Starting from Scratch
Art of fencing on a farm
The one thing I have learned about farming is that you must have the proper fencing for each animal, as some animals require different types. Chickens, for example, can be contained in an area or be kept out of another area with chicken wire, heartier woven wire or electric poultry netting. Pigs on the other hand, can use woven wire, electric netting or electric wiring or rope with strands at various levels off of the ground. It would be doubtful that chicken wire could hold back a pig, because it is not that strong, and chickens can walk right between strands of wiring. Sheep can use all of these types of fencing, but not much will keep goats in if they don’t want to be contained.
Here at Oxbow Farm, we are still experimenting as to what works best for our terrain, for our animals and our needs. We do not have our whole property fenced in woven wire because that is just not in our budget at the moment. If I had lots of extra time on my hands, I would investigate grants and financing for this purpose, but I don’t so, there it ends.
So in the meantime, we have been using portable fencing. Specifically, we are using electronic netting for our sheep, goats and pigs. One benefit to this type of fencing is it is movable, which works well with selective or intensive grazing. The downside is that if your fence is not fully electrified, then the animal has the potential to escape.
An electronic fence has a current that runs through the entire fence at different intervals. Let’s say, for example, that a fully charged fence has a current that runs every three seconds. If a pig tries to nuzzle his way through the fence, then he is going to get a shock within three seconds. A fence that is only charged half-way may have a current that pulses around the fence every 10 seconds. That’s a lot more time for a pig to wiggle his snout under the fence and partially escape, before he gets zapped. A pig is also the only animal that, if it gets electrocuted from a fence, will run through it instead of backing up.
Guess what would happen if there was very little or no charge to a fence at all? In that situation, the neighbors would be calling to say that the sheep are on their lawn grazing or the pigs are walking down the middle of the road.
Why would the fence not be charged, you might ask? An electric fence is connected to an energizer, which provides the voltage for the fence. The power source to make the energizer work is either a direct connection to a wall outlet or a battery, like that which you would have in your car. A wall outlet will only loose its power if it gets disconnected or the power to the wall unit is somehow compromised. The battery will lose its charge over time and you will have to recharge it by disconnecting it to the fence and using a battery charger. The other way that you can charge the battery is use a solar charger, which charges it continuously so that it never runs low and never allows the fence to get below a certain voltage.
Guess which way we charge our batteries? A father-son “learn how to make a solar panel” project is on the to-do list.
I mentioned earlier that the portable fence is good for selective and intensive grazing. We have lots of overgrowth here at the farm, specifically in rarely used areas and at the edges of the field. We are using our newly acquired sheep — that have yet to run off deep into the woods — and goats to keep these sections a little bit cleaner. It is a slow process, but we are slow movers around here anyway so it doesn’t really matter. The pigs are helping with clearing the edges of the fields, too. We have discovered more useable land and a rock wall that we didn’t know existed. We selectively place the animals where we want them to work.
Intensive grazing is when you leave an animal in a certain section of the field so that they eat all of the grass in that area. If an animal has a large section to graze, they will be selective and eat only what they like best. If they have eaten their favorite grasses and their second favorite is the only thing that is left to eat, then they will eat it. They don’t have much choice. This ensures that your field is trampled and eaten evenly. One benefit to this intensive grazing is that you don’t have to go behind them with a mower to get all of the items that they have left behind.
We will continue to try new fencing options to see what works best for us. But we will probably end up chasing some animals back to where they belong, before we have it all figured out. We will keep you informed of our progress as we go.
Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, see www.oxbowfarmnh.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.