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Of Cattle and Streams...

Large animals, whether people, farm animals like horses and cows, or wild animals like deer and elk, impact stream banks when they travel to water's edge to drink.

Under certain conditions— for example, when streamside soils are saturated, when there are many animals, or when animals return to the same place along the stream frequently— such animals can negatively impact water quality and streamside stability.

Beef cattle and dairy cows are often mentioned as "culprits" because they are large animals, frequently in large herds, which will find easy access to water and stick with it. Streamside damage from trampling, as well as water quality issues due to contamination from waste are conspicuous.

What can we do to minimize such impacts? Successful efforts in stream restoration have demonstrated that there are several things we can do.

One of the keys to avoiding animal-related damage to streambanks is to use fencing. Fences keep animals a prescribed distance from streamsides you want to protect, allowing streamside plants to grow untrampled and relatively unbrowsed. Fences can direct animals to particular places along a streambank where water access is provided (a paved surface, for example). Fences can be moved over the course of a year so that access points are given a period to recover. Sometimes, by providing a water source away from the water's edge (like a stream- or pump-fed trough), along with fencing, farm animal damage to the streambanks can be avoided completely.