Electric Fence Planning:
Dealing with Existing Cattle Fences

Existing Cattle Fences

Image Credit: Robb North

Very few farms come without some kind of cattle fences or farm infrastructure already in place. Most established farms looking to switch to grass-fed beef production are already cluttered by a bunch of infrastructure that was designed to fit some other cattle production strategy that no longer applies to your current production goals.

And to complicate things even further, most established farms switching to grass-fed production also have an ongoing cattle farming business that need tending to even as they contemplate the switch. Very few people have the luxury of starting with a clean blank piece of property free of existing cattle fences.

Before switching or changing ANYTHING on the farm, start by planning everything on paper. Leave the old infrastructure be and keep running the business as usual until you have a comprehensive new plan ready to implement. Do not try to fiddle with your existing cattle farming strategy or infrastructure - implementing half-ideas before the entire plan is ready will only make it even harder to reach your grass-fed beef production goals.

Focus every spare moment you have on designing your new farm production and infrastructure plan. But ignore the old infrastructure. Pretend it's not there. Pretend you are starting from scratch, with a blank piece of property, free from all cattle fencing. Plan the ideal grass-fed beef business with the ideal cattle fence infrastructure as though the old stuff simply didn't exist.

Only after you've completed your plan should you go back and look if any of the old infrastructure can be salvaged. Sometimes a little tweak to the cattle fence plan allows you to salvage existing infrastructure without affecting the efficiency of your new grass-fed production system. More often though, much of it goes in the scrap heap, especially once you realize that it is cheaper to tear down old fences and build a simple electric fence grid from scratch compared to all the acrobatics, unnecessary fences, and additional water systems that you have to build just to make the old stuff work.

A lot of people make the mistake of trying to salvage existing cattle fences, particularly if they paid dearly for them, if this cattle fencing is still reasonably new, or because the property seller assigned a high value to them when you purchased or leased the land. Don't get sucked into this way of thinking. Trying to cobble together infrastructure that was not designed for your grass-fed beef production system is expensive. Electric fencing materials are very, very cheap and the savings to your production costs, the increase to your pasture productivity, and the improvements to your beef quality, tenderness, and flavor will more than pay for the loss of a pile of out-dated infrastructure and the labor that you require to tear it down and reassign it to the scrap bin.

Remember that your cattle, your electric fences, and your grazing strategy are management tools - how you design your electric fence installation will determine whether you will be able to wield these tools with the precision of a brain surgeon, or whether you will find your hands continually tied behind your back because you tried to rescue bits and pieces of a previous grazing system that is completely at odds with what you are trying to accomplish with your grass-fed production strategy

Planning your Cattle Fences

Pre-existing cattle fences tie you to an outdated cattle management strategy if you do not actively question their location.


Plan your ideal grazing infrastructure... then make a separate transition plan that lays out a series of achievable steps explaining how you will switch your current cattle farming operation over to your ideal system. Don't touch anything while you figure out your plan, and then switch everything as quickly as possible to make the transition as quick and painless as possible.

The final chapter of Grass-fed Cattle, called "Planning for Change", is dedicated to helping you transition an existing cattle farming operation to grass-fed production.




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