In a nutshell...
- Pugging happens when grazing animals tread wet soils and sink into the pasture surface and leave large holes.
- Continual pugging will lead to the paddock looking like brown soup.
- The delicate crumb structure of the soil is broken down. The crumbs are smeared by the pounding action of the feet, and the soil air is squashed out.
- It can be a period of months to years, or perhaps longer before this delicate crumb structure is restored.
- Research has shown that return to full pasture production can be delayed by up to nine months.
- The problem has gotten worse as dairy herds have gotten bigger, and greater emphasis has been placed on efficient pasture utilisation using high stocking rates.
How can you tell if you have a problem?
- Paddocks soon turn to mud when grazed during wet periods.
- Gateways and around troughs are particularly bad.
- Deep tracks along fences or stock camp areas which then act as runoffs for surface water.
- Water in drains and streams beside the grazed paddocks coloured by sediment.
- Nutrient loss from surface runoff.
- Impossible to walk across the paddock without sinking in.
- Stock sinking into a paddock while grazing.
- Lower overall production when paddock dries out.
- Areas of bare ground that do not have grass over for long periods.
- Rapid weed growth on bare areas leads to more work and the cost of spraying.
- Damaged drains not functioning - surface water visible.
How can you tell if you're doing well?
- You can graze pastures all winter.
- Stock can be grazed leaving residuals of 1100-1200 kg DM/ha in wet weather.
- Pastures in winter still look green immediately after grazing.
- No hoof marks on pasture after grazing in winter.
- Pastures achieve their full annual growth potential.
What can you do to improve things?
- Keep a close watch on the pastures when grazed in wet conditions.
- Be prepared to remove stock from pasture (day or night) when the first signs of damage appear
- Use on/off grazing strategies.
- Build loafing or feed pads for stock in wet weather.
- The concrete part of the race for a short-term holding area.
- Consider running animals at lower stocking rates and of lower mature live weights.
- Use lax grazing and set stocking, rather than intensive strip grazing.
- Speed up the grazing round.
- Fence off areas prone to pugging damage and don't graze in wet conditions.
- Fence off areas where stock like to congregate.
- Maintain drains.
- Don't graze areas next to waterways - fence them off.
- Provide enough water troughs to prevent stock from walking long distances to drink.
- Move stock quietly from wet paddocks.
- Move stock across grassed areas rather than across grazed areas.
- Don't let the stock get too hungry so they walk the fences while waiting for a shift.
Written by: Dr Clive Dalton