How I use watergates on my cattle farm

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One grazing activity I need to improve on is building and maintaining watergates. Watergates are a barrier (fence) that crosses creeks and streams to prevent livestock from leaving the desired area.

In the ideal world, they need to be able to hold in or deter livestock, but be able to allow water and debris to pass during periods of high water. In my area that is hilly and heavily wooded, it is not the water that takes out the watergate, it is the log or tree that is flowing down the surging stream.

On my farm, I have about a dozen watergates and after every significant rainfall, I go out to check them. What is frustrating is when I fix them, then we have another “event” before the cattle rotate into the paddock. Some rarely need repairing, some need minor repairing, and some are simply gone.

On my farm, I still have a primarily permanent fence, but electric fencing has made watergates a game changer.

Watergate use

A single smooth strand of electric fence will not catch as much debris as multiple strands of barb wire or woven wire, but with the contour of the land, can animals still get out? The best watergate I have seen crossing a stream with banks on both sides had a single strand of electric fence and chains electrified and hanging from the wire, to just above the water flow.

When high water occurs, the water and debris simply pass through.

I have also seen some two-strand electric fences hold up fairly well. Again, electric fencing, in my opinion, is still the best option. However, one of my former teachers told me to “Do as I say and not as I do.”

Since I do not have electric fences, I use various types on watergates around the farm. On some small crossings, I simply place a stick or straight piece of wood below and parallel to the fence and hang with wire or twine. On larger crossings, my thought process changes.

Using fence

When I use fence (I still use barb wire), I will have one side firmly attached to the post or tree, but the other side will not be as firmly attached and the wire will be cut past the attachment. That way when pressure is applied to it, the fence will break away, then after the rain event, I simply pull the wire back and re-attach. Repairing does not take too long.

Again, the secret is to have the fence firm enough to keep in your livestock, but with enough give to minimize damage during a flood.

Another type some of my friends use is to have a cable or wire crossing the creek and use boards with a hole drilled through them to hang them on the cable or wire.

When the water rises, the boards will float with the water. Unless debris catches the boards, they will settle back down when the water recedes.

The one type of watergate I have transitioned to over the years is the 16-foot cattle or hog panels. I have them up in four spots on the farm and they are holding up well.

In fact, we had one up for more than 20 years on our largest creek before we finally replaced it last year. I simply hang the panel up in three or four spots with wire or cable above the panel, and I let it swing when the creek rises.

Another step

In some spots, especially where there is not another paddock that I use on the other side, I may tie the bottoms down with baler twine so the livestock does not push through as easy, yet the force of the fast moving water will break it loose before it takes out the panel.

The most challenging one that I have is under a 30-foot bridge. The best luck I have had so far is to hang two 16-foot panels from the bridge with the ends firmly wired at the top. Where the two meet in the middle, I only use baler twine to keep them up above the water and together.

More than 90 percent of the time when we have had flooding rains, the panels separated and pushed back against the abutments below the bridge, then after the water recedes, I pull them back around and hang them back up.

I guess repairing watergates is just a part of managing the pastures, but over the years I have tried to find ways to minimize the time and effort to repair them and I hope these tips will help.

What is really frustrating was a few weeks ago when we had a major rain, I went out and repaired them, then two days later, we had another major rain. If I only would have waited!

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