Choose the right spot for feeding cattle

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By David Harrison

Choosing the right place for cattle winter feeding can improve production and reduce threats to nearby water resources.

A poorly chosen site for winter feeding can have negative impacts on soil and water quality. A significant amount of pollution can occur if winter feeding is conducted around streams, water bodies or other environmentally sensitive areas such as flood plains and creek bottoms. Storm-water runoff from these areas can carry mud and manure into nearby water bodies, creating water quality problems. If this runoff can be traced to a specific operation, the owner could be subject to regulatory fines.

To reduce water pollution and potentially avoid fines, producers can follow a few simple steps. First, place winter feeding areas in well-drained locations. These areas should not allow runoff containing mud and manure to drain into neighboring properties, streams or sinkholes. The farther away a feeding area is from surface or ground water resources, the less likely water pollution is to occur.

Next, consider using confined winter feeding that allows cattle to access a structure or paddock for feeding and then return to a larger forage pasture. Smaller “sacrifice” pastures reduce the area damaged from winter feeding and can be used as central hubs for multiple pastures as part of a rotational grazing system.

By placing water and mineral supplements away from the structure, cattle will be enticed to eat in the structure and then move out and way. The volume of manure will be easier to manage because the animals will spread it throughout the fields.

Finally, heavy-use area pads around winter feeding areas can greatly reduce mud and rutting from tractor and hoof traffic. These pads are constructed using geotextile fabric, crushed stone and dense grade aggregate.

By considering these steps, producers can improve production and greatly reduce the potential to contaminate water resources.