This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.
Ever since George and Ruth Coyner fenced their cows out of the streams on their farm in 2005, they've seen great benefits for their herd. What's more, there has been a marked improvement in the stream's water quality.
"I'll bet I could drink the water leaving our farm," Coyner exclaimed.
The Coyners own and operate a commercial cow/calf operation in the headwaters of Porterfield Run, a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. They also raise soybeans, corn, barley, and hay.
"Years ago, I remember a vet telling us there were herd health advantages for our cows if we fenced them out of the streams," Coyner said. "The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was available and we decided to enroll. The program reimbursed us more than 100 percent of the costs, and they pay us rent every year for the land we fenced away from the cows."
"Since we fenced the cows out of the stream, we no longer have calves falling down in the stream at birth and dying. We no longer have old cows mired up to their bellies in the muck. They now drink clean water and there is no more mortality because of the stream," Coyner continued.
They fenced half a mile of stream, developed alternative watering stations, and built a stream crossing for the cows. The program required them to set a fence 35 feet from the top of the bank on each side of the stream.
"One of my neighbors told me I was giving up good pasture by fencing the cows out," Coyner said. "But I told him I can get the cows into the barn so much easier now, they drink clean water, and I don't have any deaths because of the steep banks or muck."
The Coyners are proud stewards of their land, implementing not only streamside buffers but also rotational grazing, grassed waterways, cover crops, and strip cropping.
"We are happy with the program and plan to re-enroll when our contract comes up for renewal in a couple of years," he added.
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.