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From the Farm: March, 2002

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Hot wire is a farm and ranch management tool that can be used to solve recurring problems such as water gaps or high travel areas.

Cattle unaccustomed to a hot wire will need time to figure out what the wire is without putting them in a situation where they can get out if they decide to run through the wire. For stocker cattle, the best time for hot wire training is during processing and straightening out, prior to turning out to pasture. Most of the time, the cattle are placed into a secure trap after processing. When the cattle have had a day or two to settle, we install a temporary wire, forcing cattle to go around it when coming to feed or water. The temporary wire is flagged with fluorescent tape so it's visible to the cattle. We usually have to repair the temporary wire a few times, but within a few days the cattle learn what the wire does. From there, cattle are moved into a hot three-wire, high-tensile trap. Again the wire is flagged. Often, we use poly hot wire tape to flag the fence. Since this is an area where the cattle spend a considerable amount of time, the hot poly tape keeps them from chewing on the flags. After this stage, the cattle go on pasture. They are hot wire trained which keeps escapes to a minimum providing the wire stays good and hot.

Cows are trained in the same basic fashion, but a few important things need to be addressed when using hot wire with cows. Breaking cows to hot wire can be done using the same protocol as stockers, but the entire process is done in a pasture situation. Placing a hot wire near a water point, forcing cows to travel around it to get to the water is one technique that works well.

It seems like an old cow always knows when the hot wire is not energized or is shorted out. It is very important when installing hot wire that all connections are made secure, all underground wire is put in properly and a good product is used to keep the fence maintained. It is also a good idea to keep a fence tester in the truck so you can read just how "hot" the fence is - or if it is on at all. The finger test is not much fun when checking hot wire fence.

There are a few things to consider when installing a hot wire system. One of the first is cattle flow. How best will cattle move through what I am trying to fence? An aerial photo is one of the best tools to use when making a fencing plan. If you can't get one, draw the area on a piece of paper to accomplish the same thing, if the area isn't too large.

Another question is, where will the most pressure against the fence be? This leads to the next question, what type and how many wires should be used? On Noble Research Institute farms, we use high-tensile wire for the areas that will have the most pressure, and poly wire or tape for general division of paddocks within a pasture. Also plan for the location of the cut-out switches. These are switches that can be put in during fence construction to turn off an area when it is not in use. The most important use for switches is to locate electrical shorts in the fence. You can isolate a short much more quickly with switches by turning off various sections of the fence. This way you do not have to drive the entire length of fence looking for the problem - they have proven to be a real time saver in our operation.

Hot wire is a tool that can be utilized in many ways, as photos from Noble Research Institute farms illustrate. The Noble Research Institute cow herds are, for the most part, fed on the ground using a mechanical feeder mounted on a truck or pulled by a four-wheeler. The feed is placed under the wire, allowing the cows to line up single file to eat. This makes it easy to turn around and drive behind the cattle to get an accurate count and also eliminates the cattle tromping the feed into the ground. Making an adjustable-height post will create a creep access point for calves to get additional feed or pasture. Water gaps are a common headache, and there are many ideas on how hot wire can help with these problem areas. If you are having trouble with the neighbor's cow pushing through a barbed wire fence, installing a hot wire offset could solve the problem. Electric cattle guards work well in areas that are accessed daily within a pasture.

With every up side there is a down side - and with hot wire, it is ice. When the forecast calls for ice, it is best to find a secure area for cattle, because ice will bring the wire down. Proper use of hot wire can make management easier.