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Beef Cattle Management for Water Quality Protection

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  1. Beef Cattle Management for Water Quality Protection Dirk Philipp University of Arkansas Animal Science Department October 2012

  2. I. Introduction • Grazing Management • Heavy-Use Areas • a) Principles • b) Managing Specific Heavy-Use Areas • IV. Summary

  3. I. Introduction – Why Protect Arkansas’ Waterways? • Beef production is major part of the AR economy • About 1.8 million cattle and calves in the State of Arkansas • Substantial economic income – more than $400 million annually • Cattle produce large amounts of manure • Good manure management prevents water pollution, improve herd health, and saves money

  4. I. Introduction – Why Protect Arkansas’ Waterways? • Water quality is a concern for all Arkansans • Large reservoirs (e.g., Beaver Lake) are used as drinking water source • Preventing manure being lost with runoff is key to protect water quality • Water quality protection possible through appropriate manure management (see Table 1 for manure characteristics) • Table 1. Typical Beef Cattle Manure Characteristics (wet basis)

  5. I. Introduction – Why Protect Arkansas’ Waterways? • Why is good manure management needed? • Improper management can result in manure accumulation and loss of ground cover • Manure application may increase the risk of manure runoff that could result in reduced water quality • Excess N and P can encourage excessive aquatic plant growth, which may result in loss of other aquatic life • Manure can also be source of disease-causing organisms • Best management practices help producers manage cattle in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner

  6. II. Grazing – Ways to Improve Pasture Management • Causes for impaired water quality: • Overstocked pastures, resulting in compaction, low infiltration rates • Overgrazing, resulting in short vegetation, shallow rooting depth, higher runoff potential • Access of cattle to streams and ponds, resulting in eroding streambanks and sediment loss

  7. II. Grazing – Ways to Improve Pasture Management • Improving management: • Adjust stocking rates according to forage mass • Assess pasture carrying capacity, depending on soil nutrient status, type of animal, species composition, and physical characteristics • Maintain sufficient sward height, preferably > 2 - 4 inches

  8. II. Grazing – Ways to Improve Pasture Management • Riparian Areas: • Establish buffer areas to catch and filter runoff • Buffer zones can trap sediments and provide habitat for wildlife • Use combination of grasses and herbaceous plants • Good grazing management still important, since riparian zones cannot hold unlimited amounts of nutrients • Build-up of P in buffer possible • Management of riparian zones is necessary

  9. II. Grazing – Ways to Improve Pasture Management • Grazing of riparian zones: • Allow thick vegetative turf to develop on streambanks • Limit grazing periods in paddocks next to streams; 3 – 4 days for beef cattle • Discourage animals from congregating close to streams • Place minerals and shade at least 15 feet away from streams • Graze riparian zones in spring or early summer • Use floating fences and graveled areas for access to water

  10. III. Heavy-Use Areas -- Principles • Definition: • Areas where livestock tend to congregate, such as feeding and watering areas, shade, loafing areas, travel lanes, working facilities and holding pens, or any access to surface or ground water • Characterized by lack of vegetative cover, compacted soil, and concentration of manure • Options for improving management in these areas: • Travel lanes should not be wider than necessary • Design working facilities efficiently; make maximum use of minimum space

  11. III. Heavy-Use Areas -- Principles • Location: • Choose sites with slightly higher elevation to reduce amount of standing water • Avoid steep slopes that increase runoff risk • Berms or grassed waterways may be necessary to direct water away from heavy-use area • Avoid areas such as creeks, ponds, wells, or sinkholes

  12. III. Heavy-Use Areas -- Principles • Management of heavy-use areas: • Little routine required to maintain heavy use areas • Concrete, gravel, or geotextiles covered by gravel may be needed to prevent muddy conditions • In most cases, scraping is not needed, but scraped manure can be used as excellent fertilizer • 1 ton of manure may provide equivalent of 100 lbs 11-7-10 fertilizer • Apply excess manure in accordance with nutrient management plan

  13. III. Heavy-Use Areas -- Principles • Filter strips: • Important tools for nutrient management • Locate filter strips downstream from heavy-use areas • Manage filter strip in same manner as pasture Table 2. Minimum width of filter strip at certain slopes.

  14. III. Heavy-Use Areas – Managing Specific Areas • Feeding Areas: • Cattle tend to defecate around feeding areas and thus P accumulates • Use feed bunks or troughs that can be moved • Move feeders and hay rings regularly to allow areas to recover • Unrolling bales may help to spread feeding area • Watering Areas: • If possible, provide animals with water from troughs rather allowing access to ponds or creeks • Proper distribution of water sources promotes even grazing and discourages overgrazing near water sources

  15. III. Heavy-Use Areas – Managing Specific Areas • Shade: • Important to cattle productivity • Move portable shade structures on regular basis • Place shade in areas that are less prone to water logging to avoid soil compaction Source: Noble Foundation, 2008

  16. IV. Summary • Best Management Practices: • A well managed grazing system is essential to good cattle health • Use appropriate stocking rates • Minimize size of heavy-use areas • Avoid environmentally sensitive areas for heavy-use areas • Maintain vegetative filter strips around those areas and if possible along streams as well • Water cattle from troughs or tanks if possible

  17. Thank you! Animal Science Blog at: www.arkansas-forages.com