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Spring Fencing — Cell Design

Herd of cows.

Spring is right around the corner and it is high time to look at our fencing plans for this season. I hope you have all taken some time this winter to improve the management of the manager. The off season is a great time to invest in your knowledge and improve your skills as a manager. If pasture is in your plans this summer then I hope you have spent some time learning about the grazing concepts and are ready to put some effort into improving your land by implementing a cell grazing system. A healthy pasture is a profitable pasture.

One of the most common questions I am asked in my travels is, “What type of grass do I plant?” The dilemma with this question is it is usually asked when a producer is trying to deal with a symptom. The pasture has deteriorated because of the problem — overgrazing! The symptoms are poor production and weeds! If we address the symptom by reseeding but don’t deal with the problem itself, the symptoms will reappear.

My answer to this question is always “posts.” The first thing we plant is posts! Adding adequate cross-fencing will allow us to control the graze period and rest period and thus address the problem of overgrazing. New seeds will not fix it. New management will.

In most cases, good pasture management will require some electric fencing and I know that the first post is always the hardest to pound. When planning a pasture cell design, it is important to consider a number of issues in order to minimize the mistakes that could cost you time and money.

There are five different types of cell design. You could set up your pasture with an alley system in which the cattle walk down a fenced alleyway to get to water. A pipeline system would allow the water to be piped to the different paddocks. A cell centre or wagon wheel design has all the paddocks connected to one water site in the pattern of a wagon wheel. We could also use a water truck and haul water to each paddock or we could set up our paddocks in a strip grazing method in which portable fencing is moved across a field.

Don’t let anyone tell you that one system is better than another. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages depending on your farm and management. I use all five on my ranch. With each system, you take the good with the bad and there is no saying that you can’t use a combination either. Let’s look at a few factors that might make you choose one system over another.

You may have some personal restraints that come into play that you need to consider. Maybe you do not have the time to move fences or water. It could be a cash flow issue that makes you decide to put in an alleyway or a cell centre as the pipeline may be too pricey in the first year. Is the land owned or rented? That could be a deciding factor in which design you use. Everyone has different personal restraints that might affect your fencing plans. You just need to think yours through.

From the Alberta Farmer website: Research finds two crops can be better than one in forage production

Herd restraints might come into play. If you need more than one herd, a heifer herd and a cow herd maybe or purebreds versus commercials, then the fence design might be different than if all the land could be utilized by one herd. Each farm is different and can have totally different herd requirements.

Quite often it is physical land restraints that allow one system to work better than another. A river, a railway track or rugged terrain can limit the use of some of the systems. Dealing with physical land issues can be very challenging and will be unique to each piece of land.

If you can separate out the different forage types, it reduces the selective grazing pressure and allows for more uniform grazing. Soil types and where the different management zones are located can also affect your fencing plans a great deal.

I take extra care in managing for my riparian areas. The biodiversity of my land base is very important to us and all life, bacteria, insects and mammals, needs a healthy water system to survive. We can use our fencing to help manage for sustainability and environmental health.

The location of your water source and the type of system available can be deciding factors. You may be limited on the design of your grazing cell if your water source is located in only one corner. Having a creek running through your property might limit your cell design. Aside from location, fencing to protect your water source is also an important consideration. If slope and run-off from your watering area is a concern, you may want to pump the water away to help maintain a clean water supply. This has been a concern for me on some pastures.

For your own well-being, one of the most important factors to your plan should be animal movement. It can become very stressful, for the herd and the manager, if you have a poorly planned-out rotation. Difficult moves need to be planned in advance to avoid wrecks. A lot of people give up on electric fence simply because they did not plan their animal movement very well.

I also consider the convenience of managing the herd during winter when designing a cell. For example, is there a possibility that you might be bale grazing the land? Long rectangles make bale grazing very easy if you decide this might be an option down the road.

Lastly, I look at the existing fences to see if I can work them into the design. When I first start a cell design, I ignore the existing cross-fencing and start from scratch. In some cases, existing cross-fencing can cause mental blocks and may cause you to use an ineffective cell design simply because it is already there. Design your cell first, then look to see if existing cross-fences can work into the design. Sometimes it is less work to ignore the old fence and put up new electric fence where you need it.

So in short, concentrate on solving the problem and not just covering up the symptoms. Figure out which cell designs you want to use. Determine the personal, herd, and physical restraints you are working with and the different forages that you have to utilize. Also consider where your riparian areas are and what you need to do in order to protect your water source. From there you can decide where to place your fences and plan out your animal movement. Doing so will result in an investment in your land and your business’s future. And as for the most important part in any business venture, have fun! For more information on cell design, please feel free to contact me anytime. C

Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta.,, 780-307-6500, email [email protected]

About the author


Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta. You can email him at [email protected] or call 780-307-6500.

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