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Ins and Outs of Livestock Fence Systems

Posted: June 3rd, 2013 by Cheryl Cesario

Claghorn and Hunt 007

In early May, Dave Kennard at Wellscroft Farm and Fence Systems in Harrisville, NH hosted a fantastic full day workshop covering all aspects of livestock fencing. It was an information filled day with lots of helpful hints and tips on topics such as proper grounding, choosing the right sized energizer, locating it in the right spot, how to ensure lightning protection, and the latest and greatest types of fence and gates. There was really something for everyone, with a brush up on the basics as well as advanced tips to fine tune an existing system.

Here are the 6 most common mistakes with electric fence that Dave outlined for us that day:

1. Improper grounding: One thing that can help ensure your fence is well grounded is to have enough ground rods in place. The rods should be in a line and at least 10 feet apart. Galvanized rods are preferred. How many do you need? A rule of thumb is to figure 3-6’ of ground rod per joule of energizer. So a 3J energizer could require up to 18 feet of ground rods depending on soil moisture and fence resistance. Your ground field should be at least 40 feet away from utility grounds.

2. Having the wrong sized or type of energizer: Energizers are either 110 V plug-in, battery, or solar powered. Their effectiveness is measured in joules. The size of the area that is fenced, the type of animal, and type of fence used will determine what size energizer is needed. They increase from small 0.5 joule units to 50 joules or more (and so does the cost). Choose one based not just on where you’re at right now, but where you might be a few years down the road, so that you don’t ‘outgrow’ it and have to buy a new one. It is recommended to install the energizer outside of buildings in a protected three sided enclosure.

3. Improper livestock training: Since electric fence is a psychological fence, not a physical one, animals must learn to respect it, rather than run through it. Most livestock when shocked for the first time will instinctively back up. That is, except for pigs! They will keep charging ahead. For pigs, you’ll want to train them to electric fence inside an enclosed area (such as a barnyard) which will give them a physical barrier as well.

4. Improper lightning and surge protection: Lightning can cause a voltage surge and damage the energizer if the unit is a plug-in type. If unplugging the fence is not an option before a big storm, plugging the unit into a 1,000 joule surge protector can help reduce the impact if a nearby utility wire is hit. Also, lightning can damage an energizer if the fence or an object near the fence is struck. High voltage will be carried along the fence wire and through the energizer on its way to the ground. Lightning choke/diverters can be installed at the start of the fence. For areas of 5 acres or more, additional ones can be installed with their own ground rods. The surge protector and the diverter each cost less than $15. Not a bad insurance policy for a several hundred dollar energizer.

5. Not monitoring the voltage and condition of the fence: Use a volt meter or fence tester to monitor your voltage. If the fence is not adequately charged, you can start troubleshooting where the problem lies. Some volt meters are also fault finders and can point you in the direction of the problem – a definite timesaver! Monitor your fence for poor connections (snapping sounds) and keep excess vegetation off the fence which can ground it out.

6. Not choosing the right type of fence: How many strands of high tensile wire do you need on your perimeter fence? For beef, you might need 2 or 3 strands. For goats, maybe 50 wires would hold them in? Just kidding! For temporary fences when making subdivisions, a single strand of polywire can do the trick for dairy cows, while sheep and chickens do well with electric netting.

Keeping these tips in mind can help minimize problems and keep both the animals and the people happy during the grazing season.

Fact Sheets from the Grazing Symposium

Posted: April 10th, 2013 by Cheryl Cesario

Four separate fact sheets are now available from Sarah Flack’s presentation at our April 1st Grazing Symposium. Simply click on the links below to view them.


Grazing Resources

Posted: April 8th, 2013 by Cheryl Cesario


The Extension eOrganic site has some great grazing resources with a wide variety of topics – including general design and layout, fencing and other infrastructure advice, animal behavior, and management tips to maximize dry matter intake – along with much more. Click the link for a list of articles: http://www.extension.org/pages/59464/grazing-management-on-organic-farms. Lots of great info for organic and non-organic grazing farms alike!

Champlain Valley Grazing Symposium – April 1st, 2013

Posted: March 18th, 2013 by Cheryl Cesario


Monday, April 1st   *   10:00 am – 2:30 pm

American Legion, Vergennes, VT

$20 registration includes a hot lunch and some great door prizes. 

Join the discussion and step up your grazing skills this coming season!  

