Protecting Water Quality
High quality water is a vital part of the cattle industry. Just as humans, cattle depend on water for their well-being. During the summer months, a cow often consumes 20 gallons of water each day. Proper planning is essential when considering a water source for a cattle operation.
Pickens County, often referred to as lake and mountain country, is blessed with abundant water sources. However, the steep terrain often limits the access to water. Cattle forced to travel down steep slopes to reach water soon create cutouts in the land. These areas concentrate the runoff from heavy rains and results in accelerated erosion. Stream water quality decreases as soil is deposited.
Over the last few years, the Pickens Conservation District has investigated alternative methods to accessing water sources. One method which has proved to be beneficial is a controlled access ramp into the stream. By shaping an access ramp on a flattened slope, cattle are provided an easier approach to water sources. The ramps are covered with a geotextile fabric which serves as support for a 4-6 inch gravel surface. Fencing forces cattle to use the access pads. There are secondary benefits provided by access pads. Equipment can use these crossings as a means of access that is not detrimental to the stream and allows the landowner to be more efficient in his operation. Another benefit pointed out by Johnnie Newton, who farms near Pickens, is the safety factor. Johnnie's farm is divided by Wolf Creek. To reach the back side of his farm, Johnnie was forced to drive his tractor on the road. With the increasing traffic in our area, Johnnie felt he was taking a chance with farm machinery on the road. Now, he can cross the stream and reach his pastures without entering the highway.
Another alternative method of watering promoted by the Pickens District is the stock water tank fed from a permanent water source. The tank is surrounded by a gravel pad to prevent the creation of a boggy area. Often the tanks can be located at a cross fence and serve as a water source for more than one pasture. This allows controlled grazing and improves the utilization of forages. On a recent trip to Bill Clayton's farm, the benefits of the tanks were discussed. Bill located one tank in a pasture near his house allowing him to check his cattle better during the calving season. Before, cattle were forced to water at the creek on the other end of Bill's farm. Now, Bill can check his herd in less than one hour instead of spending several hours. In addition, Bill says the tank has reduced stream bank erosion along the creek and has allowed him to use his pastures more efficiently. This all adds up to good management, and Bill is commended for his effort.