The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Electric fences for pasture rotation

Electric sheep fencingThe heart of the multi-annual pasturing setup is pasture rotation.  By "mob-stocking" lots of animals in a small space, the livestock are forced to eat everything rather than just nibbling on their favorite plants.  Then you move the animals to a new paddock quickly, before they can eradicate those favorite plants.  Your animals are healthier because they eat better food and don't pick up diseases from their own waste, and the pasture is more productive and diverse because the least tasty plants don't take over.

That sounds great, but how do you make the animals graze one small area and then move them to a fresh spot quickly and easily?  Chicken tractors are Joel Salatin's method of mob-stocking broilers, but he relies on electric fences for most other livestock.  Each type of animal requires a specific type of electric fencing --- two strands close to the ground are plenty for the tender-nosed pig, but Megan relies on electrified netting to keep her lambs in bounds.

Electric pig fencingElectric fencing has the benefit that it's easy to rearrange --- Erek takes about eight minutes to move the lambs to a new paddock each day --- so you can graze the whole pasture evenly without getting weedy plants growing up along permanent fencelines.  On the other hand, electric fence has some major disadvantages too.  Megan admits that the netting is nearly impossible to deal with in the woods since it tangles up quickly, and, of course, you have to keep weeds from growing high enough to touch the wires or they'll drain the electricity out of the fence.  And startup costs are steep (although startup labor is low.)

I have a feeling that electric fencing is one of the aspects of Salatin-style pasturing that carries over least well to the small homestead.  But more on that topic tomorrow!

Our chicken waterer keeps chicks healthy --- no more need for medicated feed to counteract wet litter!

This post is part of our Salatin-style Pasturing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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New blog reader here. I homestead on about three acres. What we have been doing is using a one-strand hotwire to rotationally graze our milk cow, then running our chicken tractors a few days behind her. It has been working really well for us, but then, a dairy cow is one of the easiest animals to fence.

Lucy, Milk and Honey Farm

Comment by Lucy Sun Sep 25 18:22:03 2011
Thanks for sharing your experience! I think that electric fences do very well in traditional farm-type environments --- where you have half an acre or more of lawn-like pasture. The typical young homestead, though, tends to be either a tiny lot in town where there's not really room for an electric fence, or a sprawling acreage with lots of shrubby land (like ours) where an electric fence would touch weeds unless you did a lot of work every time you moved it.
Comment by anna Sun Sep 25 19:05:20 2011

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