Livestock producers have a variety of options when it comes to fencing decisions, whether it’s permanent fencing or portable fence for managed, rotational grazing.
Dave Davis, superintendent of the University of Missouri Forage Systems Research Center at Linneus, says poly wire and step-in fence posts are popular for temporary fencing.
“I use poly with at least six strands of conductive material,” he says.
Use of electric fencing can depend on the type of livestock. Davis says poly tape works well for horses because it’s easier to see. If producers have younger cattle, they can gradually introduce them to electric fencing.
“Old cows, they know what electricity is all about,” he says.
Davis says producers can also use high-tensile wire for their electric fencing, although it is less portable than poly wire and requires more secure corner posts. He says it is more of a “semi-permanent” fencing option.
Mark Green, lead resource conservationist with the NRCS Springfield field office, says a lot of producers use a combination of poly wire and high-tensile wire, using the high-tensile wire as a permanent cross fence to divide rows of grazing paddocks.
“Then they use poly wire to divide it into strips,” he says.
Green says poly wire is popular because it is quick and flexible.
“It really does let you manage your pastures,” he says. “… We preach flexibility with a managed grazing system.”
And poly wire is fairly affordable, Davis says.
“You can get good quality poly wire, quarter-mile length, for $40 or less,” he says.
Davis says it’s a good idea to have a permanent perimeter fence using barbed wire or woven wire. Producers can also run an electric fence wire along the permanent fence to keep cattle from pushing on it. Permanent fencing can have a long life of usefulness.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on how hard the cattle are on it,” he says. “That’s one reason we use the electric wire. We have a lot of fence with barbed wire or woven wire here on the center that’s 50-plus years old. … It also depends how well you keep brush out of it.”
Davis says that out West in more arid climates, permanent fencing can last double that length of time.
Green says having the electric fence wire along the permanent fence helps create a “psychological barrier” that helps keep cattle from damaging fencing.
When it comes to fencers, Green says solar chargers with the panel on them aren’t powerful enough to electrify an entire grazing system, but they work well for portable systems. The key is having enough joules, he says.
“Joules are basically the horsepower,” Green says. “The joules in the charger is what pushes (the charge) through. We recommend a minimum of a joule per mile of wire.”
Green says a 110-volt fence charger should work well for a managed grazing system. If producers wanted to use solar, they could have a solar panel that charges a deep cell battery.
Water is also a key factor in grazing systems that is closely connected to fencing decisions.
“Water’s the most limiting factor,” Green says. “We’ve got to be able to get water to it to be able to graze it.”
Davis says producers can use a mixture of surface water, pumping water, or gravity-fed systems, and water sources can be split between two grazing paddocks.
Green says producers need some permanent watering points for winter watering, but they can use portable above-ground tanks and polyethylene pipes to water around most of their pastures. He says it’s a relatively cheap option, and one tank and pipe can provide a moveable water source for up to 80 acres.
“A system like that, you’re going to have flexibility and access to water,” he says.
Green likes to share a line from a northwest Missouri cattle producer about the value of water to a cattle operation: “Water’s not an expense, it’s an investment.”
Whether it’s water or fencing, flexibility is important to a managed grazing system.
“With portable and permanent fencing, and portable and permanent water,” Green says, “you can set up a pretty good system that way.”