May 19, 2023

Rethinking Pasture Rotation

About five years ago, I subdivided our goat pastures for grazing rotation. If you aren't familiar with the concept, I'm going to direct you to the research series I did at the time. It has lots of pictures and information:

The gist of it requires subdividing grazing areas into smaller paddocks, typically with electric fence.  Then it's a matter of monitoring how much the animals are allowed to eat, rotating them frequently, and resting the forage until it's regrown adequately.

Up front, I will say that it definitely works! But as with all ideas and methods, the concept is simpler than the reality. The purpose of this post is to record the challenges that our reality presented us, and how their sum total has resulted in taking a step back to regroup. 


Plants require moisture and warmth to grow. When  the temperatures are mild and we get good rainfall, we get good forage growth in the pasture. When our winters are too cold, or are summers too dry, we get very little growth. If we have an especially hot, droughty summer, much of the good forage dies out, leaving the weedy stuff to take over again.


Most of the successful systems are rotating meat animals. They are kept outdoors and simply moved from paddock to paddock. With dairy animals, like my goats, I have to be able to get them back to the barn at least twice a day. And when we have coyotes around, I have to be able to secure them in the barn at night. This means I have to add a corridor and gating system to my paddock plan. We were able to do this (photos here), so it's definitely doable. What I'm noting here, is that it adds a layer of complexity to pasture rotation.

Another consideration is that goats are more challenging to contain with electric fencing. While they can definitely be trained to respect it, some of them (bucks mostly) are willing to muster up the courage and run through the fence anyway. Apparently, the annoying zap is worth getting to the choice grazing goodies on the other side. 

The does can learn to do this too, especially if they ever discover that the fence is off. And once they learn this trick, it's difficult to retrain them.

Keeping the fences charged

Electric fence energizers can be powered in three ways: plug into grid electricity (AC), with a 12-volt battery (DC), or with a built-in solar panel and battery. We'd have to run a crazy amount of extension cords to simply plug it in, so we've tried solar charged and 12-volt batteries. Both have their drawbacks.

Solar energizers with the built-in solar panels:

  • Both the panel and battery are small, and so slow to recharge.
  • They require consistently good sun to be consistently charged. Cloudy days or even a little shade compromises the charge and therefore the jolt that reminds the goats to stay back.
  • Have an energizer lifespan of only a couple of years. So they will have to be discarded and replaced. This is not a selling point.
12-volt battery:

  • Requires battery monitoring, maintenance, and recharging.
  • You need a way to recharge them, plus extra batteries for when the one is recharging. 
  • Recharging can either be done with an AC powered or solar charger.
  • The batteries are heavy, so either strong muscles or a way to transport the battery is needed.
  • An AC-powered charger requires a source of electricity (typically the grid).
  • A solar panel and solar charge controller require sun.
  • Lifespan is 2 to 5 years

I know the current craze is for everything to be battery powered. But I have to say, that I have become a bit weary of having to feed and tend rechargeable batteries. We aren't off the grid, but we have a lot of stuff powered by rechargeable batteries, from 12-volt lead-acid and sealed batteries, to power tools, to AAs and AAAs for our clocks and flashlights. Besides being a chore to keep them all charged, the battery shelf life stinks. The little AAs and AAAs quickly quit holding a good charge, and the power tools. Sheesh. Forget replacement batteries for tools, because they have been replaced with a different model by the time you need to buy one. Plus, rechargeables aren't cheap. And while I agree with wanting to get away from fossil fuels, batteries require non-renewable resources to make. 

In addition, electric fences should be walked at least daily to remove grasses and branches that touch and short out the wires.

So, those are the challenges, and since we're down to only one 12-volt deep cycle battery for the fences, I want to rethink our options. These include replacing the 12-volt batteries ($$$!) or building more permanent fences (more $$$!). 

This is the stuff that's figured out by personal experience. Concepts, information, and theories are a good introduction to an idea, but as will all things, what works well for one person, may not work at all for another. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It's a matter of understanding one's personal goals, routine, and regional challenges. It's a matter of deciding what one can live with. There is no perfect answer. Rather, which requirements best suit our personal circumstances? 

As you can see, I have more questions than answers! Well, I do have some answers, but this post is long enough. For the time being, I want to step back and think it through again. When we figure it out, I'll let you know. 


Rich said...

I have no experience with goats, but I can tell you how my fencing is installed.

