November 2008
Forage Matters

Environmentally Sound Forage Management Practices*

Most livestock producers want their operations to be environmentally friendly and are willing to spend effort to ensure this is the case. When environmental problems occur, they are mostly due to a lack of understanding of the impacts of various management practices and even a lack of awareness there are problems or potential problems.

As the human population increases in rural areas, there is more concern by the general public regarding agricultural practices, including how forage/livestock enterprises are managed. Thus, it is in the best interest of producers to minimize environmental hazards. Steps producers can take to avoid or reduce water quality problems (many of which cost little or nothing to implement) include the following:

• When land is cleared, quickly plant a vegetative cover.

• Keep pastures healthy and vigorous by applying adequate amounts of lime and fertilizer.

• Use a no-till seeder as needed to thicken forage stands, especially in areas particularly vulnerable to erosion.

• Remove animals from steep pastures during wet weather.

• Use rotational stocking to minimize the opportunity livestock have to form trails (especially on steep slopes where soil is vulnerable to erosion) and to minimize their access to any given part of a stream.

• Regardless of the stocking method used, keep the stocking rate low enough that a good vegetative cover is maintained throughout the pasture (this is especially important on steep slopes).

• Avoid feeding hay on steep slopes or near streams.

• Place alternate water sources and mineral feeders away from surface water and erodible areas.

• Provide shade for animals in places other than along riparian areas or near other surface water.

• If feasible, fence livestock out of streams or other surface water or at least limit their access to such areas.

• Apply waste materials in accordance with state waste disposal guidelines.

 

• Avoid application of waste materials in highly erodible areas and make applications at times of the year when high rainfall is less likely.

• Plant buffer vegetation strips as needed along riparian areas to filter out nutrients, bacteria and soil sediment, and to minimize development of washouts along stream banks.

• Locate new animal working facilities on a level site and at least 200 feet away from surface water.

• Minimize the number of vehicle crossings through streams, or at least locate crossings in areas of minimum impact.

Don Ball is an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with Auburn University.

 *Adapted from: Ball, D.M., C.S. Hoveland, and G.D. Lacefield, 2006. Southern Forages (4th Ed.), International Plant Nutrition Institute, Norcross, GA