Post-2015 fencing design and issues. Future plans....
After the debacle of 2015, fencing plans and structure took a backseat while we tried to ramp up production with current infrastructure. I had other building projects on the agenda, primarily a large, homemade walk-in freezer. In 2018, I raised the stakes by attempting multi-species grazing. A fellow farmer we met at the City Market in Bay City, Jordan, began working for us and he mentioned the possibility of running sheep. We had received requests for lamb occasionally and I always thought it would be nice to have multiple species grazing together. Lamb is also 100% grass-fed and grass-finished which helps with customers looking for grain-free meat.
I decided to start with St. Croix sheep as they have a natural resistance to pests and disease. I did not make any adjustments to my current fencing regime. When I first let them out with the cows, they tended to stick around the cows but the fences were only a suggestion. Luckily, they stayed near the farm as I did keep them secured for a couple weeks to acclimate them to their new home. I purchased more temporary electrified rope and ran 2 lines per run, front and back. This didn't help.
I then decided to use electrified netting for 2 weeks to keep the sheep with the cow herd. This did work keeping the sheep with the cows, but it was extremely labor intensive. We soon abandoned this practice, hoping the sheep learned something. It wasn't 1 or 2 days later when the sheep were away from the cows again. I would occasionally attempt to round them up when feeding the chickens in the morning with the truck. While not totally successful, it did teach them to find refuge with the cow herd. What this meant is that they didn't wander too far from the herd which kept them semi-under control.
Sheep are pretty fast when compared to cows and with only 6, the herd mentality wasn't as strong. This made foot round-up almost impossible. Only a connection with the cow herd has allowed me to manage them at all. I can see why sheep dogs are a thing and perhaps one day I can afford one and have the energy to take of one.
One other hard learned lesson was barnyard fencing with sheep. After we had the sheep trained to keep with the cows when we were out in the field, we would round up everyone to head to the barn. Half the time we also kept the sheep long enough to get them in the barnyard. However, after they realized what happened and if we tried to move them around, they would run through my four lines of fence as if they weren't there. I ended up wrapping the barnyard with woven wire fence. This type of fence has kept them in the barnyard when needed.
My final thoughts on fencing revolve around winter fencing. During this season, I would keep the cows in the barnyard. I fed square bales of hay and they had liquid water available. As my herd became larger, the yard ended up not being big enough to hold them and their mess. This became painfully obvious in the winter of 2017/18. The hard lesson coupled with diminishing labor on the farm made me switch to round bale feeding on pasture during the winter months. I only lock the herd up if the spring tends to be exceptionally wet.
One problem with electrified fencing in the winter is that the frozen ground doesn't carry a shock as well. Therefore young cattle can generally walk through my perimeter fence with hardly any discomfort. My goal this year is to carry a ground with the fence. I will have 2 electrified wires, top and bottom, and a ground wire in the middle. This means that if the cow touches both the electrified line and the ground line at the same time, a strong shock will be delivered no matter the condition of the soil. Another goal is to also repair my H-Braces. A number of them have the back post lifting out of the ground.
Fencing on the farm will probably continue to evolve as long as I have a reason to need it. When the farm transitioned away from dairy in 2000, all my grandpa's fence was pulled to allow row crop farming border to border. When I brought livestock back on the farm, my fences went up. As with the changing circumstances, fencing comes and goes with the animals.