Limiting Grazing Cattle Access to Ponds to Improve Water Quality, and water and Feed Intake

Final Report for OS03-008

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2003: $14,945.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Stephen Workman
University of Kentucky
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Project Information

Abstract:

In situations where direct access to water is viable, benefits may be gained by the use of controlled or limited access points in ponds and streams. The implementation of limited access points may result in reduced bank damage, reduction in erosion, improved vegetation, and better and safer footing for livestock. An access ramp is the minimum improvement that can be made to a water source. A floating electric fence would help limit the number of cattle using the access ramp. Gravity-fed systems can also be implemented where a pond is located up slope from the watering site.

Introduction

The problem

The average beef cattle farm size in Kentucky is reasonably small with about 25 cows per farm. Kentucky ranks 5th in the nation in the number of farms with beef cattle indicating the prominence of cattle production to the state’s agricultural base. A shift towards more cattle is likely as the production of tobacco decreases. Across the South, beef cattle production is also an important agricultural enterprise for many small to mid-size farmers.

Use of improved strategies, such as intensive rotational grazing, requires producers to look for dependable and economical methods of providing drinking water to livestock. Supplying water to each paddock may require major investments in pumps, piping and water tanks. On the other hand, allowing livestock direct access to surface water sources is a concern to livestock producers and to other water users. The practice is also problematic to livestock well-being and productivity. Water quality influences the amount of water livestock drink. Cattle are usually more reluctant to drink dirty and bad-tasting water than clean water. If animals drink less they will consume less dry matter and, as result, gains will be affected in addition to possible health and well-being effects.

Answer to the problem
Poor access to water and poor water quality can affect livestock behavior and production. Some of the benefits of a well-planned and constructed pasture water system include water source protection, improved herd health, increased production, better forage utilization, and riparian area protection. In situations where direct access to water is viable, benefits may be gained by the use of controlled or limited access points in ponds and streams. The implementation of limited access points may result in reduced stream and pond bank damage, reduction in erosion, improved vegetation along banks, and better and safer footing for livestock. An access ramp is the minimum improvement that can be made to a water source. A floating electric fence would help limit the number of cattle using the access ramp. Gravity-fed systems can also be implemented on sloping pastureland where a pond is located up slope from the watering site. A pipeline is then run from the pond down slope into a water tank. Ultimately the use of access ramps and gravity-fed systems will help improve water quality and cattle performance.

Project Objectives:

Our objective is to show pond water quality improvement through installation of access ramps and gravity-fed systems. Improvement in water quality will eventually result in improved cattle performance.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Don Hedrick
  • David Honaker
  • Larry Ramsey
  • Kim Strohmeier
  • Paul Veech

Research

Materials and methods:

Cooperators
Farmer cooperators in Northern Kentucky will participate in this study. Pasturelands in this area are rolling-to-steep and are permeated with creeks and dry runs. Cooperator herds vary between 30 and 60 cows and calves. All cooperators use ponds as watering points for beef cattle. The first cooperator has a 5 m (15-ft) deep pond (Site 1) located in a large field where about 50 cows and calves graze continuously from March through weaning. The pond will be used for free access, i.e. no improvements will be installed. The same farmer cooperator will provide another location where he runs a 3-field rotation with 60 cows and calves. The existing pond (Site 2) is about 3 m (10-ft) deep and has one side already fenced. An access ramp will be installed and the pond will be fenced using temporary electric fences. Cattle also have access to a creek at this location, but the creek will be fenced off. The second cooperator will install a gravity-fed system using water from an existing, completely fenced pond (Site 3), which is smaller than ponds in Sites 1 and 2. Pastures are steeper near Site 3 as compared to the other sites. Site 4 is a pond located within a wooded area to act as a control with no cattle access.

Bank erosion
All four ponds were surveyed using the University of Kentucky, Biosystem and Agricultural Engineering Department Real-Time Kinematic Global Positioning Systems (RTK-GPS). With RTK-GPS, surveys were taken with an accuracy of 2.5 cm (1-in). Surveys were performed at the beginning of the project and at the end of the second grazing season. These surveys will provide information on the level of pond alteration associated with cattle activity near the pond. Estimates of the masses of pond bank erosion per unit length for each pond will be determined. Pond bank erosion and vegetation changes around ponds will be documented with digital pictures before and after installation of improvements. Digital pictures will be taken monthly during the grazing seasons.

