Animal agriculture operations often include pasture or crop lands. Conservation-minded management of these acres is essential to protect natural resources and maintain productivity. Several land and pasture conservation practices associated with livestock or poultry are listed below.
Access Control (472)
Keeping animals, humans, or traffic from entering an area is access control. For animal agriculture, this often is used to keep animals out of streams or other sensitive areas, or to allow an area affected by a natural disaster to recover. Photos 1-3 show different types of livestock exclusion.
Natural Resources Benefits. Excluding animals from an area can protect water quality by allowing vegetation to establish and reduce soil erosion. It can also prevent animals from causing damage to streambanks or depositing manure and urine directly into water. Wildlife habitat can be enhanced through access control.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Access Control (472)
- NRCS success stories - California rancher; Oklahoma creek restoration included access control, among other conservation practices; Georgia cattle farmer
Cover Crop (340)
Cover crops are planted to provide temporary vegetative cover for an area. Animal agriculture operations may use cover crops on crop fields and may use the cover crop for seasonal grazing. Photos 1-3 show different cover crops.
Natural Resource Benefits. Cover crops are planted to take up soil nutrients, including those in fall manure applications. Once taken up by a cover crop, nutrients are at a lower risk of runoff or leaching. Cover crops also protect soil health by reducing erosion and increasing soil organic matter. Cover crops provide economic benefits to farms by retaining nutrients and providing grazing or hay.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Cover Crop (340)
- Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program cover crop innovator video series and cover crop usage survey results
- NRCS success story - Illinois cattle farmer
Critical Area Planting (342)
This practice is used in areas where the existing vegetation is either gone or disturbed and requires intervention in order to re-establish. For animal feeding operations, this may be needed on a construction site where a new or expanded lot or manure storage structure is built. For pasture-based operations, planting may be needed on eroded stream banks or hillsides. It may also be needed on farms or ranches affected by a natural disaster. Photos 1-3 show different areas on which vegetation is being re-established.
Natural Resources Benefits. Critical area planting protects soil and water resources by preventing erosion. Plantings can also enhance wildlife or pollinator habitat.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Critical Area Planting (342)
- NRCS success story in which critical area planting is part of the conservation plan in Georgia
Denitrifying Bioreactor (605)
A denitrifying bioreactor is an underground chamber that is filled with woodchips. Water from subsurface or tile drainage is directed through this chamber prior to release from an outlet. Bacteria on the surface of the woodchips treat the water and convert nitrates to nitrogen gas. This practice can be used in animal agriculture operations that apply manure or fertilizer to crop fields that include subsurface drainage. The video below discusses bioreactors. Photos 1 and 2 and Figures 1 and 2 depict denitrifying bioreactors.
Natural Resources Benefits. Bioreactors protect water quality by removing nitrates from water before it is discharged. They do not negatively impact air quality because the nitrate is converted to nitrogen gas and released to the atmosphere.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Denitrifying Bioreactor (605)
- Alliance of crop, soil, and environmental science societies digital library Denitrifying bioreactors - moving beyond proof of concept to implementation
- NRCS webinar recording Denitrifying bioreactors in tile drained systems
Diversion is a channel created for the purpose of directing water around or away from a particular area. For animal agriculture operations, a diversion is likely to be used to prevent upslope water from entering an animal feeding area, feed storage area, composting facility, manure storage structure, or other production or storage areas. Photos 1-3 show how diversion can be used around a farmstead or cattle feedlots.
Natural Resources Benefits. A diversion protects water quality by keeping clean runoff from entering areas where it could potentially become contaminated with nutrients, pathogens, or other pollutants. A diversion benefits the farm by reducing the amount of water that needs to be managed in the waste or manure storage systems. Animal health and productivity benefits when muddy conditions are reduced or avoided.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Diversion (362)
- Iowa State University “Clean Water Diversions for Open Feedlots”
Managing or restricting animal (or human) access to a location can often be accomplished by using fences. It is common for fencing to be used in conjunction with other conservation practices, such as Prescribed Grazing (528) or Waste Storage Facilities (313). Fences may be permanent or temporary as needed to accomplish the intended goal of the site. Photos 1-3 show different types of fencing.
