Pastures: Pasture Facilities
Fences are essential in pasture programs to secure and manage livestock for efficient use of pasture production. Properly designed and constructed fencing will return benefits in reliability, long life, and low maintenance.
For perimeter and other permanent fences, physical strength is required to hold and turn livestock. Properly set and spaced line posts along with high-tensioned wires are necessary to attain this strength. High-tensile wire provides twice the breaking strength of conventional barbed wire. Because of its high strength and ability to stretch without sagging, it is capable of being pulled up tighter along an entire fence line. This results in a stronger, more effective barrier with no loose or sagging wires to serve as starting points for stretching, breaking, and eventual penetration by livestock or predators. For more specific information on high-tensile fencing, refer to the publication NRAES-11, High-Tensile Wire Fencing.
Electric fences usually require fewer, lighter fence posts and are easier and faster to erect than other fences. However, when the current is low, these fences are not strong enough to turn animals, and they require frequent inspection and maintenance. Three keys to an effective electric fence are: build it to control the animal in question, make it flexible enough to withstand attacks by untrained animals, and be sure it delivers a safe, effective shock every time the animal touches the wire.
Modern solid-state electric fence chargers provide very high voltages (5,000 volts or higher) at low impedances (high resistance to shorting out) and short impulse time. These chargers can energize several miles of fence. It is extremely important that the chargers and fence be properly grounded to achieve optimum performance. This may require that several ground rods be placed in a series. The problem of shorting out because of grass and weed contact with energized wires has been reduced but not eliminated by modern fence chargers.
Rotational grazing requires that large pastures be subdivided into several small pastures. This can create a large number of cross-fences. Cross-fences may consist of one, two, or three strands if electric fencing is used. Careful attention to fence charger selection, good grounding, and keeping fence strands weed-free can ensure good animal control. If pastures are to be used for occasional hay harvest, removable cross-fences may be desirable.
Temporary fences can subdivide pastures during periods of rapid growth or fields that may later be used for cropping. For small paddocks, temporary fencing has economic advantages over permanent fencing. Temporary fencing materials (polywire, polytape, and polyrope) are light, easy to handle, and provide adequate conductance to confine most animals.
Streams are a common source of water. Water quality and conservation of stream bank areas are best served if animals are restricted to watering at a few well-protected areas. Springs and seeps can be developed as drinking water sources for animals. These sources can be particularly helpful in rotational grazing systems, which require several water sources. Cooperative extension and Soil Conservation Service personnel can assist in locating and designing spring and seep development structures.
If water is piped to pastures, aboveground tubing is a relatively inexpensive method that can provide years of service if properly maintained. The availability of hydro-ram pumps (pumps that require no electricity) has increased the options for providing water to grazing livestock. If a permanent water system is to be installed, lines must be buried at least 36 inches deep to protect against freezing.
In most areas of Pennsylvania, shade would benefit grazing livestock only a couple days out of the grazing season if water is available. Therefore, the cost and negative aspects of providing shade, which include reduced grazing, trampling of plants, and concentrating manure (nutrient) in and around the shaded area, are greater than the potential benefits of shading.
Handling facilities (chute, head-gate, holding pens) are very important in routine herd management, treatment, and calving difficulties. Designs for effective handling facilities are available in extension fact sheets from cooperative extension agricultural engineering specialists.