Another On Pasture reader has a question and we need your help!
How do you manage the vegetation under and around your permanent fence lines organically?
We raise hair sheep and Angus cattle together in one flerd, and use electronet fencing for daily moves. Our perimeter fencing on our land is high-tensile 5-strand fence powered by an 8J charger; on our leased land I built a cheap 3-strand perimeter fence with 16-ga soft wire and composite posts, powered by a Premier Intellishock charger and a deep cycle marine battery.
Our fencing set-up has worked really well in general, but the main issue is the vegetation growth under the fence lines. We have about 40 acres of permanent or semi-permanent fence in the humid Northeast, where the vegetation threatens to overtake the fence by early June if we haven’t spent a dozen hours weed-whacking it, and then they require another round by mid-August. This Spring I built perimeter fence on the leased land so it would save us time on the daily flerd moves, but didn’t think about how much extra time it would require in weed-whacking! This is taking so much labor that we are seeking creative solutions. Side-mowers, landscape fabric, and flame torching are among the fantasies we’ve entertained.
What do you do?
Thanks in advance to all the great On Pasture brains!
Share your answers in the comments below. AND if you have a question that you’d like all the great On Pasture brains to help with, send it to us and we’ll get it out there for you.
Thanks for reading and for helping the On Pasture Community!
Kathy and Rachel
P.S. Another great way to meet other farmers and ranchers and find out how they’re solving problems is to attend workshops and conferences. If you’ve got an event coming up that you’d like people to know about, you can add it to the On Pasture calendar here. If you’d like to see the calendar, head here.
i have 3 acres i would like to lease out for horses and goats. however i need to finish fencing and know what is the best agreement i can make to satisfy both parties?
How about a fence mower?
ex: shanks fm-60
We have about 6 miles of high tensile 1-3 wire fence on 200 acres for dairy cows and heifers. having the lower wire high enough for a mower to go under is important. My bushhog and one of the hay mowers will cut a foot onto the other side with care. If growth is light the best thing is a zero turn mower. I am considering turning off the electric and allowing growth to over take some fences along the woods. Otherwise, if it gets rough, I prefer a sharp Fiskars machette and can cut as much as 2 kids with weed eaters. A zero turn mower with a 3 foot bush hog type cutter would be an ideal tool.
The best sheep fence I ever built was a 4 wire high tensile fence with wooden ( or other ridged) post spaced at 100 to 150′ apart, depending on terrain, and two equally spaced stays or droppers in between. I am able to grab a stay and lift 30 to 50 feet of fence out of the weeds. Then I pull the fence slightly to one side usually inside. At this point the charger can burn down the smaller amount of weed load left bent under the bottom wire. I think the largest contributor to fence maintenance is too many post spaced too close together.
What about a risk of sparking on dry grass?
As G. Schriefer noted, in humid growth areas with plenty of grass/brush/tree growth it makes a huge difference if the permanent fence is grazed on both sides or grazed on only one side (boundary fence to roads, forests or crops).
The grazed on one side fence is a huge challenge with sheep/goat fences in humid fertile soil areas because the vegetation will eventually, as the years pass, challenge a fence from ground to 4 ft high. The only solution we have found that works is woven or multi-strand non electrified fence on the un-grazed side of the posts and 2 (not more) energized wires on the grazed side. Too many hot wires prevents the animals from grazing back the brush and weeds under and between the hot wires.
And only two wires set apart from grounded wires greatly reduces vegetation leakage per linear length of fence.
A large energizer helps a lot, but in our experience does not solve the problem long term!. Fences designed for the specie and situation are more likely to do so.
Randy, what heights do you put the 4 strands at?
-your fan from WI
Agree with Randy’s comment – bigger fencer is the only sensible way to deal with this. Spend the money on the fencer, it will burn through the vegetation. I have this problem on a leased pasture with a solar fencer where I can’t get enough power…
I am a very small farm in Maine who raises meat lambs. My pastures are stock fencing on cedar posts with a hot wire running along the inside. Vegetation is always a problem, & weed-whacking is problematic since the hot wire is on extended insulators only 6 inches off that stock fencing. I fantasize about some sort of mobile delivery system for steam; would kill vegetation organically, & could be mounted on the lawn tractor & administered from the vehicle. I know, I’m a lazy farmer.Jane Schofiled
Brian has a question:
Has anyone tried using road salt under their fences to keep vegetation down? I have been going to try it but haven’t gotten to it yet!
