Electric Fence Is What Makes Grazing Feasible Today

“Animals delight most to feed on fresh plants. Cattle supplied with this kind of food would be quickly fatted. If a farmer divided his land into 15-20 equal divisions, stopped his beasts from roaming indiscriminately, put the whole number of his beasts into one of these divisions, have the number of beasts so great as to consume the best part of the grass in one day, give them a fresh park each morning to repeat the same repast, have so many parks as days required to advance the grass to the proper length after being eaten fare down so the first field would be ready to receive them after going over all the others, thus they might be carried round in a constant rotation.”

Those words were written by Scottish agriculturalist James Anderson in his “Essays Relating to Agricultural & Rural Affairs” in 1777. Although he didn’t use the same words, he speaks to the same issues graziers are discussing today, including stocking rate, stock density, length of the rest period, requirement for appropriate recovery period, post-grazing residual, and grass-fed beef. All these concepts that are revolutionizing livestock agriculture today are obviously not new ideas if Mr. Anderson was writing about them almost 250 years ago. In that opening paragraph, the basic ideas of Management-intensive Grazing are clearly and succinctly outlined.

If these ideas have been around for so long, why isn’t every cattle and sheep producer around the world more effectively managing their pasture and rangelands? One of the answers is shockingly obvious, and that is the need for additional fencing to subdivide the land into the subdivisions James Anderson suggests. Let’s go back to 1777 in the United Kingdom and think about how fences were built at that time.

If you have been to Scotland, Wales, Britain, or Ireland, you will likely have seen the thousands of miles of stone fences still crisscrossing the landscape. That is how farmers built fence in those days, and it took a heck of a lot of stone stacking to build enough fence to implement a daily rotational grazing program.

Today, we have much easier and cost effective ways of building fence to create the number of pastures needed for daily livestock moves. Electrified high-tensile fence has made pasture subdivision possible at lower costs than ever before. When almost every off-farm input used in livestock production has increased substantially over the last 40 years, permanent pasture fencing is still one of the best land improvement investments you can make.

The real step forward that has allowed easy and cost-effective daily or more frequent paddock moves has been the continually evolving portable fence equipment. Easy to use geared fence reels, braided polywire, and durable step-in posts make daily moves a simple process, resulting in much improved pasture productivity, soil health, and livestock performance.

The basic soil-plant-animal relationship hasn’t changed since James Anderson’s time a couple of centuries ago, but the tools we have available to manage that relationship are infinitely superior today, thanks to advances in electric fence technology.

by Jim Gerrish, American GrazingLands Services LLC

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