Effects of Cattle Grazing and BMPs on Stream Water Quality
American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers , 2004

Agouridis, C.W., Edwards, D.R., Workman, S.R., Bicudo, J.R.

Cattle production is a major component of Kentucky’s agricultural economy, accounting for approximately 15% of the total agricultural sales in 2000. There are over 2.2 million beef cattle and calves in the state making Kentucky the number one beef producer east of the Mississippi River. Research into the effects of cattle grazing on stream water quality has been well documented in the western portion of the United States with some estimates indicating that 80% of the damage to riparian areas was caused by grazing livestock. However, the impacts of grazing cattle in a humid environment may differ significantly from those witnessed in the arid West. Furthermore, relatively little information exists regarding the effectiveness of grazing best management practices (BMPs), such as alternate water sources, alternate shade sources, supplemental feeding, and riparian buffers, for improving the water quality of streams in grazed watersheds of the humid region. As part of a larger research endeavor into cattle production practices in the humid region, water samples were collected over a two year period at the project site located on the University of Kentucky’s Animal Research Center. The project sites consisted of two replications of three treatments: control, selected BMPs with free access to the stream, and selected BMPs with limited access to the stream. Grab samples were collected at the upstream and downstream pasture edges. Samples were analyzed for nitrate-nitrogen, ammonium-nitrogen, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, dissolved orthophosphate, total phosphorus, total suspended solids, pH, chemical oxygen demand, five-day biochemical oxygen demand, fecal coliforms, and fecal streptococci. Results indicated that minimal water quality benefits were incurred by implementing the BMP systems (i.e. treatments). One of the most substantial understandings gleaned from the project was the importance of upstream land use, and to some degree soils, when attempting to identify significant treatment effects within a small reach. Additionally, the karst geology, which is characteristic of the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, influenced the rate of transport (i.e. flashy system with quick response time to rainfall) of nutrients from upland areas (i.e. row crops), especially along Pin Oak. These external factors may have resulted in the lack of uniformity in significant constituent concentration differences between the two streams when cattle were present. Furthermore, the background constituent concentration levels may have prohibited the identification of treatment effects. Results from this project indicated that minimal water quality benefits were incurred by implementing a BMP system (with or without a partially excluded riparian zone). However, these results may differ if cattle were completely excluded from the stream or if the BMP system was implemented at a site with larger pastures, different geology (nonkarst), soils (low in phosphorus), or stream morphology (nonbedrock bottom channel).