Corangamite Region   'Brown Book'   - How to optimise your soils to enhance productivity
How do I manage the impact of pugging?
Most relevant to the dairy industry
Key Points
Understanding the problem
Managing the problem
Other related questions in the Brown Book

Source: DEPI Victoria
Key Points
  • Soil pugging is a major management problem associated with dairy and beef cattle farming
  • It is essential that you manage wet paddocks carefully during a wet winter

  • Pugged pastures reduce pasture growth and pasture utilisation and can lead to animal health and weed infestation problems
  • Pugged pastures cost money and create stress!
Understanding the problem
Why is it important to me as a farmer?
  • Pugging is a form of compaction and is the term used for when cows damage both the soil structure and the pasture
  • Pugging seals the soil surface and exacerbates waterlogging of the topsoil by impeding infiltration and providing surface indentations for water storage, thereby reducing the efficiency of surface drainage from the paddock
  • As pasture is the cheapest source of feed for most farmers it is vital to minimise the damage that cows can do to pastures by pugging up the paddocks

  • Pugging has the potential to cause serious damage to pasture:
    • 20-80 per cent reduction in pasture growth (depending on the severity of the pugging);
    • 20-40 per cent reduction in pasture utilisation; and
    • 39-54 per cent reduction in ryegrass tiller density
  • These are sizeable reductions in pasture intake which will result in drastic milk production or increased cost of supplementary feeding. Pastures are the cheapest source of feed for most farmers and you need to minimise damage to pastures during very wet conditions

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How and why it occurs
  • High rainfall events have the potential to quickly saturate the entire soil profile and cause problems for pastures. While we do need water to grow grass (along with some sunshine), too much of a good thing can have a negative effect
  • Pugging, is a significant issue where animals are grazed on landscapes with wet or waterlogged soils
  • Severe pugging can occur on the clay soils such as the Gellibrand Marl in dairy country found in the south-west areas of the Corangamite region (Heytesbury)
  • It is also an issue on basalt soils in higher rainfall areas. A study by MacEwan (1998) confirmed the susceptibility of the region’s soils to pugging, especially in landscapes where the soils are saturated or where the watertable is within 20cm of the surface soil

    Figure 1 - Areas of high to very high soil structure decline susceptibility in the Corangamite region – Source: CCMA Soil Health Strategy
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How to recognise it in the paddock
  • Shallow compaction of the soil resulting from treading pressures can restrict downward movement of water and encourage shallow perching of water within the top few centimetres of soil
  • MacEwan (1998) witnessed this at a sandy loam site near Nullawarre where a spade depth of soil was excavated and water was seen to ooze out of the top few centimetres but not from the lower depths. Using a pocket penetrometer, soil strength was found to be almost three times higher in a thin compacted layer compared to the soil above and below this layer

    Figure 2 - Pugging in waterlogged soils caused by dairy cattle, leading to soil structure decline. – Source: CCMA Soil Health Strategy

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Managing the problem
What is the best practice?
  • There are several management options that dairy farmers can use to minimise pugging damage:
    1. Avoid intensive grazing of paddocks in conditions when pugging damage is likely
    2. Implement sub-surface and intermediate drainage

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How can you achieve this?
1. Avoid intensive grazing of paddocks in conditions when pugging damage is likely
  • Change land use (dedicate as a hay or silage paddock and graze only in summer, or remove from the grazing rotation)
  • Remove stock as soon as pugging is imminent
  • Allocate short grazing periods on restricted area to allow optimal feed intake prior to onset of pasture damage – use on-off grazing techniques:
    • This refers to removing cows from the pasture after a short period of grazing
    • It has been identified as an effective method of reducing hoof compaction on broadacre grazing land as it maintains good ground cover and higher organic carbon levels
    • This practice is currently being adopted over 30% of broadacre grazing land in the Corangamite region (MacEwan 1998)
  • Designate a sacrifice area to which cows are moved in any wet weather
  • Construct or designate a loafing area (pad, laneway, barn or woodlot) to which stock can be moved in wet conditions
  • Construct a feed pad for all supplementary feeding in wet weather
    Figure 3 – Cows on a sand bank. – Source: DEPI Victoria

    Figure 4 - Figure 4 – Cows on a limestone pad. – Source: DEPI Victoria

2. Sub surface drainage and intermediate drainage:
  • Intercept all surface runoff from areas extraneous to the grazing area (roads, land higher in catchment)
  • Improve surface drainage of surrounding paddocks
  • Improve surface drainage of paddocks (more surface drains, land forming, removal of surface roughness)
  • Improve soil internal drainage characteristics by removing any compact or impeding layers (surface loosening, shallow chisel ploughing or ripping to relieve cow-induced soil compaction, deep ripping to loosen compact soil zones which are inherent to the soil type)
  • Install subsurface drainage systems (e.g. pipes, pipes and moles, pipes and ripping, pipes and gravel moles, tube wells)
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Other related questions in the Brown Book

Brown Book content has been based on published information listed in the Resources and References sections below

  • Frank Mickan and Leah de Vries, Pugging – Get the cows off. Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
  • Johnston T (2011), Soil Types and Structures Module. Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
  • Clarkson T, Department of Primary Industries on behalf of the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (2007).Corangamite Soil Health Strategy 2007. Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, Colac, Victoria.
  • MacEwan R (1998). Winter Wet Soils in Western Victoria. Options for the Dairy Industry. WestVic Dairy Research and Development Committee and the University of Ballarat.
  • MacEwan R. (2003). Soil Health Strategy for Corangamite Region. (Discussion paper). Centre for Land Protection Research.
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This project is supported by the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, through funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country

Page Updated: September 2013
Produced by AS Miner Geotechnical