Manage Livestock and Land With Easy Rotational Grazing

Overgrazing can be a concern, especially for small farms with limited grazing areas. Here's what you need to promote regrowth through rotation.

by Heather Smith Thomas
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Most small farms have limited grazing areas. A big challenge is to keep from overgrazing. Rotational grazing allows plants to recover and produce more forage. The more segments you divide a pasture into, the more time each piece has for regrowth. Portable electric fencing makes rotation quick and easy.

If the perimeter is fenced and you have a power source—electric, battery or solar—for your fence charger, you can graze the pasture in strips, moving the electric fence. You can let the animals into a new strip and keep them out of the old one so it can regrow. By the time you get to the end of the pasture, you can start again. A long, narrow pasture is easy, because the dividing fence is short and taken down and put up quickly.

Portable fencing also works for strip grazing in winter for stockpiled pastures, windrows or bale grazing. Portable fence is handy on rented pastures where you can’t afford to invest in permanent fences.

Many kinds of posts are available including steel posts, plastic poly posts, fiberglass and rod posts. Each has advantages, depending on your situation, soil/terrain and needs. Some can be pounded in with a hammer, while others are “step-in” posts pushed into the ground with your foot. If the ground gets dry and hard, step-in posts might be a challenge, but they have hooks on both sides. In most conditions, it’s easy to get these posts in and out of the ground.

Many kinds of electric wire are available as well. The newer ones—electrified tapes, ropes and so on—are easier to use than traditional steel wire for portable fence. Braided poly wire—like a small rope—is often more durable than tape, and it’s easy to handle. It can be readily unrolled to string out a new fence and easily rolled up again.

A handy way to gather up and string out poly wire quickly is to wind it on extension cord spools. These plastic spools are about 1 foot diameter, made for holding 50-foot extension cords. You can wind a quarter- to half-mile of poly wire on it. The spool has a doughnut hole with a plastic handle inside for easy unrolling.

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Several kinds of geared reels are available for unrolling/rolling fence wire. Most reels include guides to keep wire from spinning off the sides and to prevent snarls. A standard fence reel holds a quarter-mile, and the number of step-in posts needed for that length of fence is fairly easy to carry. If the fence is longer, you’ll need a bigger reel, and you’ll have more posts to carry; it’s easier to drive a four-wheeler alongside, step off and set the post.

One might leave some small pastures permanently divided, but for larger pastures, it’s often best to move the fencing and the animals across the field. In many situations you want the flexibility to change the size and shape of segments from season to season as you march across the area, depending on rate of growth and number of animals. You can put up the next fence, let the animals into the new segment and keep the old fence there to hold them in that segment. When you move them again, you can take down the unnecessary fence behind them and use it in front of them.

An easy way to move a fence is to take posts out first, unhook the wire, then reel in the wire like a fishing line. This won’t work for most tapes because they fray and wear out sooner, but braided poly wire will hold up. Reeling it in saves a lot of time.

Putting in posts when ground is frozen can be a challenge, but you can use a cordless drill with a 2- or 3-foot bit to make a little hole in the frozen ground, then put the post into the hole.

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Hobby Farms.

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