Come hear grazing expert, Sarah Flack provide helpful tips to fine-tune your existing grazing system. She’ll also discuss the most common grazing mistakes and how to avoid them for increased pasture potential. Sarah has a diverse background in sustainable agriculture, which includes both on-farm and academic experience.  Her current work includes writing, public speaking and consulting with farms and organization to help farmers transition to new methods of farming including grass based, diversified, and organic.  She also works with several organic certification organizations as a consultant, and inspector. She received her master’s degree in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont, where she studied grazing management with Dr. Bill Murphy.

Sarah Flack

Farmer Guy Choiniere of Highgate,Vermont will share his strategies for producing top quality forage, which allows him to maintain a 50-55 pound per cow production average on 6 pounds of grain per cow. Guy is passionate about soil health and building soil fertility. By making the soil a priority, it forms a foundation for him to build crop, animal and human health, as well. Guy says, “A successful farming system is a sustainable farming system.”

Guy and family

Farmer Brent Beidler of Randolph Center, Vermont will discuss his successes with annual crops such as millet, forage oats, turnips and others to increase overall pasture productivity. Brent will also cover the importance of variable paddock sizes and how he maximizes forages to minimize grain feeding. In addition to dairy production, the Beidlers have also ventured into growing grains and milling flour on the farm. Brent has played an important role in the formation of the Northern Grain Growers Association.

Brent Beidler

 Register at:http://grazingsymposium.eventbrite.com

or call Donna at 388-4969.

See you there!

 Funding for this program is provided by USDA-RMA, USDA-NRCS, and UVM Extension

Crop Team Annual Reports – 2012

Posted: March 4th, 2013 by Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Team

Annual reports for the CV Crops Team, No-Till Grain Drills and Livestock Exclusion.

Here are some success stories:





2013 Vermont Farm Show Winners

Posted: February 8th, 2013 by Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Team

Best of Class!!

2013 Vermont Farm Show
Field & Forage Crop Product Contest
Class Winners

Hay – Grass
Lucas Vaughan (South Ryegate)
Best of Show – Hay

Hay – Legume
James Maillee (Shelburne)

Hay – Mixed
Shawnha VanderWey (Ferrisburgh)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Silage & Grains – Grass Haylage
Henry Brothers- Wolfridge Dairy ( Alburg)

Silage & Grains – Legume Haylage
Woodlawn Farm, Inc. (Pawlet)

Silage & Grains – Baleage

Judging Silage

Fred & Michelle Pike (Cabot)

Silage & Grains – Corn Silage
David Conant, Conants Riverside Farm (Richmond)

Silage & Grains – High Moisture Ear Corn/Snaplage
Joseph Hescock, Elysian Fields Farm (Shoreham)

Judging Hay

Silage & Grains – Other Dry Grain
Earl Bessette, Elgin Spring Farm (New Haven)
Best of Show – Silage & Grain for their Barley Grain entry

Your Role in the Future of Farming in Vermont

Posted: January 16th, 2013 by Kirsten Workman

This post was originally published on the Women in Agriculture Network (WAgN) Blog.

Now is the time to have your voice heard.

As an Extension Outreach Professional, I am part of many networks related to farming and farmers.  Emails arrive in my inbox everyday about another issue that is directly related to how you farm in Vermont.  Whether it is the next pest, weed, or exciting crop to grow; a new grant or cost-share program; or the newest regulation being decided by the Vermont Legislature or state agency that will impact your farm business.  Many times these directives and programs are implemented without much input from the people and landscapes they will impact the most—YOU!

You most likely hear the same discussions I hear.  You may even get the exact same emails I get (whether you read them or not).  You probably have conversations with your neighbors about the many issues facing agriculture in Vermont.  I don’t walk into many barns without doing just that.  However, I encourage you to take the next step.

Stand up, participate, be heard, and take a leadership role to shape how these initiatives, programs, and policies impact you and Vermont agriculture.

It is very easy to put your nose down, focus on your own farm, and keep more than plenty busy just trying to get your daily farming tasks done.  However, sometimes we need to pick up our heads and take a look around.  Are you happy with the trajectory of policy-making, technical assistance programs, educational opportunities, water quality rules, food safety policy, funding programs, or farm economics?  If you have insight on how to improve any of these issues, NOW IS THE TIME TO SPEAK UP.

There are a lot of initiatives already happening or just starting that directly impact how you farm now and will farm in the future.  In my experience, farmer participation is not only accepted, but sought after.  I can’t tell you how many meetings I have been to where the participants are making decisions that directly impact Vermont farmers, and when you look around the room there may not be a single farmer in the room.  This happens for a few reasons.  Farmers are either not included, do not know about these meetings, or decide they are simply too busy to attend.  Let me say now that none of those are adequate reasons anymore.  As farmers, you need to know when and where these meetings are taking place and show up.

