New grazing technology might save streams


I'm not sure how feasible this is for widescale installment on the many grazing parcels in the West. But it's worth spreading the word to help it catch on.

A grad student, Adam Sigler at Montana State University, has designed and tested a new technology that changes the way cattle use streams. It looks like this:


Sigler's invention might be a breakthrough -- a $1,500 framework of stanchions and fencing that controls how cattle approach and drink from streams. The cattle don't even touch the ground around the stream, and they're prevented from getting into the water and streambed. These diagrams show how it works ...

... the cattle are kept off the most vulnerable ground:


... and this aerial view shows how the cattle are contained and kept out of the stream:


Millions of cows have hammered Western streams over the past 150 years. Typically the cattle linger on the banks and in streambeds. Their hooves pound plants and soil. Their waste and the erosion pollute the water. They also skew riparian ecosystems by reducing shade and making the water warmer etc. Ranchers who use good intensive management can reduce the impacts but it requires a lot of effort and expense.

According to the university:

(Sigler) tested such systems on two ranches north of Belgrade (and) found that water quality improved and the amount of sediment decreased in the water downstream from where the cows drank.
… Sigler's study found significantly less E.coli bacteria, sediments and nutrients when stanchions were used than when cattle had free access, said Sigler, now a water quality associate with MSU Extension and MSU's Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. The more cattle at a site, the more pronounced the difference.

If you'd like to get in touch with the inventor:

Adam Sigler -- phone 406-994-7381 -- e-mail asigler AT


Riparian relief
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson
May 15, 2009 10:53 AM
It's gratifying to see someone proposing a possible solution for cow-trashed streams. But I wonder what the impacts are on other wildlife -- would deer and other wary critters learn to use these? (I assume the fencing would have to extend along the entire section of creek that's in the grazing area.) And what happens when the creek level drops in late summer? Innovative work, though!
happy ungulates
May 15, 2009 11:18 AM
The deer and other critters won't have much trouble getting to the water wherever they want. The proposed bank-hardening solution isn't bad, but will require some very polite cows, who will wait patiently while others drink, then give them room to back up and turn around, possibly dabbing their lips with napkins.
the first step is admitting you have a problem
May 19, 2009 08:19 PM
The first sentence acknowleges that cattle have and are indeed degrading streams across the arid west, increasing sedimentation, erosion and adding coliform bacteria compromising clean water. Then we learn this "fix" is expensive. So if all ranchers don't do it, the degradation goes on. When will we finally say enough and acknowlege that keeping livestock in these places comes at too great a cost!
Wire Water Gap
Robert Hoskins
Robert Hoskins
May 22, 2009 08:52 AM
This is little more than an expensive upgrade to the age old "water gap" used to water livestock from creeks and streams while keeping them penned up in some fashion.

Once again, we are faced with the determination of naifs or cynics to keep cows in the West despite their inherent destructiveness to land, water, and wildlife. Best management practices do little to improve the situation, and they cost too much. I've got a better idea. Get rid of the cows.
Give a cow a drink
Mickey D
Mickey D
Jun 26, 2009 07:48 AM
In my experience, most of these streams are not static. The water rises and (more likely) drops continually. So the practical application would fit in very few situations it seems.

About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.