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To Fence or Not To Fence…that is the stream I mean

September 1, 2010

Stream bank fencing is a hot topic these days. Many are against it because the stream is the only water source for pastured animals. While others are for it because fencing a stream allows for the stream bank and stream to return to its original habitat.

Here’s a little background on stream bank fencing:

  • On page 26 of The Clean Stream Law Act of 1937, P.L. 1987, no.394, under article seven section 702 it states: “No administrative agency of the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof shall require any person to erect a fence along a stream in a pasture or other field used for grazing of farm livestock for the purpose of keeping farm livestock out of the stream.”
  • NRCS and Conservation Districts across PA consider stream bank fencing to be one of the four “Core Conservation Practices” for a farm. The others include developing and following a nutrient management plan, planting cover crops, and using reduced or no-till farming techniques.
  • In PA’s Act 38 Nutrient Management Law under section 83.294-j Pastures requiring phosphorus restrictions, it states “Grazing may not be conducted within 50 feet of perennial or intermittent stream, a lake or a pond.” For a pasture to require total restriction of phosphorus it must score a 100+ on the Phosphorus Index.

One of the biggest reasons I think stream bank fencing is necessary has to do solely with herd health. Common sense shows that clean, dry cattle are healthier, however cattle that have access to a stream tend to be wet and muddy.  Cattle that are wet and muddy experience an increased risk for many diseases and a reduction in overall production. There are two categories of illness associated with unfenced stream banks: water borne illnesses and illnesses caused by wet and muddy conditions. If cattle have direct access to a stream not only will they drink from that stream but they will also contaminate the stream with their manure. This can result in cross contamination of diseases within a herd or transmit diseases to other herds downstream. Diseases like Johne’s disease, Cryptosporidium, and Leptospirosis can be transmitted to other animals via “dirty” water. Also this “dirty” water can transmit bacteria and viruses that cause salmonella, jaundice, fever, red nose, bovine virus diarrhea, and tuberculosis. When lactating cows are wet and muddy their chance for environmental mastitis increase greatly. Mastitis is one of the most costly diseases in the dairy industry. In addition to mastitis, cattle that are wet and muddy are more likely to experience hoof health issues including: foot rot, hairy heel wart, and strawberries. Plus hoofs that become soft from standing in water or mud are more prone to infection. One final thought to consider about herd health, as streams erode away and cattle have access to them, the stream banks become unsafe and can result in injury or even death.

Once fencing is installed around a stream, natural habitats start to develop again. These habitats promote clean water, improved nutrient filtering, and provide food and shelter for various species of wildlife. Steam bank fencing is also looked upon by many in the community as environmental stewardship and this helps a farmer with public relations.

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