Beef cattle biosecurity and stream exclusion are very important to this large animal veterinarian.
His First Week on the Job
On his first week on the job as a veterinarian back in 1993, Scott Nordstrom treated a case that would stick with him the rest of his life. Shockingly, half of a herd of cattle he examined had died. It turned out that they had been struck by Bovine Viral Disease (BVD), a fatal condition transmitted from the intestines of one animal to the mouth of another.
So Nordstrom set about finding out how they got the disease. The next week, he was called to a farm just upstream with another case of BVD. He traced the source of the outbreak to that operation. “The stream carried the pathogens downstream, spreading it from one farm to the next,” according to Nordstrom.
“The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream”.
Since then, he’s found time and again that as long as cattle are allowed into waterways they are at risk of catching diseases from farms upstream. “The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream,” says Nordstrom, who is Director of Cattle Technical Services for an animal health company. “If there is a disease outbreak in the herd upstream or even if they are just carriers of infectious organisms and they defecate in the stream, your animals are at risk if they drink from that stream.”
Nordstrom travels all over the country to test vaccines for his animal health company. “In the large operations I have been on they would never, ever, consider having their animals exposed to a stream or any other body of water,” he says. “It’s just too risky – for both livestock and people.”
Fifty Percent of all Cattle Diseases are Transmitted Through the Oral-Fecal Pathway
“Clearly, at least fifty percent of all cattle diseases in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are transmitted through the fecal-oral pathway,” stresses Nordstrom. “Several of the big diseases in cattle are carried by water. These include BVD, E.coli, salmonella, leptospirosis, and mastitis.” Symptoms of these diseases include fever, lethargy, dehydration, abortion, and death.
Vaccinating animals is a first-line of defense against many diseases. But Nordstrom stresses that “the second line of defense is to fence livestock out of potentially infected waters.”
There are many programs that include funding and technical assistance to help producers fence waterways and provide alternative sources of water for drinking. Nordstrom participated in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program on his own farm. “We did it for herd health reasons and besides I feel good that the water leaving our farm is not going to infect animals downstream,” he says.
Want a “one pager” on Dr. Nordstrom and his views on biosecurity and stream exclusion? Click Here.
The idea of fencing cattle out of streams was entirely new to me until I took my 320 and 321 classes in ISAT. Now, looking back it makes complete sense why it is absolutely necessary. When tracing water flow upstream it is important to realize that whatever is upstream will eventually make its way downstream, and the animals will most likely drink it, causing diseases and potentially death. This seems like a logical practice across the board, whether it is from the animal health, human health, or simply economical viewpoint. It’s pretty crazy to think about how these diseases and pathogens can spread, and how fast given the interconnectedness of many rural and farming waterways. This farming practice is very valuable and I think it is a good thing experts like Dr. Nordstrom are going around checking on herds and notifying farmers of this issue. Spreading the word is a great way for farmers to learn about this BMP so they can continue maintaining a healthy, safe stream and successful farming environment.
Spot on, Tyler.
It’s interesting to see that stream fencing is just as important to cattle health as it is to the health of the watershed. Although it may be hard to justify expensive fencing to farmers through watershed health, herd health is a much more pertinent issue to farmers because if the cattle get sick, they lose profits. Dr. Nordstrom’s views as a big animal veterinarian also emphasize the interconnectedness of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and everything that lives within it. Even though waterway pollution seems to be a difficult problem, it’s also great to see that simply fencing out cattle from Pogue Run decreased the amount of fecal colonies in the stream.
Indeed, Leah. Thanks for your comment.
One thing I found pretty interesting when reading this article is how much cattle pollution (50%) is caused by letting cows get into streams far up the river. This in turn means that we can greatly diminish the cattle diseases found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed if we simply fence cattle out of the streams. One idea that the article presented was the fact that “The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream,” meaning you can be doing your best management practices but if a farm upstream from you isn’t their actions could negatively affect your portion of stream and the cattle that could potentially be in your stream. This should motivate everyone to help each other which would also help themselves!
