The Ins and Outs of Temporary Horse Fencing
Rotational grazing as a part of pasture management is one of the most common uses of temporary fencing.
This portable and cost-effective barrier comes in handy when managing pastures, traveling with horses, and more
If you’ve ever driven by a giant pasture in which horses are only grazing a small, roped-off plot of grass, you might’ve guessed what they were up to—rotational grazing—but you could have found yourself wondering what keeps these horses from barreling through the flimsy-looking strands of tape confining them.
This pasture management scenario is one of the most common uses of temporary fencing, but you have to do it right and with the correct materials for your horses, land, and management style. In this article we’ll describe types and purposes of temporary fencing, how to set it up, and what to consider in the process.
With rotational grazing setup, external or perimeter fencing is usually permanent, while interior fencing—that which divides the acreage into smaller sections—is temporary and generally electric.
Jim Gerrish, of American Grazing Lands Services LLC, in Patterson, Idaho, has more than 35 years of pasture management experience. Twelve years ago, Gerrish, formerly a professor in agronomy and crop ecology at the University of Missouri, moved with his wife, Dawn, to Idaho. While in Missouri they had operated a 260-acre grass farm with cattle, sheep, and horses. In Idaho they manage a 450-acre irrigated pasture unit with cattle. They’re currently enjoying successful careers teaching and consulting in the pasture management industry.
“Picture an acre and a half with three horses, grazed short with weeds,” says Jim Gerrish. “If you take temporary fencing and visualize 30 little blocks, then move the horses every day to a new block, the health of the pasture will improve dramatically.”
Give each block 29 days to rest and regrow before putting horses back on it. “Dividing a pasture area into smaller fields and rotating horses through them can encourage horses to graze more evenly, keep pasture grasses from becoming overgrazed, and guarantee fresh grass for a longer period of time during the growing season,” he says.
Allow the horses to graze the grass down to 3 to 4 inches, then move them to the next grazing area. Move temporary fences along with the horses and water sources or, if you have enough supplies, set all your fencing up at the beginning of the summer so you don’t have to move it.
Portable electric fencing is lightweight, inexpensive, easy to move, and requires little maintenance. “I know a lot of horse owners don’t think that temporary fencing will contain their horses,” says Jim Gerrish. “I would disagree 100% with this.”
“Horses are perhaps one of the easiest animals to train because they are so sensitive,” adds Dawn Gerrish. “Once they contact an electric fence, they will probably never ever do it again.”
If horses are completely naive to temporary fencing, “it is best to introduce them first to it within the confines of a corral, with the posts spaced at 30 feet,” she suggests. “Once outside of the corral, still keep the posts spaced at (no more than) 30 feet to help support the tape, especially in windy or snowy conditions. This helps horses visualize the fence better and makes the fence appear to be more of a barrier.”
Materials and Methods
The horse person unfamiliar with rotational grazing and fencing equipment can start out by contacting a business that specializes in electric fence products, says Jim Gerrish. Sales clerks at feed supply stores often do not have specific product knowledge. “The buyer needs to understand there are separate fencing products, one set for permanent fence and another for temporary fence,” he says. “Don’t confuse the two.”
While perimeters and main subdivision fence can be electric fencing, perimeter fencing is usually a physical barrier made of materials such as wooden posts and diamond v-mesh “horse fencing.” Again, temporary fencing, which provides a portable barrier with electricity, is most often used to divide the interior into smaller segments.
There are many types of temporary fencing posts on the market. Choose a brand that is easy to step into the ground and hook the electric tape to. “Temporary posts should be made of self-insulating material such as plastic, plastic-wood composites, or fiberglass,” he says.
String between each post one or more strands of tape or wire. Types of temporary fencing filament include:
Tape, which is the most common material used for containing horses. “There are two basic types of tape,” says Jim Gerrish. “The half-inch-wide tape is commonly used for movable fences that need to have high visibility. Tapes 1- to 1½-inch wide are used more often for semi-permanent fences—but both approaches work well for horses.”
Dawn Gerrish says it’s very important to use a tape that has two contrasting colors, such as black and white, blue and white, or red and white, which will be more visible to horses. “Avoid solid red, yellow, and green colors,” she says, as these colors tend to blend in with the pasture background and can be difficult for horses to see.
Braided polywire, string-sized products comprised of plastic and wire filaments twisted together into a thin strand, about the diameter of string. “This is the lowest grade of fencing product with less conductivity, less strength, and poorer visibility than the other products,” Jim Gerrish says. It is not generally recommended for horses because of its poor visibility.
Polyrope, a filament with a larger diameter than braided polywire, offers greater visibility and strength. It comes in a variety of diameters up to three quarters of an inch. “Braiding the wire filaments into bundles along with plastic filament tremendously increases both conductivity and breaking strength,” says Jim Gerrish. “Visibility is also enhanced.” He suggests using the larger diameter polyrope only for horses familiar with temporary fencing because it doesn’t break easily if a horse bolts through it. When first training horses to temporary electric fencing, start with tape.
- Metal wire, which is not as visible as tape and not as portable. Because wire won’t break easily, many horse people do not recommend it as temporary fencing. “Horses are much more likely to be seriously injured by wire,” says Dawn Gerrish.
A geared reel, for winding up and paying out the tape, is the icing on the cake, making temporary fencing easy to use and portable. “We prefer a 3:1 geared ratio because it allows tape to be wound up faster with less effort than nongeared reels,” she says. “We also prefer a reel which will hold 660 feet of half-inch tape.”
