It’s that time of year again. If you are from Michigan you know spring through fall it’s orange barrel season. Lots of road construction because that is when the weather allows it. Well, it’s the same thing here on the farm. It’s construction time. There is always some area of the farm that needs repair and most of the time there is more areas than just one. The last couple of weeks, it’s been the fencing. We have to keep the animals safe through our fencing which is why we have several varieties that we use.
A white picket fence is beautiful in a front yard but isn’t practical here on the farm. We have had to opt for function over beauty and we have several options to choose from. Physical barriers and psychological barriers are 2 different fence types. We often choose one or the other depending on the location and sometimes we combine the two.
Wood rail fencing is a physical fence that is a favorite among horse farmers. It looks nice and is durable but it isn’t the first choice for those with cattle. Horses usually have more training than cows and therefore typically respect fencing better. Horses are also pickier eaters. They may have a whole pasture full of food but will pick and choose the most tender grasses to eat. Because of this, there are often large amounts of tough grass along the fence lines that they don’t touch. Cows, on the other hand, are big eaters and they aren’t nearly as picky. Unlike a horse who bites the grass off with their front teeth, the cows use their long tongues to wrap around the grass to pull it into their mouths. They need grass that is long enough for their tongues to grab onto. When the cows are put into a pasture with a wood rail fence, they will quickly eat what they want and then see the beautiful green grass on the other side of the fence and start reaching over or under the fence to get to it. You can not tell a cow that the grass is NOT greener on the other side, they are always sure it is! So in other words, they are big bullies to a wood rail fence without a little more of a deterrent.
With a wood rail fence, many cattle farmers will also use a psychological barrier such as a strand or two of electric wire fencing. This is a small wire that is attached to the fence with plastic insulators. A small current of electricity runs through the wire and encourages the cows to stay away from the fence. A great article explaining electric fences can be found here at the Grass Fed Solutions website. This type of fence is similar to the invisible fences for dogs. With proper training, the dogs understand where they can and cannot go in the yard. This same principle applies to the cows. With training from an early age, the cows understand that if they start to push on the wood rail fence they are likely to get “zapped” by the tiny electric wire. There are other benefits to an electric fence such as durability, cost-effectiveness and often times it works better than a physical barrier at containing the cows. You do not need a wood rail fence to use an electric fence. All you need is steel or wooden posts, insulators, wire, and an electric fencer to create the current. A downfall of this fence is its need for electricity, which means it needs electric or solar power to work. It also does not handle brush or other things touching it to short it out. So, it is important that if you are going to use a strictly electric fence the area must be kept clear.
Other types of barrier fencing include barbed wire, page wire and cattle panel fencing. Barbed wire fence is constructed of thick wire with small sharp barbs on it. This fence can be effective when using electricity but is not practical. Most farmers who use barbed wire need at least 3-5 strands of barbed wire to contain the cows. The wires must be strung as tight as possible to deter the cows from going through it. The building process is very labor-intensive and it is difficult to repair due to the sharp barbs, but when comparing the cost of wire to the cost of wood, wire it less expensive.
A page wire fence is also a good option if your herd doesn’t feel the need to wander. Page wire fencing is a woven wire system, typically 4 ‘ tall and appears to be made with wire squares. This type of fence can be used with wooden or steel posts and you will often see this type of fencing around people’s gardens. We used page wire for years on our farm because it provides a good barrier but it is not as aggressive as barbed wire. However, page wire alone has not been enough to stop the cows from the greener grass on the other side. They will stand at the fence and lean over to try to reach the grass eventually stretching the fence out and making it unusable. Once this became an issue, we added 1 small strand of electric wire near the top of the page wire and that corrected the problem.
As of lately, we have been doing a lot of fence building and this time we are using cattle panel fencing. These panels are similar to page wire but the woven wire system is much thicker, sturdier and taller. The cows won’t be able to stretch these panels because they won’t budge. We have decided to use wood posts because they are stronger than steel ones. We will continue to use one strand of electric fence on the inside of the fence just to remind the cows not to mess with the fence. We are excited about this new project and can’t wait to have it finished. Even my son Ty (10 years old) has gotten in on the action and has been helping his Papa build the new fence.