Pasture Fencing: Everyone has their own way of doing it. Every situation is different. No two fences are the same. Whether the project is a short two hours of patching or an extended building project, each needs its fair share of planning! It’s one of my favorite things to do when I need a little time to myself to get something accomplished
(There are lots of points to be made on the design, planning, management, and use of fencing in livestock pastures; I am going to try my best to keep this post brief and narrowed, but broad enough to open the discussion to the whole topic. Remember, I am asking for more input. This is just ideas from my experience and my objective is to learn more about the topic from others’ experiences while sharing a little of my insight.)
If not familiar with cattle operations, one might ask why pasture fences are even necessary. Cattle are ruminant animals, meaning they graze forages, primarily grasses, legumes, and other plants. They spend the majority of their day grazing and ruminating (re-chewing) these forages and so fences help to manage their movements, grazing habits, and prevent overgrazing on areas that are more palatable.
Cross fences are an invaluable resource in livestock and pasture management. Over the years, many industry professionals have looked into the design and types of fencing to be used. Some proponents of natural herdsmanship avoid the use of pasture fencing, in favor of managing livestock under more natural herd mentalities.
For a fencing project of any size, whether it be mending or rebuilding project, detailed planning is required. The following questions are important to figuring out the detail of the fencing project.
- What is the purpose of the fencing project? Will this project benefit current management practices?
- Does the fence design complement livestock species, type, and size?
- Does the fence design fit within a predetermined budget? Will the benefits pay for the costs of the project?
When considering the fencing project it is important, to consider how the design applies to current and future forage, range, and management practices. Pasture forages are the most important assets of a grazing program. If these forages are not managed properly, pasture quality will suffer. This is especially important to consider with intensive grazing programs, rotational grazing, and range grazing programs. If pasture design is not complementary to the environment, forage conditions can deteriorate, resulting in the need for new stand establishment.
Pasture fencing needs to complement livestock management. Cross fencing and individual pasture management is key to managing livestock facilities. In breeding management programs, livestock separation may be key to breeding, calving schedules. Livestock nutrition is important to manage properly. Pasture must be of adequate size for stocking rates and grazing patterns for different species.
Every good fence starts with a solid anchor. Solid corner/anchor posts are vital to a fence’s longevity. Following a solid anchor there are other key parts to fence design to consider:
- Is fence height sufficient for livestock?
- Is wire type adequate? Barbed wire, box wire, field fence, electric strand, barbless wire. Some wires may be more dangerous for some livestock species than others.
- Is wire and/or post spacing adequate for livestock species/size? Smaller livestock need smaller spacing. Calves may crawl through wires with too much spacing. Legs injuries are possible with too little spacing.
- Is fence design durable for the landscape and terrain? Within one stretch of fence, terrain may change between flat stretches, steep hillsides, water crossings, wooded areas, and swamps. Each may require slight changes in fence specifications.
- Is fence design durable against pressure from livestock? In areas with increased stock density or smaller widths, livestock pressure will increase upon fences. Wire should be placed between posts and the heaviest pressures (i.e. the inside of an alley or the uphill side of a slope).
Draw out plans for the project. Figure included costs: materials, labor, weather delays, and grazing time loss. Figure in a little extra some unexpected costs that might show up during the project. Is all the necessary equipment on hand? This includes a few pairs of fencing pliers, wire stretchers, post diggers, tamping bars, guide string for placing posts, hammers, steeples, fence clips, and steel-post drivers. Don’t forget everything that will be included in the fence itself: wire, wood posts, steel posts, brace wire, and cement for anchor posts.
Continued fence maintenance is crucial to fence longevity. This includes periodic checking for fallen trees, collected debris after rainfall, and breaks due to wildlife/livestock crossings. As a fence ages, rusting and rotting of materials may require increased maintenance.
Listed below are just a few links to sites/documents on the subject. Your states local extension website likely has available factsheets on fencing design, pasture management, stocking rate and density, as well as fencing specifications.
- Livestock Fencing Systems for Pasture Management from Mississippi State Extension
- Grazing Systems and Pasture Management database from USDA NAL
- Rotational Grazing: Livestock Systems Guide from National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
- Fencing Systems for Intensive Grazing Management from TheCattleSite.com
- Management Practices for Small Beef Herds from University of Arkansas Extension
- Fencing Materials for Livestock Systems from Virginia Extension
- Cattle Handling and Working Facilities from Ohio State Extension
- Permanent Fencing Costs from Minnesota Extension
What have you learned from your fencing experiences? I want to hear your story.