The final piece of equipment—if your fence is electric—is the charger, or energizer, for power. “The charger needs to be appropriately sized for the job to be done,” says Jim Gerrish. “Most chargers are rated on a joule basis. Basically you need one joule of output energy per mile of fence on the farm. Battery units can have just as much power as plug-in units, as long as the battery charge is greater than 50%.”
“Always use a low-impedance fence charger for portable fence,” adds Dawn Gerrish, “because the old-style high-impedance (charger) will heat up and melt the plastic in tape.” A low-impedance charger maximizes the amount of current along the length of the fence, so you end up with a significant amount of charge at the end of the fenceline.
Jim Hawkins is an instructor at the University of Idaho’s Lost River Grazing Academy and a retired livestock extension agent for the University of Idaho living near the headwaters of the Salmon River in Challis, Idaho. Since the early 2000s Hawkins has been grazing as many as 80 horses on about 50 acres of irrigated ground. “Outfitters who primarily use their horses during the fall hunting season need some place to board and keep their horses the rest of the year, so they pay me to keep them during the summer months,” he explains.
Hawkins uses management-intensive grazing to rotate horses through set pasture areas, sizing them so horses graze each area down to no shorter than 3 inches in about a week. He sets each area up so horses have access back to the corrals. Horses are out grazing for 12 hours at night and are in the corrals for 12 hours during the day—“the same way outfitters will be using them during hunting season,” he explains. “Or, the way any horse owner who wants to ride would use them, as we don’t often ride after dark.”
Because he grazes mules along with horses, Hawkins uses two strands of polybraid—one knee-high at 24 inches and the other chest-high at 48 inches—instead of just one. Explaining why, he says with a laugh, “Mules are just a lot smarter than most horses and most people, including me!” Hawkins uses a type of temporary fencing and metal T-posts, which he sets up at the beginning of the summer and leaves throughout the grazing season.
And what about solar chargers? These are fence chargers that convert the sun’s energy into electrical power and store it in a battery. “Solar chargers will work most anywhere as long as the charger is adequately sized to handle the job,” says Jim Gerrish.
Finally, the best temporary electric fencing equipment is useless without proper grounding; poor grounding is the leading cause of temporary fence failure—when your temporary fence isn’t “hot enough” to keep horses from strolling right through it, looking for greener pastures. The “shock” in an electric fence needs to be enough to deter your horses from testing the fenceline.
In an electric fencing system, electricity needs to complete a circuit to do its job, relying on ground rods as a route for the electricity to return to the energizer. Inadequate grounding limits the amount of electricity that can flow through the system. To ground, drive one 3- to 4-foot metal rod into the ground near the charger. Attach the grounding rod to the charger according to your fence manufacturer’s specifications.
Other Uses for Temporary Fencing
There are seemingly endless uses for temporary fencing. One of the most practical is to confine a horse that is rehabbing from injury. With temporary fencing, give your rehabbing horse a stall-sized, but usable, paddock so he has an opportunity to graze as well as a change of scenery. This will prevent him from racing around a field, further aggravating an injury.
With visiting horses, use temporary fencing to divide large paddocks into smaller areas to accommodate your equine guests. Make sure there are no shared fencelines if you don’t want them to have contact with each other.
Some owners use temporary fencing as the interior fencing for track paddocks—long corridors that circle the perimeter of a pasture or other area to encourage horses to move about more freely and interact with each other. A track paddock is generally set up with permanent fencing on the outside and temporary fencing on the inside—temporary fencing allows you to adjust the width and shape of the track. (To view a slideshow of track paddock designs, visit TheHorse.com/36801.)
Temporary fencing is often used as a portable corral when camping along a trail, when overnighting at a campground while traveling, or at a show or event.
Other possible uses for temporary fencing include:
- To keep horses from cribbing, chewing, or leaning on permanent fencing and thereby destroying fencelines. String one strand of electric tape across the top and another about one-third of the way off the ground;
- To separate horses for reasons other than pasture management (e.g., behavioral issues, a mare with foal, etc.);
- As a stand-in for damaged fencelines until they are fixed;
- To rope off an area (e.g., to protect trees or other plantings, help horses avoid holes, etc.) where you don’t want horses to wander;
- To create a buffer or biofiltration strip along creeks, ponds, ditches, or wetlands—keeping horses and livestock out of these areas allows vegetation to flourish and act as mud managers;
- When weaning a foal from his dam, although be prepared for them to test the system’s limits.
When setting up temporary paddocks on your farm, it’s generally easiest to establish only as many as you think you’ll need first—you can always hook up more temporary electric tape if you need to subdivide further. If you want to keep fencing and equipment costs down, you can move temporary fencing (and water) with the horses as you switch them from one grazing area to another. Make sure groups of corralled horses get along well or that pasture areas are large enough to suit their personalities so that a dominant horse doesn’t pin another in a corner.
Place gates so you can lead horses easily from stall to pasture and back. Remember to have a source of water for each pasture; this can be a separate water source for each grazing area or a single water source accessible from more than one area. Also, consider setting up pastures in such a way that horses can have access to shade or shelter, especially if summers in your area are very hot.
Your pastures will thank you for using rotational grazing and temporary fencing, as well. Healthier pastures mean more forage production and lower hay bills—and, of course, happy horses.
About the Author
Alayne Renée Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approaches, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise controls and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Alayne and her husband raise and train their reining horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho. She also authors the Smart Horse Keeping blog.
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