Fencing cattle out of the stream is without a doubt, essential to maintaining cattle and stream health. It is known that these closely linked systems directly impact each other, and more action needs to be taken to fence cattle out of streams to improve environmental quality and livestock health. I believe that the more people are educated on how these systems, and all types of other systems are connected, we would see more proactivity. For example, as soon as people discovered how lead paint leads to developmental health issues within children, modern paint no longer contained lead. Since livestock does not have the capacity of thinking, “I probably shouldn’t defecate in this stream because it could lead to highly contagious diseases and decrease stream quality,” we need to be the ones taking the necessary steps to prevent catastrophic events such as these from happening.
This article emphasizes yet another reason fencing cattle out of streams should become standard practice. Not only is it vital to the overall health of the stream and surrounding ecosystem, but also to the community and cows themselves. I think both of these reasons should be emphasized fairly equally to farmers who are reluctant to fence their cattle out of streams. If the health of the waterway is not their biggest priority, keeping their cows healthy should be. The cost of fencing (especially with the programs out there that can help pay for it) is far cheaper than losing half of your cattle to diseases or having to treat them for illnesses that could have easily been avoided had they been drinking clean water. At this point, I think it’s overwhelmingly clear that fencing cattle out of streams is the most logical thing to do and I would like to think that with enough information it’s a choice most farmers would make.
Keeping cattle out of streams and other water bodies seems to be a given to ensuring cattle health, water health, and human health. However, before coming to college I have seen cattle in water, and I did not think anything was wrong. As well when talking with my family about this class they were surprised, and unaware cattle should be kept out of streams. This simple change can greatly help both the cattle and the environment, but it is not common knowledge to the majority of people. Unfortunately, it could take a disastrous event like losing half of a herd to really see and understand the unintended consequences of letting cattle go into streams. Furthermore, people who raise cattle do not know what others are doing upstream and do not worry about the people downstream of them, creating a large unknown factor in their cattle’s health. In my opinion, I think if this BMP of fencing cattle out of streams were to be better understood by the majority of people there would be better compliance in putting up fences to keep them out. Knowing how fast and fatal diseases spread and the deadly effects of these diseases would, hopefully, push more farmers to fence their cattle out of the streams.
Sydney, thanks for bringing this up with your family. Good comments too, thank you.
The topic of fencing cattle out of streams has been returned to time and time again throughout this class, but this is the first time we have addressed how important it is for the health of other farms. We have addressed why it is important for the health of the watershed, general water quality, and erosion control. I feel like this topic though – biosecurity – may resonate with farmers and ranchers the most. Who would be responsible for the death of cattle from a disease or bacteria from an operation upstream? Is it the farmer with dead cattle for accepting the risk, or the farmer with the diseased cattle in the first place? With so many reasons to fence cattle out of streams, I am surprised there are any operations that still do so.
Anna, good questions and comments. I don’t know that any farmer has ever been to court over herd losses and it would be hard to prove in the courtroom (which farm did it come from?). Nevertheless, we know that pathogens move downstream and can infect downstream animals. In order to be more successful in selling stream exclusion fencing, we must come at it from the farmer’s perspective–you are so right.
I think this post takes an interesting point of view on the concept of stream exclusion and why it is so important in modern farming operations. From my experience both in class and in my interactions with people in the agriculture sector, the main focus on stream exclusion has been for stream health. Keeping livestock out of waterways is extremely important for overall watershed health as it reduces sediments in habitat niches, keeps pathogens that are harmful to humans and aquatic organisms out, and more. I have not yet heard the argument that stream exclusion is actually beneficial for the livestock that are being raised. I feel like it is often hard to get farmers to care about an issue for the sake of the environmental impact it has, however, by looking at the issue in terms of how it may affect their own production, I see the potential for more effectiveness. A farmers number one investment is in their product, in the case of livestock, I feel like the community as a whole would be more receptive to adding BMPs such as stream exclusion if they just knew how threatened their investments really were.
Very good comments, Jackson. Thank you.
This was super interesting to read and added another level for why cattle should be fenced out of streams. In this class, we have mostly covered why we fence out cattle for the health of the watershed, but this is another great example of why cattle should be fenced out. Not only does it help water quality it helps prevent compromising animal health.
