I intend to keep growing my sheep flock. There were three things I needed to do this year to be able to accommodate a larger group. One was to get an ATV trailer so I can haul more hay in one trip. That part is done. I also need to build a few more hay feeders, and that is not yet done; but I’m hoping I’ll get to it before November when I have to start feeding hay! The third thing was to get a portable hotwire system that could make bigger grazing squares than my Electronet fencing can.

This I accomplished over the last month. The trouble with Electronet and a battery charger is that the charger can only charge so many feet of fence. There are a lot of wires (eight, on mine), thus a lot of resistance. The four 164-foot panels I ran were the max I could use without moving to an A/C fencer system (another to-do item, but one for another year); and the square they made could graze forty ewes for a day or two. But I don’t like moving the fence daily or every other day. And I want to have more ewes.  This fence also couldn’t make a long and wide enough rectangle to fully utilize our bigger field, so I was always left mowing a little strip.

Enter the three-wire system. Since there are fewer horizontal wires, and the bottom one is up higher, there is less resistance, and less grounding in wet grass. Thus, bigger squares can be accomplished with the same battery charger.

It took me a lot of time to study all the diagrams and product descriptions on Premier’s website to decide what to order. I wanted to run the fencing in a “U” shape, so that the guardian dogs could pass on one end, between it and the permanent fencing. I settled on buying plastic yellow hooks which attach to the solid fencing on the initial end of the “U”- thus insulating the poly-wire from the grounded fencing. On the bottom corners of the “U”, I use thicker plastic posts, and I bungee-cord them to the solid fencing, up high so the dogs can walk underneath. This puts enough tension on the corners to hold them up. The final end of the “U” has a galvanized metal pound-in post which holds the poly wire reels. Between, there are step-in fiberglass posts which hold the wires at the right heights. Though the advice is to put step-in posts every 33 feet, I find that more is better. Otherwise the wire tends to sag too much between posts, or ends up at the wrong height if the ground is even slightly hilly.

It’s taking some time to learn the best way to efficiently reel and unreel the fence. But I think with practice, just like the netting, I’ll get fast at it. I think it takes a little longer to move, since I have to traverse the fence path three times, rather than once (maybe it’s possible to become skilled enough to run two or three reels at once, but I’m not sure- the wires tangle easily!). But, since I can make bigger squares, I don’t have to move it as often.

I didn’t want to spend the money to get a double set of reels, so I can set the next square ahead of time, and just let the sheep into it. So, for now, I’m moving quickly to unreel the middle wire and re-set it, then let the ewes into that square, before hurriedly re-stringing the top wire to convince them to stay in the new square. Eventually, I think I will want to pop for the extra set, just so there are no annoying escapes. Of course I can use a dog to get them back. But we’ve all already learned the lesson that the dogs can’t really see the wires, and tend to run the sheep into them. And a mob of sheep can drag a tangled wire a long ways! The wire is fragile, so not really designed for this abuse. Best to be doing calm and gentle moving around this type of fencing! 

The ewes seem to be respecting it well. A few got out at first, before I optimized the wire height. The voltage is much higher, so they are learning to be wary of it- even the clever ones who know how to “flip” under the Electronet fencing are now staying in.

I have three grazing groups going on right now. The mature ewes are working their way through one pasture in the new 3-wire system. The small group of rams is loose in another pasture- it’ll keep growing while they’re in it, because there aren’t enough of them to eat it down. They have to stay separated from the girls until it’s time to breed in November. And the growing ewelambs and wethers are in small Electronet enclosures grazing the best grass in our orchards and hillside.

I was worried about grass supply because we’ve had a very dry summer again. Last year, I was a little too aggressive with mowing. Taken by surprise by no rain for months, I ran out of grass and had to feed hay early. This year, I’ve been more conservative. I only mowed the big fields once each, and really just quickly to knock down some stemmy grass after the sheep had grazed. I spot-mowed one field again to take out some nettles and thistle. And Kirk has mowed our orchards a couple of times, because those are kind of half-graze, half yard. But otherwise, the sheep have used all the grass so far. We’ve had bits of rain in the last few weeks, and more due soon, and the grass is growing like gangbusters again. So I think this means I will have adequate forage at least through October, if not though November or later. That is a relief!