Fencing, Fencing, Fencing.
Fencing is SO important.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of making sure you have an effective fencing system. If we were to give only one piece of advice to a starting-out cattle farmer, it would be to invest the time and money into putting-up an effective, durable and strong fencing system. In regards to our own fencing system, we technically have two types of fencing on our farm: a permanent, perimeter fence for each pasture, and temporary fences that we put up in conjunction with our rotational grazing system. We employ a rotational grazing system during the summer and fall grazing months. Each pasture is like one big pie (or pizza or cake), and each time we rotate, we are serving up that next slice of pie in that particular pasture.
Our perimeter fences stay put. They do not move (well, unless a moose moves them!). The perimeter fences consist of a mix of wooden and conduit pipe fence posts. We are shifting away from wooden fence posts to the more flexible, conduit pipe post. A conduit pipe post has some bend to it, flexibility that simply isn’t found in a wooden fence post. As such, these posts tend to hold-up better against a moose than a wooden fence post. As our wooden fence posts start to rot, we replace them with conduit pipe. We do the same for any wooden posts damaged by a moose or other means. Any new fence lines are and will continue to be put-up with only conduit pipe posts. All perimeter fences are run with a double-wire set-up. We drill a top and bottom hole through each conduit pipe, in which the wires are attached. For our wooden posts, we use plastic insulators, in which the wires rest on.
All of our fences, permanent and temporary, are electrified. We have a shed up by our house that houses our energizer, which supplies the electricity for our entire fencing system. It is up to us, though, to make sure that we correctly set-up our fences to allow for strong energy flow through all of our fences/wires, from pasture to pasture, as well as in our winter hay bale grazing sites. Being able to fix broken fences and wire, and properly restore energy to an electric fence is an extremely important skill to have. This ability is not one of my strengths, but I have certainly learned a lot of what not-to-do’s over the years.
One winter, I proudly showed Jer how I fixed a fencing situation in a hay bale grazing site and restored the electricity. Well, yes, I restored the electricity alright – I restored it all to one steel t-post. Sigh… I had wrapped the wire around the t-post without using an insulator. As you would imagine, I was losing a ton of energy to that t-post. That was a major lesson for me, and a lesson that made me finally understand the true importance of post insulators!
Post insulators are especially critical when running an electric fence that utilizes any sort of metal posts. A post insulator allows the energy (i.e., electricity!) to continue along your wire, post after post. We use a variety of plastic insulators for all types of posts – fiberglass, steel, wood and conduit. While a wooden post will not absorb an electrical charge, post insulators still provide protection for our wires and allow for a strong, well-placed fence line. For our conduit pipe posts, the top and bottom wires are strung through drilled holes allowing the energy to flow down the wires. We also use post insulators for all of our non-clip fiberglass fence posts in our winter hay bale sites.
See below for a list of some of our go-to fencing supplies:
*Fiberglass Step-in Electric Posts & Poly Electric Step-In Posts*
We use these fence posts for setting up our temporary fences during the rotational grazing season, as well as supplement fence posts elsewhere on the farm. In addition, these posts are a critical part of our winter hay bale grazing sites. These type of posts are light-weight, which is great when you are carrying an armful of posts a long distance. They are durable, reasonably priced and conveniently built with clips at multiple heights for wire placement. The fiberglass posts feature four clips, with the poly fence posts featuring eight clips. Both of these types of fence posts are self-insulating. No post insulators required!
We also use the fiberglass posts without clips. These type of posts (paired with post insulators) are perfect for inserting into hay bales, and for fencing our winter hay bale sites. In these sites, we need posts that can drive into the ground and into our hay bales at different depths, which is not possible with posts that have clips on them!
As mentioned above, we now prefer using conduit pipe for our fence posts. We cut the pipe to size (if needed), pound into the ground, and drill two holes for a top and bottom wire. With the exception of our weaning fences, all other permanent fences are two-wire.
Steel t-posts sure come in handy on the farm. Just be sure to use a post insulator when dealing with electric fencing! ha!
*Fence Wire Reels*
Fence reels are essential to our entire fencing operation! Especially for fencing with rotational grazing and in our winter hay bale sites. We use both 1:1 and 3:1 gear ratio reels. The 3:1 gear ratio reels are well worth the cost and investment when running long lengths of fence for intensive rotational grazing. I was blown away the first time I used a 3:1 gear ratio reel. The time it took me to reel in the fence line and set-up a new line was a fraction of the time it took me with a 1:1 gear ratio reel. The 1:1 gear ratio reels reel in slower, but they really are sufficient (and much cheaper!) for fencing projects that do not require long fence lines and/or frequent reeling in and out of wire. These reels work primarily for polywire but can certainly be used for smaller gauges of wire, as seen in the picture below.
Electric polywire is our go-to wire for rotational grazing. Don’t underestimate this type of fencing wire – it is just as effective as your standard high-tension fencing wire. Composed of stainless-steel wire, polywire is extremely effective at carrying a strong electrical charge. We have witnessed cows and calves get jolted by this wire. And, we have gotten jolted as well, accidentally. Polywire dispenses and reels back-up very well on our spinning rod and reels. We currently use polywire in both white and orange colors.
*High Tensile Galvanized Steel Wire*
For our perimeter fences (and other fencing and farm projects, as needed), we use 12.5 gauge high tensile galvanized steel wire. We prefer the 12.5 gauge – multi-purpose for fencing and farm projects, not too thick and easy to put up fence lines with. Further, the smooth, high tensile properties of this steel wire allows for more space between fence posts.
*Fence Tensioners & Wire Tighteners*
Fence tensioners and wire tighteners are critical in ensuring a high tension fence line. We use plastic fence tensioners when running poly wire fences and high-tensile wire tighteners on our perimeter, high tensile wire fences.
Post insulators – in one form or another – are everywhere on the farm. The type of post insulator we used depends on the type of posts we are using.
*Jumper Leads for Electric Fence*
Jumper leads are a definite must-have tool when setting up temporary, electric fence lines. We use these jumper leads to electrify all of our temporary poly wire fences.
Take the time to research and plan-out the type of fencing that works best for your operation. This will very likely involve more than one fencing type. Invest your money in good, quality fencing supplies. If your fencing system is not effective, then everything will start to unravel. All it takes is for one cow to take advantage of a weak fencing system. Whether you have 10 cows or 100 cows, that one cow can start the domino affect. Trust us on this one.
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