Electric fencing can be a great grazing management tool for farmers

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(Patty Dyer photo) Rotational grazing and electric fence control can help save time and reduce erosion caused by hauling feed to livestock throughout the winter.

As I have fielded phone calls and made farm visits since my last article, the two main topics seem to be the lack of early spring growth leading to the overgrazing of the late winter pasture, and electric fence problems.

My sister called a few days before Easter and wanted to sell all of the calves and some of the cows because they would not respect her electric fence. I suggested a good review of the ground rods and the connecting wires as a place to start. My brother stepped up to that task and discovered that several ground rod clamps were either not tight or had corroded. Making this repair alone more than doubled the charge on the fence.

When I arrived home for Easter weekend, I checked the ground rods and decided to replace the clamp to the first ground rod, as it did not appear to be making a good connection. When we turned the fence back on, we were soon rewarded by the sound of a cow that decided to test the fence. I doubt she will do that again for a while.

Problem persists

Still, only having about half of the charge that we normally had on the fence, it was time to start checking for all of the wintertime “things” that can drain the charge from the fence. In a few places, wildlife had hit the fence and broken insulators, or pulled the fence out of the insulator. These were replaced.

A few downed tree branches also got into the picture, either popping the fence out of insulators, pulling the fence to the ground, or just serving as a path from the fence to the ground. Then we arrived at the primary culprit of the loss of zap to our fence — the stream crossing.

We used one strand of wire secured to posts on both sides of the stream and connected to the primary fence with clamps. This way, if high water brought a lot of trash, there would not much there for it to catch. Then we took several pieces of old polywire, which had pretty much served its useful life, and cut good sections to a length that reached from our strand to several inches above the normal water level.

We then tied a metal weight, such as a washer or any scrap of metal with a hole in it, to the strings and spaced them a few inches apart, so that the livestock would not be able to walk between or under them when crossing the stream. Wet feet and an electrical charge will typically train them, and they will not be interested in challenging that section of fence again for some time — whether or not the electric is on.

Natural culprits

We discovered a tangled mess where honeysuckle had grown into the wire, thoroughly entangling a large area of our stream crossing. Wading in the water, clearing out the weeds and repositioning the polywire strings took all of about 10 to 15 minutes. When this was done, replacing another insulator doubled the charge on the fence.

Other possible reasons for the fence shorting out included old fence that had not been removed; a charger damaged by a lightning strike; or blown fuses or a poor power supply caused by a damaged cord. Total time in the repair job covering about mile of fence was two to three hours. But with about half of the fence line along a township road, it will allow us to sleep at night without fear of the animals being in the road.

Troubleshooting

If you know you have a problem, as a general rule, start at or near the charger to determine if it is working correctly. Repair anything that could be causing a problem as you find it, or make a list and get the needed supplies. There are some great fence testers on the market that can make the job easier than touching the fence to see if it is hot — I hope none of you are doing that.

Make sure that you have enough ground rods to allow your fence to work to its capacity. This usually means three or more 8-foot galvanized rods or the equivalent in moist soil, spaced 10 feet apart and not within another ground field, such as that for your house. You can look online to find numerous articles dealing with proper grounding systems for your low-impedance fence charger.

Another solution is to add more wires to your perimeter fence, making every other wire hot and tying the other wires together periodically and attaching them to a ground rod. That way, when an animal attempts to go through the fence, the top of their nose typically hits one wire and their chin the opposite wire, thus completing the electrical circuit on the spot without the need for the electrons to get back to the charger to create the shock.

These wires do not need to be stretched tight like a non-electric fence. After all, we do not want to crack the insulators. The main thing is to maintain a separation distance between the wires so the fence does not short itself out.

Electric fence test

Now to slightly change topics, I will give you an assignment to practice your electric fence skills.

Since our winter pastures are typically overgrazed at this point, if you have not already been rotating, why not set up a small paddock with four or five wires in an area you may not typically graze, but can get water to for at least a few days. You can train your animals to a hot fence before starting or continuing your grazing system. If you do this and move the area two or three times, the animals will learn to respect the fence.

They will also know you are going to be bringing them fresh grass. The animals will be well trained all summer and you can give the over-grazed paddocks a rest as you start moving them through some new areas. You might try the odd-shaped edge of a hay field, or an area around the barnyard that isn’t typically grazed but has forage that could be grazed.

Cost savings

Remember, the more time the animals spend grazing, the less time you have to make and haul feed — or collect and spread manure and urine — when the forages are not growing. The more area we can get the livestock to harvest without overgrazing, the more economical our system can be.

The animals can harvest their feed and spread their own fertilizer for pennies per day, versus dollars per day if we involve equipment and diesel fuel.

If you have questions or concerns about setting up a grazing system or about getting your electric fence system, speak to neighbors, your local Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil & Water Conservation District, or local Extension office.

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The author is an area grassland conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, located in the Licking County field office in Newark, Ohio; 740-670-5236.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m interested in buying an electrical fence for my cattle. I don’t know how much of fencing I’ll need though. Do you know if these fences are made out of aluminum?

    Alex Jennings |

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