WINDSOR, Ohio – If Ignacio Villa was a rich man, he says he’d build miles and miles of solid and sturdy fencing. Maybe four or five boards high, all painted and immaculate and really something to behold. Or maybe he’d chose the vinyl option, with swinging gates and fancy fasteners.
But it’s just not worth the time, investment or permanence that comes with those types of fences, he says. Instead, he chooses to corral livestock on his Ashtabula County farm with only a few strands of moveable electrified fence.
Making a go. The low-cost and high-maintenance system, even with its faults, seems the right choice on Villa’s farm near Windsor.
The self-proclaimed hobby farmer – he works a ‘real’ job as a teacher during the day – puts in a less-than-optimal workday with his fencelines, but relishes his successes.
He keeps nearly 20 piglets inside their pasture paddock with only two strands of electric wire, about 8 inches off the ground. Two strands, slightly higher and farther apart, form boundaries for a horse, alpaca, and a handful of wily goats in another pasture.
The fence has its failures, though.
Christmas morning, the Villas and their sons woke to two creatures outside. “We wondered what kind of dogs they were, until we figured out they were the sows all the way up from the back pasture,” Villa says.
Turns out the sows had used more than a foot of snow to buoy themselves over the buried fencelines. Because of the snow, and the low wires, the fence had also shorted out, Villa said.
“When the animals are out, that’s a sign there’s something wrong with the system, either not enough food or not enough power,” Villa said.
Working. Most days, the fence is in good graces with the family.
When they bought their farm 10 years ago, Villa went to work fencing the perimeter.
Drawing from his on-the-job experiences at the nearby Hopewell therapeutic farm community, he chose electrified wire to use at home, too. It was the most flexible option for his plans to graze animals on the 40 acres, and went along with his vision of sustainability.
Another benefit came further down the line: As sons Mateo, Camilo, Pablo, Miguel and Simon grew to help their father on the farm, he found managing the electric fences was something the boys could do, too.
“One time I rolled under the fence and it got me good. I got a long welt from it,” Pablo, 15, relates. An experience like that taught the five brothers to respect the wires and get fewer ‘bites.’
Villa, a teacher who emphasizes land-based education, is an advocate for the opportunities the fence has given his youngest sons.
“In the summer, instead of picking strawberries or mowing lawns, they are employed on our own 40 acres,” Villa said.
Pablo manages feeder pigs; Miguel, 12, pastures broilers, and his twin, Simon, is an all-around helper with all the farm’s animals.
Sustains the farm. To run their farm most economically, the Villas figure they need to cut back on use of the tractor and expensive diesel fuel.
“To me, making animals eat the grass is the thing that makes the most sense in terms of land use,” Villa said. “And electric fence is the cheapest way to accomplish that.”
The easy-to-move fencelines provide rotation and prevent the ground from becoming too torn up or piled too deep with manure, but let hooves and snouts “plow” in the organic matter.
Case in point: Pablo and Miguel, who call themselves pig farmers, sit in the most-heavily used portion of the pig pasture without getting manure on their pantlegs or bottoms.
“You move the fence before you have that problem,” Pablo said. It’s a strategy to make the animals work for the farmer.
No elephants. The Villas, who say they’re trying to do the best job they can with the limited resources they have, are proud of their economical and effective electrified fencelines.
“It seems that fences have become this status symbol, the bigger and fancier the better. But remember, these are hogs and goats. We’re not trying to keep elephants in.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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