If you aren’t farming organically the best way to keep down vegetation is with a burn-down herbicide (diquat, paraquat or similar) applied in a narrow (6-10 in wide) strip. Acts like a chemical mower on all green plants. We do this to our sheep/goat fences twice per year.
Glyphosphate works also — but it kills all plants instead of burning off the top.. which allows annual weeds like foxtail to invade.
I agree with folks that say a larger plug-in energizer properly installed is wise. But not all situations allow for plug-in units. And there can be an increase safety risk with some (not all) very powerful units on wires that are close to the soil – particularly if those unfamiliar with electric fences might contact them.
That’s why we like the use of offset energized wires on perm. woven, barbed, or smooth wire fences. It enables a moderate sized energizer to cope w. the drain from green wet vegetation. Not an real issue w. cattle or horse fences because the wire is higher off the ground… much more so for sheep, goat fences.
We’ve gotten some suggestions in via email:
I use an sickle bar mower to reach under permanent electric fences, weed eat around posts, once per year – 8 miles, 100 pasture acres, stocked by 30 cow calf pairs, grazing 350 days per year.
Sr. Extension Agent and Certified Forage Grassland Professional, University of Virginia
The least expensive and most labor saving way to deal with fence line vegetation is to use a larger more powerful energizer ie.. more joules. If you are having vegetation issues with an 8 joule energizer step up to 25-60 joule range. More joules will over come a heavier vegetation load and push a charge a greater distance. When going to a larger energizer you will probably have to increase the energizer ground system. You may also have to improve the conductivity of the fence system to be able to utilize the increase in power. In 21 years of using, servicing, selling electric fencing I have never had someone tell me they had to much power. Large energizers are the least expensive energizers you can buy on a cost per joule basis.
Gallagher Power Fence
Premier agrees with Gene Schreifer’s comments.
We have a 5 strand high-tensile perimeter fence around all of our paddocks, 50 acres or so, and disconnecting the bottom wire and allowing them to graze under it helps a lot, except when the lambs sneak under and out. On fence lines that we had previously weed-whacked about 4 feet back, we line the hedgerow with electronet and let the sheep in to graze the 4 feet between the hedgerow and the high tensile, with the bottom wire disconnected. Takes a few minutes to setup/take down, but atl east an hour to weed whack it. We tried an “organic herbicide” and it only lasted 2-3 months and took just as much time as it did to weed whack in the first place.
What are your fence heights?
Once animals are broke to the hot wire we disconnect bottom (or bottom two) wires – this allows them to graze up to and under wire.
Our fences are so hot they will burn through any remaining vegetation.
I agree Kelly . . . we use our animals to manage the vegetation on our electric fences. In places where were we have lots of excessive growth we’ll feed a little supplement under the fence line when we rationally graze. My first choice is whole cotton seed. It feeds well on the ground and the animals will take the vegetation off as they are eating the WCS. I’ve also experimented with liquid feed products. They can work too. They are just heavier and messier than something dry like WCS.
(We also have experimented using chaparral herbicide. It acts a plant growth regulator on tall fescue. This reduces the total growth of fescue and limits seedhead production if applied in the spring (April 15) when fescue is almost to the boot stage.)
Whenever I have a problem I’m trying to solve on the farm. My first thought is how can I get my cows to do the work.
Good question and lots of good responses and advice.
Been there, done that, hours on end with a commercial weed whacker. Who needs a gym membership!!
The labor in maintaining the fence was setting a limit to the number of acres that could be managed. If I was going to get to scale, I needed to figure out how to reduce labor.
The 5 wire HT electric maybe the right fence in the wrong place. Where there is grazing on both sides this is a excellent fence, where there is grazing only on one side, it’s a PITA.
With your existing fence, depending upon your wire spacing, disconnect the bottom wire. Helps, but not really a cure.
Larger energizer, run at full power in May/June then 1/2 power the rest of the year. Add switches and only power the areas that you need to.
