Managing pugging and damage to wet areas

With the recent high rainfall received across some parts of Victoria, managing livestock in wet areas is front of mind for many producers. Where grazing areas are prone to pugging and waterlogging, having strategies and options in place to minimise the damage to pastures and soils is essential.

As soils become saturated and the macropores in the soil fill with water, the structure and strength of the soil is affected. Saturation also reduces oxygen availability in soils and plant growth begins to slow.

Treading, or pugging, particularly by cattle, further impacts soil strength leading to compaction, reduced porosity, permeability and water infiltration and further reduced growth rates in pastures. Depending on the severity of pugging, pasture growth can be reduced by 20-80 per cent and pasture utilisation can be reduced by 20-40 per cent (Mickan, 2011).

Removing livestock from wet areas is the best option to reduce pugging. However, this is not always an option for producers. Implementing different grazing techniques can assist in controlling the way cattle move around a paddock and work to prevent or minimise the damage that is done to wet soils during grazing:

Strategic Grazing: by knowing soil types, avoiding grazing areas that are prone to waterlogging and having greater pasture mass available during a wet event will reduce the severity of pugging. Having the option and planning to move stock to higher areas and/or well-drained soils, particularly later in the season, will also help manage wet areas and prevent damage.

On-Off Grazing: a grazing system where cattle graze for a short period of time and are then removed to a stand-off area such as a laneway, containment area, yards or a sacrifice paddock. As damage is often caused by cattle searching for feed, allocating a shorter time period in which cattle are grazing should reduce pugging across the paddock.

Research has shown that cattle can consume around 6kg to 10kg Dry Matter (DM) per cow in 2 to 4 hours of grazing if pasture cover is high i.e., a pasture height of 10-15cm of around 2200kg to 2500kg DM/ha or be in the 2 to 3 green leaf stage (Mickan 2011).

Strip Grazing: strip grazing and using a back fence to stop cattle from moving back across pastures can be an effective method of preventing pugging and further damage to previously grazed areas. If strip grazing is an option and is dependent on paddock size, being able to move the fence line two to three times throughout the day will reduce the total time cattle have in each section of the paddock and can significantly reduce the damage caused by treading.

Grazing taller pastures: grazing taller, denser pastures (>10cm, or >2200kgDM/ha) will help to reduce pugging damage by minimising the contact between the hoof and soil as well as providing more feed on offer and reducing the need for animals to wander in search of feed (Geri et al, 2013). Although pastures with greater height and density tend to have stronger root systems and are more likely to recover, other factors such as soil type, degree of waterlogging and likely cost to recover or renovate pastures if damaged should also be considered.

Reduce stocking rate: Removing cattle from wet areas is the best option to minimise pugging damage. This could include destocking some or all cattle with options to feed in containment, sell or agist. Another option for reducing the stocking rate could be to allocate a larger grazing area to stock. This should be carefully considered as it may be more costly than repairing damage in a smaller area.

For more information on options to minimise pugging, managing wet areas or around pasture recovery from pugging check out the Agriculture Victoria Managing wet soils site and EverGraze websites below

References

Gerri, C, Miller, L. Sargeant, K (2013), Manage wet soils – South West Victoria, EverGraze Website.

Mickan, F. (2011), What Is pugging?, Agriculture Victoria.

Mickan, F. (2011), On-Off grazing to prevent pugging, Agriculture Victoria