Cattle Nutrition: Going with the Ebb and Flow

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Katie Mason

Dr. Katie Mason
Assistant Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist
Department of Animal Science
P: 865-974-8941

Just a few months ago, the common topic of discussion was drought status and its impact on pastures, hay fields, and cattle nutrition. During the winter, some areas receive heavy rainfall, sometimes creating flooding conditions and a lot of mud, especially in hay feeding areas. Moving forward into spring in the next few months, the grass will green up and it will be time to take advantage of the spring flush of forage growth. We understand that as the seasons change, management must change too, in response to weather conditions and the resulting forage availability. Not to mention, the cow herd’s nutritional needs are fluctuating throughout the year as well. The more we understand about seasonality as it relates to nutritional needs, the better we can do aligning those needs with the current conditions.

Since we’re in the midst of winter hay feeding season, here are a few tips related to mud management:

Short Term:

  • Identify well-drained areas to feed hay and supplement. Low-lying areas retain water and do not dry out as quickly.
  • Start at the back of a pasture/pen when feeding hay, and throughout the hay-feeding period, move the hay ring closer to the gate. This means less trips all the way across the pasture, reducing wheel traffic across the area.
  • Consider reduced-labor feeding options. Reduced-frequency feeding and bale grazing are ways to reduce daily feeding trips but must be done correctly to ensure that there is no ruminal upset or decreased animal performance.


  • Consider creating a sacrifice paddock or heavy-use feeding area. Within this hay-feeding area, construct a concrete pad or use stone and geotextile fabric to reinforce the area that gets heavy traffic. While this method may not be able to be implemented in the thick of wet muddy conditions, it is something to consider for future winters.
  • Address equipment and facility challenges as appropriate, such as acquiring 4-wheel drive tractor(s) and hauling and spreading gravel into areas where needed.

While there is no perfect answer to managing muddy conditions, the considerations above can help to make the best of it until the next season.

As we look forward to spring, I want to take the opportunity to invite you to the Tennessee Grazing Conference on Friday, February 24th at the James E. Ward Ag Center (East West Building) in Lebanon, TN. The program will run from 9 AM to 3 PM Central, with registration beginning at 8 AM. Since there has not been an in-person Tennessee Forage and Grassland Council meeting in a few years, I am so excited to bring folks together to talk about all things grazing. Topics include extending the grazing season, genetics for forage-based systems, research updates, temporary fencing, and more. The cost to attend is $40 per person. You may visit UTBEEF.COM to register. The online registration form allows you to pay online or at the door. We will also take registrations on site the morning of the conference. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at, or 865-974-8941. I look forward to seeing you there!