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Temporary Fencing Options: Options for Utilizing New Forage Resources

By Ruth Wiechmann for Tri-State Livestock News

While producers are looking at all available options for fall and winter feed for their livestock, they have many considerations going into the colder seasons. Since hay supplies are short, fall forage could include land coming out of CRP contracts, crop residues, cover crops or cornstalks, and these may be located in fields that are not typically grazed and lack fences.

There are many factors to consider before constructing a new fence. What materials are readily available? What will be both cost effective and effectively keep the livestock contained? What type of natural obstacles to fence construction are present? What kind of fencing are your cattle familiar with and respectful of? Will this be a one season use fence, or will it be used longer term in your operation? What other factors outside of the new grazing area pose concerns, such as highways with traffic, neighboring crops or livestock and wildlife issues?

Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist says that while there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that works in every situation, livestock producers can pick and choose from a plethora of options to come up with the right fence for their needs.



“Match your resources to the type of livestock you need to contain and consider the short and long term purpose for the grazing area,” he said. “Slow moving, older cows that are trained to respect a hot wire can usually be kept in with a single poly or electric wire. If they still have calves at side you may have to pay a little more attention to them. You’ll want to consider the location: are there roadways, standing crops, anything the animals are used to eating nearby? The higher degree of risk involved, such as a field that is right along the highway, the better the fence you will want to put up.”

Making do with what is available is often a good place to start. If the new grazing area has been fenced in the past, it is likely that old posts can be re-utilized, even if the old wire is unfit for use. In some situations, an old fence can be fixed up and an electric wire added for extra help. Ruth Wiechmann
for Tri-State Livestock News

Bauman said that it’s important to make sure the livestock have plenty of available feed so that they are not putting pressure on the fence.



“The higher the strand count of your polywire, the better conductor it will be,” he said. “Some suppliers are now offering a braided aluminum cable that’s kind of in between poly wire and hard wire; it gives great shock absorption. It’s also good to consider your available manpower and ability to manage your resources before choosing a type of fencing. Can you roll up the wire easily when you’re finished utilizing the field? You should also take into consideration what your long term game plan is: if you’ll be returning to this field in future years to utilize crop aftermath or graze cover crops, it may well be worth investing a little more in the fence.”

Bauman suggested that intentional grazing practices, such as strip grazing, can be a double bonus if there is sufficient manpower available.

“If you only give the cattle access to part of a larger field at a time you will maintain a higher level of quality forage for a longer period of time, and they will be less likely to push the fence,” he said.

Dale Paulson ranches in the Wessington, South Dakota area, and has done extensive cross fencing on his place over the years, using temporary fences to focus grazing pressure in certain areas. He’s also fenced some cropland for grazing over the years, so he has had opportunity to find out what works for his cattle.

“When we moved onto the place we frantically put in single hot wire fences until we could get permanent fence built,” he said. “A friend who had a fencing business gave us several rolls of used telephone wire, and that worked well. Right now I’m pretty strong on using steel high tensile 12.5 gauge wire, but if I didn’t have steel wire, aluminum wire is really handy, easy to handle and a good conductor. I’ve recommended it to other ranchers and helped put it up.”

Paulson said that while his cattle are trained to respect a hot wire, they can also be too smart for their own good at times and will occasionally push the limits.

Pete Bauman, SDSU Extension Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist, advises matching available resources to the type of livestock you need to keep contained, and considering risk factors such as nearby highway traffic or fields with standing crops before choosing a type of fencing materials. Rachel Gabel
The Fence Post

“I’ve seen them bunch up in the end of a pasture and start riding one another until one pushed another through the fence,” he said. “For all of our cornstalk grazing we have used barbed wire fence. This year we planted some fields to season-long cover crops and used fiberglass posts with poly wire for temporary fence to control grazing access. We use fiberglass sucker rod virtually exclusively for temporary fence posts, with a few step in posts for going around hills. We’ve tried used steel posts, but the T post insulators didn’t last; they were not strong enough to hold up long term.”

Paulson also said that it’s easier to make the mistake of keeping cattle in one place too long than moving them too soon; livestock looking for feed will be more likely to challenge a fence than if they have sufficient forage to browse.

Rick Doud, who ranches near Midland South Dakota, says that he grazed all of his hayfields this summer.

“In a year like this it takes all you’ve got to keep water and grass in front of the cattle,” he said.

Doud has used a single poly wire for temporary fence quite a bit.

“It works well until they get out,” he chuckled. “Electric fence doesn’t work as well in the winter either.”

Producers should consider whether they can risk dealing with occasional escapes or if risk factors such as traffic or neighboring livestock would make an investment in a more durable fence worthwhile.

Water sources or the lack thereof can be an additional challenge when sourcing forage in areas not traditionally grazed. Old dugouts or sloughs might be dry, or if there is water present, it may not be good enough quality for livestock to drink. Producers have more options available while temperatures remain above freezing than during winter weather. Both Doud and Paulson have used 1-1 ¼” black plastic pipe above ground to get water to areas without existing water sources.

