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Living on Karst

A Reference Guide for Landowners in Limestone Regions

Produced by the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias, June 1997

Pasture Land or Grassland Management

Studies conducted on a nationwide scale which included karst regions, indicate that farmland contributes to a general decline in surface water and groundwater quality. Public programs to address agricultural runoff concerns are focussed on the largest commercial feed lots and dairy operations, but small, independent livestock producers and farmers also can cause problems locally (and downstream). By limiting overgrazing and restricting livestock access to streams, farmers can conserve valuable soil fertility and minimize the amount of sediment and nutrients introduced into the watershed.

  • In heavy use areas, such as winter feeding sites, barn lots, ponds, and any place where bare soil is exposed, sufficient vegetation should be established to retain sediment, soil particles, and manure on the fields. Work on stabilizing problem areas during the spring and summer months in order to reduce erosion aggravated by wet, winter weather and storms. Animals should have access to shady loafing areas located away from water bodies.

  • Don't let the size of your herd exceed the carrying capacity of your soil and water resources. Practice rotational grazing techniques by leaving some pasture "in reserve" for livestock to graze when grass on other pastures is spent. The most heavily grazed fields may need to rest and recover occasionally in order to maintain optimum productivity. It is important to know your soils' fertilizer requirements and other characteristics. Contact a soil scientist or the county Cooperative Extension Service representative for instructions on sampling soils for laboratory testing.

  • Keep livestock away from eroding stream banks, unprotected stream crossings, subsiding sinkholes, sinking streams, and natural waterways. Your local Soil and Water Conservation District will be able to provide specific ideas on drainage diversion designs, filter strips, fencing, basins, and other techniques to reduce the impacts that erosion, sedimentation, manure, and agricultural chemicals have on springs, streams, wells, marshes, lakes and ponds.

image of farm runoff into karst landscape