An investment in electric fencing can deliver huge benefits and a significant return on investment provided the fence is well thought out and maintained, according to the UK 2020's Soil Farmer of the Year Alex Brewster of Rotmell farm and Pitlochry-based electric fencing specialists Powered Pasture.

The award is run by The Farm Carbon Toolkit and Alex' business is the first Scottish enterprise to win the accolade.

“Electric fences can be a cost-effective solution on many platforms,” he emphasises.

“They are good at keeping animals in and keeping predators out, especially unwanted wildlife such as deer. They can help significantly increase the productivity of grazing, and by being used for temporary laneways can make moving and handling animals more straight forward.

“In our experience, a temporary fencing system based on high tensile wire used to sub-divide grazing boosts productivity and pays for itself in just one season. A more robust permanent infrastructure can deliver a 25% return on investment.”

Born out of Alex’s need for good quality electric fencing equipment, Powered Pasture was formed six years ago, developing a working relationship with Gallagher. Located on an upland hill farm in Perthshire, the team at Powered Pasture specialises in cost-effective, practical fencing solutions with a key focus on rotational grazing.

At the 1000ha home farm currently 300ha is sub-divided into paddocks of less than 3ha using electric fencing with current expansion already underway into their hill block areas.

Better use of hill ground can be achieved with electric fencing

Better use of hill ground can be achieved with electric fencing

Alex believes that having a strong outer infrastructure can help promote scope for fence versatility in the form of smaller paddock sub-divisions or rotational grazing. Sub-division can help play a key role in grassland management and subsequent animal live weight gain.

“Here at Rotmell we have found that through the use of high-quality fencing and forward planning, we have managed to successfully extend our grazing season by 60 days. providing us with an optimum outdoor system and subsequently making a financial saving on purchased feed.”

Alex believes there are two key elements to a successful system.

“Firstly, map your initial design, highlighting your key grazing areas. This plan must also include your optimum future stocking rates, which helps determine the size and number of sub-divisions to make.”

For any system, when looking at energisers output, he advises that a minimum of 3000 volts is required for cattle fencing and a minimum of 5000 volts for sheep. If the current fence becomes under-powered because the energiser is too small, due to the distance of wire, or if earthing is inadequate, then additional investment in a quality, appropriately sized energiser will need to be made to correct this.

Following extensive research Powered Pasture choose to supply Gallagher energisers as they are robust and well suited to Scottish conditions and the range of farming systems operating. They also come with an exclusive seven-year warranty.

Alex advises that the second key element to a successful system is understanding the factors that can affect fence efficiency. Once installation has commenced and an energiser purchased, one of your highest priorities will be earthing.

Good earthing is the single most important factor with around 80% of the most common problems seen on farms being ineffectiveness of earthing. He added that finding the best site with good conductivity 12 months of the year is essential.

“This needs to be roughly in the middle of your fencing block, located somewhere with damp ground and good soil geology. It is a misconception that the earth zone needs to be close to the energiser. It can be 200-300 metres away if this means you get a better earth.

Make it a habit to always carry a fault finder

Make it a habit to always carry a fault finder

“You have to be prepared to invest in sufficient earthing to get the best from your energiser and a good guide is to have one metre of earth pole per stored joule of power in the energiser. Regularly checking the earth as conductivity can change during the year. There is a useful video explaining how to do this on the Gallagher website.

“If the test shows too high an ampage on the last earth pole then you need to look for a solution to the problem. This may be something as simple as needing to add an additional earth pole.”

He emphasises the need for use of high-quality fencing components, such as insulators, high tensile wire and underground cable. High-quality insulators containing LDPE plastic have a higher resistance to weather degradation. Highly conductive high tensile wire provides less amp resistance, enabling the fence to run at a higher voltage. Underground gateway cable needs to be correctly protected and clamped back to the line wire to reduce amp leakage.

During the season, regularly checking the fence line with a fault finder can help you highlight any damage or wear and tear. Alex also recommends looking at your electric fencing as a living system. It has a pulse, so keep it up! As it will become a big part of easing your day-to-day livestock and pasture management.

He says new energisers like the Gallagher iSeries use inline fence monitors which can be positioned strategically around the fence, effectively breaking the fencing system into zones. The monitors constantly assess the operation of the fence, measuring the output. If for any reason there is a fault, they identify the problem and also the zone where it has occurred, meaning you can go straight to the fault and resolve it.

All the data on the fence is shown in a control box which can be placed up to 50m away from the energiser, for example in the office. In addition, the Gallagher Dashboard app makes it possible to have all you need to know about the operation of the fence sent direct to your phone, giving simple 24-hour security.

“It also allows you to manage the fence more efficiently to reduce running costs. If zones are set up carefully it will be possible to turn off specific zones which are not being grazed, diverting the power to where the animals actually are. This will also potentially maximise the hectarage managed from the energiser.

To get the best return on investment, improve grazing productivity and potentially uplift your grazing days by a minimum of 30% he advises:

1. Carefully plan/map your electric fence system.

2. Future proof your system by including and planning with your optimum future stocking rate in mind.

3. Invest in the correct sized energiser.

4. Ensure earthing is sufficient and effective.

5. Assess and improve current infrastructure if needed. e.g., insulators and joins.

6. Continually manage your fence.