Mountain Harvest Organic – Farm Fencing 101
CRAFT Tour August 17, 2014
This August we ventured to Spring Creek in Madison County for a farm tour at Mountain Harvest Organic Farm on Farm Fencing 101. Julie Mansfield and Carl Evans having been farming for 14 years diversifying, trying out new projects and tweaking their systems each year. They have scaled back some this year and are currently growing produce on three acres including 6 greenhouses, raising dairy cows for their own use, a handful of hogs, and some sustainable forest management during the winter.
Choosing and using fencing isn’t a glamorous part of farming, but it can certainly be one of the most important aspects of your day to day work whether you’re growing vegetables or raising livestock. As we started the tour Carl explained that with three major types of fencing to choose from – electrified, woven wire and individual strand wire – your choice will depend on three things: the animal being contained (or kept out), the environment, and your ability to maintain the fence. For instance, with dairy cows once they’ve been trained to respect the electric fence they only need a single line of electrified wire to keep them in, unless of course you don’t stay on top of rotating them to new grass. Whereas, pastured poultry require temporary electrified netting that can be moved as part of a rotational grazing system and is necessary to keep the chickens in as well as predators out.
Important factors to consider when buying electric fencing materials are where your permanent or temporary gates will be, where the solar charger is located, the strength of the charger (how much wire it’ll electrify), and what type of wire you’re using. So basically, plan, plan, and plan some more – to save yourself the time, money and heartache later. Electric fencing is ideal for any type of rotational grazing because it is typically lightweight, flexible, can be set-up and taken down easily, and since it relies on the sun via the solar charger it can be put up just about anywhere. Whereas it’s not the best option for vegetable protection – deer will jump it, rabbits fit through even the tiniest holes and groundhogs just barrel under. It’s also important to remember that electric fences are primarily psychological barriers, more than physical barriers so keeping the fence well charged to give a good shock to encroaching animals is key. Be sure you’re able to do the proper maintenance to keep your fence running strong i.e. weed-eating the fence line. Consensus among the CRAFT group was that when it came to electric fencing higher prices usually denotes better quality, and it’s worth it to make a solid investment in your fencing after doing your research. Oh, and always get the double step-in posts for the electric netting. You can you thank us later!
Our next fencing lesson was on deer fencing. In many parts of WNC deer can wreak havoc on a vegetable plot, severely cutting into your bottom line. Carl and Julie have tried every type of psychological fencing to keep the deer out of their fields before finally making the financial and time investment in a permanent eight-foot high tensile woven wire deer fence. Woven wire is designed so the squares won’t slide apart keeping things from pushing through. Carl & Julie bought their materials from Kencove Farm Fence Supplies, bought the poles locally, and did their own labor to keep the cost for all their materials about $10,000. They were able to pay for the fence the first year just from selling the plants they usually would have lost to the deer’s appetite. Over the 10 years they’ve had the fence they’ve only found two deer inside (as opposed to the two dozen or more at a time before) that came in when the gate was left open. The only maintenance needed on the fence after installation is to weed eat and flame weed along the edge of the fence a couple times a year. Key things to remember when installing a high tensile woven wire fence are to plan for your corners, gates, and changes in elevation; brace your ends; and stretch your wire. It was a major undertaking for Carl & Julie, but has proven to be worth the investment.
At Mountain Harvest Organics since they raise fewer than 10 pigs a year they’ve moved into permanent pig fencing that they can divide into rotational paddocks with electric wire that is a 4 ft. version of their deer fence. Once again they chose woven wire for less up keep, and to withstand the rooting noses of the hogs. If you prefer a more temporary set-up, it is possible to contain hogs with a simple one-strand electric wire at pig nose height if they are trained to respect electric fencing.
After such a great tour Carl and Julie fired up their pizza oven and we feasted on wood fired pizzas good enough to come from the most fancy gourmet restaurant. We can’t thank Carl & Julie enough for their abundant hospitality, and for sharing their farm experiences and knowledge so honestly & freely. Mountain Harvest Organic farm is always a highlight during the CRAFT season!
You can join us next time! CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm interns, farm employees and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. Membership is rolling, so join anytime! For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Cameron Farlow, Organic Growers School Farmer Programs Assistant at 828.338.9465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director. Hailing from Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, she has now made her home in Western NC. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. She also brings experience in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. In addition to her work with OGS, Cameron is a beekeeper, dancer, baker and avid adventurer.