Having your voice heard just got a lot easier thanks to a group of local farmers, UVM Extension and a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Vermont NRCS.  We have started the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition in much the same manner as the Farmers Watershed Alliance in Franklin County. The idea is to help all farmers proactively address water quality issues in the Chittenden, Addison & Rutland counties in the Lake Champlain Basin to advance local farm economic resiliency and environmental stewardship.   The group aims to target education and outreach, acquire potential project funding, and facilitate communication between farmers, agencies and the public to move us forward in improving water quality The Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition meets once a month and will be accepting new members soon. Call us if you want your voice to be heard and want to be proactive about how water quality and agriculture will co-exist in Vermont now and into the future.

If you would like to join the Champlain Farmers Coalition, please contact Kirsten Workman or Jeff Carter at (802) 388-4969 or champlain.crops@uvm.edu.

Beyond farmer-based groups like the Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition and the Farmers Watershed Alliance, you can participate on so many levels: in your town, your county, statewide or even national groups and boards.

Here are just a few examples:



Pasture Management Planning for the New Year

Posted: January 7th, 2013 by Cheryl Cesario


Claghorn and Hunt 008

While it may not be a common New Year’s resolution, stepping up your pasture management might be an important one. After all, improved pasture management can lead to lots of other improvements on the farm, including improved profits. Winter is a great time to think about the grazing season to come and start making plans for what you want to achieve this year. What worked last year, and what didn’t? If you are thinking to make changes, how can those be accomplished? A good starting point is to write down some simple goals. Some examples might include:

  • Bring in more species to increase pasture plant diversity
  • Increase the length of your grazing season by a month (or more)
  • Delay the feeding of stored forages until later in the fall
  • Keep better records of the movement of animals on pasture

The next step is to plan how to meet these goals, and then of course try to implement them once the season begins.

Tall Fescue: A Problematic Pasture Grass

Posted: November 15th, 2012 by Cheryl Cesario

Tall fescue

Tall fescue is a pasture grass that is relatively easy to identify late in the season – just look for the grass that your animals have refused all season. Typically livestock will avoid tall fescue if given other options. That is because this tall bunch grass is quite unpalatable. The leaves, which are quite broad, are very coarse and leathery. The edges can be quite sharp as well. Rub a leaf between your fingers and you’ll see why your animals would choose not to eat it.

Besides the physical attributes that make it unappetizing, tall fescue can be toxic as pasture, hay or haylage due to endophyte alkaloids. Endophytes are fungi which live within the plant and produce alkaloid chemicals. Fescue toxicosis can result in various production-related issues ranging from foot problems to reproduction issues. There are endophyte-free varieties of tall fescue, but these have alkaloids as well, and although less toxic than their endophyte-infected counterparts, they still upset rumen function and therefore reduce animal performance. Toxicity is a measure of the overall percentage of tall fescue plants in the pasture and decreases if animals are in a diverse sward with many other grass and legume species.

Some producers have noticed this past year more tall fescue in their pastures than ever before. What is going on? The reason tall fescue is the grass of choice in the Southeast is that it is very drought resistant. It will grow when nothing else will. In a dry year like 2012, when our cool-season grasses went dormant in the heat of summer with little to no rain, tall fescue will take the opportunity to grow and spread.

Some tall fescue is seeded intentionally. For example, when ditches and roadsides are seeded with ‘conservation mixes’, these typically contain tall fescue as it will establish with little effort. The seed then spreads into neighboring fields and pastures. Interestingly, many commercial pasture seed mixes on the market also contain tall fescue. This is a sign that the seed mix was developed for other regions of the country where the climate is not conducive to the cool-season grasses we can grow so well here. We have so many better options for cool-season grasses such as bluegrass, ryegrass, and orchardgrass, to name a few, that tall fescue is a plant best to avoid.

If you are finding that tall fescue is spreading and becoming a problem what do you do? Unfortunately, tall fescue is hard to get rid of without an herbicide, so if you are an organic producer it will depend on how much of a problem it is. One option is to seed plants with high tannin content such as forage chicory or birdsfoot trefoil. When animals eat both the tannins and the alkaloids together, the tannins bind the alkaloids and reduce toxicity problems. For a real problem stand, plowing and tilling would kill most of the existing plants. Following with an annual crop such as a small grain, and then seeding down to a pasture/hay crop would increase the chances of eliminating the tall fescue plants.

