This week’s flood prompted this post on how we deal with floodwater from our river with our cattle. It was an out-of-bank flood event but it didn’t wash our cattle crossing out because we’ve learned to work with the river not against it.
Middle River is a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. It bisects our farm in Augusta County, Virginia. It’s the largest river in the county and it’s on the state’s “dirty waters” list for fecal coliform from cattle and lack of a “benthic” community. Middle River is a TMDL stream – it’s polluted, mostly from cattle.
In order for Middle River to be de-listed as a TMDL stream and be restored, cattle have to be fenced out of it because they pollute the river with their feces and trample the stream banks with their hooves. Their feces contain the fecal coliform that put the river on the list. We know this from Antibiotic Resistance Analysis (ARA) testing. In addition, cow manure adds nitrogen, phosphorous and other pathogens that not only pollute the water but can compromise bio-security for downstream livestock and humans.
Cattle going up and down the stream banks cause soils to be dislodged which enter the steam and clog macro-invertebrate gills. Macro-invertebrates and other animals make up the “benthic” community that helps define a clean stream. Sediment in water is lethal to a “benthic” community.
The problem with fencing cattle out of the river is that the river floods, which can severely damage fences or take them out altogether. We learned a long time ago that you couldn’t fight the river; it’s going to flood so you must work with it – not fight it. The secret to long-lived riparian fences is to build them outside of the floodplain or put up inexpensive fences that effectively keep cattle out of the river.
We installed a single strand of barbwire in the floodplain, parallel to the river and charged it with solar power. We get between 3,500 and 6,800 volts on the wire.
A single hot (electrified) barbwire works with our cattle. We could have used smooth wire but for our cattle, it’s not as effective at keeping cattle out of the riparian area. Sometimes floodwaters go over the top of the fence and the barbs collect debris. It’s easy to walk along and just lift or shake the debris off.
We did not want to use a more substantial fence because floodwaters would take it out which would cost a lot of money to replace and downtime. We have not lost a single post or any line fences using this method.
At our river crossing, we put up a two-stage water gap with a single strand of electric poly-tape (illustrated above). When the river level is normal or below we use the lower stage so cattle can cross and drink water from this access point. When it’s going to flood or when we don’t have any cattle in that field we move the poly-tape to a higher position on the T-posts (as illustrated) so floodwater can pass under.
We also have this crossing rigged to breakaway should floodwaters bring enough force to rip it out.
Virginia has a new program that reimburses farmers for the stream banks they fence out regardless of the type fence is up or how close it is to the bank.
There are many programs that can help farmers fence livestock out of streams and provide them with alternative watering systems. In addition, cross-fencing can be put in to help facilitate rotational grazing, improve livestock movement and give them clean water to drink. For more information send me an email or contact your local USDA Service Center or your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
Fencing cattle out of any stream will improve its water quality. Once the cows are out a benthic community can survive. All that manure that went downstream will be fertilizer for your pasture instead of pollution in the water. There are other benefits of stream fencing as well, such as more stable stream banks and more wildlife habitat. Cleaner streams in the headwaters of our Middle River help everyone downstream and will help restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Not having any cattle I don’t understand all you are describing, but the point of doing all you can to clean up streams and rivers is well stated. You post increases my already high regard for the farmers and ranchers who work hard to put food on everyone’s table; and those who work even a little harder to keep streams and rivers clean.
Thanks Charlie for your kind words and encouragement.
The description of the practice is clear, concise,and easy to understand The benefits of tstream fecning and how to plan and install it simply and inexpensivelyl show the reader how practical the practice can be for all stakehlder. Thanks too for the links to related natural resource management issues.
The aforementioned features of this posting will facilitate “getting more conservation on the ground.”
Thanks Gail for taking the time comment. You are certainly welcome. We have a lot of work to do don’t we?
Great blog Bobby, thanks! I like the concept of working with the river, and not fighting it. Flooding is going to happen, may as well use our smarts to lessen our time in dealing with that reality and come up with the best, simple solutions.
Couple of questions from your write-up:
1. what height is your single strand wire by the river?
2. what type of cattle do you run, and is your breed of cattle why you chose barbed instead of smooth wire, or do you just have some surly individuals in your herd?
Thanks again, very informative. As a fisherman, those benthic critters are very important to me to have in a stream!
Rob, thanks for reading and posting. The height of the fence is about 24 inches. We run Angus and Angus cross breeds. The barb adds a bit more to the fence and it’s a little more visible.
Thanks so much for posting this. It is very informative and interesting!
Appreciate your good work that benefits us all!
Great information, Bobby. Makes one wonder why anyone would object to fencing out livestock.
