By Chris Jungwirth, Engineer-in-Training, Regional Engineer, Saskatoon
When selecting a wintering site, your main focus is typically providing a location with adequate water and shelter that makes sense financially. Environmental considerations may not play into the decision or may occur after-the-fact, as the environmental consequences are often less obvious. However, you should take them into consideration earlier in the process.
Wintering sites can impact groundwater quality. As excess water moves down, the soil profile can carry nitrates. Nitrogen is highly soluble in water and is not bound to soil particles. Impacts are influenced by the amount of nitrate in the soil, the quantity of water in the soil, soil texture and depth to groundwater.
The majority of runoff from a wintering site occurs from snowmelt in spring while the ground is still frozen. There is limited opportunity for dormant vegetation to utilize nutrients, trap sediment and reduce water flow. This scenario results in less nutrient-leaching but more nutrient transport via surface runoff. Uncontrolled runoff from wintering sites carries nutrients and pathogens.
Feeding and bedding strategies can reduce environmental risk, and help build soil quality at nutrient-deficient sites. These strategies include the following:
- Spreading cattle out over a larger area, and changing feeding and bedding locations, minimizes manure build-up;
- Moving portable wind breaks helps reduce potential for nutrient hot spots;
- Healthy riparian areas provide a buffer between wintering areas and surface water;
- Feeding cattle away from watercourses protects water from runoff;
- Swath grazing, corn grazing, and stockpiled forages can reduce labour and handling costs; and
- Bale grazing, bale processing, and portable bunk feeding encourage uniform manure distribution if managed properly.