Of Fencing & Calf Tricks

Ladybell & new heifer, Trixie, by the electric rope & vinyl perimeter fence.

Jeff has been working on fencing the last couple weeks.  We’re finally getting the front yard enclosed for more pasture….yeeaaa!  Then there’s also some existing fence that needs redone, as we’ve found it to be inadequate…hence the calf tricks.  Tricks that I’m tired of!  So, if you’re wondering what kind of fencing you need for Dexters, here are some things we’ve learned.

The “Old” Fence

When we started fencing on this property, we decided to fence with braided electric rope, in combination with a vinyl product called Equiline.  Jeff didn’t want to have to worry so much about grass & weeds gettting on the electric, and the Equiline was cheaper.  We put up a 5-strand fence, two of those being electric.  The lower electric is at nose-height for Dexter calves, the upper around nose-height for adults.  Then there are 3 strands of Equiline, bottom, middle & top.  This gives us a strand below the lower electric to keep bitty calves in, and the top strand is high enough for the horses.  But there’s enough space under the electric that the animals will graze under it, as they can push the Equiline out of the way. 

These 2 sets of gates meet when opened, to form a chute across the lane for moving animals between paddocks. With a bull in each paddock, they're fine & respect the fence. I've had a weanling calf duck through both fences, though, to get back to momma.

This has been a very nice fence, and was certainly easy to put up.  The vinyl stretches & bounces back if tree limbs fall on it or animals run into it, but we have trouble keeping it tight & in place, and that bottom strand keeps getting cut or chewed through in places.  We also have a lot of trouble with insulators breaking, but at least the fence itself doesn’t break.  When you end up, accidentally or on purpose, with both bulls in the same paddock & they get into it, and somebody gets run into the fence, he’ll just pop through….then it’s over, because they do respect the electric enough to not want to get on it.  The fence is fine….you just have to catch a bull.  While in some cases that is nice, we’ve found this fence about useless in “high pressure” situations.  If you’re trying to load or catch an animal that isn’t tame, they’ll just jump through this fence to get away from you.  And it doesn’t work for weaning very well, either.  I’ve had calves go through 2 fences to get back in with momma.

The temporary 2-strand fence along the bottom of the cliff.

Of course, what really doesn’t work is just a 2-strand fence!  That was my problem with calf tricks this week.  Behind the cow barn, we have a small pasture paddock with the electric perimeter fencing.  On the far side from the barn there is a temporary 2-strand divider fence.  The top strand is electric & placed to stop adult cows, the bottom strand is not electric & does nothing to stop calves from ducking through….they often go lay in the shade along that edge.  Just beyond the divider fence is the mountain with lots of trees & rocks, a section of which is pretty much a cliff.  The perimeter fence goes around the end of this where it’s not so steep, then along the top of the mountain.  I had had Ladybell up in the old horse barn when she calved last Tuesday, the 10th, a beautiful red heifer.  I decided Monday that it was high time to start some halter training & get them back in with the herd.  I usually turn momma & baby out in the barn paddock, keep an eye on introductions & wait for baby to learn about the electric fence.  They usually bellow, jump back, maybe move a few steps away & not much more.  The Dexter bull calves also seem to have a magnetic attraction to the cliff (not the heifers & not the Jersey cross bulls, just the Dexter bull calves).  They go up, I get them back down & after the one time they seem to decide it wasn’t a great idea & no more problem.

The steep area of rock & dirt in the center of this photo is where I caught Trixie our first time up the mountain.