Build a different fence – put 4 HT wires on the off side of the fence and allow the vegetation to contact it, and add 2 wire to the in side on the fence as the electrified.
Woven wire on off side with 1-2 electrified wires on the in side. Most costly option.
5-6 wires of barb actually work quite well for sheep if the bottom set as spaced a little closer. No need to worry about weed load and run the electrified wires internally.
I did have a flerd for a brief time, we now manage them separately. Currently using a 4 wire fence where both cattle and sheep graze. The lowest wire I disconnect when the cattle graze and they will graze under the wire grabbing what they can with their tongue reducing vegetation load on the fence. When the sheep come through the paddock, the bottom wire is reconnected.
The only fence trimming I do these days is along the driveway so it looks neat and loved for visitors.
I purchased a used front mount Kubota GF/F mower. The mower deck sits in front of the machine so you can get 4-6 inches under the other side of the fence line. Mowing 2x year keeps the overgrowth off the fence and keeping the fence hot all the time helps dry-out anything that touches it over the summer. Over a limited distance you can also sprinkle feed under the fence line to have the cattle help. I also have one cow that will get down on her knees to graze under the fence so she does her part for free! (Central Virginia)
We have 30A with 6 strand barb wire as boundary fence, added 1 strand of poly wire on stand off insulators 8″ or so high. I use our lawn mower with 48″ deck raised all the way up to run under the poly and zig zag around the posts / insulators. It is 4 wheel steer which helps. Most of our cross fencing is 3 strand poly, some steel and some step in posts. I usually alternate from one side to the other when fence line mowing the cross fencing as the deck reaches under the poly and a few inches to the opposite side. I did have to clear some rocks. At our previous farm I sprayed some roundup, but the weeds take over if you don’t spray regularly and they grow faster than the grass which isn’t good. I usually make a mowing pass once a month or so, depending on how fast the growth is. Sometimes on cross fencing, I just move the posts a foot or so into the freshly grazed area. The fence line is crooked that way, but the sheep/cows don’t care… grin.
Since I already had a tractor mounted flaming system for controlling invasive brush (see Forest-Savers.com), I bungeed the two 2 million BTU/hour torches to the loader bucket and drove around the fence line at about 2 mph shooting flame under the fence. It killed all the vegetation in a +/- 2 foot strip under the fence including right around the fiberglass posts with no damage to the posts or plastic insulators. Of course it wouldn’t have been wise to linger with the flame on the base of a post. In all it took me about 20 minutes of pleasant tractor riding to accomplish what would have taken most of a sweaty day with a weed whacker. NOTE: If you don’t have a flame system, I have found a good sharp scythe to be quieter and easier for trimming under fences that a weed whacker if there is a foot or more of space between the bottom wire and the ground.
Can’t tell you if this plan works because I just bought the equipment, but this is what I’m going to try:
I use one line of polywire to manage cattle, I will follow them with a self-propelled walk behind brush mower. Then I will put in a low line and follow cattle with pigs. I may add sheep to the mix if I can figure out a good market outlet for the meat.
I like the first responders ideas & will be considering my system & if we can progress to that as we improve fences.
“…I have found a good sharp scythe to be quieter and easier for trimming under fences…”
I second this, as it is how I maintain under my permanent pasture fences, in a small orchard and around the house. I only have about 7 ac in fence, MUCH smaller than most of you… but it is a very inefficient long rectangle layout. Maybe this could be an option for small operations that can’t afford larger equipment.
I bought a very good quality scythe blade and snath (from a guy in Canada, not a mass produced one in farm/garden stores). It is made to fit my 5′ height and I can adjust the blade angle. I keep the blade very sharp.
Once I got proficient at using it, it became my tool of choice on many weed/trim tasks – so much better than a weed whacker in my opinion. You can really get into a ‘zone’ and get a lot done. It is somewhat physical, but not overwhelming (I’m a 55 yr old female). I wouldn’t have believed it, but it works really well. I’m cutting mostly grasses as opposed to shrubby stuff.
The good quality scythe I have is for grasses. I have a mass produced scythe that I use for brush. It is on the heavy side for me, but still works well. I want to get another good quality scythe for brush when I can afford it.
Comments are closed.