Frost Seeding: Simple, But Not Foolproof

Posted: November 12th, 2012 by Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Team

by Rico Balzano, UVM Extension Agronomy Outreach Professional

Frost seeding can be an efficient and cost effective way to reseed or introduce new forage species to pastures and hay meadows. Successful frost seeding can improve forage quality, and research in Michigan has shown yield increases by 1.5-2.0 tons of dry matter per acre. That is a pretty good return on the cost the cost of the seed and the time to broadcast it. However, frost seeding is not right for every situation and not every year presents the ideal conditions. The basic idea behind frost seeding is the freeze-thaw cycle and rain of early spring will help incorporate seed broadcast over the surface. It is a simple process, but timing is critical: seed too early and seed may die, seed too late and there is no frost to do the work. Frost seeding can be accomplished with broadcast spreaders that mount onto ATVs or tractor 3-point hitches.  Roller seeders are also very effective but will require more passes across the field. This can be done over minimal snow cover, but broadcasting over deeper snow before a rapid melting can result in losing seed to runoff.  In Vermont, most frost seeding happens in late February or March. But now is the time to start planning.

Site Selection– Choose where you frost seed carefully. Pastures and hay meadows that are predominately sod-forming grasses, such as bluegrass or reed canary grass, can have a thick thatch barrier that can make seed establishment difficult. Grazing livestock “stomping” the seed in can be worth a try in these situations. Also, soil type is important. Soils that have natural moisture through the early summer, such as loam and clay soil, work best for frost seeding. Sandy soils should be avoided.

Soil Test, Lime, and Fertilizer– If possible, apply any needed lime a year in advance. Nitrogen should be avoided the year before and the year of seeding. This only stimulates grasses and weeds making them too competitive. Legumes need phosphorus and potassium, however, to compete with grasses.

Preparing the fall before seeding- Seed to soil contact is critical for frost seeding to work. Grazing or clipping pastures and hay meadows down to about 2” the previous fall or winter opens the canopy and allows broadcast seed to reach the soil. Grazing tightly will also reduce the vigor of the existing forages the following spring, helping the new seedlings to better compete.  In some cases, lightly disturbing the soil with a disk the fall before frost seeding can help increase success.

Seed Selection, Legumes: Alfalfa, clover, and trefoil can all be successfully frost seeded. Alfalfa should be frost-seeded on well drained soils with near neutral pH and adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium. Avoid fields where alfalfa already exists.  Autotoxicity will prevent new alfalfa plants from becoming established. Clovers have better success on poorly drained and with less lime and fertilizer. Red clover establishes quickly and produces for one or two years, while white clovers can last three years or more. Although birdsfoot trefoil is slow to establish, it is long lived, improves with time, and can become the dominant legume as red clover dies out. Be sure to inoculate all legume seed.

Seed Selection, Grasses: Older alfalfa stands that have become less productive can sometimes benefit from grasses being introduced. This can be challenging because most grasses tend not to be as successful as legumes when frost seeded. Research from the University of Wisconsin has shown that perennial ryegrass and orchardgrass have the best success in years when moisture is adequate for growth. However, perennial ryegrass is not as winter hardy as other cool season grasses so persistence may be a problem.

Seed Mixtures: In many cases, seeding more than one species can be advantageous. For example, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil seeded together can ensure a long-term legume presence in a pasture. In research done at Iowa State, red clover established quickly and was productive for two years before declining, while birdsfoot trefoil became productive in the second and following years. For this reason, many producers frost seed red clover every two to three years to maintain legume production. Also, especially when seeding mixes using broadcast type seeders, be sure to determine the spreading width. Different species and mixes will vary. For example, legume seed tends to “throw” further than grass seed. Therefore it is recommended to separate grass and legume seed and spread them in two passes.

Grazing management after seeding:  Establishment of legumes depends on control of grasses and weeds, especially in the first two to three months after emergence. Immediately after seeding, but before emergence, animals can be used to control early spring growth. Hoof action will assist the freeze-thaw cycle to incorporate seed. Cattle should be removed before emergence to prevent seedling damage.  After legume emergence, moderate but quick grazing, not shorter than 3-4”, after the grass starts growing will give legume seedlings a chance. Periodic mowing, or an early hay cut, may be necessary to control grasses and weeds. If possible, birdsfoot trefoil will benefit from an early fall rest period.

Recommended Rates for Frost Seeding into Existing Sod (U. of Wisconsin)

Rate (lb./acre)

Expected Establishment

Plants per Square ft.


Seeded Alone

In Mixture

Red Clover




Ladino Clover




Birdsfoot Trefoil



6-9 (in 2nd year)





Perennial Ryegrass









Stand Density of Two Forage Legume Following Frost Seeding (Michigan State U.)

Red Clover


————————————–Months after seeding———————————-





Established plants as % of herbicide treated stand

0 cuts





2 cuts





4 cuts











Additional Information and links:


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