Electric fencing is key to grazing winter stockpile
|By Matt Poore|
Strip grazing reduces selective grazing and wasted forage. This maximizes the potential grazing days into fall and winter
The author is an extension ruminant nutrition specialist at North Carolina State University.
"Amazing Grazing” is our education program that focuses on improving the understanding of pasture ecology and the adoption of adaptive grazing management. Our educational approach is to use on-farm demonstrations with a variety of farmers.
We also do a lot of training with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), state extension personnel, and state conservation employees to make sure that producers who start with these systems get the technical support they need from local advisers. Once a producer masters the use of temporary fencing, we hold a workshop on their farm so other cattlemen can learn from peers in their local environment.
Many beef producers have the opportunity to stockpile forages during autumn for winter grazing, so we have focused on this practice with many of our demonstrations. It is a technique especially useful for tall fescue and bermudagrass, but stockpiling can be used for any cool- and warm-season forages. In more northern and drier regions, it is also common to use the practices of cornstalk grazing, bale grazing, and swath grazing, which are also forage stockpiling.
More grazing days
Whatever forage you are stockpiling, a key part of the practice is to provide access to forage that the cows need for a short period (usually one to seven days), while restricting their access to the rest of the stockpiled forage. This reduces selective grazing and wasted forage, allowing a high level of utilization efficiency so you can stretch many more grazing days out of the available forage. How far the potential grazing days will be extended depends on the forage system, but with many systems you can expect 35 to 50 percent more grazing days by allocating only three days of forage at a time compared to continuous grazing.
The approach we usually recommend is to strip graze (also known as frontal grazing) with a single strand of temporary electric fence. The fence is set up so that, when cows enter the pasture, they have access to a small strip of forage, the water tank, and a mineral supplement. Usually, we allow about a week’s worth of forage when first entering the pasture so the animals have plenty of room to move freely.
After the forage is grazed to a desirable residual height, another strip is allocated. First, set up a new fence and then take down the first one, or when the strip is very long, loosen the fence, then walk along and move the temporary posts to the desired distance. As the process continues, you will learn how much area to allocate to get adequate forage utilization and animal intake.
Build fence respect
However you manage the grazing, using good-quality temporary fence supplies and keeping a lot of power on the fence are key to success. In our experience, many producers become disillusioned with the system if the cows frequently “break out” or if wildlife tear down the fence, so make sure you get a good start by paying attention to detail early in the process.
If cows are unaccustomed to temporary fence, it is critical that they be trained to respect it; if you have a lot of wildlife, they also need to be trained to respect the fence. Temporary fence is strictly a mental barrier, so I can’t overemphasize how important it is to start with a good strong structure and a high level of power. Setting up temporary fence a few yards inside a permanent perimeter several weeks ahead of strip grazing is a good way to initiate the training process.
Don’t cut corners
Using low-quality fencing supplies is a common mistake that producers new to the system make. We have learned through our “Amazing Grazing” demonstration work that producers are much more successful if they use at least a medium-quality polywire (9-strand stainless steel works well in most situations), good-quality reels (geared reels when there are long stretches of temporary fence), and good-quality tread-in posts. Producers who start with polytape often encounter problems because of its weight, reduced ability to carry power, and its tendency to accumulate snow and ice.
We also recommend the use of UV (ultraviolet radiation)-stabilized fiberglass posts for the end of runs and for making corners. In especially challenging situations with cattle unaccustomed to temporary fence or with a lot of wildlife pressure, this kind of post every few hundred feet on a temporary stretch adds more stability to the fence.
Also consider the spacing of the temporary posts; using a close spacing (25 feet) to start will help reduce problems. Once cows and wildlife are well trained, you can use a wider post spacing, fewer corner or end posts, and you can get through times of low or no power without experiencing a breakout. It is hard to generalize about how much power you should keep on the fence, but in most situations, we like to see over 5,000 volts (5 kilovolts) to make sure that, when cows or wildlife touch the fence, they will quickly learn to leave it alone. Low fence power is the number one problem we have identified with producers who experience grazing system problems.
Strip graze starter kit
Through our demonstrations we have found success starting producers with a package of temporary grazing supplies that meet our recommendations, and through several years have developed what we call the “Amazing Grazing Starter Kit.” The standard kit includes 100 tread-in posts with adjustable wire height, two geared reels, two ungeared reels, enough 9-strand polywire to load the reels, 10 fiberglass corner posts (11/16 or 7/8 inches), a light post driver, and a good-quality “fault-finder” fence tester.
We are partnering with fence suppliers to provide the “Amazing Grazing Starter Kit” and also a smaller “Amazing Grazing Strip Grazing Kit.” These kits are now available from Pasture Management Systems (www.pasturemgmt.com) at a discount and would make a great Christmas present for any progressive cattlemen interested in improving their grazing management skills. Of course, these same supplies can be put together from any fence supplier, so shop around and join the growing number of producers who are adopting the use of temporary fences and adaptive grazing.
“Amazing Grazing,” through our own efforts and also through partnerships with other state educational programs, is making great progress to enhance the use of adaptive grazing in the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Georgia. The concepts of “Amazing Grazing” are also being spread across the country through our national training program for NRCS conservationists and grazing specialists. We currently have plans to expand the program further, so follow us on Facebook, or visit us at our website by searching for “CEFS Amazing Grazing” to learn about upcoming workshops and to read more about how adaptive grazing can help you meet your production goals.
This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on pages 10 and 11
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