Water quality impact of a dairy cow herd crossing a stream
New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research , 38 , 2004

Colley-Davies, R.J., Nagels, J.W., Smith, R.A., Young, R.G., Phillips, C.J.

The water quality impact of a herd of 246 dairy cows crossing a stream ford was documented. Two cow crossings produced plumes of turbid water associated with very high concentrations of faecal indicator bacteria (Escherichia coli) and high suspended solids (SS) and total nitrogen (TN). On the first crossing, towards the milking shed, the cows were tightly-bunched and produced a sharp spike of contamination (E. coli peaking at 50 000 cfu/100 ml). After milking, the cows wandered back across the stream as individuals or small groups, and contaminants were less elevated, albeit for a longer period. Light attenuation, measured continuously by beam transmissometer, correlated closely with E. coli, SS, and TN, permitting the total yield of these contaminants to be estimated. Contaminant yields for the two crossings were very similar, suggesting that time taken and whether or not cows are herded may not greatly influence water quality impact. The cows defecated c. 50 times more per metre of stream crossing than elsewhere on the raceway. This study has shown that cattle accessing stream channels can cause appreciable direct water contamination, suggesting that excluding cattle from streams will have major water quality benefits.