How to Design a Grazing Plan Using Portable Cross Fencing

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Credit: The following method was developed from an interview with Jim Stone.  Jim has spent 35 years as a journeyman mechanic and welder, but he’s always been a cattleman at heart.  He studied agriculture at Olds College, honed his welding and heavy duty mechanic trades at SAIT, and even returned to Olds as a trades instructor, but always wanted to run cattle and eventually purchased a quarter section to pursue his dream.

After attending a Rotational Pasture Management School, Jim started practicing sustainable grazing management in order to get the most production he could from a small land  base, while still sustaining the land and other resources.

About Project 

After spending three years hauling fence post, untangling wire and running a maze of hoses from our barns to the field without a proper grazing system in place, there comes a time when moving cows under the moonlight isn’t nearly as romantic as it sounds.  But our biggest challenge was knowing where and how to start.  The good news is we talked with some of the mavericks of grazing systems, and now have a bulletproof method anyone can follow, to quickly get a solid plan in place.

This project will help you create a plan for a simple grazing system with a permanent, single strand electric perimeter fence, and portable cross fencing.


Materials and Tools 

  • 8 1/2”x11” Overhead Projector Sheets
  • Permanent Marker (two colors)
  • Red, Green, Blue and Black Dry Erase Markers
  • Aerial Photo Expanded to 6-8 inches squared for quarter of land.
    (You can find these at Fertilizer Dealers, Department of Ag or Google Earth)
  • Graph paper
  • Calculator
  • Access to a Photocopier


Step 1  – Print or Photocopy an Aerial Photo of your land

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If you already have an aerial photo of your land, try to enlarge it on a photocopier to fill as much of the page as possible.  If you don’t have an aerial or satellite photo, you can usually find one at your local Fertilizer Dealer, Department of Ag or using Google Earth.Click here for a tutorial on how to print a picture from Google Earth.


Step 2 – Draw perimeter fence onto a sheet of transparency film

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Place a sheet of 8.5 x 11 transparency film over your aerial photo.  Using a permanent marker, draw in the perimeter fence line. (Note: Your perimeter fence will always be energized, making it super easy to energize your cross fencing.)

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Next, take a different colour of permanent marker to draw in all the objects that will not change, such as sloughs, creeks, dugouts, trees or special areas.   These areas may still be grazed but require special management (Click here for further information on this topic from Cows and Fish).  For instance, a wet area may need to wait until later in the fall to be grazed.


Step 3 – Set up a grid to measure areas of land
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Place your transparency sheet with the perimeter fence marked on it, on top of a sheet of graph paper.  (Click here to download free graph paper).  Count how many squares of the graph paper are within your property line of your quarter section.  In this case, the quarter section is 22 squares by 22 squares.  Once you’ve counted up the squares inside the quarter section, simply divide the number of acres of land on the map by the number of squares you counted.  So in this case, 160 acres divided by 484 squares = 0.33 acres per square.

22 x 22 = 484 squares

Total Area = 160 acres

One Square = 160 acres divided by 484 squares

One Square = 0.33 acres
Now you know how much land is in each square on the graph paper, and you can use that number to figure out the size of each paddock you draw on the map.  All you do is count how many squares are in a paddock, and multiply that by the number you calculated (eg. 0.33 ) to see how many acres are in the paddock.


Step 4 – Draw Single Permanent Cross Fence and Gates


Draw in a single strand cross fence to divide your pasture into two haves.  For example, if you have a 160 acre quarter section you would draw a single cross fence down the middle, creating two 80 acre parcels.  Also mark the locations of gates along this cross fence, likely one at each end.


Step 5 – Mark watering sites and/or water lines 

Mark your water lines or sources in blue.  When locating a watering site, the ground must be solid.  It costs too much to make a muddy hole stable.


If good water sources and pressure system is available, a pipeline is probably best for suplying a water trough.


Step 6 – Plan your paddock sizes 

Estimate how much area you will need in each paddock, given the number of cattle you want to graze and how often you want to move your cattle.  Remember that as your grass improves, you can continue to add more animals per paddock to maintain the same number of days before you rotate.  If you are new to the area you can always ask your neighbours about stocking density, or click here to learn more about calculating AUMs.

The beautiful thing about portable cross fencing is that you don’t have to calculate exactly how many pounds of forage per acre your pasture is producing.  Instead, you can guess and test, and then adjust the size of your paddock the very next time you move cattle.

The simplest method we’ve come across using portable cross fencing, is the three wire method, illustrated here.


While your cattle are grazing between fences A and B, a third portable fence C is already set up and energized.  When it’s time to move cattle, all you do is open fence B to let them into the next paddock between B and C.  Once they’re all moved across, just close fence B and simply move fence A to be in front of fence C, ready for the next move.



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