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Management

Low stress, Fenceline grazing shows benefits

Producers who want to reduce costs and take advantage of low stress cattle handling can try fenceline forage grazing. Taking the cattle to the forage rather than bringing the forage to the cattle can cause a significant reduction in fuel, machinery and labor costs. 

According to University of Nebraska (UN) Biological Systems Engineer Jason Gross, there are several advantages to fenceline forage grazing. 

“It can reduce baling, hauling and grinding costs, as well as manually spreading the manure,” he said. “It can also reduce mortality and sickness by keeping the cattle out of muddy and dusty conditions.” 

Fencing options

Gross said producers shouldn’t let the challenges and obstacles they see with fenceline grazing prevent them from trying it. 

Research and new technology has generated new methods of fencing that has made the process much easier. Most producers use electric fencing and install permanent, semi-permanent or single hot wire fencing, depending on where the fence will be placed. 

Gross discussed a two-wire perimeter fence UN has utilized. They use 14-gauge wire, 11/16-inch fiberglass posts and four-inch wooden posts. 

“What we like about it is it is low cost, can be used multiple years and will sustain some wildlife impact,” Gross said. “It is also simple to install, remove and reuse.”

New developments

A more recent type of fence developed by UN is the pivot fence, which they are currently obtaining a patent for. This type of fence allows a producer to convert any center pivot to a moveable cross-fence without altering their pivot. 

It works in frozen soil and in rough fields, Gross said. 

“It allows producers to have a portable fence without manually having to pick it up and move the wires and posts. It is simple to install and remove,” he said. 

“This system allows any producer to move a quarter mile or longer of fence in minutes by pushing a button, using GPS or other wireless control. The fence can even be moved by cell phone or laptop from anywhere in the world,” he said. 

Gross explained that the pivot fence wire is stabilized in between towers using the truss rod hangers. A wire clamp is used for the pivot towers to brace the pipe with an insulator. 

“The biggest advantage of windrow grazing is only giving the cattle a daily supply of forage to graze,” Gross said. “It is a more efficient way to feed them because it reduces waste.” 

Pivot study

Gross referred to a study of 328 feeder calves grazed on fall oats for 53 days. The oats and volunteer wheat under this pivot were fed as green chop or stockpile grazed. The fence was moved every three days. 

“What we noticed was they would graze right up to the pivot fence, and they would even trample some of the oats,” he said. “However, when we moved the fence, they usually didn’t go back to what they had left behind.” 

“It kept the calves from overworking the soil or causing compaction because they always had new forage to graze,” he explained.

The second half of this pivot was windrowed and then grazed with the pivot fence. 

Gross said forage utilization increased from 47 percent on the stockpiled pivot to 83 percent on the windrowed pivot. The fence was moved every two days, and the calves were utilizing close to 16 pounds per day of forage.

The results

“The windrow grazing is much more efficient because we have more control over forage utilization,” Gross said. “The ultimate goal is reducing costs.” 

“We found that cows and calves can be successfully housed with portable fencing on forages,” he said. “If the forage is hayed properly and allowed to cure in the windrow, feed quality can remain good throughout the winter.”

Gross noted that forage loss typically occurred where the windrow touched the soil. 

“This could be minimized by reducing the number of windrows either by raking or using a large draper head,” he explained. 

He said producers also need to only provide daily rations to reduce waste and minimize over consumption. 

“The big thing is producers still need to have daily interaction with the cattle to improve the animals disposition and behavior,” he explained. “Checking the water or moving the fence will help provide a low stress environment for those animals.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments and questions on this article to roundup@wylr.net.