Livestock Challenge Help

The first thing to do is to look carefully at the way your animals use their habitat-- where do they go to eat, where do they go to drink, where do they sleep, where do they go when its hot, cold, windy or rainy? Then think about how you manage supplemental feeding, where do you put manure from their pens, where do you give them hay, do you provide them with water? Make notes of all these activities and use this information to develop your plan.

The next step is to ask how all of this affects the streams near your paddocks and pens. Do you use any insecticides or herbicides that might pollute the water? Do your animals trample stream banks, leading to erosion and silting in the stream? Do you let your animals spend a lot of time grazing along the banks of a stream, re
moving all the protective vegetation? Do you pile manure near a stream? Do your animals "direct deposit" manure to a stream? These extra nutrients and chemicals are a major problem in Kansas, and cause algae blooms that can pollute drinking water and kill fish. Click here for nutrient lesson

Look for areas where the land is eroding. Gullies can be a major source of silt in stormwater run-off. This silt can make its way to streams, and it is a huge problem for lakes that are used for supplying drinking water in Kansas. Perry Lake, for example, is almost a third of the way full of silt, and this reduces the amount of water that can be stored for drinking water supplies and for flood control.

Make a diagram or map of all of the different places that you use to raise your animals. Make sure you include any ponds, streams, or other water bodies that might be impacted by your
animals and your activities,  and indicate where the run-off that leaves your land goes during a storm. Do you see any erosion that would indicate excessive run-off?

Once you have described how you are currently managing your animals you can identify potential problems that you would like to improve. This will be the basis for picking one problem to remedy in your project. You should make sure that the problem that you pick is something that is within your control to change, and that it is the right size for you to manage.

Here are some suggestions for how you can reduce the impact of livestock on streams:

  • Create a watering system that your animals can use away from the stream instead of having them drink directly from streams.
  • Fence off streams or create restricted access ramps to limit bank erosion and manure in streams.
  • Stream crossings can be constructed to minimize the amount of stream bank erosion.
  • Stabilize stream banks to reduce erosion. Make sure to use natural materials and approved methods (NEVER use trash, cars, appliances or other objects that will pollute the river).
  • Use riparian filter strips (vegetation) along streams to stabilize the banks, filter and absorb the water.
  • Create alternative shelters and windbreaks for livestock to move them away from riparian forests and reduce the amount of stream bank erosion. 
  • Test soil before applying manure or fertilizers to fields and only apply the amount you need, this will reduce the amount of nutrients running off into streams.
  • Compost manure and use for gardens. Manage manure so that it does not contaminate stormwater run-off.
  • If possible, plant perennials in places where you get erosion.
  • Converting annual crops to grasslands for grazing will reduce erosion and run-off.
One of the simplest best management practices for small farms is to move supplemental feeding sites away from streams an
d the vegetation on stream banks (which is also called “riparian vegetation”). A field study at Kansas State University found that nutrients and bacteria from manure excreted near big bale feeding sites remained within 100 feet of the bale. Providing 100 feet of buffer space between feeding sites and the riparian vegetation along stream banks is an
 environmentally sound best management practice.

Also, frequently removing the waste feed or hay from the feeding site helps minimize the accumulation of nutrients in these areas. Cleaning up waste hay and properly disposing of it before spring rains minimizes the potential for the nutrients to contaminate stormwater run-off.

The trees along stream banks can provide windbreak protection during cold weather. It may be wise to move the supplemental feeding site closer to the riparian trees as temperatures decrease and wind increases in the winter. However, the feeding site must be moved away from the stream when the weather becomes warmer in the spring so that the plants and the stream banks themselves are not badly damaged by erosion and over grazing, like they are in this photograph. You should also move supplemental feeding areas on a regular basis. By moving feeding locations, the vegetation damaged from grazing and trampling can recover, and the effect of erosion from bare ground is reduced.

Another strategy is to provide an alternative source of water so that your animals don't have to go to the stream to drink. This may cost more to set up, but some states have cost-share programs available to develop alternative water sites and this can make it less expensive.

The key principles are:

  • Move feeding and watering sites away from riparian vegetation and streams, as well as from ponds that empty into streams.
  • Frequently remove excess feed and move feeding sites to reduce build up of bacteria and nutrients. 
  • Manage manure and reduce the amount of nutrients that contaminate run-off.
  • Manage your pastures well to avoid erosion.
  • Take care to use herbicides and pesticides carefully so that they don't contaminate stormwater run-off, streams and ponds.

(This material was adapted from an article by Joe Harner, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Kansas State University which was edited by Chris Henry, Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln click here to read the original)

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