Fencing is essential to managed rotational grazing, yet there is virtually no consensus on how to build fences or even what kind of fences should be used. Everybody agrees that rotation is good, that grass-based feeding is good, that there are virtually no drawbacks to the system, but when it comes down to actually executing it, there is very little information and guidance. It is one the reasons why I started this blog.
You can always (if you have enough) just throw money at a problem. This is what many farmers, especially small-scale farmers with outside-income jobs, essentially do. And you can build very neat and impressive looking fences, or have them built. But on a small scale, where you are already disadvantaged by that scale (geometrically speaking, fencing is cheaper the larger the area), you can quickly render an operation non-competitive economically if approached this way. I always strive to produce the most economic fence I can while still being effective and minimally aggravating.
A while ago I learned that on small scales it is very important to install static and at least semi-permeant fences for all the major subdivisions. I have always held it essential (and most people agree) to have tight perimeter fencing, but its job is mainly to exclude predators like coyotes and feral dogs, not just contain livestock.
Many seem to think that it is advisable to use lightweight portable fencing for internal subdivision. What I find happens with such portable fencing is that it is so aggravating and time consuming to use that the animals will almost invariably be left too long in a given paddock. It only takes about twice or three times the amount of time to install PERMANENT fencing, and being permanent, moving animals is as simple as opening a gate or two. If you really want to rotate, I really suggest you put in permanent fence at least everywhere animals will be in a given season. I think portable fencing has its place–with poultry mainly–or for special circumstances, but it is simply exhausting and a real drag if it is what you are going to rely upon. If it’s your full time job, then fine, but if not, do yourself a favor and go permanent.
Now, with fencing everywhere, the material costs blow up! Instead of just fencing a paddock or two, you are now fencing upwards of eight (generally, at least eight paddocks will be necessary if you plan on seriously rotationally grazing, ideally around 20 or more paddocks), so it becomes absolutely essentially to be as economic with the material as possible. And since the fence is permanent, you can’t simply take it up and then mow if needed. Mowing fence lines is one of the great pains in the butt with any kind of farming, and is the main reason why so many farmers ripped their fences out years ago (when they decided to grow grains for cash). So I designed my fences with mowing in mind.
Finally, because of my silvopastoral scheme, I need to protect the trees from browsing. Most of the good trees for silvopasture, like Oaks, Pecans, Walnuts, etc. are at least somewhat vulnerable to predation from herbivores, especially Goats, which are notorious destroyers of trees. This conveniently resulted in a double wide division fence, which has two advantages. One, it completely stops and across-the-fence nursing, when you are trying to ween young animals (yes, they can nurse right through a woven wire fence). Two, it is three dimensional, which is a powerful deterrent to jumpy animals like sheep and goats.
In the end my system comes out to be very inexpensive, especially compared to my woven-wire permitter fence. The way I look at it, if you are going to invest in woven wire fences, or a few gates, it is worth permanently subdividing if your operation is 10 acres or less. Perhaps semi-permeance would work better if it was larger, perhaps 10-40 acres. And for anything over 40, I would recommend having permeant posts and all, but stringing up only a few paddocks at a time. Enough that you can move animals from one to another easily, but minimizing the feet of poly-wire out there in the elements.
As a final note, I am really impressed by Kencove’s “braided twine” poly wire. Not only is this stuff inexpensive, visible, relatively light and narrow, and contains tinned copper and stainless conductors for excellent conductivity, it doesn’t tangle up the way TWISTED twines do. Braiding also seems to protect the conductors from abrasion as well. It’s only $100 for a half mile of it! Granted, this is more than electric wire, but you need far fewer posts, and the visibility (especially at night) is far greater. I am using about a 65-75 spacing, with very little slack!