No more trying to gather cattle in muddy conditions, even if it's raining. No more fighting foot rot and other hoof problems related to the environment. No more watching swarms of flies hatch out of the mud around waterers. No more watching soil wash away where cattle congregate.

For David and Gayla Holcombe, they say "no more" to many annoyances and "yes" to the improvements they have seen on their 750-acre farm in Delaware County in Northeast Oklahoma. Two and a half years ago, they began participating in a model Environmental Protection Agency 319 Water Quality Demonstration/ Education project. Their county conservation district was selected because the Beaty Creek watershed feeds water into Lake Spavinaw, which provides water for the city of Tulsa. Higher than normal levels of phosphorus were found in the lake and creek water, and efforts are being made to lower that phosphorus level by implementing measures to prevent non-point source "pollution."

"At the end of this five-year educational project, we'll be able to demonstrate that by implementing all of these practices, that we have either stabilized or reduced the phosphorus in these streams," says Mr. Holcombe. And so far those efforts have reduced phosphorus levels in the watershed.

The project incorporates a number of soil conservation measures that utilize construction grade materials aimed at limiting runoff and soil erosion. The materials used in the project were purchased from a construction supplier in North Carolina, Webtech Inc.

One conservation measure is the installation of geo-textile fabric around all the waterers, feedbunks and hay feeders. The fabric provides a semi-permeable membrane that allows moisture
and manure to filter through. A layer of SB #2 filler rock is put on top and doesn't sink into the soil. "That stops the mud and erosion and does away with wetness around the tanks. The cattle are always on dry ground, so you have less feet problems, less disease problems and fewer fly problems," says Mr. Holcombe.

In addition to the geo-textile fabric around waterers, Mr. Holcombe says they installed a terra-cell, which looks like a honeycomb when laid out, on top of the fabric. It has pockets 6 inches deep, and the aggregate rock is placed on top to fill the pockets. "That terra-cell holds the rock in place so the cattle don't kick it out as they walk up to water."

That same terra-cell is used to prevent erosion around the ponds. The soil on the Holcombe's farm is a silt loam, so open ponds used by cattle in the pasture need to be bulldozed every few years to remove the silt. To eliminate that problem, Mr. Holcombe fenced off the ponds and built a ramp using the terra-cell material to help hold the soil. That limited the cattle's access to pond eliminating the erosion and need for continual maintenance.

The family's conservation efforts were rewarded in 2001 when the Holcombes were selected as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Region IV Environmental Stewardship Award winner, sponsored by Dow AgroSciences.

Beyond recognition, Mr. Holcombe, who sits on his county's conservation board, hopes other producers will apply some of these practices on their farms and ranches to prevent soil loss and control runoff. He says to check with your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office to see if federal or state programs might offer cost assistance. In his case, the EPA program provided a cost share benefit to help producers in the area pay for these improvements.

"Most of the practices were a 75/25 percent cost share, where producers paid the 25 percent plus the labor," he says. But even without the financial assistance, he says he would pay for it on his own now that he's seen the benefits.