Home Discussion Forum Water Quality Grazing along streams

This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Robert Bauer Robert Bauer 2 years ago.

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  • #990
    Profile photo of Robert Bauer
    Robert Bauer
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    In Southwest Wisconsin we often see cattle grazing in streamside pastures and crops located in upland areas. What is your experience in your location with the positive and negative impacts of grazing along the stream on stream quality?

    • This topic was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by Profile photo of Robert Bauer Robert Bauer.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by Profile photo of Robert Bauer Robert Bauer.
  • #993

    Recent heavy rains/flood conditions in many parts of Wisconsin has created visible signs of erosion along many stream banks.  Can you share some of the risks of allowing cattle access to stream banks with these conditions, and advice for farmers who do not have another source of water for their cattle?

  • #994
    Profile photo of Robert Bauer
    Robert Bauer
    Participant

    I’d be overstating any risks to animal health of grazing along eroded banks. Obviously, cows could fall or get stuck in the mud and break a leg or calves could fall and drown, but I think those would be rare events. In any case, adequate supplies of clean water are important to animal productivity. Eroded banks make it hard for animals to get to water and they expend more energy walking to less steep access points.

    Cows could also end up with dirty hides from scratching their faces on bare exposed bank faces, as described at the Pioneer Farm in Platteville in this article: https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2005/3134/. That might affect marketing of the cattle.

    I would recommend developing improved access points — or stream crossings — that the cattle will prefer to use to water instead of the eroded banks. Producers can also use a “nose pump” that the cattle can operate to pump water out of the stream a short distance; although that may not work well with calves. Streambank restoration – i.e. removing soil to taper back the slope of the bank and revegetating – can remediate the erosion and improve animal access to water. There are many sources of technical and financial assistance for those practices, including Trout Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA-NRCS, and county land conservation departments.

    I also think that grazing management has a big impact on streambank erosion. The height of the grass aboveground is equal to the depth of roots belowground.  You can drive through Crawford and Richland Counties and see the clear differences in damage between typical (overgrazed) streamside pastures that are grazed to 2″ height and undisturbed grassland streams where the grass is 12″+ tall. So I would suggest a managed rotational grazing plan for the cattle that allows at least a 45-day rest period in each paddock and minimum 4″ residual height so the grass grows strong roots that prevent erosion and maximize grass productivity.

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