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Raising animals can provide environmental benefits and economic vitality to a piece of property. Goats, for example, can assist with brush management, produce marketable milk and cheese, and provide manure that can be used as a soil amendment. Depending on the species you raise, your livestock will need different amounts of water and other elements to be healthy and keep the land healthy. 

Read the Livestock section of the Rural Living Guide to learn more about fencing, pasture and grazing management, mud and manure management.

Species Requirements

Contact a specialist at OSU Small Farms, NRCS, or Benton SWCD to determine the carrying capacity of your pastures for various livestock species.

Livestock Considerations

View our helpful table for thinking about livestock considerations.

Fencing

Benton County is entirely a livestock district, or closed range district, which means the livestock owner must keep livestock on their own property. There is no open range. High tensile electric fence is most commonly used in Benton County. Barbed wire is becoming more uncommon.

Pasture & Grazing Management

Pastures are complex biological systems that consist of sun, soil, water, plants, and animals. To be an effective pasture manager, think of yourself as a grass farmer. The forage is the crop and the grazing animals are the harvesters. A healthy pasture provides nutritious forage that will improve the livestock’s ability to thrive and resist disease. Proper grazing avoids compaction, improves soil structure, increases organic matter, decreases erosion and increases infiltration, thereby improving water quality and soil health. These conditions contribute to plant vigor and improved root structure. Healthy forage inhibits weed invasion and reduces the need for pesticides. Properly grazed pastures provide wildlife habitat during pasture rest periods. Improve or protect the health of your pasture to increase the property’s value and reduce the amount of polluted runoff that leaves the land.

  • Grazing Strategies

    Continuous grazing should be avoided. Animals that are allowed to roam the entire property will choose the type of forage they want to eat. Since they prefer the new, tender forage, continuous grazing leads to exhaustion of good forage species, proliferation of weedy species, and development of muddy bare patches. A better method is rotational grazing, where pastures are subdivided and animals are frequently rotated to allow forage to rejuvenate. Temporary electric fencing is a low-cost way to subdivide the pasture into paddocks before you invest in permanent cross fences. When grass production will not support your animals, move them to an all-season pen and provide supplemental feed. See Mud Management Sections for heavy use area details. 

    Minimize compaction: do not graze pastures in wet winter months. Compacted soil restricts root growth and prevents water from moving into and through the soil to the roots. Provide adequate drinking water for animals. Have water, salt and minerals strategically located to distribute livestock evenly across pastures. Fence off streams so that manure and other pollutants are kept away from water resources. Set up grass and tree buffers along stream/ river banks to prevent erosion. Avoid soil disturbance, which can activate previously dormant weed seeds and compromise soil health.

  • Grazing Height Rule of Thumb

    To maintain healthy grass pastures and livestock, a general rule of thumb is to manage grass height so that it ranges between two to eight inches high. Rotate grazers into paddocks when grass is six to eight inches high and out when grass is two to three inches tall. These management heights vary by grass species and season. 

    Plants are overgrazed when carbohydrate reserves are continually depleted without enough time for the plant to replenish its stores. Overgrazing reduces root development so plants can’t effectively access water. Proper grazing height optimizes animal nutrition and minimizes threats of parasites.

  • Signs of Good & Poor Grazing Management

    Good Management: Animals confined to winter use area when pasture is wet. Large pastures subdivided into smaller pastures. Animals fenced out of streams. Water provided in each pasture. Presence of a vegetative buffer between streams and pastures. Forage is never less than 2-3 inches in height.

    Bad Management: Bare ground filled with weeds. High browse lines on trees and shrubs. Trampled stream bank. Animals grazing through the fence. Livestock on wet soil. Animals ankle deep in mud or manure.

  • Irrigation

    Proper irrigation can help improve a pasture’s productivity. Pastures with healthy plants will be able to access deeper water reserves. Daily plant water requirements vary based on factors such as air temperature, solar radiation, day length, wind, and growth stage of the plant. The Agrimet Crop Water Use Program predicts water use or evapotranspiration (ET) on a daily and weekly basis. OSU Extension Service, NRCS and Benton SWCD can provide information on irrigation principles and management.  Irrigate pastures following grazing rather than prior to grazing.