We have a small stream on our property that becomes a “river” during heavy rains, and have learned, as you have, that you have to anticipate flooding and work WITH the water when it comes to fencing. (It took a number of years and a lot of trial and error before we figured out a method similar to yours.) We also have fenced out our cattle and created riparian buffers with the hope that our efforts will contribute positively to our watershed which leads to the James River.It’s interesting and encouraging to read about others efforts to do the same.
Judy, thanks so much for taking the time to read this post and make a comment. I am very proud of what you are doing. Keep up the good work.
Nice work and sharing, Bobby. In addition to your having an innate caring consciousness of and a conscience for Conservation and Restoration as well as the the wisdom that can only come to the heartfelt mind from experience, you have the practiced gift of speaking/writing so as to invite reading/hearing/considering /reflection rather than the too usual reaction of dismissal, denial, anger of a mind somewhat affected with ‘closeminditis’.
Always a pleasure; hope to see you soon; and I wish you All the Best,
Don, you are a stalwart conservationist and I admire you greatly. Thanks for your kind words. Your friend,
Very timely article. MD has just passed a law that cattle need to be kept out of the streams, along with no nutrients within the riparian zone, and there is a lot of controversy about all that. This shows that is can be done and done well with minimal hassle. Thanks! I’ve passed it along to help spread the word.
Thanks Bob. I’ll bet the legislature was smokin hot. I hope this helps. Will Maryland help pay for the exclusion practices?
I echo and applaud your use of the single-strand hot wire to keep cattle
out of the public water supply. It’s an inexpensive and effective way to keep the cattle
and the community healthier. Especially with a cow herd, or other multi-year stock, the animals readily train to respect the wire and if the river takes it out, it’s no big deal to put back.
Swoope is fortunate to have your gentle influence for good farming practices, Bobby.
If the Middle River one day gets its trout back it will be largely the result of your work.
Your downstream neighbor,
Michael, you are too kind my friend. Keep up the good work you are doing with your riparian friendly bovines and all the good work you are doing for grassland birds. Saw two Short Eared Owls fly over your driveway last night on our way to town.
Excellent Blog Bobby!!! Very well put!! Thank you very much for sharing this!!
Thanks Cory! Let’s get more on the ground!
Bobby, thanks for this. Your dual viewpoint as both producer and conservationist is helpful. I’ll offer my $.02 from Pennsylvania perspective. When a big hurricane hit southeast PA a decade ago, I nervously waited to hear from the local conservation district partner. We had just built about 20 miles of fence and 66 crossings over the few years prior. The flood put most of those miles and all of the crossings under. We lost 6 posts (out of thousands) and had to reset slats that moved at 3 of 66 crossings. We felt it was the acid test, and we came through well. The smooth wire collected debris only at posts. That fence is a single wire, smooth 12 gauge electrified high tensile fence, 30″ from ground on permanent, treated wooden posts. That’s been our standard for a decade for dairy livestock, and works well. For crossings we have used a high wire (as far above creek as posts will allow) with vertical drop wires ending a few feet above normal water level that contain livestock but don’t catch debris in most events. In events big enough to catch the higher cross wire, it’s set up to release on one side and swing downstream. The wire is put around the post, not stapled tight to post (so it can slide), back through a crimping sleeve that’s left uncrimped, then the wire is given a 45 degree bend so it only pulls through the crimp under real load. Beats replacing the posts or other damage.
Keep up the good work!
David your work is phenomenal. Hope you are doing well at Stroud. Thanks for the tips and the success.
Great Piece on riparian fencing. I put up some riparian fencing on the home place a few years ago, and I had to learn the hard way that running three board fence across the river even on a cable system with swing up boards is not the best way to go.
Something about “Old Man River” just keeps rollin’ along…..
Thanks for sharing……..George
Excellent article as always Bobby. We appreciate your efforts!
Superb, what a web site it is! This web site presents
helpful facts to us, keep it up.
Thank you for this information. Nice job! Do you know what the federal and state tax implications are of receiving the cost share funds. Are they taxable or not?
June, thanks for stopping in. Yes, the payments are considered income and you will receive a 1099; however, since you fronted the money as an expence, it is “awash”. It is of no tax consequence.
Bobby, thank you so much for your very prompt reply and your commitment to responsible farming, the environment, and this blog.
You are welcome, June.
I just thought of another question. What tax form and how do you claim this as an expense? This income is claimed as a standard 1099 income line, correct?
We use the “F” form which is for farming. It can be an expense there in a couple of line items. You could call it “conservation expense”. You will receive a standard 1099 from your USDA and Soil and Water Conservation District. Good luck with your project and if I can help out just email me or call me 540-280-7134. My contact info in on the homepage.
Bobby, Thanks again. Your information is very helpful.