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The Fast Farmer: Grazing

Grazing management is an incredibly powerful way to increase the profitability of your farm business. In fact, a study using data from the AgriProfit Business Analysis & Research Program compared the profit per acre of growing grass to the profit of growing spring wheat, barley and canola, and grazing had the highest profit per acre every single time, over a 10 year period. As a bonus, grazing management also offers your farm the following benefits:

• Improving the land’s ability to withstand drought
• Reduction of soil erosion
• Promotion of biodiversity
• Enhancement of water quality and quantity
• Production of healthy food products
• Providing habitat for wildlife and insects that pollinate crops
• Assistance in carbon sequestration, mitigating climate change

However, it’s also a tool that can be intimidating to learn about if you’re new to it. If you’re like us, you’ve probably seen and heard just enough about grazing that you’re intimidated to give it a try and unsure where to start.
Working with the Alberta Forages Industry Network, we designed this series of workshops specifically to give you only the critical starting steps you’ll need to create a basic plan and install a simple fencing and water system. It will also walk you through the 4 essential principles of grazing and give powerful examples of how those principles have been used by successful producers in various climates, ranging from large operations to very small farms starting from scratch.
This page is set up so that you can go through the series in a linear flow from top to bottom, or you can jump ahead and click on any of the workshop links that interest you. As this grazing series is the initial “pilot” of FarmOn’s new Fast Farmer program, we would love to know what you think of the content and this format of learning. You can get in touch with Sarah or Ben any time to let us know what you think, or send an email to info@farmon.com

 

Grazing Stories

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We’ve found that there’s something people have in common who are good at rotational grazing. They have a huge passion for growing grass, caring for livestock, restoring land and soil, protecting water and habitats, and finding innovative ways to produce a healthy profit. And we thought the best way to get that across was with a few short videos. Click the photo above to check them out.

 

The Four Principles of Grazing
There are 4 basic principles that apply to all successful grazing operations, regardless of location, size or climate. They work in South Africa and they work in northern Alberta. This workshop will explain what each of the 4 principles are, and how you can get started in implementing them in your operation.

The 4 Principles of Grazing Management

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The 4 Principles of Grazing are:
1) Overgrazing – What is it and how can you tell if you’re doing it?
2) Rest – What is it and how can you tell when your pasture has had enough rest?
3) Stocking Density – How can you tell if you’re stocking density is too heavy or too light?
4) Monitoring – How to track changes in your pasture and its productivity.

 

Planning

The best place to set up your grazing system isn’t anywhere on your pasture, it’s in your office. Do yourself a massive favour and before you go setting anything up, spend a bit of time planning it out. Are you going to use permanent cross fencing or portable wire? How are you getting water out to each area of your pasture? What’s the best route to get animals back to a processing location for treating a sick animal? Are there riparian or wooded areas that you’ll need to fence off or graze differently? Figuring it out ahead of time on paper, as much as possible, will save you time, money, and headaches.
The following two workshops will walk you through a simple process to get some of the basic elements of a grazing system down on paper. We’ve created one for designing a plan using portable cross fencing, and one using permanent cross fencing with an alley system. Feel free to check them both out and see which one is the best fit for your operation.

How To Design a Grazing Plan Using Portable Cross Fencing

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How To Design a Grazing Plan Using an Alley System

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With either of the above systems, a good plan always starts with getting a good aerial or satellite view of your land. If you don’t have one yet and aren’t familiar with using Google Earth, check out How To Print a Satellite Photo of Your Farm from Google Earth

 

Fencing

Grazing is nothing new, in fact farmers have been grazing cattle since the beginning of the agricultural revolution thousands of years ago. But “intensive grazing management” is relatively new. By using lectric fencing you can control stocking density on your pasture by setting up small paddocks, at a low cost. Without electric fence it just wouldn’t be feasible or economical.
We recommend setting up a permanent perimeter fence, which is actually pretty easy to do if you already have an existing barbed wire fence, by using offset insulators and high tensile wire. This workshop lays out the steps, tools and materials needed to get it done.

Installing Permanent Electric Fence

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How To Set Up Portable Electric Fence

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How To Brace a Corner Fence Post, Underground

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How To Splice High Tensile Fencing Wire

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If you’re fairly new to using electric fencing, here’s a great fact sheet that outlines how it works, with some useful tips and important safety considerations.

 

Water Systems

I think every grazer would agree that the ideal watering system is the one that requires the least amount of maintenance, and has the least number of things that can fail. We came across some brilliant ideas from some of the best grazers around, and the workshops below will walk you through how to set up something similar for your own operation.

