It’s generally been thought that sheep on steep hill country farms aren’t really impacting on stream water quality, and there are no central government recommendations that sheep should be fenced out of streams.
However that’s not quite the case. Sheep, as well as cattle, are guilty of degrading streams with E-coli and other pathogens entering the water.
Animal behaviour scientist Dr Lindsay Matthews says it’s great that gullies and steep hill sides have been planted with trees to help stabilise the ground, slow nutrient run off and protect the streams, but ironically that lovely environment has become a magnet for stock wanting shade or security, and it’s of course where they poo as well.
He says over the hot summer sheep have also been seen actually standing in water to cool down and that’s not what farmers and others have thought sheep did.
Dr Matthews says it’s not practical to fence off all water ways so he and other researchers are hoping to find ways to attract sheep to settle down on other parts of a the farm, “to spread their impact on the landscape.”
Planting trees will be one solution, but he says they’re also hoping to investigate other novel ideas.
They also need to find out just how far away from streams and gullies sheep need to be and for how long. “We’re not looking at 100% getting them out of the streams ….. but we don’t know what proportion of time they have to be in safe areas (where poo won’t reach the stream) compared with the risky areas.”
If the research gets approved he says they should have some solutions within three years.