Pasture management with an electrified paddock system

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Pasture management with an electrified paddock system
7/15/2013 3:24:22 AM

We have about 13 acres out back that for the past couple of years has been mostly free range for the 5 horses we have.  We moved to Texas with the intent of raising food for our family.  And part of the food we have planned for our family is pigs.  BIG PIGs.  When the opportunity came about to get into pigs we jumped on it.  We bought 5 Red Wattle hogs.  3 pigs for our ranch.  And 2 pigs for a buddies ranch.  The little pigs started to get big and we quickly needed a plan for a larger paddock system for them.  With a very sturdy horse fence as our outer perimeter we decided to install an electric fence system for our interior fencing system.  This took a while so pull up a comfy chair and enjoy the timeline!

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Planning your paddocks

We planned on using what is called “Managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG)”.  This basically means that we were going to rope off small areas of land and graze a given set of animals on that land for a certain number of days.  We would then run another group of critters behind the first group.  And so on.  Eventually though we would then give the land a rest period.  This rest period would be long enough for the grazed grasses to recover from being chewed on by the animals.  But also a long enough rest period would be given to each paddock to break the pest cycle.

With the pasture management style chosen we started drawing out roughly what our paddock system would look like.  I knew up front that I wanted to have around 1/2 acre paddocks.  This would allow me to have roughly 10-12 paddocks in my system after factoring in an arena (got to have one of those eventually), and a 16’ wide road around the entire property. 

With the paddocks drawn up I then started to think about how I might go about migrating a herd of animals from one paddock to the next.  Initially I thought about having an alley on the outside of the paddock system that would allow me to move a set of animals from one paddock to the next.  This quickly seemed like too much work!  So we opted for a gate system inside the paddocks themselves.  There was to be one gate that led out of the paddock system and two gates in each paddock that led to the neighboring paddock.  This would allow easy clockwise rotation of the critters housed in the paddocks as well as easy external access to each paddock.

Parts

Now that we had the paddocks drawn up it was time to determine which parts would be used and we would use them.  We new right away that we wanted to use a solar powered charger.  We have so many days of sun light here in Texas it would be ridiculous to pay for some other power source.  We picked up a 30 mile solar powered charger from TSC.  And we picked up the 3 year extended warranty (a must have…if it dies you need a new one right away). 

With previous experience putting up our small electrified training yard we also new that would be using a lot of corner insulators.  They come in very handy for end posts and corner posts.

After a little bit of research on how the gates would work we decided to pick up some heavily insulated wire to run under the gates.  This would allow the gates to be open without breaking the circuit.  The fence would continue to work.

Also, since we have horses in our back yard, rather than just running wire along the ground we also decided to run some poly wire at 4’ to keep the horses away from the pigs.  (after having done this we also determined that we would need  a 3’ wire for the donkeys).

For the posts we chose to use 6” logs for all corner posts and end posts to anchor the wire.  Then we went with 6’ t-posts every 50’ keep the wire following the contour of the rolling ground.  And we went with 4’ step in plastic posts every 25’ to keep the wire separated appropriately and at the right height.

This created quite a shopping event for us!

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Tools

Installing an electric fence is actually a fairly easy task.  It isn’t overly complex…just a lot of busy work.

You will need a post hole digger or gas powered auger.  My auger is busted at the moment so we went with the post hole digger.  Better for our muscles!

A collection of assorted hand tools is also required.  A hammer to pound fence staples in around various wires.  A crescent wrench and pliers for bolts and nuts.  A good fencing tool for cutting and twisting wires.  And some wire strippers for cleaning off the wrapper of an insulated wire.

Installing the posts also requires a level to ensure that the post is straight in the ground and a tamper to ensure that the post stays put!

Part of putting a charge box in requires 6’ grounding rods.  In order to get the rods in the ground I found that a t-post pounder worked best for the first 4’.  Then I needed a 16lb sledge hammer to pound them in the rest of the way.

The only specialty tool I found I needed was the wheeled measuring tape for determining the odd shaped acreage.  This tool allows you to measure the perimeter of your acreage over rocks and bumps and…piles of poop.

Let’s get to work

The most time consuming task for putting up an electric fence is digging the holes for the end and corner posts.  Especially digging the holes in the hot Texas summer sun.  The clay is super hard!

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We would dig a hole.  Install the post.  Make sure it was level.  Then tamp the post into the ground so that it is firm in its location.  Then we would drive to the next post location!

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Once we got the first corner post installed.  It was time to put up the charger box.

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With the charge box up we pounded the grounding rods into place. 

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Then we went to install the next post.  There was lots of “the next post”.

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Even Finn helped us with digging holes…by dropping his ball, a rock, a stick, or what ever thing he wanted us to throw so he could fetch it!

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Now and then we would put in a couple of posts side by side.  The boys didn’t get this at first…but soon “installing a gate” was met with terror.  An extra hole for no apparent reason!

