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Offset Fencing – An Option for Keeping Wily Animals in Pastures

By   /  June 17, 2019  /  7 Comments

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This is my second summer buying, breeding and flipping yearling heifers in New York. I use two-day moves and high density grazing to get good animal performance and pasture utilization. My success of depends on my herd respecting a single electric wire. To make sure they have that respect, I’ve made some adjustments to my fencing. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Choose Heifers Trained to a Single-Wire

Most of the heifers I buy are already trained to a single polywire upon arrival at my farm. This prevents most containment issues before they happen. The best yearlings for a single-wire grazing program are ones born in a single-wire cowherd. Don’t set yourself up for escapes by buying cattle that have never seen a single wire before. I did buy a group this year that were raised on a three-wire perimeter only, but their extremely docile temperament made me confident that they would train well.

Acclimate New Animals to the Herd and the Fence

I don’t recommend delivering new arrivals into polywire, unless they are unloaded directly into an existing trained herd. Even then, it is probably better to put them in a hard-sided corral for a day or two, until they get over the trucking stress and acclimate to their new home. Keeping them isolated from your other cattle for a few days also allows you to detect and treat potential health problems. If your cattle are not already trained to electric fence, this is a good time to introduce them. (Check out Don Ashford’s technique here.)

I turn out from my corral into a 2-strand offset paddock, that looks like this.

Offset fence to keep heifers in

The lower wire is inset into the paddock 12 to 18 inches. After a few days, I change over to two strands on the same set of posts. As long as the cattle respect that, I step down to one strand. (Make sure your fence is very hot. I prefer mine between 7 and 9 kV.)

Make Sure Animals Have What They Need in Their Paddocks

When starting to rotate yearlings with polywire, make sure they never run out of grass or water. Don’t give them any reason to get interested in what’s outside the paddock. Spring is not the time for high-density grazing in most environments. Move cattle frequently and let them eat only the tips of the forage. This puts a better balance of energy and protein through them, and it also keeps grass productive as the year goes on.

Cow jumping fence with rider.

Jumpers will teach the rest of a herd to misbehave and I definitely don’t want to give that problem to a seedstock customer. So, I plan to sell the jumpers into a feeder program, (or maybe to someone who needs a good riding cow).

This year, I have a few black Angus heifers that like to make their own decisions. They get comfortable on one area of my farm, and when I try to move them out of it, they have started jumping the back fence. It most likely happens when the quality of forage or water in the new paddock isn’t as good as in the one they left. I think it also has to do with their perception of shelter and safety. Cattle are prey animals. As such, they are uncomfortable in places where they think predators could sneak up on them. My heifers started disrespecting the polywire when I moved them from the top of a hill, where they could easily see long distances to scan for potential threats, to a low area with limited sight distance. Whenever they jumped out of the paddock at the bottom of the hill, I found them at the top.

When the heifers fail to respect the single wire, I go back to the double offset. I have never had a bovine cross an offset polywire. It works because it messes up the animal’s depth perception, making it think it can’t clear the wires. (The same concept works to keep deer out of food plots.) You can also use this technique when building lanes in which cattle will be pressured. Offset wires will contain them better than single or multiple strands on one set of posts.

This offset polywire trick works not just for yearlings, but for all ages and classes of cattle. I’ve also used it when building lanes in which cattle will be pressured. Offset wires contain them better than single or multiple strands on one set of posts.

Offset Wire Set Up

I can set up a double offset paddock division almost as quickly as a single strand. I hang two reels off of my ATV instead of just one. It does require more posts. I go about 20 feet from the start of my paddock division and put in a step-in post. I hang the outside polywire (the one that will be farther from the cattle) on the highest clip. Another 20 feet and I put in another step-in, placing it 12 to 18 inches to the inside of the first strand of polywire. I attach the second strand about halfway up this post. Another 20 feet and I put in another post for the first strand, the higher one. I repeat this process for the rest of the paddock line.

Here’s another view of what that looks like.

I hope this gives you some inspiration for ways you can be successful with your fence and herd. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions in the comments below!

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About the author

I graduated from West Virginia University in 2012 with a degree in livestock management, and a minor in agribusiness. While at WVU, I won a statewide entrepreneurship competition with a patentable device I designed for video-assisted cattle artificial insemination. I then spent six months interning for grazing expert Greg Judy in Missouri. Now I run Rhinestone Cattle Consulting, helping new and experienced farmers build profitable mob grazing beef operations. I offer artificial insemination, electric fence building and graphic design services too. I'll travel anywhere in the 48 states for on-farm consulting and speaking at conferences.

7 Comments

  1. Rob Havard says:

    Really good article – I like that.

    If introducing a naive group of cattle to another mob I’ll put the mob into a paddock that is securely permanently fenced and is big enough to provide 3 days grazing on half the paddock. I split the paddock with 2 strands one above the other with the movable water trough underneath so that it waters both sides of the fence.

    The mob go on one side and the naive cattle are introduced (hungry) to the other side. They will hesitate before trying to mix/greet the other cattle on the other side of the fence and the fence provides a useful hesitation for them as they stare at their new pals across the fence. They sniff it – touch it with their nose and BAM! They are trained. I find that they all get trained in about an hour.

    I leave them in for 2 days then take the fence down so they are together for another day across the whole area and then move them onto the grazing platform on the 4th day. Works a treat.

  2. Patrick Tobola says:

    If anyone is interested, there is a relatively new method for receiving new animals that allows you to quickly remove the stress from them and to accept not just acclimate to the new conditions they will be required to live under. Bud Williams claims to have used the same method for receiving new animals for 40 years before he passed away in 2012. I guess it really does take 50 years for new ideas to take hold. When I first learned about it, I couldn’t and still don’t understand why all of his methods are not being taught and accepted by more people.

  3. jason detzel says:

    I can see the pictures….excellent article….i had my stockers run through all my polywire this year on their first day…took about two days of me sitting and reading next to the water tank until they got used to me. It’s always easier to pull new animals than to push them but now that we are familiar and they understand that every time they see me they are going to get something good (new pasture, treats from the bucket) I am able to scratch some of the less anxious ones.
    Next year I dont plan on having the polywire up, get the cattle used to me and then start fencing them in as we all calm down.
    great read!

  4. Michael Hipp says:

    The pictures are not visible.

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Hi Michael,

      I checked the photos, and they show up for me. I’m wondering if it is an issue with your connection. Could you try reloading and let me know how it goes? How about other readers? What are you seeing where the pictures should be?

      Thanks!

      Kathy

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