Natural Resource Benefits. The use of fences can protect human, animal, or wildlife safety by restricting access to hazardous areas. Fences can protect water quality if used to restrict animal access to water or environmentally sensitive locations. Fences used in conjunction with other practices (such as prescribed grazing) can enhance soil and vegetation health or wildlife habitat.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Fence (382)
- NRCS webinar Inventory and Evaluation for Fence (382) Concerns and Design
- NRCS success story on a Wyoming wildlife-friendly fence
Filter Strip (393)
A filter strip is a vegetated area meant to collect and treat runoff. Filter strips are not a permanent solution because they are designed for a 10-year lifespan. They are located near a potential contamination source. For animal agriculture operations, this may include crop fields, feed, or silage storage areas, feeding areas, or a mortality storage or composting area. Photos 1 and 2 show a field and a farmstead buffer.
Natural Resource Benefits. Filter strips protect water quality by removing contaminants from runoff, such as sediment or nutrients.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Filter Strip (393)
- Success stories - Oklahoma cattle operation and Washington dairy employ a variety of conservation practices
Grassed Waterway (412)
Sometimes it is beneficial to create a vegetated channel in areas where erosion is likely due to concentrated runoff flow. Grassed waterways are typically installed in a crop field. Other areas on an animal agriculture operation that may benefit from a grassed waterway include roof gutter drain outlets or where a diversion ends around a lot or yard. Photos 1 and 2 show two examples of grassed waterways.
Natural Resource Benefits. Grassed waterways protect soil health and prevent erosion. They can also provide some filtering of runoff water to reduce solids, nutrients, or other pollutants.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Grassed Waterway (412)
- Success story - A cattle farm in Minnesota uses grassed waterways and other conservation practices around the building site
- Success story - A diversified Indiana farmer uses many conservation practices, including grassed waterways
Heavy Use Area Protection (561)
Animal agriculture operations frequently have areas where animal or vehicle traffic makes it difficult for vegetation to grow or for the area to remain stable. These heavy use areas can include feeding pads, sheltered areas, or loading/unloading site, among others. With this practice, concrete, gravel, and other methods are used to protect these areas. Photos 1, 2a, and 2b show examples of heavy use area protection.
Natural Resource Benefits. Stabilizing a heavily used area reduces soil erosion. It also protects water quality by reducing the potential for leaching or runoff. Protecting heavy use areas improves animal health and productivity by reducing mud and undesirable conditions. It can also reduce wasted feed.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Heavy Use Area Protection (561)
Livestock Shelter Structure (576)
This conservation practice is used to build a structure that is not a four-walled building but can be used to provide shade, wind protection, or other weather protection for grazing animals.
Natural Resources Benefits. Shelters can provide water or soil health benefits by changing animal congregation patterns away from environmentally sensitive areas such as riparian or eroded areas. Shelters also improve livestock welfare, comfort, and productivity.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Livestock Shelter Structure (576)
Prescribed Grazing (528)
This conservation practice involves managing grazing animals to control the frequency, timing, and extent of grazing on a particular area. This can be accomplished through a variety of techniques including fence and water development. Prescribed grazing allows the farmer or rancher to rotate animals between paddocks that subdivide a larger pasture or parcel of rangeland. Allowing grazed forages adequate time to rest and recover is key to properly managing prescribed grazing. Photos 1-4 show different types of grazing systems.
