Fencing Across Our Landscape

Here at Shingle Hut Creek Farm we spend a lot of time, effort and money on fencing.

Why do we do it?

We believe good quality fencing is just as important as clean water and good grass.

Actually, good fencing will improve both your water and your grass!

We started off by putting in barbed wire fencing, thinking we would need barbwire to keep the cattle where we wanted them. In my opinion, barbed wire is terrible stuff, it always conjures up images of war, we don’t like using it and Dominic doesn’t like fencing with it as it is very difficult to work with.

We have since found that we can control our cattle with a three-strand plain wire electric fence, as long as it has a good shock. The voltage is usually between 8 and 10 thousand volts, which is pretty huge – the cows learn very quickly that the fence bites and they don’t test it. There have been times when the electricity has gone down for some reason – it could be a limb over it that has shorted it out – and we haven’t had a mass exodus of cows. We also use a single electric braid in larger paddocks when we strip them through. This puts more impact on a smaller area and that is good for the soil.

I still struggle sometimes with the condition of a paddock once the cattle have finished eating all the grass and we have moved them on. Sometimes it reminds me of a moonscape! But even then, as the old adage goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. When it comes to grass, this can actually be true, as long as the landscape is given adequate rest after a flogging. IF the grass isn’t eaten off before its’ time, it will actually turn into a thicker grass plant full of nutrition. All the fencing helps us to use the cattle as tools to improve the ground cover and help reduce erosion, improve water infiltration and in the long term provide a smorgasbord of grasses for our animals to keep them healthy and happy.

One of the most important steps in the process is not so much when you feed it to the cattle but the rest in between grazing periods. This varies on whether the paddock is on the hills, the flats, creek flats or in a valley, and the types of grasses that are growing there. The time of year also influences the timing – whether the nights are cool or the days are hot, and how much moisture is available. You just need to be really observant, and luckily for us mother nature is very forgiving, even when we make a mistake, she still keeps growing her grass!

When it comes to drought, having many paddocks allows us to take some out of rotation and ‘save’ the feed for later. Tis means we are to a degree drought resistant. Using this system, we can provide feed for our animals for longer than if they were just allowed to go everywhere. This is because the grass is held basically in a bank account for them and will be waiting for when it is needed. This process enables us to be a little more drought resilient and reduces the need to buy hay.

As an added bonus, managing grass this way helps us to reduce our bushfire risk too. Certain paddocks are our ‘bushfire paddocks.’ Ones we believe, based on historical information, are more likely to be burnt during a bushfire than others. These can be grazed down hard during the dry fire season so as to not give any fire a foothold to take off. This also means as soon as we get some rain they will green up, and green grass doesn’t burn real well!

On our interior fences, we try to make them as unobtrusive as possible by using star pickets and plain wire.

Our perimeter fence however, is ‘wildlife friendly’ with a plain top wire, then three barb wires and a plain bottom wire. Joel Salatin recommends not having an electric boundary fence because you just never know when it’s not going to be working properly. We agree, so we do have barbed wire on our boundary fences. This is basically to stop other animals getting in. Any old perimeter fence that we have had to replace, we have changed to the wildlife-friendly fencing. I have seen the odd bit of fur on barb wire fences and I do believe it does impede wildlife moving around. However, having a plain lower and upper wire, means animals are not going to get caught or hurt as they travel over or under the fence. Having the three barb strands in the middle works perfectly well to keep our livestock in and other livestock out.

This is a very sad example of the damage barb wire fencing can do to wildlife. This barn owl must have swooped down after prey and caught its’ wing on a barb in this old fence. Unfortunately, it died.

In our topography using plain wire electric fence allows us to fence almost anywhere, from up on top of the hills, to following the twists and turns of the creek – it gives us more flexibility on land use.

Adequate fencing allows us to do so many things to fulfill our goals of improving our land and providing good quality food for our customers. On our 2400 acres, we started with about 4 paddocks – we currently have 20 paddocks of various sizes and we have not finished yet!

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