Fence layout is the single most important beef cattle management tool at your disposal. Every part of how you are raising beef cattle will benefit simply by implementing a daily pasture rotation using a flexible and simple electric fence grid that combines permanent electric fence corridors with portable electric fence subdivisions, like a ladder with moveable rungs.
Before you begin planning and construction on your electric fencing infrastructure, it is important to understand the extreme versatility and flexibility that a smart electric fence design will add to your beef cattle management.
This article is meant to give you a whirlwind tour of all the ways that your cattle fencing can be used to improve your cattle farming operation. Simply being aware of the many ways that your electric fence grid can serve a beef cattle management tool will help you design a more robust electric fence design. This article is therefore meant to provide you with background knowledge ahead of planning and building your electric fence installation.
Since this article is meant as an introduction to using electric fences as a beef cattle management tool, I will cover each point briefly, in point form. Each of these points is explained in greater detail in other cattle farming articles throughout this website and in my book, Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef.
Your electric fence grid and daily pasture moves will benefit your beef cattle management in the following ways:
Increased cattle weight gains: A well-planned electric
fence grid makes it easy to use daily pasture moves when raising beef
cattle. Daily pasture moves ensure that your cattle get a very
consistent daily diet of fresh, choice, lush grass every single day, in
contrast to less frequent pasture moves, in which pasture quality begins
to decline after the first day of grazing. This consistent diet leads
to the cattle having higher weight gains on pasture.
consistent diet caused by daily pasture moves also translates into
better cattle health simply because of the high-quality nutrition and
lower disease pressure that the cattle face when they are migrating to
fresh pasture every single day. Better health and lower disease pressure
also will add to your herd's overall pasture weight gains.
cattle together by using daily pasture slices creates a sense of
competition within your cattle herd, as discussed in the cattle farming
article about the daily pasture rotation.
The cattle get caught up in a grazing frenzy as they race to fill their
bellies before the grazing slice is used up. While this perceived grass
shortage is not an actual grass shortage, it affects cow psychology so
that they tend to eat more than they would if daily pasture moves were
not being used.
It's the same psychology at work as what happens
during our own big family feasts, such as during Thanksgiving dinner,
where we tend to overfill our plates and then gorge ourselves as we get
caught up in the atmosphere and subconsciously fear that if we don't
take enough turkey, potatoes, and stuffing on the first go-around, there
won't be any left for seconds, or thirds. There's always leftovers, but
we always manage to overeat anyway.
In a daily pasture rotation,
cattle behave the same way we do during Thanksgiving dinner, which
causes them to gain weight faster, not unlike the unexpected extra
pounds that we seem to always pile on during the holiday season.
A smart electric fence grid will greatly simplify your beef cattle management and reduce your farm production costs.
Lower feed costs: creating tall pastures ideal for winter grazing allows you to extend your grazing season and reduce or even eliminate the high costs and capital investment associated with making, storing, transporting, and feeding hay, silage, and cattle other feed rations. This topic is covered in greater detail in the cattle farming article about the grass-fed solution to high cattle feeding costs.
Higher pasture utilization: daily pasture moves cause less grass to be wasted by trampling. The old saying is that a cow's feet consume seven times what her mouth eats. Daily pasture moves ensure that your cattle graze their way through each day's grazing slice. By the time they've filled their bellies and are ready to ruminate, or wander around in search of water, or lie down on pasture, the majority of the grass will be gone, inside the cattle's bellies where it is safe from trampling damage.
control, calm handling, and consistent routine provided by your
electric fence grid creates the calm, stress-free environment that is
crucial to your ability to produce tender and flavorful beef.
electric cattle fencing grid is to the grass-finishing operation what
the feedlot is to the grain-finished beef industry - the strategy for
providing cattle with consistent optimal daily nutrition in a calm and
consistent daily routine. When your electric fence grid is used
correctly with a well-thought out grass-finishing plan, it allows your
pasture weight gains as well as the tenderness and flavor of your beef
to easily compete with any beef produced in a feedlot, but at a much
lower cost (less equipment, lower production costs, lower veterinary
costs, etc.) and without any of the environmental or animal welfare
concerns that are levied against the feedlot industry.
Your electric fences are your most important beef cattle management tool.
Your profits; your cattle's weight gains, health, and nutrition; your grass productivity; and the quality and tenderness of the beef you produce are all directly correlated to your understanding of how to use electric fences as a beef cattle management tool.
Much longer grazing seasons: being able to ration out your winter pastures using daily pasture moves, courtesy of your electric fence grid, allows you to extend your grazing season deep into the winter when conventional beef cattle management strategies are overcome by deep snow. The longer your cattle spend on pasture, the lower your cattle feeding costs will be when raising beef cattle. This beef cattle management topic is covered in the Intensive Grazing - Preparing Pastures for Winter Grazing and Intensive Grazing - Winter Strategies articles.
