If pugging is an issue, try these tips to get out of the mud

6 August 2021

With some regions in Victoria experiencing heavy rainfall, and in some cases on top of recent floods and storms, there’s an increasing risk of pugging in paddocks.

Pugging can reduce pasture growth by 20 to 40 per cent and pasture use by 40 to 60 per cent, due to damage and soiling of pasture. Pasture production in the following spring and summer may also be impacted by 20 to 80 per cent, depending on the severity of pugging damage. Pugging may also lead to increased animal health issues including mastitis and lameness.

Pugging occurs as very wet soils have reduced strength or structural integrity, making them more easily damaged by cow hooves and machinery. When soils are pugged, compaction occurs reducing the rate of water infiltration.

The severity of damage will depend on soil type, degree of waterlogging and most importantly grazing management. The greater the severity and extent of pugging damage, the greater the set-back and cost of pasture restoration.

Modified grazing techniques and on-off grazing are two strategies which can be employed to minimise the physical and economic impacts of pugging damage.

Modified grazing techniques

Maintain good grazing management with cows grazing pasture at the two to three-leaf stage and leaving a post grazing residual of 4cm-6cm is critical in wet conditions. This will assist to achieve a minimum grazing height of 10cm with an ideal height of 15cm to 20cm. This height allows the cows to take big bites of pastures, reducing their need to walk and create associated damage. The techniques below can further assist.

In On-Off grazing, cows usually graze pastures for two to four hours and are then removed before severe pugging damage starts to occur.

Research has shown on well-fertilised pastures at the two to three-leaf stage, after two hours grazing cows consume 70 per cent of the pasture that they would eat over a full 12-hour grazing period, and 77 to 88 per cent over four hours. After the four hours, little extra intake occurs, but the rate of pugging increases drastically. Therefore, it is best to remove the cows and save the pasture for the next rotation. However, when using this strategy, the animals will need to be topped up with a high-quality supplement to avoid loss of milk production.

There needs to be somewhere for the animals to go in the “off” period. Farmers may have a suitable area or can be very innovative in setting up a site for the “off” cows. This can include places such as feedpads, unused silage pits, tree lots (watch for ringbarking and avoid edible parts of conifers), sawdust pads, laneways, sand banks, hard standing areas and cow yards. Each site has its own pros and cons which need to be considered and managed.

Consider which strategies would work on your farm. If you get the chance, discuss the various options with other farmers who have tried these, or they may even have other ideas not discussed here.

For more information on minimising pugging damage contact Agriculture Victoria’s David Shambrook on 0427 350 928 or visit Agriculture Victoria’s website.