Cut the crap

Livestock are trashing our rivers - time to get them out!

The problem

There’s no delicate way to say this. Cows are crapping in our waterways.

Manure from many animals – including native animals – enters our rivers all the time, but cow poo is the biggest issue simply because there’s so much of it.

In Victoria there are about 2 million beef cattle and 1.8 million dairy cows [1]. Poo production is 21 kilograms a day for beef cattle and a staggering 55 kilograms a day for dairy cattle, which gives a total of 131,000 tonnes of cow manure produced in Victoria every day! It has been estimated that 3.4 percent of this ends up in our rivers – meaning about 4,500 tonnes of cow crap fouling our waterways per day [2].

Cow and sheep poo contains pathogens that are a risk to human health, so contaminated water needs some pretty serious treatment. And yet over a million Victorians get their drinking water from waterways with stock access.

That’s only part of the problem. Along with sheep, goats, horses and other livestock, cattle are making a mess of our river banks. Stock grazing causes a lot of damage – vegetation is trampled and eaten, habitat is destroyed, the water gets muddy and banks become more prone to erosion. Lack of shade can warm the water and make algal blooms more likely.

Getting livestock out of rivers is the number one manageable solution for river health in Victoria.

The damage livestock causes has been identified time and again by scientists and catchment management authorities as a key threat, and it’s been listed as a threatening process under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. The Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability and others have made repeated recommendations that grazing on public land on river banks should be phased out.

The Andrews Government has taken a good step to start moving out the cows with its Regional Riparian Action Plan which will protect 2,500 km of river banks in the next 5 years. But there are still thousands of tonnes of poo getting into our rivers every day – much more needs to be done!

1. ABS data
2. Manure production and deposition rates in streams from Water Futures (2011) Public health issues associated with stock accessing waterways upstream of drinking water off-takes. A report to the Department of Health.