Fencing doesn't have to be a limiting factor
Fencing is often a limiting factor in managing pastures. Producers often point to cost, time and labor, difficult terrain and short-term land leases as disincentives to installing better fencing infrastructure.
Semi-permanent, electric, high-tensile fences built with alternative posts and bracing can help overcome some of these challenges and offer options that are low-cost, easy to install and moveable.
Recently, we reviewed some of the options through the construction of 2 miles of fence on a couple of farms here in western Virginia.
After a season of use, we’ve been impressed with the ease of installation and performance of the materials, and we are excited about the potential for managing pasture that semi-permanent fencing offers.
Our demonstration fence is being used to exclude cattle from riparian areas and to divide fields for grazing management. We installed all of the posts and braces by hand without large equipment at a rate of about 500 feet of fence per hour – much of it in steep, rocky ground.
Several types of posts were evaluated, including some that flex upon impact. In fact, we watched some spooked steers run through our fence, which simply sprang back to its original position. Likewise, fallen tree limbs were removed from the fence with no repairs needed.
All of the posts we used are made of non-conductive materials that do not require insulators – a cost savings and guarantee against electrical shorts. The producers in this project are running cattle on rented ground, so it is important that the fencing can be easily removed for use elsewhere.
At the same time, these materials can last 20 years or more, making them effective for permanent applications too. And this is the best part of all: Our fence averaged less than 20 cents per foot for materials. Suppliers for the materials used in our assessment can be found in Table 1.
There are several options for easily removable posts. The G2 PolyPost is a hollow plastic post. They are flexible and strong with excellent memory. Available in lengths from 4 to 6 feet and 1 1/3- or 2 3/8-inch diameters. They resist pulling out of the ground much better than fiberglass posts.
Pasture Pro posts are made of a flexible wood-plastic composite. Memory after flexing leaves something to be desired but would not deter us from using them again. Resistance to pullout is excellent. These are available in lengths from 4 to 7 feet with several diameters.
Timeless Fence posts are a plastic T-post manufactured from recycled materials. They contain a rigid PVC core with a protective UV coating. Available in a 1.5- or 1.75-inch T-profile, they are available in lengths from 4 to 8 feet. They are strong, yet flexible.
Fiberglass posts are widely used and work well alone or in combination with other options, especially where more rigidity is desired. In addition to commercial posts, repurposed fiberglass oilfield sucker rod posts are another alternative.
Although fiberglass posts are strong, they can be difficult to drive into rocky ground, and their resistance to pullout is not great. Fiberglass tends to splinter over time, so look for those with a protective UV coating.
All posts discussed here can be installed by making a pilot hole with a manual pilot driver to the desired depth and then driving it in with a manual post driver. With a pilot driver, posts can be installed by hand even in rocky ground. With the G2 and Pasture Pro posts, holes are easily field-drilled in posts at the desired height for the wires.
A cotter pin placed around the wire and through the hole allows the wire to float freely while attached to the post. With Timeless Fence posts, wire is best attached using standard T-post clips. Numerous clips and snaps are available for attaching wire to fiberglass posts, and they are usually available pre-drilled for use with cotter pins.
The EZ End is a fiberglass brace that bolts into an aboveground metal frame. There is an offset piece at the corner of the frame into which one of two types of ground anchors is attached. The first is a 24-inch auger-type anchor that screws into the ground using a standard socket; the second is an anchor for rocky soils, which is comprised of two 24-inch steel rods that drive into the ground at opposing angles.
We found it to be a good fit in terrain where rocks and tree roots would have made driving or digging posts difficult. These were available in 3- and 4-foot heights.
The Wedge-Loc system uses aluminum brackets and wedges to build a brace out of standard metal T-posts. Various options are available for building diagonal, H-braces or corner braces. These install easily, and university testing has shown they can maintain tensile loads of 1,500 pounds per brace.
By now you may be thinking, “So you put up a fence; what’s the big deal?” Effective, adaptable fencing is part of the foundation of good grazing management; alternative options allow producers to put up fences in situations where it may have previously been too costly or difficult to do so, which, in turn:
- Excludes or limits access to riparian areas
- Provides grazing in hayfields or crop aftermath
- Can be used with small or beginner operations
- Affords division or subdivision fencing or trunk lines
- Offers pasture stockpiling opportunities
- Can be used in flood-prone ground
Greater flexibility and control within a grazing system can lead to real benefits. For example, one of the producers we worked with is able to stockpile some fall pasture on rented ground for the first time thanks to the strategically placed subdivision fencing.
The predicted feed cost savings from grazing the stockpile (using temporary electric fence run off of the new subdivision fence) should pay for the fence in the first year. Other examples include higher forage productivity, increased grazing efficiency and healthier pastures.
Take the time to explore alternative fencing options to manage your pastures for better forage and better cattle.