Influence of grazing and land use on stream-channel characteristics among small dairy farms in the Eastern United States

Genevieve Brand, Bruce Vondracek, Nicholas R. Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Rotational grazing (RG) is a livestock management practice that rotates grazing cattle on a scale of hours to days among small pastures termed paddocks. It may beneficially affect stream channels, relative to other livestock management practices. Such effects and other beneficial effects on hydrology are important to RG's potential to provide a highly multifunctional mode of livestock farming. Previous comparisons of effects of RG and confinement dairy (CD) on adjoining streams have been restricted in scale and scope. We examined 11 stream-channel characteristics on a representative sample of 37 small dairy farms that used either RG or CD production methods. Our objectives were: (1) to compare channel characteristics on RG and CD farms, as these production methods are implemented in practice, in New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, USA; and (2) to examine land use on these farms that may affect stream-channel characteristics. To help interpret channel characteristic findings, we examined on-farm land use in riparian areas 50 m in width along both sides of stream reaches and whole-farm land use. In all states, stream-channel characteristics on RG and CD farms did not differ. Whole-farm land use differed significantly between farm types; CD farms allocated more land to annual row crops, whereas RG farms allocated more land to pasture and grassland. However, land cover in 50 m riparian areas was not different between farm types within states; in particular, many RG and CD farms had continuously grazed pastures in riparian areas, typically occupied by juvenile and non-lactating cows, which may have contributed sediment and nutrients to streams. This similarity in riparian management practices may explain the observed similarity of farm types with respect to stream-channel characteristics. To realize the potential benefits of RG on streams, best management practices that affect stream-channel characteristics, such as protection of riparian areas, may improve aggregate effects of RG on stream quality and also enhance other environment, economic and social benefits of RG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)524-536
Number of pages13
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Volume30
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015

Keywords

  • confinement grazing
  • farm scale
  • pasture
  • riparian areas
  • rotational grazing
  • row crops

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