Exclusion fencing for livestock near creeks keeps water clean

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Fencing livestock out of streams

You don’t have to drive far across Ashland County to see that livestock play an important role in our agricultural economy. And I have to confess: although I always enjoy seeing the different seasons of our county’s grain crops as a drive through the county, it’s the pastures filled with livestock that truly bring a smile to my face. 

Unfortunately, what I also see on farms too often are severely eroded stream banks cutting through those pastures, and cattle congregating in their own version of a “pool party” in those streams. Although the cartoon vision of a cattle pool party that plays in my head makes me laugh, the reality of the consequences of those cattle in the creeks makes me cringe. 

Consequences

One of the most common, most cited sources of impairment to the water quality in Ashland County is bacteria in our waterways. 

Despite our county’s thriving, river-based tourism economy, the reality is that only 13% of the site sampled by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 met water quality recreational use standards, with bacteria from manure runoff and failing septic systems identified as significant contributors. 

Fencing

One of the simplest practices farmers can install to help reduce manure runoff from entering our waters is livestock exclusion fencing. And the best news is, Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District partners with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District to provide 100% cost-share for up to $10,000 of fencing to farmers within the Muskingum Watershed district’s jurisdictional boundaries. 

If you’re a livestock producer, you may wonder why you should care about excluding your animals from the streams in your pastures. The answer is simple and in two parts: to be a better steward of your land and to improve your bottom line. 

Stewardship

Despite the popular narrative that paints farmers as the “bad guys” when it comes to creating water quality issues, there’s not a single farmer that I personally know who does not want to do what’s best for the long-term sustainability and viability of their farm. 

Excluding livestock from streams helps producers become better stewards in several ways. It reduces streambank erosion and soil loss, reduces manure runoff and bacteria entering our waterways and improves wildlife habitat. 

Bottom line

But in addition to those environmental benefits, livestock exclusion fencing can improve your bottom line. After implementing stream exclusion fencing, beef producers commonly see an increase in cattle weight gain, dairy producers see increased milk production (and butterfat) and all cattle producers commonly experience decreased disease presence in their herds. 

Replacing on-stream watering with off-stream watering facilities improves the cleanliness and quality of water cattle are consuming. Plus, stream access can expose cattle to harmful organisms, including those that cause foot rot, environmental mastitis, jaundice, fever, red nose, bovine viral diarrhea and tuberculosis. 

Learn more. So with all of these benefits, what’s holding you back? We invite you to join us Sept. 29 at Sycamore Valley Farms in Ashland for our “Conservation Chat: Don’t Fence Me In” to learn more about the benefits of installing livestock exclusion fencing and the cost-share opportunities available. 

Registration is free, but pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, call the district office at 419-281-7645.

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Jane Houin is the fiscal and education specialist for Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a graduate of Purdue University with a BS in agricultural communication and MS in mass communication. Houin raises horses and sheep with her husband Craig and their three children. She can be reached at 330-674-2811 or jhouin@co.holmes.oh.us.

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