Virginia dairy farmer Gerald Garber is a big advocate of farm conservation practices, but not necessarily because he’s a committed environmentalist. He’s a believer because soil and water conservation practices produce healthier dairy cows and a leaner, cleaner farm operation.
“Everybody’s got a different reason for fencing the streams (to prevent livestock from fouling water quality), but with us, it started out about animal health,” Garber says in this month’s The Progressive Farmer magazine.
“People have farm ponds to water cattle, and we discovered they were disgusting. Heifers would get sick from being in them in hot weather, contracting mastitis.”
Mastitis is the single most costly disease to the dairy industry. It causes decreased milk production and quality, increased treatment costs, shortened lactations, and in some cases animal death. One type of mastitis is most easily controlled by keeping animal surroundings as clean and dry as possible, minimizing contact with manure, polluted water, and mud.
So using a variety of federal and state conservation cost-share programs and technical assistance from now-retired USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service expert Bobby Whitescarver, Garber excluded all his livestock from farm ponds. He eventually fenced off six miles of streams on Cave View Farms, the 2,000-acre spread he owns with partners Keith and Paul Wilson in Augusta County, Va.