Livestock management has a direct effect on regional water quality. Management decisions, like the ones mentioned below, can keep nutrients on your fields and out of waterways from spring through fall. For information on winter bale grazing, click here.
Provide an alternate water source
If livestock can access natural waterways, their manure and urine can too. Instead, redirect livestock to alternate water sources away from streams, like closed ponds or constructed reservoirs on your land. With an alternate water source, livestock will spend less time in natural waterways and more time in contained water where the effects of manure and urine are less of a concern.
Time pasture use to match seasonal runoff
Rotational grazing has many benefits, and works best with the environment when it’s carefully planned. Schedule livestock to graze near waterways during drier months of the year. Livestock should graze far from rivers and streams during wet months, when nutrients in manure are more likely to wash into streams. Likewise, avoid grazing near waterways in late fall, as manure that interacts with snowpack all winter is especially susceptible to dissolved nutrient loss.
Overgrazing a pasture can increase nutrient loss by degrading the soil structure and reducing surface vegetation. Both consequences will increase erosion, which leads to particulate nutrient loss. Likewise, when soils are degraded through overgrazing, rainfall can’t readily infiltrate the soil, which causes runoff and nutrient loss to increase.
Use lower stocking rates
On that note, stocking rates affect pasture quality. Manage your stocking density to avoid overgrazing and preserve pasture quality.
Consider fencing streams
Fencing isn’t always possible or desired. However, fencing can prevent livestock from entering streams and also protect streambanks from eroding under the weight of livestock, meaning less particulate nutrients will enter area waterways.
Consider your climate and plan for the winter
Time your grazing with the winter in mind. If your region is humid and you see lots of snowfall, graze late to keep vegetation low. This will trap less blowing snow and reduce snow accumulation which, in turn, reduces nutrient runoff in the spring. However, if your region is dry, try to keep taller vegetation through the winter. This will lead to greater snow accumulation, which is necessary for soil water recharge. Plan your late-season grazing according to your regional climate.
With careful management, grazed fields can have the same sediment and nutrient loss as natural ungrazed grassland. Key strategies – like sustainable stocking rates, rotational grazing, and relocating livestock away from streams – will reduce nutrient loss from erosion and waste. Livestock producers can reduce their impact on erosion and water quality by preserving vegetation, protecting streams, and managing their herds with nutrient loss in mind.