Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Moving the Electric Netting

Animal friends in the electric net system.
Every 7 to 14 days or so, I need to move the animals to a new spot. I have 4 pieces of electric netting, 164 feet long each, and a solar charger for the fence. I only use 3 nets right now, because the sheep and chickens are still so little, they're not eating enough to justify the increased area.
It's a pretty cool setup. Most of the time it takes me about 2 hours to move it. Between that and daily water checks, I really have very little other animal maintenance. This movable pasture system provides so many cool benefits:

  • The periodic moves keep the animals on fresh grass all the time.
  • The system prevents overgrazing.
  • Parasites are unable to establish themselves given the time that passes between the animals grazing over a particular spot. I like to give at least 30 days rest between moving them back, allowing any existing parasites to die off.
  • The electric fence, and the moving of said fence, keeps predators at bay.

So I decided to document what I do.


First, I get all of the animals confined. I lock the coop up the previous night so the chickens are all contained.  I also take donkey and tie him out to a tree to get him out the way and safe.
The lure of a dirt hill was too much for Samson the Donkey to resist
while tied out to a tree during the last fence move.
I've been putting the sheep in the dog cage lately, but I'll be getting halter and tree-tying them as well soon enough.
The sheep stay put, but are fast outgrowing the XL dog crate.
Then I wheel the coop to its new spot and let them hang until the fence is in place. The peeping accelerates throughout the morning. It's rather funny to hear.
Once everyone's secure, I pull up the fences and lay them out where I'm going to move everyone to.
Three rolls of electro-net, ready to go!
I stake out the sheep's area first, with the grass I want them to graze. In the past, I've just plopped the fence on in and went with it. I noticed the charge was weak when I did this. So, I've been opting to scythe free a path for the fence the the vegetation load doesn't drain the voltage. Also, this keeps the fence lower to the ground, preventing (in theory) chicken escapes and predators burrowing under.
The fence posts are "step-in," meaning that I push down with my foot to drive the posts into the ground. Two spikes, 4" and 5", hold each post securely in place.

Stepping in the step-in post is easier with a big ol' boot.
Once I get the line set up, I have to link the fences together. I have what's called a posi/neg fence, meaning that there are alternating wires of orange hot (electrified) and green ground (non-electrified) lines. The concept is that the hot wires electrify all the time, but the added ground wire provides an additional shock if you touch them at the same time. Poor Colt the dog discovered this on Sunday as he tried to lean into the fence. I heard the pop from about 100 feet away, and he yelped all the way back to the house. Poor pooch. But I know if a 200-lb. mastiff is scared to death of this fence, then a piddly little fox would be too.
The first line set up in the morning sunlight. Poor sheep can't wait to get out.
Once everything is set up, I then have to move the charger over. I set it up to point due south and slant at 45 degrees for maximum sunlight on the solar panel. It recharges the internal batteries throughout the day so I never have to plug anything in.
I also have to hammer in new ground rods (I use 2) where the charger can reach. Pulling them out of the ground is my absolutely least favorite part of the whole process. I need a better system for that, but it'll have to wait....
Once it's all in and connected, I test the fence, usually by first listening to it. Every second or so, I hear a small pop where the lowest orange/hot wire touches some grass. The changer pulses to avoid draining, so it's not constantly on. It send a very strong pulse/shock periodically. If I hear that, I know we're good. I then use a voltmeter to make sure we're well above 3,000 volts. It's peaked at about 12kV before, but usually is in the 4kV-8kV range.
Once we're all set, I let the friends go.
"Baa! Fresh grass!"
As soon as I let them all loose, the go CRAZY for the new, fresh grass. It has not been eaten on (or, ahem, fertilized on) for a full 30 days, so it is clean and tasty.
The chickens go nuts looking for bugs and greens as soon as they get out of the coop.
So there it is. That's my pasture rotation routine. I'll be adding a fourth fence line to the system once the sheep get bigger.
I did not yet mention the manure collection and the hay making. After everyone's settled, I collect the donkey manure for composting, and scythe down whatever they didn't eat for overwinter hay. I also weed thistles and other bad stuff out.
The end result is a large, clean-mowed area, fertilized and ready to rest for a month and do it again, and healthy, organically-fed animals, all for just a few hours a week.

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