How To Set Up a Gravity Feed Watering System

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How To Set Up a Pasture Pipeline Watering System

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Case Studies

We’ve spoken to several of the most successful grazers in Alberta, and it’s amazing how different their backgrounds are, as well as their experiences and even the types of business models they use to create profitable operations. We picked a few of their stories and created these 3 powerful case studies for you to learn from. We take a look at how each of them got started in grazing, how they adapted the 4 Priciples of Grazing, and how they turned it into a successful business.

Key points:
• Be adaptable/flexible: in land, in resources and in your mindset
• Anyone can develop a profitable grazing enterprise
• Simple, yet planned changes result in big results both for the land and for your business
• Looking after the land – will look after your profits
• Anyone can start today with small steps

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Further Resources

If you have any questions about the Fast Farmer Grazing Edition we would love to hear from you. You can Tweet us a comment or question to @FarmOn with the hash tag #FastFarmer, or email us directly at sarah.wray@farmon.com. Below are a few extra resources that we also thought you might find useful. Good luck!

Here’s a great Podcast from Permaculture Voices, interviewing a successful rancher in California who uses rotational grazing.

ForageBeef.ca offers a lot of information and fact sheets on everything from cow/calf economics to feed testing and drought management.

Thank You
The Fast Farmer: Grazing Series is the result of a lot of great people, experienced grazers and innovative farmers providing FarmOn with information and connecting us with great resources. We’d like to thank the Alberta Forages Industry Network, the Grey Wooded Forage Association, and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency in particular, for their amazing support.

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Grazing Stories

Iain Aitken’s Story 

Iain Aitken grew up on an 8th generation cattle ranch in Scotland.  When he picked up everything and moved to Canada he was determined to learn everything he could about rotational grazing from some of the best producers in the area, and how to transfer his existing skills and knowledge from Scotland to the vastly different climate in central Alberta.

 

Don Ruzicka’s Story 

Don shares his story about transitioning from a conventional commodity operation to a grass based system, using intensive grazing management and holistic management principles.

 

Kristie and Brent Vallet’s Story

Kristie and Brent never planned to be goat farmers, but once their children reached the age where they wanted to become more involved in the operation they did some market research and found that their land and their family were a perfect fit for a grazing operation.  They started out small, and have learned a lot along the way.

 

The Fast Farmer – Grazing Edition

The Fast Farmer is all about giving you the hands on steps necessary to get started and experience some quick wins in your business.  If you’re interested in tapping into the profit that rotational grazing can add to your operation, check out The Fast Farmer – Grazing Edition.

 

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Other Stories

Blain Hjertaas farms near Redvers, Saskatchewan, and wrote this article for the Western Producer:  Healthy Soil Makes For Healthy Humans.

Holistic Management International has written some helpful book reviews for anyone interested in grazing management – check them out here.

 

Grazing Case Studies

Linda and Ralph Corcoran – Certified Holistic Management Educators

It’s all in the planning

When Ralph and Linda Corcoran’s daughter Haley arrived home from a week long Holistic Management course and told them they were overgrazing their whole land base and needed to make changes; they thought they would give all her “new ideas” a try. Beginning with a grazing plan the Corcoran’s had no idea that the information Haley brought home with her would change not only their lives, but their land forever.   “We started watching the grass grow.   Now we watch the ground get healthier and our bugs in the ground grow healthier too.  We don’t drive by our pastures anymore and say they LOOK like the cows will make it to Oct and back to grazing June 1st (remember the old guys say every day turned out before June 1st a week less grazing in the fall).   We know where and why they will be on grass till Nov and back grazing as soon as the last snow leaves” says Ralph.

No more hoping and guessing, using Holistic planning Ralph and Linda now graze with confidence and purpose.

On the Corcoran’s ranch they have a mix of owned and rented land which they have set up in paddocks of about 40 acres in size with permanent fences.   So that they can best manage the land for proper grazing and recovery times they then using temporary electric fencing across these paddocks as needed.

Located in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan, the Corcoran’s are a prime example of how having an open mind and willingness to make changes can work for today’s grazier.   The key for making a profit grazing lies in good record keeping says Ralph, “When we started to keep better records in 2006 we found that our grazing capacity doubled by 2011, and we are still not at capacity as our grass is still improving yearly:  more cattle…more profit.”


