Managing stock near water

Agricultural and horticultural land occupy more than 40% of New Zealand, meaning there is significant pressure on farmers to manage the effects of their land use on water quality – and that includes managing stock near water.

As well as the obvious action of keeping stock out of waterways this also involves management of the land near waterways or where there are transport pathways that could transport contaminants to water.

Benefits of keeping stock out of waterways

As a farmer, keeping stock out of waterways has significant upside, including:

  • Increased productivity – providing good quality reticulated water can improve livestock productivity, though the combined impact of small improvements, such as higher water quality and better footing for stock.
  • Improved stock health – stock drinking from troughs are less likely to come into contact with pathogens.
  • Reduced stock losses – excluding stock from waterways (particularly at calving and lambing) reduces the likelihood of young animals falling into water and drowning.
  • Safer work environment – steep, slippery or crumbling banks make waterways hazardous for people, especially when on motorbikes.
  • Market demands for sustainability – it’s important we can demonstrate environmentally-sustainable farming practices, including keeping stock out of waterways.
  • Industry reputation – the primary sector needs to protect not only the country’s waterways, but also the whole farm environment.
  • Resource management – some regional councils already have specific stock exclusion or waterway fencing requirements and other councils are considering similar moves.
  • Biodiversity benefits – in addition to keeping waterways clear of sediment, nutrients and pathogens, excluding stock also allows banks to regenerate, providing shelter and safety for stream life.
  • Improving your property’s look and value – there is good evidence that farms with clear waterways, abundant aquatic life and riparian areas are more valuable.

How can you keep stock out of waterways?

There are many options, of varying costs and levels of effectiveness:

  • Permanent fencing – this is the most effective option for keeping stock out of waterways. Focus on the highest risk areas first (i.e. where high stock numbers are run or heavier stock classes commonly graze).
  • Temporary fencing – temporary electric fences around waterways are a great option if you only need to protect sensitive areas at critical times, where flooding is an issue, or as a stop-gap until the budget allows for permanent fencing.
  • Reticulated water systems – stock prefer to drink from troughs and it encourages them away from waterways.
  • Restricted stock access points – if there is no alternative but to allow stock access to a waterway for drinking water, then a restricted access point can be created, using a hot wire that allows animals to drink but not get into the water.
  • Bridges and culverts – these make it easier for stock and people to move around the farm and protect stream beds.
  • Shade and shelter – spreading trees across paddocks encourages stock into shade and from congregating in only one or two places within the paddock.
  • Grazing and stock class management – grazing lighter classes of stock next to unfenced waterways results in less impact than heavier animals on the same area.
  • Uncultivated buffers – in areas used for cropping or winter feed, leave an uncultivated, grassed buffer (at least 3m) beside waterways to slow run-off and help remove sediment.
  • Riparian protection and enhancement – riparian plants provide shelter, shade and encourage bird life, while also improving the waterway margin.

How can farming activities affect water quality?

What happens on the land can impact water quality and stream health. Water can flow over land and enter waterbodies taking with it sediment, nutrients and pathogens.  In addition, nutrients can be lost via drainage through the soil profile to ground- and then surface- water.  There are four key contaminants lost from sheep and beef farms that impact stream health and water quality. These are sediment, pathogens (represented by the indicator E. coli), phosphorus and nitrogen.  

The four factsheets below outline the main risk factors for, and key actions to reduce, losses of these contaminants.