province, most pastures are at the stage where they are fully mature and not producing the quality forage that most cattle need,” says Karin Lindquist, forage and beef specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre.
“These pastures have also received a great amount of precipitation so pugging and soil damage are a real hazard to the pasture stand. This is a significant worry particularly with supplementing cows.”
She adds that pugging is especially a problem when cattle congregate around a stationary watering tank or protein tub.
“Their hooves dig into the soft earth and tear up the plants, turning sod into mud. Severe pugging creates deep ruts in the soil, as well as reduces soil pore spacing for water and air, causing compaction. Such areas make it difficult for plants to grow, especially if the area regularly receives a lot of hoof traffic.”
She says that it is important that some management is needed to minimize sod damage and compaction when providing supplemental feeds to pastured cattle.
“Pelleted or cubed feeds, as well as grain, are perhaps the easiest to manage because animals can be fed these feeds on different areas of the pasture each session. Small piles can be placed in different locations. That way, all animals get equal access and amounts, from the boss cow to the ones lower in the herd’s pecking order.”
Protein tubs are more difficult to move around to prevent damage to the pasture sod. These tubs often remain in one spot the entire time the herd is using it.
“While placing the tub at one of the highest points in the pasture is a good start, making it more mobile and easier to move by placing it on a makeshift sled or skid could help,” she explains. “Keeping the tub in one spot may be seen as a better option than moving it around due to reducing the number of areas that receive heavy hoof traffic. However it is important to realize that the wetter and more traffic the area gets, the more it is damaged, and the longer it will take to recover.”
Those damaged areas will need to be repaired and reseeded to prevent weeds from proliferating the following year. Lindquist says that the type of repair depends on the level of damage to the sod.
“Spreading some forage seed of an area that was lightly damaged with no pronounced pugging is usually all that is required. Areas with significant ruts need to be worked with a disc and some cultivation until the ruts have been eliminated and the land is smooth. It should be packed well before reseeding to encourage optimal germination.”
She adds that in both cases, the animals must be kept off these areas to allow the newly seeded plants sufficient time to grow and put down roots. That way, they are productive in the next growing season.
Connect with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre:
Hours: 8 am to 5 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)