Much longer grass-finishing seasons: your electric fence grid makes it easy to ration out high quality pastures in daily pasture slices. This makes it possible to maintain high-quality finishing pastures deep into the winter, even locked under the snow, because they are left untouched until the day they are grazed rather than letting cattle pick through the choice bits of your finishing-pastures and trample the rest, as happens when providing large pasture slices that take longer than a single day to graze. The daily pasture slices created by your smart electric fence grid are the key difference why you can continue grass-finishing much later after the growing season ends compared to beef producers that don't use a daily pasture rotation in their beef cattle management strategy.
Lower disease pressure: providing your cattle with a fresh new slice of pasture every day will drastically reduce disease pressures in your herd. Using fresh daily pasture slices as part of your beef cattle management strategy means that cattle will not be exposed to manure concentrations around favourite bedding sites. Flies and larvae hatching from manure pads will hatch many days after the cattle have already migrated to distant pastures, which reduces intestinal parasites and eye diseases. And daily pasture slices reduce dust since the cattle are on fresh pasture every single day, which in turn reduces eye irritation and dust-borne disease transmission, like many respiratory diseases. Fresh daily pasture also keeps udders cleans so newborn calves are not exposed to disease pathogens caked on dirty udders. And the consistent nutritional quality of daily pasture slices means that your cattle will be in better nutritional health and more capable of fending off diseases. In short, the health of every single age group in your cattle herd will benefit from using a daily pasture rotation, courtesy of your electric fence grid.
Higher cattle fertility: when calving during the growing season, your daily pasture rotation will ensure that your cows will gain weight with maximum efficiency on lush early spring pastures so they can fatten up to a body condition score of 7 prior to calving. This, combined with the consistent daily nutrition both before calving and prior to breeding helps ensure that your beef cattle fertility will be higher in your cattle herd during the breeding season. Higher beef cattle fertility reduces cattle replacement costs, which reduces your overall beef cattle management costs.
Lower bull costs: using a daily pasture rotation ensures that your cattle remain bunched together in a tight herd. This makes it much easier for your bulls to monitor the entire herd for signs of receptive females to breed during the breeding season. This means you need less bulls to get the job done (lower bull to cow ratio), which means you need to purchase less bulls, you will have less fighting between bulls in the herd, and it is more cost-effective to have enough bulls to be able to rotate out your bulls during the breeding season to give your heavy breeders a rest and avoid injuries.
Handling efficiency: the consistent daily routine of using a daily pasture rotation ensures that cattle handling becomes extremely simple and easy. Your cattle intimately know your routine and are easy to train to specific training cues, such as using the mineral feeder as a 'follow-me' cue during pasture moves. Once trained to electric cattle fencing, your cattle are also very easy to trick or manipulate with non-electrified wires, allowing you to construct temporary dummy alleys that your cattle will respect during complicated cattle moves. A well-planned electric cattle fencing grid makes it quite feasible for a single handler to manage up to 1000 head of cattle on their own.
Calm handling: the routine and the control provided by your electric fence grid and daily grazing rotation ensures that you can keep your cattle handling calm and stress-free at all times. This is important if you are grass-finishing and need to get calm animals off the pasture, into the corral, onto a truck, and to the slaughterhouse without stressing them out so you have high quality, tender beef. It's also important to stocker or cow/calf operators who want to take cattle to market with as much weight as possible.
In fact, the calm handling afforded by a daily pasture rotation and a well-designed electric fence grid is equally important to ANY cattle farming operation because calm handling ensures uninterrupted maximum weight gains, better cattle health, better feed utilization, less repair costs to fences and infrastructure, lower labour costs (one person can easily manage up to 1000 head of cattle on their own), and more efficient time management. A cow moving at your great-grandmother's walking pace will consistently reach the corral before a cow moving at any other speed. A well-planned electric fence grid gives you the tool to make that happen each and every time.
Easier, stress-free weaning: electric fence weaning takes the stress out of weaning. Electric fence weaning separates cows and calves across a multi-wire electric fence so the calves and cows can still find each other and interact across the fence, but without being able to suckle. Within a week neither cows nor calves will twitch a muscle if their pasture rotations take them far away from one another. No extreme bawling, no broken fences, just a very simple and stress-free weaning strategy, courtesy of the flexibility afforded by a well-designed electric fence grid. Electric fence weaning is one of the many powerful beef cattle management strategies discussed in detail in "The Cattle Year on Grass" chapter of Grass-Fed Cattle.
Calving on pasture: calving on pasture during a daily pasture rotation will greatly simplify your calf processing efforts, such as tagging, castrating, vaccinating, dehorning, etc, which can all be deferred until the end of the calving season and performed in the corral during a single calf-processing date. Calving on pasture will also drastically improve calf survivability, reduce diseases among your newborn calves, and greatly reduce your labor requirements during the calving season, simply because there are less cows that will require assistance during calving. And this all works to drastically lower your beef production costs. You can learn more about the benefits of calving during the growing season and how to setup and manage your calving season on pasture in the linked cattle farming articles.
That's quite a resume for a few simple wires! The simplicity of a well-designed electric fence grid (broad permanent electric fence corridors subdivided by temporary portable electric fence subdivisions) makes raising beef cattle so much simpler, easier, and more cost-effective.
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