Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Weaning Calves and Building an Electric Fence - the Rich Way

I weaned some calves today and when I wean calves I put them into the weaning pen (Hey! I wonder if that's why it's always been called the weaning pen?).  The weaning pen is just a 2 acre area next to the working pens that's fenced with woven-wire fence (so just-weaned calves have to really work at it to get out).

Supposedly, it's possible to fence-line wean calves by separating the cows and calves with something like a woven-wire or electric fence so that they can still see each each other, touch noses, etc. which lowers the stress levels of both cow and calf, but the calf can't nurse anymore.   In the past, I've been able to wean my calves doing just that, using the woven-wire fence around the weaning pen as the fence part in the fence-line weaning process.  But it can be a hit-or-miss process in some years, when the calves try to crawl through gates, or the cows decide to bawl at the calves which causes the calves to start bawling, etc.  So a few years ago, I just started building an electric fence about two-hundred feet away from the weaning pen to keep the cows a little bit farther away which seems to be a little bit less stressful on the cows, calves, and me.
Weaned calves in the weaning pen
Since my temporary electric fences are built a little bit differently than most of the typical electric fences I see being built online and in books, and at times I get some of my best ideas after seeing how other people do things, I thought it might give other people some ideas of their own if I showed how I build electric fences the Rich way.

It's not a complicated process to build an electric fence, so most of the info is in these photos (click on them to get a closer look).

When I build a temporary or semi-permanent fence I usually use simple rebar posts that I've modified to be step-in rebar posts.  For whatever reason (probably due to the type of clay soil around here) the ground can be hard to get something like a normal step-in post (either the plastic ones or the pigtail type) into the ground, so I've always used rebar posts (the 4-ft. kind with the plate).   Once those rebar posts are pounded into the ground, they can also be a bear to get back out of the ground whenever it comes time to take the fence down a few days, weeks, or months later.

A few years ago, I took some of those rebar posts, knocked off the plates that were still on some of the posts (they always seem to fall off or get left in the ground when you pull them), and welded a step made out of a 3" piece of rebar on each one of them.   
Modified step-in rebar post next to an original post, make sure the fence is turned off if you ever ask your posts to pose for a photo while they're leaning on the fence
After welding that little step onto the posts, now I can just grab a handful of posts and install them about as fast as I can walk.  Compared to carrying a hammer to pound in the posts, setting down all the posts you're carrying to pound that post, then picking up all the posts, etc., it's a breeze to just step-in all the posts as you walk along.  When it comes time to take down the fence, it's easy to grab that welded-on step and turn the post back and forth a few times to loosen it, then use the step as a handle to pull the post. 

After I put in my posts, I install the wire.  I've always used 14 ga. steel wire for temporary/semi-permanent electric fences like this instead of the typical polywire usually advocated by most people.  I've usually used steel wire because my thoughts are that the wind is always blowing here and polywire blowing back and forth in the wind might wear through the filaments in the polywire pretty quick (I'm not sure if that's true, but that's my theory).  I also sometimes run longer (up to 2000 ft.) electric fences across wheat fields, and a 14 ga. steel wire is easier to keep hot over a distance that long compared to polywire.  I also already had a bunch of 14 ga. steel wire before I had ever even heard of polywire, which is one of the main reasons I use wire instead of polywire.

I store all my wire on some cheap electric cord reels (they cost about $4 each?).  As long as I don't overload them with too much wire, they aren't overly heavy, I can tie one end to an insulator, then just start walking and the wire will roll off of the reel while still staying reasonably tight.      
Tied off insulator (ignore those weeds)

Cheap electric cord reel repurposed as an electric fence wire reel
I used to use steel t-posts with various insulators tied onto them as both my corner posts and gate posts, but now I pound in a t-post and slip a 4-foot chunk of 2" PVC over it to use as my corner posts and gate posts.  With that PVC, insulators aren't needed at all, so when I reach a corner I pull the wire tight, wrap it around the PVC a couple of times and start walking to the next post.  The PVC is loose on the t-post, so as I pull on the wire, the PVC will roll and put a little bit of tension on the wire. When I reach a gate post, I wrap it a couple of times around the PVC, wrap it around the wire itself so it keeps tight whenever I open the gate, pull it across the gate opening, and tie on my insulated gate handle (I hope that's halfway understandable). 
T-post with 2" PVC - corner post and/or gate post
Most of my permanent interior electric fences are built with some 4-foot t-posts that I've managed to salvage out of broken and bent t-posts that I simple cut off to 4-foot from various times I've rebuilt fences from around the farm.  Since I usually only need a single hot wire about 32" high, a 4-foot t-post is the perfect length.   Whenever I want to drop a temporary fence off of one of my permanent electric fences, I usually make a simple gate loop by wrapping some wire on either side of an insulator on one of these t-posts.

Gate opening

Permanent electric fence with a gate loop on the wire

Like I said, building electric fence isn't rocket surgery, but the easier and quicker it is to build electric fences, the better it is.   Any questions, suggestions, criticisms, or ideas about building electric fences?


  1. I've never seen the PVC pipe trick but that is a pretty good one. We never used much electric fence on our farm but we did do some (permanently installed ones) around some overflow pens for pigs. I remember once weaning some pigs and putting them into the next pen separated by only three strands of electric fence. Those darn pigs would start squealing from 20 feet away as they were running towards the fence knowing they were going to get hurt but deciding it was all worth it. We learned and ran the sows out of site the next time and didn't have anymore problems.

    1. I can't remember where or how I came up with the PVC idea, although I'd like to think I had a flash of brilliance and the idea came to me, but I probably saw it somewhere and stored that information deep in the recesses of my brain until "the idea came to me".

      I used to use a t-post with insulators wired onto them (it's a chore to deal with gate openings using a couple of insulators and extra pieces of wire, etc.), and if you tightened the wire too much the t-post would start to lean or the insulator would come loose sometimes.

      With the wire wrapped around the PVC, the pull is closer to the post and it doesn't seem to want to lean as much.

      As a bonus, if I leave the PVC on the t-post, I can leave the posts out in a pasture and the cattle don't seem to rub on them much (if I left just the t-post, sometimes they'll rub on it until they break it off).

      I've always heard that you need to train pigs to respect electric fences by having a hot wire running inside a secure fence at first, but I didn't think they would just grit their teeth and run right through one when they knew they would get shocked.


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