Ralph and Linda are both certified Holistic Management International Certified Educators and can be reached via email at: rlcorcoran@sasktel.net

 

Round-Up 80 Ranch – Norm Ward

Management of the whole is a well-paying job for a beginning farmer.
 

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Norm Ward is a grass manager who along with his wife Donna, and son,Neil, holistically manage Round-Up 80 Ranch. Located west of Granum, Alberta in the Porcupine Hills their ranch consists of 7500 acres of predominantly native grass.  “I am really the cattle herder – moving cattle every one to three days in the growing season, setting up and taking down temporary electric fence, making sure all the water sources are ready and working, treating animals that may have health problems, and generally just enjoying the cattle, the five working dogs, and the environment.” says Norm.

The Round-Up 80 Ranch didn’t always look like it does today.   When the Ward’s purchased it in 1980 it had been continuously grazed by the previous owners and so they began with 350 cow/calf pairs which would be capacity for the ranch at the time.   Soon the Ward’s began putting up electric fencing to better make use of the grass, always taking water development into consideration.    Following a 10 year development period the ranch increased their grass and water capacity to support  550 cow/calf pairs,  it was  “sort of like increasing the ranch size by 50% by installing a little fence and developing some water” says Norm.

By 1999 the ranch switched from cow/calf to a yearling grazing operation, starting with 1200 steers, which over the next 4 years moved to 2000 head. Animal density was increased to approximately 50,000 lbs. of animal/acre/day, with the use of portable electric fence.

While these numbers may seem daunting to a new or expanding grazer, the Round-Up 80 Ranch has used management practices which can be adapted to any size operation.   “You do not have to own your own land or your own cattle to start a grazing enterprise. There is often land available in your area that for many reasons does not have the management to look after it. This is a perfect opportunity for the beginning grazer. Electric fence can easily turn your neighbor’s unused headlands or fall stubble into useable forage.”

And remember that off farm job that so many of us believe we need to survive ?  Grazing just might be the end of that idea says Norm, “Moving cattle to new pasture on a daily basis or in intensive operations, moving 4-5 times a day will often pay more than any off farm job. Do the calculation of grazing production on a per hour basis and you will be pleasantly surprised.  There are opportunities to partner with landowners, and cattle owners, (not always the same person) thus providing financial capital until you can build your own.”

“The opportunity to expand your own land operation is also unlimited.  Remember you do not have to own cattle to be in the cattle business. Flexibility in land and cattle ownership is key.” – Norm Ward.

Through his experiences with grazing Norm has developed his own portable electric fencing trailers are now commercially available and are sold under the name – Power Grazer Trailer and Power Grazer Cart.

 

Greener Pastures – Steve Kenyon

Economic sustainability for generations

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So often we feel that we can’t build profitable farms without buying land, equipment or livestock; but Steve Kenyon just might prove you wrong.

The Kenyon’s have yet to own a tractor and own only 5 head of livestock, (4 donkeys and 1 horse). “I get the animals to do the work.  They have 24 hours in a day to get my work done.  I own a bale truck, a quad and a horse.  This maintains my low overhead, fewer repairs, less depreciation and minimal opportunity costs.” says Steve.

“Other than my acreage, all of my land is leased.  In my area, the land is too high in value for agricultural purposes.”  Instead Steve makes his profit‘s from a custom grazing business in the Westlock area under the name of Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. Currently running 1500 head of livestock on 4000 acres Greener Pastures uses a combination of grazing strategies year round.  Even in the winter a grazing mentality prevails as bale and swath grazing systems are utilized, following the belief that “to be profitable in the long term, you must use sustainable agriculture practices; you have to work with Mother Nature, not against her.”

Developing a grazing enterprise provides farms of all types and sizes the ability to make a profit by using key production principles, then adapting them to fit your environment.    While Steve puts a great emphasis on environmental sustainability, he also reminds us that whatever our plans are for the land we also need to plan for our financial sustainability.

“The biggest breakthrough my ranch ever had was in the understanding that I was not just ranching.  I was running a business.   Whatever production practices I use on my farm have to work economically and financially before they can be implemented.  What works for me, might not work for you, but the truth is in the numbers. “

 

Steve has been teaching sustainable grazing management for more than 10 years and has been a keynote speaker, writer who also offers various workshops related to profitable farm management and grazing systems. Read more about Greener Pastures

 

 

 

The 4 Principles of Grazing Management

No matter where you live, and no matter what condition your land is in, the basics of grazing management always come down to these four essential principles.  Follow them, and you can dramatically improve the health and productivity of your pasture.  All of the principles are interlinked, and each of them involve various practical skills that you’ll have to develop through experience, trial and error, and from talking to other grazers.  There are some great links below to other workshops that will give you the practical how-to steps of setting up a grazing plan and getting started with fencing and water systems.  For now, please take a few minutes to wrap your head around the basic principles that every successful grazing system is built on!

