Now that i have your attention, this discussion will be a follow-up to my "Pasture Planning 2015" blog from a few weeks ago.
Livestock protection and confinement are not the only reasons to carefully consider the best fencing for your specific livestock operation in 2015. Just because your neighbor down the road raises Beef, Horses, Alpaca’s etc. doesn’t mean everything they do or have done will work for you and your operation. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk with them about what has and hasn’t worked for them, but don’t expect to carbon copy everything they’ve done successfully and be surprised if/when it doesn’t live up to your expectations. An effective/managed rotational grazing system can be an affordable way to provide forage to your livestock and reduce herd nutrition costs year round. Fencing needs will vary depending on the type of grazing system you have in mind, topography of your land, availability to a "clean/safe" water source, livestock species and age.
You'll need to determine the number of animals, type of forages (cool or warm season), and number of paddocks/rotational pastures needed before investing in fencing materials and supplies. Whether used as permanent or temporary confinements, fences should be carefully planned and constructed for efficient use, long life, and low maintenance because the last thing you want to do is have to pull and re-position fence posts every season. Unless of course you have a lot of spare time to screw around with doing things 3 & 4 times? I didn’t think so.
Before planning the layout of a fencing system, evaluate the "permanent resources" such as soil type & slope of the land, they will have the biggest affect on your fencing layout plans. Pastures should have similar soil type, slope, and aspect to provide uniform forage production and grazing & manure distribution while grazing.
Water – Fencing layout should be planned to allow livestock access to adequate clean/safe water supplies. A continuous supply of clean water is essential for all livestock. When possible, supply clean water in each paddock within a reasonable walking distance. Otherwise, incorporate into the fencing system a central water source accessible to and within 600’ – 800’ of the farthest end of each paddock. The only draw-back to having a central water source is that it will often produces muddy conditions where livestock congregate to drink. Any fencing design should allow for flexibility in water placement within paddocks to control animal distribution and avoid trampling around the water source. If a single water source is used in a particular paddock, make sure that that it can provide the volume of water needed during peak demand, and a "heavy use area" should be designed and built utilizing stone and gravel with some sort of landscaping paper as the base that will allow drainage. This will provide a solid area around the water trough. Be sure to fence off all creeks and ponds, to prevent livestock from entering water bodies. Your local NRCS office will appreciate this effort greatly, not to mention everyone that is downstream from your operation.
Shade – Shade is a major factor to consider when building fences. Shade does not decrease air temperature, but it does reduce animal exposure to the sun’s radiant energy. Adequate shade can reduce respiration rate and body temperature in livestock during the hottest times of the day. Shade also alters the grazing habits of cattle. Cattle with access to shade have shown a 3 percent increase in feed efficiency and a 6 percent increase in weight gain during hot weather.
Location, Location, Location – Effective & simple lane systems and gate placement make livestock movement to animal handling facilities and rotation to other pastures much easier. Be sure to place gates and passageways for livestock and equipment in the corner of each field closest to the central water source.
The ideal number of fenced paddocks depends on forage species and re-growth after grazing and livestock characteristics, such as herd size, animal weights & ages, and nutritional needs. Size paddocks to provide consistent days of grazing. A 5 – 7 day rotation is very common and requires about 6 paddocks. During the spring, when forages grow rapidly a faster rotation will be required. It may be necessary to divide your paddocks up into as many as 12 paddocks. With this number of paddocks, gates can be opened or animals moved more often during a quick MOB style of rotation, temporary electric fencing can further split paddocks during a slow rotation, or paddocks can be cut out of the rotation to produce hay.
To develop proper paddock layout and to estimate how much fencing will be necessary, consult aerial photos available through the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) or Farm Service Agency (FSA). A soil survey will also aid in dividing the paddocks for similar production capabilities. If possible, make your fences straight and your corners at 90* (square). They are more economical, easier to layout/construct & maintain. Unfortunately a perfect square is not always possible, as access to water, shade, livestock handling facilities, and the natural lay of the land and or property lines must be considered. Square paddocks usually require the minimum amount of fencing and reduce distance to water sources. Rectangular paddocks should be no more than four times as long as they are wide. Pie-shaped fencing designs with a central water source can lead to mud holes where livestock congregate at water sources.
There are 3 main types of wire are used in permanent livestock fencing:
- barbed wire
- woven wire
- high-tensile wire.
Barbed wire fences contain strands of horizontal wires twisted together with barbs spaced every 4 to 5 inches. Woven wire fences are smooth horizontal and vertical wires made of mild steel. Many producers use them, but they are allot more expensive and may be less effective than high-tensile electric fences. Especially with pastured pigs!