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With all the wood posts in as markers for the fence to come.  It was time to start measuring out where the t-posts would go.  Then pounding the t-posts in.  This is a great shoulder work out.

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Eventually we were almost done installing t-posts and then we ran out.  So we scavenged around the property looking for unused t-posts.  We found a couple from the original chicken coop to pull up.

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Once all the posts were in it was time to start stringing the wire.  We chose to run wire at 10”, 13”, and 18”.   We still haven’t decided if we want a piglet wire or not at the 5” mark.  Time will tell.  We also ran a poly wire for the horses at 4’.

The 13” wire is a ground wire.  If you have dry earth you might not get a good ground.  And the further away from the charge box the less likely you are to get a good connection.  So we chose to run a ground wire.  This runs along between the hot wire.  If you touch both it is like you were standing next to the charge box and touched the terminals coming out of the box.  Z A P!!!  No fun.

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With all the posts in and the wire ran it was time to turn to door ways.  In order to be able to open the gates without deactivating the rest of the fence we had to carry the electricity under the gate.  This meant a 2’ deep trench – under each gate – had to be dug.  Then we had to run a hot wire and a ground wire.

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With the wires ran under the gates it was time to wire up the gates themselves.

The wife wouldn’t cooperate with me and my photo taking nerdiness... (cause she knew the pics would end up here)

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…but I eventually got her to cooperate!

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Running the door for the horse wire was pretty easy.  We used a standard spring handle at the end of the poly wire.  I didn’t want to run 3 more handles for the pig wire though.  I had to create something a little different.

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The PVC pole has a loop that it sits in and a loop that goes around the top.  Then the three wires are passed through three holes in the pipe.  This allows us to take the spring poly wire and hook it on the end of the top of the pipe and move the entire electric gate out of the way.  Seems to work for now.  We will see what the sun has to say about it.

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Fun along the way

While working in the summer heat installing a fence like this we were bound to have a few stops for fun.  Here are a few things we did along the way to keep a job like this moving.

There was lots of peeing on gods canvas.

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A fair amount of taking in the beauty of the clouds.

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We got to see an occasional pretty sunset.

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Now and then we would pause to destroy something in the middle of creating a fence.

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Some of the kids enjoyed a quick dip…in the horse water tank.

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And we had the periodic fun run from post hole to post hole.

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Mama even got to learn how to drive the big truck!

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What would we do differently

Thickness of the shielding on your wire:  The thickness of the shielding on the wire is important!  We started with regular electronics wire to carry the current from the charge box to the wire.  And from a fence section to a fence section.  This is a bad idea.  The thin shielding leaks power out to everything it touched.  I learned this indirectly when my cheek grazed this wire.  It didn’t leak so much that it hurt…but I felt current travel into my face!  Use the heavy duty shielded wire when moving from the charge box to the grounding rods.  Or the charge box to the fence.  Or when moving from one section of fence to the next.  Or when crossing corners.  Or when connecting your gates to the system.  Don’t skimp here!

Connectors:  There are several ways to connect one wire to another.  On a few places we simply wrapped one wire around another.  However, this doesn’t work very well.  Instead use a bolt and nut style sandwiching crimp.   This does a great job clamping one wire to another in a semi permanent way.

Crimping tool: We used the crimping end of our awesome wire strippers.  This works for standard electrical stuff.  But for heavy duty steel fencing you really should get the big single purpose crimpers.  We were able to use our strippers on the lightweight crimps but the big heavy duty aluminum ones would barely dent.

Distance measure tool: I opted for a small wheel cheaper model of the distance measuring tool.  This worked but not nearly as efficiently as a larger wheeled model would have.  Get the tool with the big wheel!

Step in posts: We try to work with the minimum viable product (MVP) approach on our farm. This led us to using the step in posts as it was the cheapest way to prove that this electrical fence idea would work with the pigs.  Don’t bother.  They are somewhat flimsy.  They work ok.  But using t-posts from the get go would have been a better idea!

Gates: This is another choice we made around money.  We used wire for our fences because it only cost a few cents to extend the wire another 16’.  I intend to upgrade all of my wire gates to standard metal gates.  Probably a combination of 4’ and 12’ gates meeting in the middle on the outer perimeter.  And standard 16’ gates on the interior openings.  This is way more convenient when it comes to a quick open and close.  If you have a paddock full of critters looking to move to the next paddock while you are interested in driving a truck and trailer through the gate – it is important to be able to get through the door quickly.

Housing: A tad off topic but with regards to housing.  I built a big metal pig house for our heard.  We had 3 pigs at the time.  The number went to 7 pretty quick.  Now it might go up to 50 once the prego pigs pop.  Also since I plan to have pigs, horses, goats, and other critters sharing the same paddock – a 4’ tall building doesn’t work for all of them.  For this reason I intend to move to a shed row style housing in each paddock.  I will probably install 1 16’x8’ building in each paddock.  And in the loading paddock I will build several 8’x8’ buildings stacked together to allow for several pregnant pigs to farrow in.  A private room goes a long way to making mama’s happy!

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