Principle #1- Rest

Giving pasture adequate rest is crucial.  Learning how to guage the right amount of rest time can be tricky though, because it’s not as simple as just giving each paddock a set number of days before grazing it again.  The rest time between grazing will vary depending on a lot of factors that change throughout the season, as well as from one season to the next.  The best way to tell if the grass has had adequate rest is by walking out and checking the plants’ stage of growth.  Is the grass just starting to regrow?  Is it over mature and already seeding out?  When the grass has had plenty of leafy growth and starting to form reproductive heads, then you know it’s ready to be grazed again.

Here are a few of the variables that determine how long the rest period will need to be before a paddock is ready to be grazed again.

  • How severely was it grazed? (this affects how much of the grass’ roots were lost and how fast the plants will recover)
  • Climate – How wet or dry is it?  How hot is it?
  • Plant Species – Some forages regrow much more rapidly than others.

 

Principle #2- Over Grazing 

The principle of over-grazing sounds simple, but it’s easy to get “over-grazing” mixed up with “severe grazing”.  Over grazing simply means that the grass has been grazed, and then re-grazed AGAIN before the plants have fully recovered from the first grazing.  This can happen in two ways.  1) Animals are left in a paddock too long and they begin to re-graze some of the same plants a second time before being moved off that paddock.  And 2) Animals are brought back to a paddock too soon and plants are grazed before they’ve fully recovered from the last time the paddock was grazed.

As long as grass is given a long enough rest period, it can be grazed severely without being considered “over-grazed”.

 

Overgrazing diagram
If your animals have been grazing in a paddock long enough for that grass to start to re-grow and you see new growth being eaten, you are over-grazing that paddock and need to get the animals moved to the next paddock.

 

Principle #3- Stocking Density

Stocking Density and Stocking Rate are closely related terms but they’re not the same thing.  Stocking Rate is the number of livestock grazing the whole pasture.  So if you have a quarter section of 160 acres, with 320 head of cattle, that means the stocking rate is 2 head per acre.  Stocking Density is the number of animals grazing a single paddock at one time.  So if your herd of 320 cattle are confined to a paddock that is 10 acres in size, that works out to 32 head per acre.  If the next paddock is only 3.2 acres in size, that would be a stocking density of 100 head per acre.

 

Principle #4- Monitoring

Here are some specific things to monitor that will tell you a lot about the health of your pasture:

  • Regrowth – How quickly are the plants recovering and going through their productive cycle?  You don’t want to come back to a paddock too early and end up over-grazing it, but also don’t want to wait too long and end up with grass that has lost nutritional value by over-maturing.
  • Manure – You know your pasture is in good health when manure shoots out about 6 ft and spreads out on the ground.  If it’s too runny, likely your pasture is lacking fibre.  And if it lands in a pile and doesn’t spread out, likely your pasture has too much fibre and dead material.
  • Bare ground –  If the amount of bare ground on your pasture is starting to increase, something is definitely not working.  Most likely it’s a sign of over-grazing.
  • Weeds – If weeds such as thistles, yarrow, prairie sage or wild strawberry start to appear or their size/numbers start increasing, it’s a sure sign that the health of the pasture is in decline and something needs to change, like increasing rest duration.
  • Trends – By taking photos in the same locations each year you can start to see trends forming.  Tracking the increase or decrease of particular grass species, legumes or invasive weeds over time can be very helpful with planning.

 

 Further Resources

  1. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has produced a helpful Range Health Assessment tool that walks you through several questions and scores the health of your pasture.
  2. Beef Cattle Research Council has some great information about rangeland health assessment, how to improve and maintain the health of riparian areas, and some resources around establishing or rejuvenating stands of forage crops.

 

How to Print a Satellite Photo of Your Farm from Google Earth

About Project 

If you’re like most farmers, you love seeing your farmland from the air.  Maybe you have a friend who’s a pilot and you’ve taken some aerial photos yourself, or maybe you’ve purchased an aerial photo at some point along the way.   Fertilizer Dealers or the Department of Ag are good places to ask as well.  But when it comes to getting a satellite image of your land, quickly and easily, there’s no better place to turn to than Google Earth.  It also doesn’t hurt that it’s free.  This video will walk you through the steps of printing a satellite view of your land, right at home.

