What Can It Do For Your Herd?

Stream exclusion fencing can create significant returns for your farm. While stream exclusion fencing does require an upfront investment, 80% of fencing costs can be reimbursed through cost share programs. However, the other 20% of the fencing cost plus even more can be put back into your pocket through the returns that the benefits of stream exclusion fencing provide to your herd. Here’s how…

  • Less cattle deaths
    • Farmers site increased survival of calves, as there are fewer drownings without access to the streams.i
  • Less cattle illnesses (aka decreased veterinary bills)
    • because the cattle are not drinking water which they, as well as other members of the herd, have defecated in, there is less contraction and transmission of “foot rot, bacterial inflammation, jaundice, fever, red nose, bovine virus diarrhea, tuberculosis, and mastitis.” i
  • Less cattle injuries (aka decreased veterinary bills)
    • There will also be decreased leg and foot injuries that were the result of unstable footing along stream banks.i
  • Faster weight gain
    • Additionally, a study by Surbur G. et al. (2005) compared cattle who had access to alternate watering systems to cattle who drank from streams increased their water consumption.ii A variety of studies report increased weight gains in cattle that have access to cleaner water, which translates to increased sale costs.ii An off-stream waterer that increases weight gain by 5% translates to an extra $15 per calf with a sale price of $0.60 per lb.ii 
    • Figure 2: Demonstration of Increased Profits Due to Cattle Weight Gain7
Typical calf sale weightAdditional weight gain due to offstream watererMarket priceIncreased revenue due to off-stream waterer
500 lb/calf5% or 25 lb$0.60 / lb.$15 / calf

Additionally, many of the cost share programs come with a bundle of benefits, which many farmers greatly appreciate. In fact, in a series of interviews conducted by our Programs and Special Projects Coordinator, E.C. Myers, many cattle farmers cited the bundle of benefits they received by participating in the cost share program as the reason for implementing stream exclusion fencing on their farms. These benefits include subsidization for watering systems and cross fencing, both of which can certainly make a farmer’s job easier. The farmers who wanted to implement rotational grazing on their farms greatly benefitted from the funding of cross fencing through these programs.

How Does Keeping Your Cattle Out of Streams Benefit the Environment?

The Chesapeake Bay is considered an “economic powerhouse” for the region, part of the reason for which is the 104,000 farms located within the watershed.i,iii Over 18 million people rely on the Chesapeake Bay watershed for water, as do countless species of animals.xvii In order for the Bay to be “healthy” and sustain the lives that rely upon it, all of its tributaries must also be “healthy,” as they have an aggregated impact when they culminate in the Bay.i

It was estimated that 42% of the Nitrogen load, 58% of the Phosphorus load, and 58% of the sediment load in the Chesapeake Bay is a product of agriculture.i A 1000 lb. beef cow produces an average of 59.1 lbs. of manure per day, which contains .31 lbs. of Nitrogen and .11 lbs. of Phosphorus.v A 1000 lb. dairy cow produces an average of 80.0 lbs. of manure per day, which contains .45 lbs. of Nitrogen and .07 lbs. of Phosphorus.v A study by Gary, Johnson, and Ponce (1983) concluded that between 6.7% and 10.5% of defecations of between 6.3% to 9.0% of urinations from the cattle they observed were deposited directly into the streams.vi While that may make it seem as though the amounts of Nitrogen and Phosphorus directly deposited into the streams is a small amount, multiplying these concentrations by the 1.39 million head of cattle in Virginia reveals the significant contribution of pollutants from cattle in waterways.vii

The tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay deposit such high concentrations of Phosphorus, Nitrogen, and sediment into the Bay that there is a hypoxic zone, in which few species are able to survive. Excess nutrients, which are primarily the product of animal manure, along with synthetic fertilizers,viii feed cyanobacteria.ix This algae is not harmful in moderate concentrations; however, high levels of nutrients provide fuel for the cyanobacteria to grow at a pace that destroys other organisms in its environment.ix The decomposition of this algae consumes oxygen, depleting the marine environment of this vital element to the point where other organisms cannot survive.ix The “dead zone” in the Chesapeake Bay measured 1.5 cubic miles in 2019.x

As you can see, allowing cattle to have access to streams can be detrimental to your cattle your wallet, the waterways, and the people and animals that depend on those waterways.



ii. https://extension.usu.edu/rangelands/ou-files/Drinking_Water_Quality.pdf

iii. https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Online_Resources/Watersheds/ma02.pdf

iv. https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/watershed

v. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/null/?cid=nrcs143_014211#table1



viii. https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-usgs-and-partners-predict-larger-summer-dead-zone-for-chesapeake-bay

ix. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/dead-zone/

x. https://www.chesapeakebay.net/state/dead_zone