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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational, watering systems
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: indicators, soil stabilization

    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.

    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.