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


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.