High-tensile wire is used for both solar & direct electric fencing. The electrical component is used to provide an electrical shock to any animal or farmer that touches the wire. One disadvantage of electric fences is that animals must be trained to stay away from the electric wire. With effective electric fencing, this training can be accomplished within a few days depending on your livestock’s size and species. Pigs are a lot smarter than folks give them credit for. They will be trained on electric fencing in a day or two even when they are only 3-4 days old!
Post Placement -- Setting posts correctly is the single most important factor in fence strength. The first consideration is setting the post at the correct depth. The proper depth depends on the diameter of the post and soil type. Posts should be placed and POUNDED at a depth below your operations frost-line to prevent winter heaving of the posts.
Posts -- Common wood posts and steel "T" posts are used with insulators for permanent electric fences. Plastic and fiberglass posts are the most common in-line posts and cross-fencing posts used with in rotational grazing systems. Fiberglass posts come in different diameter sizes, including 3⁄8", 1⁄2", 5⁄8" and larger, and are nice because they can be used without the need of insulators. Different models of step-in posts are also available, choose one with a step large enough to accommodate a person’s foot completely so the post can be driven or pushed into the ground easily. The post should be rigid enough to withstand temperature extremes if they are going to used year-round in the upper states. For high-tensile fences, use corner wood posts that are 8-9’ tall, 5 to 6 inches across, and have adequate cross-bracing. The most important thing to remember when installing corner posts is to drive them in at an angle pointing out/away from the inside of the pasture. They will have the most pull/starin placed on them over the life of your fencing system. The in-line post’s are basically just there to support and keep the wires evenly spaced along the length of the run.
Insulators -- High quality/UV-stabilized, high-density polyethylene or polypropylene insulators are recommended for use on wood or steel "T" posts of permanent electric fences. Porcelain insulators can work if they are high quality. However, they are less desirable because they can crack under high strain, allowing in moisture that could create an electric short.
Energizers -- Using an adequate charger for electric fencing is very important. If electricity is not available, battery or solar energizers can be used. If your planning a pastured pig system I’d strongly recommend running heavy/outdoor extension cords from the closest energy source to a heavy fence charger! A solar charger WILL NOT be adequate to keep pigs in when there is heavy rain and you forgot to keep the fence line weeds trimmed. Trust me.
The first step is to choose low impedance, high-voltage charger. It is imperative to have a charger that can deliver an adequate electrical shock under unfavorable conditions such as dry ground or as prior mentioned excess vegetation touching the wire. Proper grounding of an electric fencing system is also a must. Drive at least 3, 6-8’ ground rods into the ground at 10-foot intervals.
Alternating hot and ground wires on a 4 wire fence should be adequate for perimeter fencing in a cattle operation. Start with the top wire electrified. If your going to be pasturing pigs, use at least 6 wires at 6" intervals starting with the bottom wire a minimum of 6" from the ground. For cattle a 12" spacing is adequate.
Some chargers are rated in miles of fence or in acres. The longer the fence, the more powerful the energizer must be to send an effective charge throughout its length. Make sure that the charger has indicators showing correct operation and a light that indicates when the fence is charged. Battery-powered units should also have a half-power alert option. Resist the urge to save a buck and use a homemade charger. You could end up killing your livestock or your self!
It is important to select a charger with an output that matches the length of fence to be energized. The charger should also meet the expected operating conditions, such as average moisture levels in the soil, contact with weeds, wire size, total length of the wire, and length of the hair or wool on animals being fenced. Obviously if your raising Highland cattle your gonna need a much bigger charger than if your raising Angus. 2,000 volts is sufficient for cattle under "normal" conditions, and 4,000 volts can be used under extremely dry conditions or for well-insulated animals such as sheep. It’s always smart to buy a charger with excess capacity to allow for future expansion. NEVER connect two chargers to one fence.
Gates -- Gates may be purchased or custom designed. Gate placement is especially important under rotational grazing because animals will need to be moved frequently, but it is especially important when your wife needs to move the cattle because you need to work off farm to pay for the farm! I’m just say’n.
Final thoughts -- In addition to keeping your livestock out of your neighbors pastures and off the major highways, fencing is a key component of good grazing management. Fencing allows control over both the movement of livestock and the productivity, quality, and utilization of forages. Well designed fencing, water, and shade systems can make a big difference in animal comfort and productivity as well as decreasing your labor.