A weekly blog for all things conservation
By: Nathan Dewing, Agricultural Team Leader
The abundant grass crop in Bradford County leaves growers considering their options for managing it. Harvest for storage as livestock feed is the most common decision, but it’s not the only one. Many acres are used for wildlife food and cover. And many acres are harvested another way – by grazing livestock.
Grazing is often considered an efficient means of harvesting grass because it can be done with little or no power equipment. Many grazers say that livestock have four legs for a reason – so they can go harvest their own food! At a minimum, the infrastructure needed to make this happen is a fence and some water. The last article explored decisions involved with supplying water. Now let’s consider the fence.
A producer first ought to ask the question “Could this be done without a fence?” There might be a way and innovators should keep exploring possibilities. For now however, the answer overwhelmingly is “You will need a fence.”
Fence must match the livestock being contained, so the first decision is fence type. A fence adequate for cattle may not work for horses, sheep, goats, swine or poultry. Deer require higher or wider fences. The leading choice by far today is smooth wire, high tensile electrified fence. It is probably the most efficient fence to build and maintain. Other options include barbed wire, woven wire and board fences. All of these can vary in height and can be operated with or without electricity. The term “high-tensile” can be applied to smooth, barbed or woven wire fences and simply means that the wire is stretched tight. Fewer posts are required, but wire tension puts tremendous strain on posts wherever the fence turns, so all turns require proper bracing. The old spring-time chore of “fixing fence” is greatly reduced with a properly installed high-tensile fence.
Now consider where this fence will be needed. First pay attention to the outer-most, or exterior fence. This is your last line of defense for keeping both animals and neighbors happy and safe, so this fence should get priority of investment and installation attention. Your local conservation district will be able to help you locate fence specification and recommendations for your situation. When placing exterior fence allow plenty of room outside the fence for maintenance equipment.
Once the exterior fence is built, you can relax a bit. Those night-time calls about cows in the road should be a thing of the past! Now you can turn attention to interior fences, and when you do, remember one guiding principle – Flexibility! Optimum grass management will involve moving livestock to new grass often, allowing previously grazed grass to rest and re-grow. There are many compelling reasons to keep interior fence layouts temporary and flexible. Cost alone may be sufficient motivation, but also consider that you will want to vary the size of your active grazing areas depending on grass growth. Slow growing grass will require larger paddocks, while smaller areas allow better management when things are growing fast. After managing a given grazing area for several years, it may become apparent where you would benefit from limited, permanent interior fences, but until then, resist the urge! Wait for it and you will make better decisions.
When planning fence, put some thought into nearby surface water. Providing extra buffer along streams and ponds has far reaching benefits. These naturally vegetated buffers help clean runoff, prevent erosion, and provide habitat for countless creatures beneficial to your operation.
The conservation district and local partners help with fence planning and design to support grazing systems. The Bradford County Conservation District can loan out some temporary fence supplies if you want to test the waters. A little planning goes a long way for profitable grazing and good fences will make good neighbors, trained animals and better grass.
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.
Various staff at the Bradford County Conservation District