Cattle trample vegetation and destroy a stream bank as they walk down the bank to enter the river. The damage can be severe. It denudes the streamside vegetation and increases the sediment load into the river along with all of the poop and urine. Healthy stream banks and their buffers protect the vegetation, providing needed shade, cooling the water, and supplying leaf litter to fish and the critters living on the river bottom.
For farmers, the health and productivity of livestock is a top priority. Producers who have installed fences along streams report improved herd health, decreased incidences of sores in cattle, and decreased leg injuries. There is also an increase in calf survival.
Providing alternative watering systems away from the streams also contributes to herd health. Livestock will drink more when the water is cool and clean. That’s why producers often pair exclusion fencing with strategically dispersed watering systems located away from the stream.
The results can be dramatic. One study showed that cattle drank much more water from an off-stream water trough compared to time spent drinking from the stream. This results in increased weight gain in the cows, and an increase in production, and butterfat content in the milk. For beef cattle, this can mean a gain of up to 25 additional pounds, or a 5 percent increase in weight, which translates to real money when an animal goes to market.
So in short, keeping cattle out of the river helps provide stable stream banks, better water quality, healthier streams, healthier animals and increased productivity.