With growing concerns over riparian management and its effect on water quality, farmers and ranchers are facing tightening regulations and restrictions on grazing next to streams and water bodies. In his first article on this topic, Troy wondered if we, as graziers, are doing all we can to protect water quality and our grazing future. With this article he provides some examples for how we can do better.
Minnesotan Army Veteran, Agriculture Teacher, grazing pioneer, beef farmer and avid trout fisherman, the late Ralph Lentz left an indelible mark on me when we met at a grazing conference after his talk on “The ABCs of Streambank Grazing.”
He chronicled his experience working around his beloved Sugarloaf Creek and tussling with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources over how to manage portions of a stream that ran through his beef farm. In his “little” experiment, he found brook trout liked the once a month grazing area the best versus the wooded or once a year grazing areas.
Ralph was the state chair of the Minnesota Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative and was awarded the outstanding conservationist in 2013 by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. He had street cred among practitioners trying to foster the understanding and balance between grazing and riparian corridor habitat. He was the outlier, the thinker, the consummate observer and in my mind, a realist. “We’re trying to design the best system for a trout stream,” said Ralph. “But I also recognize that farmers have to make a living.”
Ralph, the folks at The Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, and others in holistic management have shaped my context for riparian area management. Erik Hagen stated it best when he addressed the Northeast Pasture Consortium earlier this year: “It’s entirely based on a site explicit context given the landscape and management of these areas.” Here are some specific examples of riparian grazing on my own place and others that represent differing goals. You be the judge.
Managing Without Buffers
Paddocks 2 and 3 have a stream running between them. If I were to put in a recommended forested buffer of a 100’, as shown in this picture, I would essentially lose both fields for grazing. The money paid by a government program is not enough for us to consider it.
I manage the areas with portable fencing so I don’t have to deal with fence lines. It also floods once or twice a year into paddock 3, helping the state road mitigate the undersized road culvert.
Here’s the herd grazing in Paddock 2:
Here’s Paddock 2 after one day of grazing and out:
And here’s Paddock 2 at full recovery. I’m standing next to the stream:
Winter Riparian Grazing to Enhance Wildlife Habitat
I utilized my riparian area when it was mostly frozen to mitigate damage. The late Jerry Brunetti said sedges and rushes are high in minerals and are available after the plants are frosted and they are green food (weeks worth of cheap feed!). My biologist wanted me to create mini potholes so turtles and amphibians could have breeding areas in the spring. The animals grazing also will create some diversity in the spring as it lets light into the canopy.
Here I am in January, coaxing animals in the riparian area to graze off sedges and invasiv weeds and create habitat for invertebrates:
Here are the results in March:
Unfortunately, the overzealous cows chewed on my trees that I worked hard to establish so I removed them and the cows haven’t been back in several years.
This is what it looks like now:
Improving Stream Crossing to Protect Streambanks
I have been grazing in Paddock 15 for years with a seasonal stream running through it. It’s usually a 2-day graze and out, returning every 40 days or so. Recently a fluke happened. I put in a small culvert so I could cross the stream with my 4-wheeler. Low and behold, ALL the cows crossed at the culvert without a fence aid and only grazed the banks from either side without touching the stream. Hmmm, could a path of least resistance and perhaps some training alleviate all the riparian fences??