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June 2016

Silver Bullet Step One:   Just Do It!


by Paul Casey
Heifer Project International


As silly as it may sound, sometimes the hardest thing about getting started is getting started. If that sounds like a statement borne of experience, it is. As mentioned in the November 2014 Timely Topic titled “The Silver Bullet of Worm Control in Ruminants”, we use pasture management as the primary method of GIN control in our sheep flock.


Changing from continuous grazing to moving sheep every 2 to 4 days can seem impossible but it is not; all that has to be done is to start somewhere. It may be closing the gates so the sheep don’t have access to all pastures or moving from two week to one week rotations. Anything that will shorten the time sheep are exposed to a paddock or lengthen the time it takes the flock to return is progress. Successfully keeping sheep behind a polywire fence takes a good charger and determination as well as understanding sheep behavior and the role of the fence. Both the shepherd and the sheep must learn how to rotational graze.

External fences are a containment system; however, temporary electric fences are a tool to ration feed. My goal is not to keep sheep behind the temporary fence but to not give them a reason to cross it. A temporary polywire fence is not a physical barrier it is a psychological barrier, which means they think it is a physical barrier.


I call sheep “busy eaters” as when they graze they are constantly moving, getting one bite here and one bite there. I find also that sheep like to be where they are not; they are always very eager to move, even if there is sufficient forage. When training sheep to the electric fence or when transitioning from the longer winter graze periods (2+ weeks) to the shorter 2 day growing season graze, we always give them more room that they need so they do not feel “crowded in” by the fences. During this transition period we use one step-in post every 10 to 15 feet and 4 to 5 strands of polywire and by the time we get down to the 2 to 4 day graze, we use

one step-in post every 20 to 25 feet and 2 to 3 strands. To retrain sheep, we have had to use one post every 6 to 8 feet with 8 strands and weed-eat under the fence to make it stand out as a barrier.


When sheep are grazing, their field of view is about 8 inches above the ground and when they are standing with their head up it is 20 to 24 inches, which is pretty close to where two of the wires need to be. If the grass is not ~8 inches tall, a strand less than 8 inches may be required. The fewer posts and wire used means less time spent erecting and dismantling fences.

Keeping sheep behind electric fences in the summer and fall is directly related to keeping new lambs behind the fence. Sheep are shocked by electric fences on the nose and tips of the ears. Lambs investigate everything with their noses; the earlier they get shocked the better.


I find that even when animals are well trained to electric fences, it takes horses  about 1 month, cattle about 2 weeks, sheep about 4 days and goats about 2 days to learn a fence is not hot. Therefore keeping sheep and goat fences hot all the time is critical.

I hope this helps you get started or take that next step. To avoid being invited to write an article about step two, I’ll tell you what it is now:  Just do more of it.

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