Calf Tricks

Well, I took Ladybell & her HEIFER, Trixie, back down to the cow barn paddock, working on halter training on the way & she was finally starting to “get it”.  Once everybody got kinda settled down, I took the halter off to let Trixie explore her new pasture on her own.  She soon found the electric fence, got zapped on the nose & starting running along the fence.  Momma felt the need to run along, close beside, and Trixie kept bumping into the fence (Ouch!).  She then took off across the paddock to the far side, through the 2-strand fence & straight up the cliff!  I knew she was somewhat panicked & probably wasn’t planning to stop, so I took off after her.  I caught up with her at one very precarious spot, and Trixie was having trouble, tripping & slipping.  By this time, Ladybell had taken the shock & ducked the fence, too, to get to her baby….and I wasn’t entirely sure how much she trusted me with the calf yet, if she would see me as help or a threat.  Momma climbed up to us about the time I got ahold of Trixie, but I lost my footing & fell.  Somehow I ended up tumbling backwards, head over heels, still holding Trixie at first.  I lost my hold on her at some point, somersaulted backwards again, and by the sound of things figured that Ladybell was also sliding down the hill towards me.  I finally got myself stopped, and amazingly didn’t crack my head on a tree or rock!  I got ahold of the calf again & managed to get the halter, which I still had in my hand somehow, on her and proceeded to drag her the rest of the way down.  We all got back on the right side of the fence & all still in one piece. 

Trixie: Such a cute, innocent face...who would've thought!

So, I figured we needed to try again, and took the halter off a second time.  Well, you guessed it.  Repeat entire scenario….well, minus the tumbling over backwards part.  She got zapped, ran straight across the paddock & up the cliff.  Jeff was working nearby & heard me screaming at her….and decided he better help this time (and, no, he hadn’t seen me rolling down the cliff the first time).  I was about worn out already & he caught up to her first.  This time she headed off the side of the cliff around to where it’s not so steep, and she got stuck in the branches of a fallen tree.  If that hadn’t stopped her, I don’t know how far she would’ve gone until we caught her!  Ladybell decided the best way to get to her was to go wading through the small pond, instead of following the trail up the hill around the pond!  She got to us, dripping wet half-way up her body, poor dear.  We finally got the halter on Trixie again, and this time I took them straight to the stall in the cow barn.  That was enough of that for one day!

The next couple days, I worked with Trixie on halter leading, letting her get against the electric while I had ahold of her & could stop her.  She seems a bit more shy than the other calves, and reacted much more severely to that fence than any other bovine we’ve had.  She has settled down quickly, though, and is now happily venturing the hillside with the herd….and seems to have learned to stay off the fence.  But this situation drove home the fact that we really need to get the permanent fence done on that paddock.

The “New” Fence

The plan for the barn paddock is to put in woven-wire the whole way around, along with a small corral attached to the barn which will be fenced with tubular metal panels.  The corral panels will be fastened to fenceposts set in the ground, to prevent the cattle from lifting them up & ducking under, because, YES, they can & will do it.  This should give us a space that works for those “high pressure” situations.  The woven-wire will also have a couple strands of electric rope as a “stand off”, to keep them from leaning over or pushing on the fence.  This will give me a calf-proof fence for introducing the new ones to the herd (and the electric!), so I don’t have to worry about the cliff.  The paddock will also be used for separating cows & calves overnight for milking, or for weaning.

My pretty new fence around the front yard.

The new fence for the front yard we wanted to look nice, as it runs along the driveway & in front of the house.  After considering the options, we decided to go with good ol’ board fence.  It looks nice already, even though it’s not stained yet, and as Jeff keeps pointing out, you can sit on it.  The bottom board is low enough that our little Dexter calves won’t scoot under it, but the cows can still reach their noses under to clip the grass.  The top board is 52″ high, so there shouldn’t be any jumping it…hopefully.  (Dexters are quite athletic.  I’ve had two of them jump the half door in the stall that is just shy of 4′ high, although Mace just barely made it, teetering over on his belly.)  The two sides that run through the woods & along the creek will be done with woven-wire or wire cattle panels, as the terrain requires.  Once again, there will be electric “stand off” the whole way around, positioned between the boards of the wood fence.  It should be pretty & quite functional.  I can’t wait until it’s done…and neither can the cows!

1 thought on “Of Fencing & Calf Tricks

  1. Wow! What an adventure! I know exactly what you mean about calves getting under fence. Siobhan does it under a low electric wire, then can’t get back, and Sara just bellows and bellows. It has reinforced for us that we can only use electric in conjuction with good perimeter fence, so Herb is starting to work on some that needs repairing.

    Love your new front yard fencing! It looks so classy!


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