This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs), demonstrating that agriculture is half way to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.
George Watters is a sheep farmer at the beginning of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Born in England and raised in New Zealand on a sheep farm, he knows a few things about rotational grazing and animal health.
“How can the New Zealand farmer raise and ship lamb to the Northern Hemisphere cheaper than we can do it here? It’s because they’re very efficient; they can’t afford to lose a single animal due to water-borne pathogens. You don’t see livestock in the streams in New Zealand,” said Watters.
“These stream fencing programs you have here helped me set up a rotational grazing system that is very important in the sheep industry. I’ve got a waterer in every field, so they’re drinking clean water, and they rotate to fresh pastures on a regular basis.”
Fencing livestock out of farm streams is a major focus of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. This best management practice not only helps reduce bacteria, nutrient, and sediment pollution in Bay headwater streams but also fosters healthier animals and more efficient use of pastures. That can boost a farmer’s bottom line, which is why many Shenandoah Valley farmers employ this and other conservation measures to improve water quality and their farm operations. Some Virginia farmers, however, have not yet jumped on the clean water bandwagon.
After being raised on a farm in New Zealand, Watters served in the Special Forces for Great Briton in Libya and Oman. Then he moved to California to farm before settling in the Shenandoah Valley.
Watters added, “I’ve been all over the world and seen a lot, and you know, fencing livestock out of a stream is not that difficult. I don’t understand what the big deal is. Your animals will be healthier, and you can better utilize your pastures.”