Rancher tests water coming in, going out each month
Kammerzell sees more pressure on water quality in future
By Matthew Weaver
COLFAX, Wash. — Rancher Tom Kammerzell is going on the offensive when it comes to checking water quality.
Kammerzell tests water once a month as it comes onto his Colfax, Wash., ranch and as it comes off. He said he believes that in the future there will be increasing pressure from government agencies to restrict water use and quality.
Sometimes the water is cleaner when it leaves the ranch than when it comes in, he said.
“You need to identify what the contributors are and who the culprit is, and not have a blanket ‘You’re a cattle producer, so you’re the one who’s guilty,’” Kammerzell said. “I have no problem being responsible for what I’m doing, but I don’t believe I should be responsible for what we don’t do.”
Riparian areas — those along streams — are especially important, he said.
The Washington Department of Ecology wants complete livestock exclusion from any riparian zones if a farmer receives funding to build them, Kammerzell said. He allowed his animals in for brief periods during the growing season to reduce the amount of hemlock.
“We do not believe it’s in the best interest of the riparian area to leave that organic matter six feet deep,” he said, noting it attracts skunks, voles and other animals that defecate in the area. Their feces have a higher content of fecal coliform than cattle, Kammerzell said.
“You can have a mouse that has very high concentration versus a cow pie, and that’s all concentrated right near the riparian area,” he said.
Kammerzell and his wife, Cheryl, talked about their experience using Highland cattle, a Scottish breed, during a Tilth Producers of Washington walking tour on their property this week.
Jacqueline Cramer, education coordinator for the Tilth Producers of Washington, said the Kammerzells have created a situation beneficial to the animals and the land using traditional methods.
“They’ve got healthy animals and a really happy customer base — people waiting to buy their product,” Cramer said. “They think a lot about what they’re doing and will adapt. They’ve chosen a lifestyle that’s healthy and they’re still managing to be farmers without working around the clock.”
Marcy Ostrom, program leader for Washington State University’s small farms program in Wenatchee, said Kammerzell improves his pasture as he grazes, which requires careful observation as he moves his cattle.
“He has to do it in a really exact way,” she said. “It takes a lot of knowledge how to restore the grasses you want and put pressures on the weeds you don’t want.”
The Kammerzells hope eventually to turn 125 acres of pasture outside Colfax into 17 smaller paddocks, moving about 16 head of cattle among the paddocks to graze and manage weeds.
Kammerzell recommends farmers be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to legislation.
“The letters and interest from Ecology is not going to go away,” he said. “Anybody that has any areas adjacent to any waterways is going to have to be looking at the whole system. You can’t have pastures and cattle without water.”