Alexander Pope must have been thinking of farmers in 1734 when he wrote “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be blessed.” There is a deep abiding faith that this year will be better than last which seems to drive us all forward to battle our farming enemies from year to year. This year will be better because we are starting to see proof some of my really unorthodox solutions in dealing with mud are starting to work.
Bring out the flax
The best method we have found for solidifying muck is flax straw. Flax was used in ancient times to make bricks. Growing up we learned the slaves in Egypt used straw and mud to make the bricks that built the pyramids so my logic was the cows should be able to pound the flax into the dirt and stop the muck.
Before turning to flax straw we spent $2,000 on limestone and just watched it disappear. Our thinking was that the limestone would settle and form a bottom. The area where we load cows for pasture is close to our heated water trough and in desperation, when the limestone didn’t work, we started throwing in flax bales. We unrolled many of them. A Grainews reader shared he had used flax straw extensively around his self-feeders and the steers no longer had to stand in a muck hole every spring. The limestone bottom was eventually found by the cows and now we have to add flax to it every spring, but it is much less costly than rock.
A caution to this is that flax doesn’t rot. It will be there for years so we were told not to put it where we don’t want brick.
This little mud-management project has expanded. Last summer we brought home used flax straw square bales from the dump. The square bale sections are perfect for breaking up around the water trough, filling in potholes, and lining gates.
The ground around our water troughs was eroding badly. The cement pad was actually sitting about three inches above the mud. Last summer we started packing slices of the square flax bales into the area every time it rained. This spring, it still looks like mud, but the ground level is back up to the cement and it is no longer washing away. The best part of this is that used flax bales cost us very little.
This year we volunteered to pick up used flax bales from area people that use them for keeping their septic fields covered. This is a win/win proposition. They don’t have to pay to have them hauled to the dump and we don’t have to pay for the bales. We are, with the larger supply, hoping to continue filling in the area that the tractor drives through in our south feeding area. The cows also walk through it to get to water so they will tramp in the flax.
Squares are better
The straw in large round flax bales don’t work so well in every situation. We unrolled them where the school bus used to park and unlike the leaves of the square bales the straw pushed around and was unruly. When using the round bales we found driving backwards through it with the tractor helped to tamp it in a bit better. Driving frontward, the straw just wanted to push in front of the tires instead of working into the mud.
The other choice we have to manage these muddy areas is rocks. We have considered collecting rocks and dumping them across gates but straight rocks can be risky. My husband prefers we pour rock across the gates first, and then cover them with the flax straw. His reasoning is that, depending on the size and shape of the rocks, we can break tie rods by getting the tires caught in-between rocks when the machinery sinks. The flax cushions this because it meshes with the muck that comes up between the rocks. This also helps humans and animals from twisting ankles as they cross the area.
It feels productive to have a battle plan for our muck issues.