This spring, Graham Cofield, extension agent in Trigg County started to work with Alana Baker-Dunn and her farm crew at River Bend Farms to set up a simple rotational stocking system. This particular cow-calf herd had unrestricted access to 120 acres of pastures. Using temporary electric fencing and a solar charger, Graham and the farm crew installed two cross fences dividing the 120-acre pasture into three 40-acre pastures (Figure 1). They configured the cross fences so that each paddock contained a preexisting water source, in this case a pond. And so, a rotational grazing system was born!
The farm crew had doubts that a single strand of polywire would hold the cows in place, but after eight weeks and only one stray cow, they have become a believer in the power of electric fencing. When people have bad experiences with electric fencing it is most often related to improper installation and not training the animals to the fence. For a single stand of polywire to control livestock, it needs to be hot, with a minimum of 5,000 volts, but preferably 6,000 volts. This means selecting the correct energizer and making sure that it is properly grounded. For tips on electric fencing, see this month’s fencing tip at the end of this article.
Livestock must be trained to respect electric fencing. When training livestock, install a single hotwire 30 inches above the ground or nose height in an area that livestock will be able to cautiously approach. Make sure that the energizer and grounding system are optimized to deliver a knee buckling, eye watering shock. You want an animal’s first experience with an electric fence to be a bad one. Normally animals are trained to electric fencing in 2-3 days. Animals that cannot be trained to electric fencing should be culled.
One of the big benefits of using polywire to make initial pasture subdivisions is that it is temporary. If you don’t like where it is, just move it. This becomes much more difficult when you install permanent fencing. I would highly recommend that you make your initial subdivisions with temporary fencing until you are 100% certain that is where you want your permanent fence.
Currently, Graham and the crew are rotating pastures every 2 to 3 weeks and the animals have already caught on to the new system. In fact, at a recent field day, the cows did not run away when three trailers carrying more than 60 people came into the pasture, but flocked to the trailers and started bellowing so loud that the field day speakers could not be heard. They were demanding new pasture! Although the ideal interval for rotating pastures is 2-3 days, the most important thing is to just get started. Any rotation is better than none.
The summer months can often be a challenge for livestock producers. So what happens when you rotate through your pastures and get back to the first one and it has not regrown due to high temperatures and drought? Although it is tempting to open all the gates and let the animals roam, the best thing to do is to confine the animals to a sacrifice area and feed hay. This keeps you from damaging pastures by overgrazing them during a drought. When the rain comes, your rested pastures will recover much more quickly than your neighbors.
Change is often uncomfortable and that first step can be difficult. However, transitioning from a continuous to a rotational stocking system will have a profound impact on not only the productivity of your pastures, but also the behavior of your animals. If need help getting started, give your local extension agent or conservation specialist a call! More information on grazing management can be found on the UK Forages website and the KYForages YouTube Channel.
We would like to thank the Kentucky Beef Network and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund for their support of the Master Grazer Program and this demonstration. ~ Chris Teutsch (Originally published in the Cow Country News, June 2019 Issue)