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Alternatives to fencing cattle out of streams

Dairy Pipeline: June 1999

Gerald M. (Jerry) Jones
Extension Dairy Scientist, Milk Quality & Milking Management
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-4764

Are there other alternatives to fencing cattle out of streams? No doubt there are some people who are upset or disturbed because we concluded in the May issue of the Virginia Dairyman that "cattle should be fenced out of streams and ponds because it's the right thing to do, both environmentally and economically." Are there other options that don't require considerable fencing? Some of these could include rotational grazing, grassy strips or woody buffers, or alternate water supplies. Wisconsin studies showed that rotational grazing was nearly as good as grassy buffer strips with regard to bank stability and in-stream habitat, and there was less bank erosion than on continually grazed sites. Fish communities responded more positively to bufferstrips. Rotational pastures had less sod cover than bufferstrips. Research involving Drs. Mostaghimi, Vaughan, and E. Collins from Virginia Tech's Department of Biological Engineering concluded that the presence of an off-stream water source for grazing cattle reduced the time that cattle spent in the stream area as well as the time they spent drinking from the stream. When given a choice, cattle were observed to drink from a spring-fed water trough 92% of the time compared to drinking from the stream. Stream bank erosion and the losses of sediment and sediment-bound pollutants, including nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal bacteria, were significantly reduced. However, when available forage within the main grazing area decreased, cattle were forced to seek vegetation within the stream corridor. Yes, there are options but one of them should not be overgrazed continuous pastures with streams as the only water supply (and ponds shouldn't be either to avoid potential mastitis problems).

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