I have a mains (AC) energizer installed near a barn where I have power, it powers a permanent high-tensile wire installed around most of the perimeter of the farm that has other electric fences dropping off of it to divide fields. If I want to subdivide a field I attach a temporary fence to one of the permanent fences. I usually leave the energizer on year-round and don't worry about grass growing into them, and don't walk them unless there is an obvious problem.

I have another smaller energizer in a smaller field that's set up about the same way except it's only about 1 joule, the wire is all 14-ga steel wire, and the bulls don't test it.

Buy a quality energizer (I like Gallagher), install a good ground system, and I'd think it would work to keep goats in.

Leigh said...

Rich, sounds like you have a really good set-up. We don't have electricity in the barn, but I'm beginning to wonder if it might not be worth it. Considering the problems we've had with solar energizers and 12-volt batteries, it might be more economical in the long run.

Michael said...

One of the best set ups I've seen is the wheel method.

The barn (or seasonal shelter) is the hub where you feed water and shelter the goats from predators. It's also where the power system for the electric fencing is.

The rotational pastures are spoke like from that hub.

Mob grazing (including poultry) and pasture rotation is very efficient in keeping worms down and allowing the pasture to regenerate as you well know.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, I think The Ranch is all on grid. To be fair, the Cowboy has cattle (which do not seem as exploratory as the goats), but they have never had a significant issue with it.

Honestly, given the extent of the fencing, I have no idea if solar would even work.

Annie in Ocala said...

I have attempted to do the same to some extent. I do have an AC powered fencer that is strong. I think it was 5joules. It powers 50mi of wire. I only have 3 acres and its separated into 8 paddocks. Only about 2 is animal paddocks and an acreish yard. I only walk it if I see a problem. Or don't get a proper spark closing a gate/handle. It caries a healthy jolt when we get even a little rain, but this spring got weak due to prolong dry spell. It only grounds out completely when pushed up to the no climb or field fence. Grass and vines will get burned off eventually. During the dry time I leave access to all or most. Once the rains start I will close off areas first for 2 weeks at a time till I get enough growth they can be happy in a much smaller area. I have a cow and 10 goats now. Needing to sell a few more goats soon as I breed soon for fall kids and really only want 4-5 does. Like you I'm only about 3 years into this and since starting sold the horse and raised an orphan beef cow. So going forward is still experimenting and still learning.

Leigh said...

Michael, I like that set-up as well. My challenge is that our property is shaped like a big long piece of pie, with everything located at the base of the triangle. We currently have 5 pasture paddocks and two wooded areas we can rotate through. So at least that's something.

TB, solar is the way to go if grid electricity isn't available. But as I pointed out, it requires more monitoring. With proper grazing rotations, it's possible to keep more animals on the land (it's even beneficial) than with large undivided pastures.

Annie, it sounds like you've got a really good start! I would love to know how it works for you in the long-run.

Ed said...

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this on your blog before but when I was a teen, "intensive grazing" as it was called back then was all the rage and our neighbor was into it in a big way with his cattle operation. In fact, I helped him in his attempt to patent a rolling gate for electric fencing so he could easily switch between different paddocks of his pasture with only himself herding the animals. In the end, I don't think it was ever patented because of the cost of having to do it but it was a learning experience about patent searches and patent law for me.

But I don't see intensive grazing happening at all anymore up here. I don't know if it is similar issues to yours or other reasons.

Leigh said...

Ed, intensive rotational grazing is definitely more time consuming in terms of monitoring the amount they've grazed and making changes of paddocks accordingly. Those who stick with it can develop wonderful grazing for their animals, but it takes a bit of dedication. We had a good routine, but I've had too much trouble with keeping the fences charged properly. The consensus here seems to be that plugging the energizer into the grid is really the best way to go. Dan has wanted to get electricity to the barn and workshop for awhile now (other than an extension cord), so maybe the project can go back on the project list.

Quinn said...

I looked into electric fencing pretty closely at one point, even going to a workshop in NH where I learned a lot and was kind of excited about the possibilities. After much thought, though, I had to admit my property is just not set-up-able for electric fence. Some friends with big flat pastures use it for their goats, but come to think of it, they've also had a number of mystery breedings due to what they call "fence malfunctions" so... hmmm. Most solutions come with pros and cons, I suppose!

Leigh said...

Fence malfunctions! Ha! I would never use an electric fence for a perimeter or to separate bucks and does! It does have possibilities, though. Right now, I think both Dan and I are tired of always having to tend batteries. It's a never-ending chore.