'SHOCKING' News on the Farm

We're talking about electric fence...so it's shocking. Right?

The last few weeks we've been in an ongoing battle with a few of our more mischievous young cows.

Thankfully, sales went well this summer and we have been able to invest a little bit more into that battle. Today I want to talk to you about how well electric fencing works (when it's working) and why we use it.

Many mornings recently, Jorie and Wallace have had breakfast to the following scene in the garden.

As you can see in the top right corner, there is a filthy little steer enjoying some kale and greens...look forward to eating him next year, he's well fed apparently.

This is something that tends to happen in the shoulder seasons  – spring and fall. This is because grass is available but not plentiful, so some of the cattle decide that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. All our on-farm fencing is electric fencing. This means that at any given time, a perimeter of two strands of metal wire are keeping the cattle where they are supposed to be.

How do two dinky wires keep (or not keep) a thousand pound animal in it’s place?

The same thing that keeps you from touching one...you know what will happen if you do.

Electric fencing is actually a mental barrier, not a physical one. It doesn’t truly prevent you from crossing a line…it just makes it painful to do so (painful, not harmful). In fact, if taken at speed or if conditions are bad, it may not even give a shock. But in the right conditions (as I can attest to personally) it can pack an absolute wallop.

Cattle are smart, and normally they are very respectful of an electric fence. All they need is a reminder once or twice a year that touching the fence equals shock. The majority of the year you could even turn the fence off.

The issue that can arise is if they test the fence repeatedly (usually the smaller ones) and the fence isn’t working properly.

That has been our problem this fall. The fence is powered by a box called an energizer, which sends painful but not harmful voltage down the fence wire in pulses. If you are touching the fence at the time of a pulse, then zap.

Lots of things can weaken this pulse though. Trees can fall on the wire, weeds grow up and touch it and insulators break. These can all ‘bleed’ shock away so that the fence becomes a mild nuisance instead of a painful reminder.

Despite maintenance the fence line is often never perfect.

In those conditions, it’s important to have an energizer that is big and beefy enough to power through some of the small stuff. Our bigger one burned out last year, and we’ve been making do with our smaller backup.

And so we have that filthy little cow in the garden.

The last few weeks I’ve spent quite a bit of time ordering fence parts and repairing fence. We were also able to buy a granddaddy of a fence energizer to gently remind the cows of where their perimeter lies. It will be a huge help for managing the cattle.

Why the big fuss about electric? Wouldn’t it be easier to just use conventional fence?

We use electric for the benefit of the animals. They train to it quickly and so rarely get shocked. It is far less dangerous than barb wire fencing, and far more flexible than other fence types. Electric fencing allows us fence new pasture quickly, and to divide pastures up very easily. We can change the size of a field in a day instead of weeks. This makes rotational grazing (moving the herd daily or weekly) much easier to accomplish. That means fewer health issues for the cows and more soil fertility long term. Win-win.

Rotational grazing also more closely mimics how large herds would have behaved long ago – by eating and quickly moving on. It allows the land to regenerate.

So yes, electric fencing can be a pain sometimes (figuratively and literally), but the benefits to the farm are huge. And it’s just one way that we reinvest in our business and the welfare of our animals.

Willie & Jorie

PS. Fun fact for the tough guys who have 'touched a fence and it wasn't that bad', Until you have stood barefoot (like a cow) n the dew soaked grass and touched a wire connected to a quality energizer - with your nose (like a cow) - you haven't REALLY tried it.

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