From August of 2013, here’s how a grazier in Vermont dealt with fencing for her growing herd of sheep and cattle.
How is it that flocks and herds can grow so fast? Ten ewes turned into 20 and starting with one steer we suddenly find ourselves with 15 head! Well, okay, it wasn’t that sudden, but it didn’t take that long either, with one phenomenal Jersey milker and a supply of dairy bull calves.
Now what? Now we need some permanent fence around our fields to make grazing easier and to keep the animals out of the swampy areas & sugar woods. A visit with Nick Commerci from the St Johnsbury NRCS office assured us that they could help fund some fences so we delved into the first challenge of the project – pouring over maps and areal photos and countless walks around the fields to figure out the best fence layout around buildings, determining exactly where gates and corners would go, counting posts and measuring field edges so we could order the ~12,000′ of fence that NRCS agreed to help with.
What kind of fence to choose? That was the easy part! Several years ago I saw an article in David Kline’s Farming Magazine about an electrified, high-tensile woven wire. My parents have used it on their farm with great success so without hesitation, we decided to use that for a large percentage of our farm as well. This wire is really fantastic because it is easier to hang on Vermont topography than regular woven wire but it is much more effective than 5 or 7 strands of HT smooth wire.
The specs on this fence are 7-36-24, so it has seven strands of horizontal wire at a total height of 36” and verticals every 24”. We put a ground wire on the ground and hang the fence up 6”. This amount can vary with the terrain, but we try to keep it less than 9” and more than 4”. We also string a hot wire 8” above the top of the wire. So the total fence height is about 48”. Insulators must be put on each post, however we don’t insulate every strand, just 3-4 per post. On corners we slide a piece of 3/4” pvc down between the post and wire during tensioning or staple a few 3/8” fiber rods around the outside of the post before tensioning.
The fence is wired with maximum flexibility in electrification options. We can just make the top wire hot to keep cows & horses from reaching over and to provide an electricity source for electronet subdivisions. This gives the animals a chance to eat down grass right along/under the fence. Or we can electrify the whole fence whenever needed to keep them from rubbing on it, to train livestock and/or predators. Because it is woven wire it provides a visible physical barrier for the animals.
Because there is so much less wire in this fence than most woven wire, it is less expensive so it fits into an NRCS budget more easily. Given that it holds animals more effectively than smooth wire, is easier to install and less expensive than woven wire, it is a clear choice for a large variety of fence applications. This fence is made and distributed by PowerFlex fence in MO. They are a small company that offers competitive prices and fantastic customer service and support. They also sell a heavy-duty waterline and fittings that are ideal for livestock water systems. Check them out online: www.powerflexfence.com
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that I’m not affiliated with the company in any way. I think that there are folks in the Northeast who could really benefit from knowing about and taking advantage of this fantastic fence. We’re installing over 7,000′ of it this year. My folks have had theirs for almost 5 years and they love it for sheep, goats, cows and horses.
Now we’re on to the biggest challenge of any fencing project – installing it. We’ve got about 1200′ up, only ~6,000′ to go!
Steve Freeman shared his experience with woven wire:
We’ve installed miles of high tensile woven wire and really like it for perimeter fences. Though we don’t raise sheep anymore we’ve found it to be great for keeping newborn calves from jumping through the fence as they sometimes do when they hit electrified multi-wire single strand fencing. Once we learned a few easier techniques for rolling it out and tensioning the wire it became a breeze to install. I wrote some installation tips for our Blog [yes, this is self promotion] on the PasturePro website http://www.pasturepro.com/blog/2010/04/stretching-high-tensile-woven-wire/
Some areas where we found high-tensile woven wire not to be as good a choice as multi-wire single strand high-tensile wire:
Working corrals–we use multi-wire single strand fencing for some of our holding pens. Have always worked well even when non-electrified. When bulls get to fighting and one of them gets tossed through the fence it caused no trouble other than tightening up a few wires. With the high- tensile woven wire it stretched and broke the vertical wire when this happened and the entire section needed to be cut out and replaced. So we don’t use it in tight areas where there might be heavy animal pressure.
Large acreage and heavy grass loads–LIke Rebekah we have switches for every section of the woven wire so we can turn on or off acreage with HT woven wire. Even with a 36 joule charger we found we couldn’t keep the voltage high enough except in smaller areas (10-20 acres). Unlike multi-strand single wire fencing where you can turn off the bottom wires during heavy load periods, woven wire is all on or all off- and there is a lot of wire to electrify in woven wire. However, I think un-electrified it will keep most sheep in–electrifying the woven wire is most important for keeping predators out. And like Rebekah we run a single strand of wire above the woven wire and keep it hot at all times.
All in all a very nice product and light years ahead of the old field fence [woven wire] of the past.
Another reader asked about pricing. Rebekay responded “Prices are subject to change, I’m sure, but we found it to be very economical. A 330′ roll is $133 plus delivery.” (Remember these are prices in 2013 when the story was first published.)
Debbie asked for more information on NRCS funding for these kinds of projects. Bruce Howlett responded:
“There is some disagreement among and within states as to whether NRCS pay for perimeter fence for a pasture system. A fence used to keep livestock from surface waters should be approved in most places. In some states, depending on the scoring system used to decide how to allocate EQIP funds, a pasture improvement project might not rank high and so may not receive much attention from over-worked NRCS staff. Ask at your local office to find out which way the political winds are blowing in your area.
“Note also that in the Northeast, the NRCS payment rate for fence is based on less-expensive states. Contractors in southern New England charge $7-8/ft for woven wire and $6-7/ft for high-tensile smooth wire fences – 3-4X the payment rate from NRCS. If you build the fence yourself the calculations will differ, but make sure you look closely at and follow the specifications – an NRCS-grade fence can be remarkably expensive.”
Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible. Click on over to see the great work they do for all of us. Thank them for supporting On Pasture by liking their facebook page.