Easy pasture moves
Reaping the benefits of high-intensity, short-duration grazing means frequent moving of livestock. Fencing materials and pasture designs simplify the work.
“I may move 350 yearlings as often as six times a day,” says Paul Brown.
When grazing fields growing cover crops, he sizes each paddock so that livestock grazing accomplishes a complete trampling of ungrazed forage into a mat covering the soil surface. Stocking a 1-acre paddock for a few hours or less with 350 yearlings achieves this effect.
“I want animals to take the top third of plants and trample the rest,” says the Bismarck, North Dakota, producer. “The mat left on the surface keeps the soil cool and feeds the soil biology. It also inhibits weeds in the following crop.”
When intensely grazing a field or pasture, Brown sets a perimeter fence of a single strand of high-tensile wire. These areas are 20 to 40 acres and sized to be completely grazed in three days.
Fields are laid out in rectangles, with a water source located in one corner. Perpendicular polywire cross-fences allocate 1 to 2 acres for each grazing period lasting several hours. Six paddocks typically provide a day’s worth of grazing.
“In the morning, I’ll put up six cross-fences for the day, and it only takes about an hour to set up the gates and polywire,” Brown says.
Cross-fences are tightly woven, nine-strand polybraid with ¼-inch diameter. “It has good conductivity and is durable,” he says. “It usually won’t break if cattle happen to run through it.”
Brown unrolls the reel of polywire while riding an ATV across the field and hooks the reel to a metal brace post set along the perimeter fence. He makes these brace posts out of sucker rod with a chain link fitting to support the reel.
Riding back along the crosswire, he stops every 60 feet to set a step-in post in the ground and attach the polywire. He sometimes uses pigtail posts but prefers ring-top posts.
Automatic gates are set in the corner of each paddock, facing the water source. Solar-powered Batt-Latch timers open gates at preset times.
Cattle quickly learn to watch for gates to open and then move through on their own. As the days progress, the cattle pass through previously grazed paddocks in order to get to water.
When taking up cross-fences, Brown walks as he rolls the polywire on ¼-mile-long reels. He prefers these to the ½-mile reels that become heavy when nearly full.
Brown manages the grazing of rangeland by 250 to 350 cows less intensively. Perimeter fences enclosing adjoining tracts are constructed of three strands of high-tensile wire. A single strand cross-fences the pasture into 20- to 40-acre permanent paddocks.
“I move the cows every couple of days,” Brown says. “It’s easy because they’re so used to moving.”
Rangeland paddocks grazed in March or April may be grazed twice during the growing season. Paddocks whose first grazing occurs later will only be grazed once and rested for the remainder of the year.
“More than 80% of the pastures are grazed just once a year,” he says. “I want the plants to revive and rebuild their root systems. Frequent moves and long rests have helped improve the productivity of pastures and have rebuilt the soil health.”