When left to their own devices, livestock can be picky eaters, says Dr. David Fernandez, Extension livestock specialist and interim assistant dean of academic programs for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences. Animals allowed to graze freely over an entire pasture will often repeatedly graze the most palatable plants, while ignoring other nutritious, but less palatable forages.
“Animals grazing on an entire pasture will only consume about one-third of the available forage,” he said. “To get animals to consume the remaining forages, livestock producers can implement a rotational grazing program with the help of temporary electrical fencing.”
Fernandez said rotational grazing increases forage consumption to about two-thirds of the available forage, which allows producers to save money on feed. Heavier stocking density also helps control weeds and brush through trampling damage.
“Temporary electric fencing allows producers to manage grazing without having to make a significant investment,” he said. “Because the fence is easy to install and move, you can easily change the shape and size of your pastures to force livestock to utilize all of the grass and trample any undesirable plants and weeds.”
To install a temporary electric fence, producers will need to purchase a few basic supplies: step-in posts, polywire tape or braid, and a power source.
“Step-in posts have sharpened ends and usually a place to put your foot, so you can easily push them into the ground,” Fernandez said. “Polywire is a polymer-based rope or fabric with internal wiring, which carries the electrical charge that keeps animals within fencing. The power source is the most important component of a good electric fence, so producers should purchase a quality product.”
The power source can be a plug-in charger if a producer can run a wire to the planned fence location. Power can also be drawn from an electric perimeter fence if one already exists on the property. If there is no way to get electricity on the pasture, a farmer can opt to use a solar charger.
The other critical component of a good electric fence is the grounding. A good plug-in charger should have at least three 6-foot galvanized steel ground rods spaced at least 10 feet apart.
“Many people try to save a little money by using rebar rods for grounding, but they simply will not ground the system effectively,” Fernandez said. “A producer who uses rebar rods will eventually have to replace them with galvanized rods. Don’t pay for ground rods twice — do it right the first time.”
Producers should remember that the ground in which the rods are installed needs to be moist enough to carry a charge. If the ground becomes too dry, a producer should consider hosing water onto the area.
“The north face of a barn or house along the drip line is a good place to install ground rods,” he said. “Don’t install them near power or light poles, as they use up most of the grounding capacity of the soil in the area.”
Fernandez said cows do not require very high voltage to keep them within fencing. However, voltage should be set at 5,000 to 6,000 volts to keep sheep in a paddock and between 7,500 to 9,000 volts for goats.
Electric fencing is not a physical barrier, but a psychological one, he said. Animals usually only need to touch an electric fence once to learn to leave it alone.
“After installing fencing, moving animals from one paddock to another is easy,” Fernandez said. “They quickly learn that moving to a new paddock means fresh, palatable graze. They will be waiting at the gate when you are ready to move them to the next paddock.”
For more information on rotational grazing or other livestock-related topics, contact Fernandez at (870) 575-7214 or [email protected].