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Controlling Livestock Distribution

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Posted Jun. 30, 1997

Controlling livestock distribution through paddocks and grazing time is probably our best way to stop overgrazing and undergrazing within a land resource. Dividing a land resource with fencing into paddocks gives the operator control over livestock and allows him to allocate their grazing over a set period of time. How to fence a land resource can become a major issue, and thought and consideration must be given to establishing a fencing plan.

The following are guidelines for creating a fencing plan:

  • Secure a recent aerial map of the land resource, preferably on an 8-inches per mile scale. This size map will let you read all physical ground features such as creeks, ponds, buildings, and the different range sites within the property.
  • Lay a sheet of clear plastic over the aerial map so you can draw in permanent water points, corrals, roads, and existing cross fences. When marking on the clear plastic, use washable pens. If you don't like an idea, eliminate it with a wet cloth. Don't let existing fences bias your thinking about a future master plan. Old fences were put there for someone else's reason. Look at the land resource area as a whole noting how well water is distributed. Each paddock must have access to water. Water development can be a major expense and will sometimes dictate fences be constructed to access existing water.
  • Next think about cattle movement. How can it be possible to access another paddock, the corral, or a common water point from an existing paddock? Fences can radiate and form a pie shape from a given point or you may tie several paddocks together with a lane.
  • Think about separating grazing areas that will require different management practices. Separate areas of native range from improved species and monocultures such as bermudagrass and plains bluestem. Also, separate summer species from winter species and riparian areas from upland areas.
  • Now, think about the number of paddocks needed. In the beginning, a few paddocks will get you started, but as time progresses you will see the benefits of providing rest to plants. A good place to start is to create 8 to 10 main paddocks with the idea that these may be subdivided at a later date.
  • Think about the habits of grazing animals and avoid forcing them to cross eroded areas or up and down hillsides. If possible, locate fences along ridge-crests or other natural boundaries. Locate wide gates to paddocks that are convenient for livestock to flow through. Build lanes that are 75 to 150 feet wide so livestock will not bottleneck when moving down a lane. After you have created a master fencing plan, take your plan to the field with the idea of checking the location of each fence. You want to avoid putting a fence in a problem area. If you have to make changes, draw on the clear plastic where the actual fence should be built.
  • The next step is to create a materials list. From your master plan, count the number of end anchor braces and gates that will have to be constructed. With a ruler, scale the aerial map and determine the total length of all fences. From these determinations, you can total the numbers of line post ends anchor braces, and wire to be purchased. With costs in mind, you may want to schedule fence building in phases.