 

Materials and Tools 

 

 

 

How to Design a Grazing Plan Using an Alley System

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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, permanent single strand cross fencing, and a single strand alley system.

 

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 satellite photo 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 – Plan your paddock sizes 

Calculate 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.

If you don’t understand AUMs or don’t have a baseline for how many cattle your land can hold, we strongly recommend using portable cross fencing for at least the first year, (using the 3 wire rotation method).

 

Step 5 –  Draw in the paddocks and alleys   

Using dry erase markers, start to draw in paddocks.  Look for areas of equal productivity.  For instance the face of the hills may need more acres of land to hold the cattle on for the same amount of time as the flat land.  Paddock sizes do not have to all be square, random shapes will need to be used in case of wetlands, along creeks and for other unusual land shapes.  Mark all cross fences and single wired fences in the same color.

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Alleys help you connect all paddocks and should provide access back to a homestead or location where you can treat a sick animal.  For a typical quarter section, it works well to have one straight alley down the middle of the quarter, with paddocks on both sides of the alley.

Tip: Choose a dry area, keep the alleys on high ground.

By building your gates the same width as your alleys, you can limit cattle access to only parts of the alley where they need to travel, resulting in very little damage from animal traffic.

Tip:  A good rule of thumb is that for 50 cows, the average alley should be 10 meters wide.  For every additional 50 cows, three meters in width should be added.  Also consider the size of machinery you will want to be taking in.

 

Step 6 – 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.

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If  good water sources and pressure system is available, a pipeline is probably best for suplying a water trough.  To check out other water systems click here.

 

Step 7 – Mark the location of gates 

Choose locations for your gates.  Gates should be on all four corners of where the paddocks meet.  Gate size should be equal to alley width which will allow you to close off the alley when necessary.

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Gate location has a lot to do with cow’s sense. For instance, which way cows will want to go to water.  If you have a square paddock adjoining an alley, you will need a gate in both corners of the paddock to allow cows to get in and out in both directions.  Cows will stand in a corner for days rather than go around and come back up an alley to get water or go to the next paddock.

More gates is more convenient than fewer when moving cattle.

 

Finishing Instructions

Plans are a work in progress. You can change and adapt them easily as you need to.  Once you have your plans remember to check out our fencing and water DIY workshops to see how to most effectively and cheaply install your new system.

 

 

How to Design a Grazing Plan Using Portable Cross Fencing

jim_profile_pic (1)

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

rsz_aerial_photo_step_1_310x208 (1)

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

rsz_aerial_photo_step_2_310x206 (1)

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.)

rsz_aerial_photo_310x206 (1)

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
rsz_aerial_photo_step_4_310x206 (1)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Installing a Permanent Electric Fence

If you’ve ever tried to install high tensile electric fencing without an expert fencer by your side, you probably have a few scars to prove it, not to mention a mess of twisted wire and insulators.  In this workshop, a seasoned expert will demonstrate the basics of installing and energizing electric fence wire.  The steps of this workshop will guide you through installing a single wire electric fence offset, on an existing barbed wire perimeter fence.  But the same steps and principles can be used for any high tensile fencing project.  So follow these simple steps and you’ll save yourself a lot of time, headaches, and probably a few bandages.

 

MATERIALS AND TOOLS

 

STEP 1 – INSTALL CORNER OFFSET INSULATORS

Pick any corner post as a starting point and simply work your way around the pasture until you have an offset insulator set up like this on every corner.  Make sure you keep all of them at the same height from the ground, and the same offset distance from the posts.

 

STEP 2 – INSTALL ELECTRIC FENCE BETWEEN CORNER POST INSULATORS

Once all the corner insulators are set up you can start running wire between them in any order.  If you’re going long distances between corner posts it’s helpful to set up your spool of wire on the back of a quad or a hitch mount on a truck or tractor, so that you can let the wire off the spool as you drive.  Letting your spool of wire get tangled up is a recipe for disaster.

Here is one example of a DIY spool that works well, built from simple square tube steel, plywood and a few bolts.  For more information about how this one was built, talk to Albert Kuipers at the Grey Wooded Forage Association.
Wire Spool

STEP 3 – BRIDGE POWER BETWEEN WIRES AT EACH CORNER

At every corner post where one wire ends at an offset insulator, it’s important to make sure power is getting to the next wire.  This video demonstrates a simple way to bridge power across each corner insulator.

