Pasture Improvements

Summary

Waterman Farm Dairy was able to improve pasture with fencing, watering, and stream crossing upgrades as part of the Ohio EPA 319 education and demonstration grant. The improved fencing will allow Ohio State to establish a rotational grazing system to better utilize forage and maximize pasture production.

Overview

The impacts of livestock grazing riparian areas without exclusion fence include manure and urine deposited directly into or near surface waters where runoff can transport pathogens into the water. Unmanaged grazing may accelerate erosion and sedimentation into surface water, change stream flow, and destroy aquatic habitats. Further, nutrients such as phosphorus that attaches to sediment particles and nitrate-nitrogen that leaches through the soil are more easily transported to into the water causing potentially harmful algal blooms or contaminating drinking water supply. Improper grazing practices also can reduce the capacity of riparian areas to filter contaminates, shade aquatic habitats and stabilize stream banks.

The Problem

The 22-acre pasture at Waterman Farm's Dairy was under-utilized and quality of the forage needed improvement. A limiting factor to any livestock exclusion practice is a lack of water to the pasture once access to the stream is prohibited. This was certainly the case at the Waterman Dairy and precluded installation of fencing in the past. The south branch of the unnamed Waterman Farm stream, a tributary to the Olentangy River, was the only drinking water source for the herd. It had become highly degraded and was exporting sediment, feces, and nutrients downstream severely impacting water quality.  

The Goal

Improve pasture forage quality and usage to benefit the overall health of the herd and downstream water sources.

The Objectives

1. In addition to installing livestock exclusion fencing along the stream that runs through the pasture, build a new perimeter fence around the pasture to create a series of 2-acre paddocks that will be used as part of the Farm’s rotational grazing plan.

2. Provide alternative water sources to each paddock

3. Install livestock stream crossings improve cattle and equipment movement between paddocks.

The Results

A total of 6,500 feet of electric fencing was installed, which created 8 two-acre paddocks and nearly 2 acres of grassed buffer along the stream channel. Initially concerned about losing pasture area by including a buffer area around the stream running through the pasture, the new configuration resulted in more usable areas within the existing space.

In addition, a new well was dug and a new waterline was installed to provide a safe and reliable water source to the paddocks.

As part of the land-grant University, the Farm also has a mission to provide teaching, research and outreach opportunities for the citizens of Ohio. To support this mission, this project included installation of a variety of options for implementing these practices. Options included building the stream crossings at different grades, using various types of fencing to allow for both full exclusion and flash grazing, and providing several types of watering systems in the paddocks using snap-in sites that will allow the tanks to be moved where needed. 

In all, five automatic watering systems including demonstration of 4 snap-in sites allowing tanks to be moved where needed; and 4 livestock stream crossings to allow cattle safe access to the paddocks were installed.

The Impact

Installation of pasture improvements has allowed the Dairy to implement aspects of rotational grazing management and enables them to test the success of different watering types. Since the install, the Dairy has had a significant increase of utilization of the back pasture.

During the strong spring growth, they were able to house nearly three times the number of head. The increase was associated to improved forage management in addition to their ability to segregate different stages of production. For example, they were able separately graze a large group of young stock (6-9 months) separately from the bred heifers/dry cow group. This was critical to allow the small herd to maximize the use of the space since the Dairy is unable to harvest hay off their pasture. This also allowed the Dairy to deliver supplements to the young stock.