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Fencing Strategies and Pit-Falls

A blog post with images of the different fencing techniques employed on the farm. Future plans for fencing including gate design, grounding, and long-term investments.

In the fall of 2007, I moved to Michigan to farm with my grandpa. My dad and grandpa had transitioned the former dairy farm into a cash crop operation. All fences were removed, and corn/soybeans/wheat were planted and harvested every year. No livestock existed on the farm anymore. Within a month, I had a few beef feeders I purchased from a livestock auction. Initially, these were fed in a barn yard leftover from the dairy days.

Over the winter months I read Holistic Management by Allan Savory. After this, I knew I wanted to graze livestock and get them off of the yard. I started with a 4 acre pasture that you can see cows on in the picture above. I had read a fencing book and they said that high-tensile fence with H-braces was the only way to fence. This fence was first utilized in New Zealand, and there were fences 40 years old and still going over there. Grandpa had always fenced with electrified barb-wire and diagonal braces. The book said that was a big no-no.

My first fence was around the barn yard behind my house, a two-line electrified/two-line non-electrified high-tensile fence with wood posts and double H-braces. My second was a two-line electrified/one-line non-electrified high-tensile with double H-braces around my 4 acre pasture. I also installed a single electrified line to make return lanes to the barn yard as I did not have water in the pasture. My grazing strategy from the beginning was daily moves with pasture rest on a 30+ day cycle, hence the need for a return lane.

My third fence was a one-line electrified/two-line non-electrified high-tensile around 10 acres on the other side of the 4 acre pasture. This probably gets us close to 2011 or 2012. The debate during all of this fencing was the spacing of the wires, and how to keep animals inside the fence. I remember when I first opened up the 10 acre pasture to the cows. At the time, I only had one electrified line up along the road. I always was behind in my fence building, and I was going to start them up there and then work them back away from the road daily. The cows got excited and started running. They didn't see the high-tensile line, and ran right through it. Krystyl and I chased them for hours before we had all of the cattle rounded up again.

In 2014, I ran waterlines to my pastures which allowed me to get rid of my lanes and kept the cattle in the pasture 24/7. Fencing design was no longer limited by water access and I didn't have to accommodate long runs back to water. It was paramount for pasture health to have 1 day of heavy grazing, followed by a prolonged rest period. In 2015, I fenced an additional 37 acres. By this time I was using two electrified high-tensile lines with a single H-brace with a push/pull brace in the middle of the run.

One of our farmer market customer's offer a pasture a few miles away from the house. We built a one-line electrified fence around that pasture and took over our older bull, two young steers, and a young bull. When we let down the gate of the trailer, they started running. They ran right through the fence, and because we had taken them away from the herd, they kept running. There were cornfields and woods all around that pasture and we lost all four head of cattle in the surrounding area.

I received a call from dispatch around 1:00 the next morning. My bull was hit by a semi on M-20. Over the next two months, we ended up shooting the two young steers. After this, we had tried to tranquilize the remaining bull, but could never get close enough. In the end, my cousin, with my permission, shot the bull. This was a painful experience, and one in which I finally realized that while one electrified line may keep calm animals in, it doesn't handle animals in a new environment or excited ones.

My fence continues to evolve. Check back next time for the latest chapter.

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