 

STEP 4 – HOW TO INSTALL OFFSET INSULATORS BETWEEN CORNER POSTS

There are many different types of offset insulators to choose from, ranging in price, offset length, and durability.  The type we found to work the best is the pigtail offset insulator that you’ll see in this video.  Super easy to install, they last a long time, and they don’t cost much.

 

STEP 5 – HOW TO SET UP A POST INSULATOR FOR AN ELECTRIC GATE

Setting up an insulator at a gate post is almost exactly the same as how you set up the corner offset insulators.  Chances are that you’ll be setting up quite a few gates in your grazing system, so you’ll have it mastered after doing one or two like this.

 


STEP 6 – 
HOW TO BRIDGE POWER UNDERGROUND ACROSS A GATE

The challenge with gates is that when you disconnect a gate to let animals, people or equipment through, you still need your fence powered on both sides of the gate.  Bridging power underground across a gate is actually pretty simple.  The method demonstrated in the above video is the most common approach, although you may decide to connect your hookup wire differently, by simply wrapping the wire onto the live fence wire instead of using a crimping sleeve.

 

STEP 7 – HOW TO HOOK UP AN ELECTRIC FENCE ENERGIZER

One of the most common problems with electric fencing is low voltage.  There are several common causes for this, from inadequate grounding to trees branches falling on your wire, but one really easy mistake to make (and easy to fix) is having an energizer that’s just too small.  Take Albert’s advice and don’t be cheap when it comes to buying an energizer!

 

FURTHER RESOURCES 

We know that learning online is only the beginning, and you’re going to need additional support and resources.  If you live near the Rocky Mountain House area click here to become a member of the Grey Wooded Forage Association, or make sure you find out what the nearest Grazing/Forage association is in your area, because there’s nothing better than learning directly from people who are doing it on the ground.

For anyone in Alberta, the Alberta Forage Industry Network offers some great information and links to additional resources on their website.

Check out the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta calendar of events to see if there are any “on the ground” workshops or grazing tours happening in your local area in the near future.

 

How to Splice High Tensile Fencing Wire

High tensile wire can be a massive pain when it starts to get tangled.  If you get a kink in your wire, the only option is to cut it and do a splice repair.  The good news is, splicing your fence is actually pretty easy.  You may also need to use this technique any time a fence is damaged by wildlife, tree branches, livestock or equipment.

 

MATERIALS AND TOOLS

 

 

How to Set up a Pasture Pipeline Watering System

About Project

Pasture pipeline systems are one of the most efficient, reliable and cost effective ways to deliver water to grazing livestock.  If you have access to well water or clean surface water such as a pond or dugout, you can set up a simple system of pasture pipeline to pump water to paddocks as far away as 2 to 3 miles without a problem.  This offers several key advantages compared to other water systems, including lower maintenance and time spent filling water troughs.  Also, by having the pipeline buried in the ground you can avoid the risk and hassles of water lines getting damaged by equipment, livestock, weather and UV from the sun.

This workshop will take you through the key steps to setting up a simple pasture pipeline system, including some pretty neat “inventions” from some of the top grazers here in Alberta.

 

Materials and Tools

 

Step 1 – Calculate Water Requirements

If you’re not sure how much water your animals are going to need, this guide from Ropin the Web shows how to calculate the gallons per day your herd will need, and how to calculate the necessary flow rate for your pipeline system.

 

Step 2 – Plow Water Lines from Source to Troughs

These water plow systems can typically hold a spool of up to 1,000 ft of 1″ PVC pipe, and it’s a super fast way to get it in the ground.  How deep should you set the plow?  We’ve heard recommendations between 12″ and 18″ max.  Burying your pipe deeper makes it safer from a disc plow or other equipment that could accidentally damage the pipe in the future, but shallower depth allows the pipe to thaw faster in the spring.  For climates similar to Alberta, aim for a 12″ depth.

Rather than building your own water plow, there’s a good chance that someone in your area already has one.  For anyone in Alberta, contact Alberta Agriculture to ask about borrowing their plow at a very low cost.

 

Step 3 – Set Up Portable Water Troughs

Christoph Weder from Spirit River Ranch near Rycroft, Alberta demonstrates his innovative, home made portable trough system.  By using some old fuel tanks and other cheap building materials he was able to construct a durable water tank that can be dragged to new locations whenever necessary.

 

Further Resources

Water trough designs 

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Ropin The Web’s “Pasture Pipeline Design” guide includes some really useful information for calculating the peak water usage for yearlings and cow/calf pairs, the required water pressure for various pipe sizes and distances, and some other important design points as well.