I have thought alot about fencing cattle out of streams because of the risks that fecal matter and increased sediment inputs bring to both aquatic and human life. But I have not yet though about risks for the cattle themselves. A very strong point in this article is that ” The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream” This is really an obvious statement once you think about it. Farmers invest huge sums of money to ensure cattle health, all this money could be for nothing if you cows are being infected by up river toxins.
This was an interesting read because of the fact that it cited the specific case of failing to fence out cattle devastating a herd. I’m sure that installing a fence is much less expensive then the economic cost of losing so many cows. The simple solution is obviously to fence the cattle out of the streams and provide them a new source of drinking water. Even if the farms upstream are allowing their cattle in the streams, as long as your cattle are kept away from that contaminated water then they would avoid contracting the diseases. This is more than just an economic decision to fence off the streams, and should be viewed as a moral obligation to the livestock that farmers are responsible for caring for.
Seeing this article makes it even more obvious that we need to fence cows out of streams. It’s that simple, but much harder to do in application. I have seen it first-hand where farmers care more about their own properties than those downstream. This makes sense for these individual farmers, and in the American individualistic mindset where the individual is placed above the group. To address this problem of sick cows, more than just changing one farm will have to happen, which will require much cooperation and coordination between lawmakers and farmers.
Nordstrom said, “The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream.” It reminds of a quote one of my coaches used to always say. Everyday at practice she said, “You are only as strong as your weakest link.” Because ecosystems in the environment are linked together and interconnected, people should strive to keep other communities clean as well. It doesn’t matter that you pick up trash and filter out pollution on your farm if a farmer upstream is just going to dump his waste in the river. Implementing a stream exclusion BMP for cattle will prevent diseases spreading amongst your cattle and help farmers downstream to prevent disease as well.
Since I started to take upper-level ISAT environment courses, it has made me realize how easy it is to do the bare minimum and ensure we are not polluting the water. One would think that having your cattle be able to defecate in a stream would not be very environmentally friendly. I believe that many of these issues of pollution downstream and infectious diseases killing cattle can be fixed if people did the slightest bit of research and made some necessary changes. Implementing changes such as BMPs, riparian buffers, fencing off cattle from water sources so they don’t defecate in streams, etc., will help farmers run a more environmentally friendly operation. However, it takes that initial step of listening to expects or even reading research online before anything happens.
I had never heard of the term biosecurity or considered the overall importance of keeping cattle out of streams, much less imagined the impact of upstream animal agriculture practices on farmers downstream and how devastating they could be. When this kind of disease outbreak happens, are farmers acting within regulations? It is a difficult concept, I can see how farmers would be frustrated at their inability to practice the way they want to on their own property but I would like to see our policies turn to a more community / common-wellbeing motivated rhetoric rather than continuing to be so individualistic. Fencing cattle out of streams is a natural way of interrupting a lot of this pollution from reaching the greater community, the Chesapeake, and other farmers and should be enforced while continuing to support farmers through these significant adjustments in their practices.
In ISAT 320 we collected samples from the North River to send to a lab to get tested. One of the main things they were testing for was the levels of E. Coli in the river. We learned that not only was it an indicator of living organisms in the stream, but how much runoff from fields of livestock was entering the stream. If I remember correctly, the levels were fairly high because of all the cattle farms in the Shenandoah Valley, obviously. But this brings up the concept that we’ve been learning about all semester, even though you may not see the effects of our actions right away, someone is feeling them down the line, or downstream in this case. We just have to look beyond the scope of our fences to see the consequences of our actions.
While it’s a completely different setting, this article reminds me of a movie I watched called “The Platform”. This movie features a vertical prison with many different levels where the prisoners are randomly placed on different levels every month. At the beginning of the day a giant feast is made and then sent down, only stopping at each level for a short period of time. As the platform goes down, the amount (and cleanliness) of the food decreases rapidly and this causes the higher level prisoners to be well fed and happy while those below suffer the consequences of the actions made above them. The overall moral of the movie is that everything flows downhill, and is a good analogy for the concept of bio-security and stream exclusion, where pollutants added to streams through cattle affects other cattle and farms that are downstream from them. This shows the importance of good practices such as fencing cattle out of streams since while your actions may not affect you directly, it definitely has an impact on others downstream.