Watch Those Hooves

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

but reduced milk production will result in lower-weight calves at market time, and a lighter wallet for a cattle grower at the sale barn.

Black cherry also can cause production losses. The wilted leaves of black cherry trees can contain prussic acid, which is deadly to cattle. Several other forest plants can cause financial losses for livestock producers.

One of the more persuasive arguments for managed intensive grazing is that feeding livestock in improved pasture is about 40 times more efficient than feeding them on forest land. In other words, grazing cattle in woodlands takes about 40 times as much land to provide the same nutrition as improved pasture. That's simply not cost effective for most landowners.

Many landowners rely on streams to water their livestock and keep them cool in the summer. However, the issues regarding streams and bottomland are the same as they are for woodlands. Cattle eat and trample streamside vegetation, exposing the soil to erosive forces and damaging the roots of trees, shrubs and other valuable natural resources.

There's also a water quality issue when it comes to livestock in streams. Municipal wastewater and discharge from swine and poultry processing plants have much greater affect on our water quality than livestock, but when livestock crowd into a stream to escape the summer heat, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out what they do while they're standing around.

When I was growing up in southwest Missouri, there was a stream that ran through our home place. In a dry summer, the stream would shrink to a few deep holes. The cattle would wade into these holes and stand in the water under the shade of the surrounding trees. A well in the valley supplied our home with water.

One summer, the flavor of our water changed. It gradually went from sweet to, well, not so sweet. We had the water tested, and the bacteria count was off the chart. We were forced to find another source of domestic water. Only after we removed the cattle from the stream and flushed the system did our water quality improve.

A few simple steps can reduce such problems. For starters, remove livestock from streams by providing alternative water sources such as building an upland pond or drilling a well to provide water for livestock away from a stream. Another method is to restrict access to streams by forcing livestock to use one or two access points for drinking water rather than giving them free reign over the entire waterway.

Landowners can often incorporate such practices into an overall management plan that can help them become more efficient producers while they improve the quality and value of their land.

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