  • Fertility

    Pasture plants need nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur to grow properly. Balanced grazing prevents the concentration of soil nutrients within the pasture; therefore a fertility plan should be developed. Test the soil to determine nutrient and pH levels and apply amendments every three to four years. Adjust animal numbers and management based on pasture production and regrowth.

Manure Management

If manure is not properly managed, bacteria, parasites, nitrogen and phosphorous can create problems for livestock, people, streams, irrigation water and wells. Fresh manure may have strong odors and breed flies. Horses and cattle can suffer from respiratory problems when exposed to dried manure. Excess manure can cause over fertilization of grasses. Because of the water quality risks associated with improper manure management, Federal and State laws forbid discharge of animal waste into water. However, properly managed manure is a valuable resource that can improve pasture productivity. 

  • Manure Application

    To make manure as beneficial as possible, follow these guidelines: 

    • Store it under cover and away from water sources. 
    • Keep the pile contained and on a hard surface to prevent leaching of nutrients, especially during the wet season. 
    • Compost it to create a beneficial soil amendment that increases soil organic matter and water holding capacity. 
    • Spread composted manure on pastures. 
    • Test manure and soil to determine the appropriate application rate. If you have more manure than your pastures can accommodate, export either manure or compost. 
    • Harrow or drag pastures to break down manure, return nutrients to the soil, and exposes parasite larvae to sun and air. 
    • The Benton SWCD can help property owners develop a manure composting/storage facility. 
  • Mud Management

    Mud can make chore time unpleasant, increase fly breeding areas, transmit diseases, create unsafe footing and increase polluted runoff. The best protection against mud is prevention. Use these strategies to help prevent mud. 

  • Fencing

    Fence animals away from wetlands, streams, and ditches. Rotate water tank areas to avoid mud and manure build up. 

  • Firm Footing

    Barn entrances, lanes, gates, loafing areas, and wet paddocks that are grazed become muddy. You can install concrete in these areas. However, geotextile fabric and gravel will provide an all-weather surface at one-third the cost of concrete. Geotextile fabric allows water to infiltrate but stops mud from working up through the gravel. NRCS recommends using a layer of geotextile fabric next to the soil, a 6-8 inch layer of 3 inch minus crushed rock with 4-6 inches of 3/4 inch minus crushed rock on top to provide a firm surface. If the area will receive vehicle traffic in addition to animal traffic, use the larger numbers. If you would like comfort for your animals, cap the area with hog fuel (shredded bark) or pea gravel. Hog fuel decomposes and needs to be periodically replaced. As hog fuel decomposes it releases acids that may leach into water, so avoid using it near wetlands, streams, or ditches. 

  • Heavy Use Areas

    Heavy use areas are key components of livestock operations in our seasonally wet Willamette Valley. A heavy use area is a reinforced animal yard for times when livestock could damage pastures, such as in rainy weather or when grass is less than three inches tall. Locate heavy use areas on high ground and at least 100 feet away from wells and open water. Follow the firm footing guidelines listed in the previous section when constructing a heavy use area. 

  • Runoff

    Prevent clean surface water from entering your animal yard by diversion to wetlands, ditches, and streams. Slope the animal yard with a four to six percent grade and use a southern aspect for quick drying. Use a buried pipe to carry water past animal yards. Place a concrete curb or earthen berm around the yard to keep clean and contaminated water separate. Plant a vegetated buffer, such as a bioswale, to filter the runoff. Widen the buffer if the heavy use area slopes or is located near wetlands, streams or ditches. 

  • Roof Gutters and Downspouts

    Install roof gutters and downspouts to divert clean water from the animal yard. Design gutters to handle the amount of rainfall in your area (see Rain Map in the Introductory Section.) For example, one inch of rain on a 20-foot by 50-foot roof will produce 620 gallons. Protect downspouts from animal and equipment damage by using heavy PVC pipe, a hot wire or a permanent barrier. Empty downspouts into a stock watering tank, rain barrel, dry well, tile line, road ditch, or bioswale.

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