Natural Resource Benefits. The goal of prescribed grazing is to not only improve animal productivity but also improve the health of soil and vegetation. Prescribed grazing can enhance wildlife habitat and contribute to improved water quality. Prescribed grazing can also be used (in some cases) to control weeds. A farm or ranch may also realize economic benefits from improved productivity and resilience to weather extremes from a well-managed grazing system.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Prescribed Grazing (528)
- NRCS webinar on Using Fire and Grazing to Maintain Productive Grasslands and To Fence or Not to Fence (Out a Stream)
- NRCS success stories from Kentucky, Kansas, Florida, and Arkansas
Riparian Forest Buffer (391)
This conservation practice involves planting tree and shrub species in the area adjacent to a stream or other waterbody. This practice may be used on grazing operations and livestock should be excluded or only allowed controlled access to the area. Photos 1-3 show different riparian forest buffers.
Natural Resources Benefits. Riparian forest buffers can provide water quality benefits by reducing erosion or trapping sediment or nutrients before reaching a stream. They can also provide wildlife and pollinator habitat and improve conditions for aquatic organisms.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Riparian Forest Buffer (391)
- NRCS webinar Introduction to Agroforestry Systems
Riparian Herbaceous Cover (390)
This conservation practice applies to areas with pasture or cropland adjacent to water bodies. It involves establishing suitable plants for wet, saturated areas to establish permanent plant cover. Photos 1-5 show riparian areas that are being managed to protect natural resources.
Natural Resource Benefits. Riparian plantings protect water quality by stabilizing banks and soils. They provide wildlife and pollinator habitat and can provide grazing or cover for livestock.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Riparian Herbaceous Cover (390)
- NRCS webinar on To Fence or Not to Fence Out a Stream
Saturated Buffer (604)
A saturated buffer is a structure that accepts water from fields with subsurface drainage (tile drainage) and uses vegetative treatment to reduce nitrates before the water is released to an outlet. This practice would potentially apply to animal agriculture operations that spread manure (and other fertilizers) on tile-drained fields.
Natural Resource Benefits. Saturated buffers protect water quality by reducing nitrate loads in subsurface drainage before the water is released to outlets or other surface waters.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Saturated Buffer (604)
- Transforming Drainage website
- NRCS-sponsored research project on saturated buffers
Streambank and Shoreline Protection (580)
For animal agriculture operations, streambank or shoreline protection practices may be needed around waterbodies where desirable vegetation cannot be maintained because of grazing or animal traffic. Protecting the bank or shore may involve resloping the site, installing structural protection , or planting vegetation (or combination of these). Note that these practices may have adverse effects (such as shoreline armoring) and may require federal or state authorizations, so they should be carefully planned and executed. Photos 1 and 2 show two streambank stabilization projects.
Natural Resource Benefits. Reducing erosion along streambanks and shorelines protects water quality and enhances aquatic habitat by reducing suspended solids in water. Water quality is also improved if the stabilization efforts enhance the ability of the system to filter out nutrients in runoff.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Streambank and Shoreline Protection (580)
- NRCS success story on streambank protection from Wisconsin
Stream Crossing (578)
It is not always possible to completely prevent access to streams. In those situations, a stream crossing may be useful. This conservation practice involves creating a stabilized area to allow animals, people, and equipment to cross a stream at a selected point. It applies mostly to animal agriculture operations that are pasture-based or those that move animals, people, or equipment across a stream regularly. Photos 1a, 1b, 2, and 3 show animal stream crossings.
Natural Resource Benefits. A stream crossing protects water quality by restricting crossing to a location designed to handle the traffic. This reduces erosion and improves aquatic habitat. Additional water quality improvements are realized if animals are prevented from loafing in a stream and depositing manure and urine directly in the water. A stream crossing can improve human and animal safety and the efficiency of farm operations by improving access to fields or pastures.
- NRCS National Conservation Practice Standard Stream Crossing (578)
- NRCS success story - Maryland dairy farm
Watering Facility (614)
This practice is used to provide drinking water for livestock or wildlife. Water sources greatly impact the patterns of grazing livestock. Photos 1-5 show several different types of watering facilities.
Natural Resources Benefits. Watering facilities can be developed as an alternative to livestock entering a stream or pond, thereby protecting water quality. Watering facilities can improve animal distribution and use of the vegetation, which protects soil and vegetation health and enhances wildlife habitat.