“We have pipe laying on the ground all over,” Doud said. “It’s a challenge and a chore to drag it around from place to place. We’re burying more all the time. We are also using some ‘chicken waterers’ now: 2300 gallon plastic tanks with a trough around the bottom that have skid plates built in so that you can pick them up with pallet forks. We’re fortunate that we’ve never had to haul water in cold weather.”

“Don’t let your cows run out of water,” Paulson cautioned. “We had that happen and they got pretty screwy, almost psychotic; they don’t forget. I do not believe that cattle can get sufficient water from eating snow alone.”

While water needs may be far lower in the winter months than the hot summer months, clean fresh water is still vital.

“Cows will eat some snow, if there is snow,” Lyle Perman said, “But fresh water is always the best. It doesn’t take long to figure out how much your cattle need to drink in one day. When you need to haul water, you can either sit there and wait until they’re done drinking or come back later to drain the extra water out of the tank so it doesn’t freeze solid. If you start supplementing them with hay their water needs will increase.”

The Lowry, South Dakota rancher has seen plenty of variations on the temporary fence theme, including some folks using strategically parked field equipment parked for fence corners.

“Sometimes we use polywire, usually a heavier gauge with multiple strands; sometimes we run two hi-tensile wires, one hot and one ground,” he said. “You don’t have to use new wire, you can reuse old telegraph or telephone wire. Step in posts work well for line posts, and sometimes steel posts are sufficient for corners. In frozen ground, we use a cordless drill to make holes for the posts if we can’t step them in. Don’t go cheap on your energizer; check the battery for your fencer more frequently as they won’t hold a charge as long in the winter, and if you’re using a solar fencer it will need to be more powerful than what you could use in the summer.”

Both Perman and Bauman advised getting the fence in place and the fencer turned on a few days prior to turning cattle in so that deer and other wildlife can figure out that it’s there. Wildlife can also be a factor in the choice of fencing materials used.

“There are a lot of factors to take into account,” Bauman said. “Each situation is so different. Take time to get familiar with the lay of the land and how that will affect livestock movement. Communicate with your neighbors ahead of time. Think about gate placement and how you plan to move the livestock in and out of the field. Turning the cattle in is the easy part, the hard part is getting everything ready. There is a lot of management to consider beyond the actual fencing.”

Regardless of the choice of fencing materials, producers should keep safety a priority.

“If you’re going to go to the work of building a temporary fence, be responsible,” Bauman said. “Take time to do it well and make sure that your livestock don’t impede the safety of others.”

Consider this

The variety of manufacturers and products available for temporary fencing can be overwhelming, so a few guidelines should be kept in mind when researching products.

• Product quality and longevity (often projected

by the manufacturer)

• Ease of use

• Performance under conditions on YOUR ranch.

− Heavy or thick vegetation

− Multiple corners vs straight lines

− Physical condition of manager or laborers

− Weight and bulk of the fence materials

− Time of year of projected fence installations

and livestock movements

− Soils characteristics for grounding

− Wetlands, creeks, and drainages

− Livestock temperament and training

− Wildlife issues

− Potential sources of increased fence pressure

from livestock congregation

• Gates

• Prevailing wind direction

• Flies and other pests

• Water sources

• Shade

• Inadequate forage

• Neighboring crops

• Neighboring livestock, especially during the

breeding season

• Costs of any specialty tools and equipment

necessary for installation and maintenance

• Price

• Local availability

• Technical support, customer service, and

practical advice

− Manufacturer

− Retailer

− Neighbors and friends

From the SDSU Extension BEEF publication, Pasture Fences: Innovations by Pete Bauman

The following is taken from the SDSU Extension BEEF publication, Pasture Fences: Innovations by Pete Bauman

The variety of manufacturers and products available

for temporary fencing can be overwhelming, so a few

guidelines should be kept in mind when researching

products.

• Product quality and longevity (often projected

by the manufacturer)

• Ease of use

• Performance under conditions on YOUR ranch.

− Heavy or thick vegetation

− Multiple corners vs straight lines

− Physical condition of manager or laborers

− Weight and bulk of the fence materials

− Time of year of projected fence installations

and livestock movements

− Soils characteristics for grounding

− Wetlands, creeks, and drainages

− Livestock temperament and training

− Wildlife issues

− Potential sources of increased fence pressure

from livestock congregation

• Gates

• Prevailing wind direction

• Flies and other pests

• Water sources

• Shade

• Inadequate forage

• Neighboring crops

• Neighboring livestock, especially during the

breeding season

• Costs of any specialty tools and equipment

necessary for installation and maintenance

• Price

• Local availability

• Technical support, customer service, and

practical advice

− Manufacturer

− Retailer

− Neighbors and friends


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