Modern, Time-Efficient Fencing Options

March 1, 2024

By Jacki Martinez Perkins, MOFGA’s Organic Dairy and Livestock Specialist

At MOFGA’s 2023 Farmer to Farmer Conference we hosted a session about new fencing technology and how it is being implemented in rotational grazing systems in the Northeast.

Dan Smith, who has worked with the dairy industry for decades, secured funding through the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center to trial invisible fencing collars on cattle dairies in the Northeast using Nofence technology out of Europe. The study will focus on soil and water health over two grazing seasons to determine the efficacy of this system.

The Nofence system was developed to work on cows, sheep and goats using cellular phone service to send GPS signals from the collars to the operator’s cell phone. Users of the system download an app onto their phone where they can set and adjust perimeters and paddocks, cordon off areas (like ponds) to keep livestock out, and move livestock to new grazing areas.

The system requires a brief training period where livestock spend time in physical fencing to learn that the musical notes coming from the collars will lead to a short shock if they do not retreat. While individual animals might escape the “fenced” area, they are not shocked upon their return to the herd, unlike a physical fence that they would need to completely disregard in order to return to their friends. One of the more interesting aspects of this system is that “lost” individuals can be found using the GPS signals broadcast from the collars. If a whole herd gets spooked and runs through the perimeter, they can be located via the cell phone app and a perimeter can be set up around them to contain them until they can be collected by their humans. The Vermont farmer working with Smith on this project had this happen: The herd was following a cyclist and was far too intrigued to respect the musical alerts. The farmer was immediately notified via alerts from his phone and easily collected his cattle.

If you’re just not ready to ditch the physical comfort of a fence, there are systems being developed to reduce the time moving fences takes. Rob Albers currently farms in northern Aroostook County, Maine, with a goal of raising 800 market-ready Katahdin lambs. He has invested in the RAPPA system from Britain and has been very happy with the ease of use and time savings it offers.

The RAPPA fencing system is a lightweight rack that holds up to four spring-loaded reels of poly fence. This rack can be mounted on an ATV or truck hitch and, as the vehicle moves along, the poly wire is kept from tangling as it is either rolled in or out. If the system is mounted on an ATV, the operator can carry lightweight fence posts on the forward rack of the ATV and never needs to dismount as they install paddock separations.

During the summer of 2023 Albers ran a total of 850 sheep in four groups. These groups were intensively, rotationally grazed on 200 acres during the summer growing season, which runs from June to October in Maine’s northern reaches. He was able to utilize available forages in an efficient manner despite having off-farm employment to subsidize his startup costs.

Additional information for both of these fencing options can be found online.

This article was originally published in the spring 2024 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

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