Water quality
Water quality changes in the four ponds were documented by periodically collecting water samples from each pond. Water samples were collected once a month during two grazing seasons. We will also collect water samples (at least two sets) prior to the installation of the access ramp and gravity-fed system at Sites 2 and 3 respectively. The water quality parameters included: pH, temperature, conductivity, total dissolved solids, total suspended solids, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, nitrite and nitrate, total phosphorus, ortho-phosphate, and fecal coliforms.

Outreach
Due to the diverse nature of the audiences who will benefit from the information created by this project, information will be disseminated in both technical and non-technical formats. Interested groups will gain first-hand experience on the research projects at cooperating farms in Owen County, KY through field days. These events were utilized to increase the speed at which technology transfer occurred. These field days increase the understanding of the target audiences concerned with effects of water quality on grazing cattle, water intake, and environmental stewardship. Technical information will be condensed into user-friendly extension information for producer and non-producer audiences. Fact sheets and brochures will be published through the UK College of Agriculture, Agricultural Communications unit.

Research results and discussion:

There were very little observable differences between the RTK elevation data obtained at the start of the project and that obtained later in the project. Even with 2.54 cm accuracy, it would take a rather large difference in elevation data to obtain a measurable difference in the two values. Of the ponds studied, we expected the most bank instability to exist on the free access pond. Unfortunately, the localized changes in the banks were smaller than could be detected over the short duration of the project.

The free access pond (HON-2) did exhibit more water quality problems than the other ponds studied with elevated values of Electrical Conductivity, Total Dissolved Solids, Fecal Coliform, Total Kieldahl Nitrogen, Ammonia, Iron, Chemical Oxygen Demand, Total Suspended Solids, Total Solids, Nitrate, Total Phosphorus, and Ortho-Phosphorus. These results are consistent with the fact that animals spent a portion of their time in the pond. Although lower than the free access pond, the pond with a ramp access (HON-1) had elevated values of Total Suspended Solids, Total Solids, and Total Phosphorus. All water quality parameter vales for the ramp access were lower than the free access values. In some cases, there were no differences in water quality parameters between ponds including pH, Dissolved Oxygen, Temperature, and Turbidity. The control pond (wooded condition HED-1) had high values of Electrical Conductivity, Total Dissolved Solids, and Sulfate.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Field days were held in 2003 and 2004. A Field Day is planned for 2006.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Field days were held in 2003 and 2004 to demonstrate the use of gravity fed waterers and the use of an access ramp for restricted access. Local producers were able to see the construction techniques used to install the gravity fed water system. Producers were very interested in the access ramp and fencing to control pond access to a limited area. Total attendance at both meetings was about 120 producers.

Information about gravity fed systems and limited access have been included in the Kentucky Master Cattleman Environmental Stewardship curriculum. The Master Cattleman program is a statewide extension program used to educate cattle producers about agronomic, environmental, economic aspects of cattle production in additional to the animal production information. Seven to ten programs are held yearly with an average attendance of 35 people per session.

Pictures showing the construction of an access ramp can be found on the project web site available at http://www.bae.uky.edu/SARE/. A new extension faculty has been hired by the department to undertake many of the programs envisioned by the original PI, Dr. Bicudo.

Farmer Adoption

Field days were held in 2003 and 2004 to demonstrate the use of gravity fed waterers and the use of an access ramp for restricted access. Producers were very interested in the access ramp and fencing to control pond access to a limited area. Total attendance at both meetings was about 120 producers.

Information about gravity fed systems and limited access have been included in the Kentucky Master Cattleman Environmental Stewardship curriculum. Seven to ten programs are held yearly with an average attendance of 35 people per session.

One farmer from the county has decided to construct a limited access point on a pond on his farm. Farmer adoption should spread with time.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.