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To fence or not to fence?

Genevieve Christ Published on 03 September 2010

The following is an excerpt from Genevieve Christ's blog, PAfarmgirl. Christ is a Penn State Cooperative Extension agronomist in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and blogs about agricultural issues.

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.

Read the rest of Christ's post by clicking here.