The Benefits of Geotextile Fabric and Gravel in Cattle Lanes

Final Report for FNC01-352

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $3,250.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $2,665.00
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Our family farm consists of 210 acres in north central Missouri, of which 150 is improved pasture and the balance being timber, creeks and farmstead. We operate a 60 cow grass based dairy utilizing Management Intensive Grazing (MiG) from its beginning in 1998. All fencing and water systems are installed and actively used on a daily basis to meet the milk cow’s need for high quality forage. A combination of perennial cool season grasses with legumes and the use of warm season annuals insures a good, balanced diet. We use permanent high tensile fencing as well as portable poly wire and underground waterlines as well as on top of ground temporary, portable water systems. It is a system with great flexibility and ease of use.

All family members are involved in the farm, whether it is milking, moving portable fence, feeding calves, baling hay, etc. It is an enjoyable, safe and healthy place to raise a family.

As with any grass based dairy, milk cows are brought to the parlor twice daily via lanes from the paddocks. Without adequate gravel the lanes quickly become muddy, eroded, difficult to navigate (for the cattle as well as the farmer) and unsightly. The purpose of this project was to address this problem by installing geotextile fabric and gravel on approximately 1200 feet of lane.

The goals of this project were fairly straightforward. First, and foremost, we wanted the cows using the lanes coming to the parlor to clean, healthy udder rather than mud caked. Secondly, we wanted the farmer to enjoy not only fetching the cattle, but to expedite the milking process by less time cleaning and preparing the udder for milking. Third, overall environmental improvement could be achieved by controlling erosion. And lastly, the visual appeal was important to us.

We were able to get a real bargain on two rolls (15’ x 300’) of “seconds” of geotextile from a construction site where it did not meet the specs for the project. We believed a 15’ wide lane was excessive and costly as we cut the roll of fabric lengthwise in half with a chain saw while it was still in the roll (just like cutting a log). Crowning the lane area with a tractor and blade, we then unrolled the fabric. We placed various sizes and thicknesses of aggregate on top of the fabric to determine what the most effective and cost effective amount would be. In some areas we were actually able to dump directly from the truck and in others we used a tractor loader and blade.

Tim Clapp, Grassland Conservationist – Natural Resources Conservation Service. Tim assisted with the initial erosion assessment and pictures. He also advised on various techniques to use during installation.

Jordan Bentley assisted with the organization of the Green Hills Farm Project Farm Walk held here on April 18, 2002.

Jim Gerrish, Research Assistant Professor, UM Forage Systems Research Center. Jim was involved in bringing our grazing school participants to the farm to see results of the cattle land project as well as our MiG system and grass based dairy. Jim also assisted us in developing a Power Point presentation which was used at the grazing schools to further explain our methods.

Our results were mixed and somewhat incomplete as we will see more long term results in the future. However, we can draw conclusions from our preliminary, short term results.

Various Aggregate Types & Thickness
Aggregate type, thickness (“), results, comments
Waste lime, 4, poor, stuck to cow hooves and washed
Waste lime, 8, fair, pot holes developed and stuck to cow hooves
1” Comm. Base*, 4, fair, washed
1” Comm. Base, 8, good, thick enough to avoid washing
Mine Shale**, 6, fair-good, slimy when wet and does not wash
Mine shale + 1” Comm. Base, 8, excellent, mine shale excellent base and comm. Base on top of that held very well.

*Commercial Base contains the size rock specified plus fines that fill in between and pack well.
**Mine Shale is tailings from a local coal mine that contains red, clay like fines along with various size shale rock. Cost is minimal.

From the results as shown above, we concluded it best to put at least 6” of aggregate over the fabric. The thicker the better. Without question the best lane was the section that had 4” of mine shale with 4” of 1” commercial base on top. The mine shale seemed to make an excellent base for the aggregate on top which resulted in a lane with good crown in the middle for good water shedding.

What effect did the various aggregates and thicknesses have on our goals? What is the most cost effective and is it feasible for the average farm? The table below will summarize our findings up to this point:

Effect of Various Lane Sections on Goals
Aggregate, cow health, farmer satisfaction, environmental/erosion, visual, cost $/sq. ft.*
4” waste lime, fair, poor, poor, poor .09
8” waste lime, fair , poor, fair, fair, .18
4” – 1” comm. Base, good, fair, fair, fair, .14
8” – 1” comm. Base, good, good, good, good, .28
6” mine shale, fair-good, fair, good, fair, .11
Mine shale + 1” comm. Base, excellent, excellent, excellent, excellent, .24

*does not include cost of geotextile fabric which can vary widely depending on source. Because we found such a bargain (about .02/sq. ft.) it would not reflect a realistic figure. A more realistic cost of the fabric new would be about .16/sq. ft. F.O.B.

Based on our data, we found the best combination of aggregate to use was 4” of 1” commercial base over 4” of mine shale. This has held up very well under all environmental conditions and compared to the other combinations was cost effective.

The installation of geotextile and gravel for cattle lanes has had a positive impact on all areas of concern: cow health, farmer satisfaction and peace of mind, erosion, and visual appeal. This is a project that would not only work on a grass based dairy such as ours but any livestock operation where animals are concentrated in one area for any amount of time; around water tanks, feed bunks, working facilities, etc.

Of course, with any project, it takes money. Unfortunately trying to save by using only a 4” rock base or utilizing waste lime was money wasted now we will have to add gravel to areas that have washed and not held up under our conditions. In the long run, the producer is money ahead to purchase all the aggregate needed when initially starting. A word of caution: avoid using too coarse of an aggregate because it could result in injuring the animal’s hooves.

Being involved with the Green Hills Farm Project and the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center (UM-FSRC) has given us excellent visibility to producers literally across the country.

The Green Hills Farm Project, a group of producers who work toward sustainability with forage based system, meet monthly for “farm walks” hosted by a producer to learn and share ideas. On April 18, 2002, we hosted a farm walk where more than 35 producers saw first hand our project.

The UM-FSRC conducts beginning grazing schools where grazers across the country come to learn more about management intensive grazing. During this time we are asked to host the students for a “field trip” to see MiG first hand and in practice. We had grazing schools on August 29, 2002, October 3, 2002 (each with 35 students) and one as recently as September 11, 2003 with 50 students come visit the farm.

Lastly, the Missouri Forage and Grassland Conference annual meeting in November 2002 gave us the opportunity to be on the producer panel and present our farm (including information on this SARE project) to over 150 producers from throughout Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and even Australia. Our presentation involved using a Power Point presentation that Jim Gerrish helped put together.

We plan to continue to share with other producers through these same means in the future.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.