Why Do Farmers Fence Their Livestock Out of Streams?

Why do farmers fence their livestock from ponds, streams and wetlands?  Of the hundreds of farmers I have talked to that have done it these are the top four reasons:

Angus cattle drinking from a "freeze proof" waterer. There are many programs to help fund and design livestock watering systems.

Angus cattle drinking from a “freeze proof” waterer. There are many programs to help fund and design livestock watering systems.

1. They need more water and better water distribution over the farm.

2. To improve herd health and reduce bio-security risks.

3. To eliminate calving risk areas.

4. To facilitate rotational grazing and ease of livestock movement.

Here are the top four reasons they don’t participate in government programs to exclude livestock from streams: They fear government intrusion, they don’t trust the government, red tape and lastly,  they don’t feel they are causing a problem.

A healthier environment or a restored Chesapeake Bay are not high on the priority list for farmers.  Saving a calf from freezing to death in a wetland or from scours are high on their list.  One calf today is worth over $1,000.

Folks attempting to convince farmers to fence their livestock out of streams need to keep this in mind.  To sell this Best Management Practice to farmers it is important to showcase how the practice will benefit the farmer not the environment.

Testimonials from respected farmers also helps.

One of the most respected cattle producers and large animal veterinarians in the Shenandoah Valley is Dr. John Wise.  I interviewed him for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and they produced a “Fact Sheet” on his views on livestock stream exclusion.

Dr. Wise talks about four reasons:

Dr. John Wise, large animal vet, beef cattle farmer and co-founder of Westwood Animal in Staunton, VA.

Dr. John Wise, large animal vet, beef cattle farmer and co-founder of Westwood Animal in Staunton, VA. Click on this image to see his “Fact Sheet” produced by CBF.

“Abundant clean water is essential for the health of cattle”.

“Lepto, e.coli and mastitis are the main health problems with cattle drinking dirty water”.

“Streams and the river on our home place were especially dangerous during calving, so we fenced them off too.  I recall pulling a calf out of Middle River almost every year, many of them dead”.

“Rotational grazing helps pastures recover quicker”.

Dr. Wise has participated in many programs to help address all four of these livestock issues.  The benefits to the farmer of having abundant clean water and stream exclusion include better weight gains, lower vet bills, healthier livestock, better forage utilization, lower mortality and ease of herd movement.  These are farmer benefits and these are what sell conservation.

Wise March 2014F (Augusta Co CD6)Feel free to download this and other pdf files of testimonials to help sell conservation to your neighbors and clients.  Here is a link to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s blog on farmer success stories and testimonials.

Let me know if I can help you.



  1. George Ohrstrom says:

    That’s a great post on your blog. It’s so true; it is always about perspective. Thanks for your ongoing work on Chesapeake Bay and agriculture issues.
    The National farm bureau suit against EPA and the Chesapeake Bay regulations is so irritating to me. As they say, if EPA is allowed to go through with these regs, it may force these other states to clean up their own watersheds. Well, as long as there is adequate cost-share initiatives…..they ought to be proud of cleaning up their watersheds.
    Talk about heads in the sand………..Your friend George

  2. You said it perfectly..

  3. Liz Kirchner says:

    Plus, a lot of farmers realize that a major source of drinking water for Staunton and surrounding towns is the Middle River. They understand that if people are going to drink it, they have to pay to clean it. If you don’t dirty it- maybe even help clean it with a riparian buffer you can harvest, you – everybody – pays less. Keeping cattle out of a creek not only does these on-farm things, but off-farm things as well. Everybody lives downstream.

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Liz, thank you so much for stopping in and for your spot on comment. I can’t wait for Middle River to be de-listed.

Speak Your Mind