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Gimme Free Ice Cream!

One educator’s quest to address a pressing issue.

by Jason Detzel

I am a regular visitor to the Stewart’s Shops in my neck of the woods, and I’m not ashamed to admit that their ice cream and ready-to-eat pizza constitute a significant portion of my diet when I am on the road. This morning I was in the Stewarts bathroom.  Firstly, I would like to commend them on keeping that place immaculate for that time of the day.  Morning hour is a busy and cranky time for many people but the employees were joking and carrying on with the regulars.

But while I was in the bathroom, I noticed something on the wall. There is a length of wallpaper that runs the perimeter of all Stewart’s bathrooms. It consists of a bucolic scene of a farmer tending to his land on a beautiful fall day. As I began to study the picture something caught my eye. The cattle were in the stream!  Alarm bells began to ring in my head and I thought about telling the cashier, but then I considered what she would think about the crazy man commenting on the cattle on the bathroom wallpaper.  So I gritted my teeth and headed into the extension office in order to write this week’s livestock update.

Livestock should not be in our streams and waterways.  The water on our property is a resource to be carefully managed and cared for.  It is easy to let the stock make their way to water and help themselves to a drink but this can cause all sorts of issues for you that will ultimately degrade the water quality of you and those around you.

The offending wallpaper.
Credit Jason Detzel

First and foremost, the hoof action causes erosion to the stream bank, which affects the water in several ways.  The degradation breaks down the bank and allows sediment to run into the stream, lowering the water quality.  Not only does this affect the water when the stock are present, but also when they leave because they have eroded the plant life around the steam, and every time it rains the water will remove more sediment from the banks, thus furthering the erosion. This constant erosion will eventually break down the banks enough that the steam will become too shallow to utilize or the banks too steep to traverse.  It is even more of a problem if the bank is shaded; in the summer, animals will spend a good portion of their time loafing in the shade.  This concentrates manure and urine near the stream bank where it is washed directly into the water during the next storm.

The other major issue is the nutrient pollution that is introduced into the water.  If stock are around the water for any length of time, so too are their manure and urine.  These deposits can add significant pollution to the water and if multiple properties allow their animals in the water, all of this can cause health problems for animals and people alike.  There is a direct link between toxic algae blooms and E.coli contamination in areas where animal manure is being washed into waterways.

There is a simple solution to this issue:  keep your animals fenced away from the water.  There are any number of pumps that can fit your operation, whether you have access to power or are in a remote area.  There is also the possibility of flash grazing for short periods of time near water or allowing reduced access to watering areas so animals will not loaf or wade in the water.  No matter how you decide to tackle the problem, you and your animals will be better off with the clean water.

So, I decided to fire off a letter to Stewart’s urging them to change their wallpaper to a more mindful scene.  Maybe a flerd mob grazing a small paddock clearly showing a solar powered pump filling their stock tanks and a group of local kids playing in the crystal clear stream.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get a free ice cream out of it.

Below is a link to a bulletin outlining how cattle can contaminate waterways.

I ended up writing a letter to the Stewarts shop and they kindly got back to me.  They mentioned that they appreciated my concern, but they are currently in the process of changing all Stewarts bathrooms to tile, and that this will eliminate the offending wallpaper.  They never did offer me any free ice cream but I’ve still been going anyway.  PS: the happy camper flavor was my favorite this year!

Jason Detzel is a Livestock Educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County. He can be reached at


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