Reducing Your Impact
It is preferred and highly recommended that all farm owners in Whatcom County consult with the Whatcom Conservation District to create a Farm Plan for your land. However, if you prefer not to take part in this free service, the Whatcom Conservation District recommends the following five critical steps to minimize your farm’s impact on Lake Whatcom and the surrounding drainages:
Figure 1: Animal Waste Management plan; from Washington State Department of Ecology
Keep the animals out of the water:
Cows, horses and other livestock entering streams, ponds and creeks are direct sources of fecal coliforms in the water. Slope instability can also be accelerated and will result in increased sedimentation downstream. Two things you can do to keep animals out of the water are:
- Install streamside fencing to restrict livestock from the water.
- Provide adequate water supply for the animals to drink other than directly from the streams. If streamside watering is your only option, use a ramp-fence system like the one in the diagram and keep the area clear of any manure.
Ramp-fence system for streamside watering; from Washington State Department of Ecology
Creating a vegetative buffer of tall grasses will help to prevent streamside slope erosion. The buffer will absorb runoff carrying harmful elements from waste and fertilizers and filter it through the soil. Ultimately, grasses should be a temporary solution until trees and shrubs can be established as a permanent buffer for greater soil stability.
Eventually, this vegetative buffer shouldact as a natural fence line to help contain livestock and barnyard animals. These living fences will also attract an array of birds and wildlife to your property.
Preventing overgrazing is critical to maintaining animal and watershed health. A decline in pasture quality is caused primarily by either too many animals for the parcel size or allowing animals to graze for too long in one area. Technicians from the Whatcom Conservation District can assist you in determining the proper number of animals for your farm and pasture size.
Vegetation that has been overgrazed is unable to utilize the nutrients from manure fertilizers and re-establish. The result is a pasture of mud rather than grains. The bare soil will eventually erode and run into the drainages with a large rainfall.
Pastures should be sub-divided into smaller parcels and the use if each should occur on a rotating basis to allow for the healthy recovery of plants. Grazing should be restricted during winter months and confined to only a small area where the soils are not saturated. If your pasture is not large enough to allow for rotation, it should be used only for exercise and animals will need to be fed year-round.
Manure stored, for use as fertilizer and compost, must be kept well covered and away from surface water areas to prevent runoff during rainstorms.
If the number of animals on your farm creates more manure than you can use, consider sharing your compost with neighboring farms. Click here for downloadable information on Composting from Whatcom County Public Works or link to Horses for Clean Water Tip Sheets - Horses for Clean Water
Installation of Gutters and Downspouts:
All barns and shelters should have gutters and downspouts to control rainwater and direct it away from animal confinement areas. A 1" rainstorm produces 90 gallons of water running off a 12' x 12' roof. Clean rainwater can be diverted to a rain barrel, unused pasture, or stock watering tanks. This way not only do you protect the streams and lake from polluted runoff; you conserve water by utilizing the rain as an additional water source.