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Main Content

American FarmWorks® Electric Fencing Guide: Dairy Cattle

For dairy herds, ranchers should have two fence styles, an electrified exterior fence for feeding/grazing and a non-electric fence in the milking area. Certain factors must be considered for each situation.

The good news is that dairy cattle are docile and have daily human contact, both of which make them easy to manage and contain inside a fence line.

Those factors mean that high-tensile electric fencing is a perfect fencing style for dairy cattle. Use it for perimeter fences, permanent paddock enclosures, semi-permanent paddocks and temporary enclosures.

Electric Fence Design for Dairy Cattle

What you’ll need:

  •       Enough poly fence for 3 to 6 fence lines
  •       Fence charger
  •       Ground rods
  •       Connecting wire
  •       T-posts/pigtail posts (if making a temporary enclosure)
  •       Wire insulators
  •       Fence line tensioner
  •       Crimping sleeves    

Number of fence lines: The number of fence lines can vary from 1 to 6, depending on the following factors:

  •       Animal size
  •       Expected fence lifespan
  •       Your activity inside the enclosure
  •       Predator and wildlife concerns
  •       Rotational grazing needs
  •       Perimeter fencing

Best setup: In general, at least 4 strands are required for all cattle, including a dairy herd, and 5 should be considered. For high-tensile fencing, space the wires approximately 10 inches apart and the minimum fence height is 54 inches. At the very least, set the bottom wire 12 inches from the ground. Electrify 2 to 3. Note that more wires are required for bulls and aggressive breeds.

On its own, an electric fence should not be used as a perimeter fence. Instead, have an outer ring of high-tensile electric fence as the perimeter fence, and then fence in individual paddocks inside it.

Tip: Running an electrified line at your cattle’s nose level is very important. If the animal is shocked on the nose, it backs away from the fence. If it’s shocked anywhere behind the eyes, it will bolt forward and through a fence.

Parlor fencing

Use electrified lines to construct a holding enclosure outside of the milking parlor. This area may be part of the barnyard or nearby space. Try to keep this area sheltered from severe weather and plan for at least 15 square feet per cow.

Interior parlor fencing should not be electrified, though. The parlor area is small, which keeps animals close to one another. Instead, use a wood fence or heavy wire panels.

Options for gates between these areas include a standard metal gate, movable "hot wire,"(((LINK))) or an automatic moving gate that will continually "crowd" the cows toward the milking parlor entrance.

Keep in mind parlor fencing systems should be laid out in a way that facilitates easy daily cleaning with machinery or a flushing hose.

Rotational Grazing Fencing

If you are planning a rotational grazing feeding system for your dairy herd, cross-fencing can be made with T-posts and a 2 to 3-wire system as you split large pastures into smaller paddocks. Space wires 10 inches apart with the bottom wire approximately 20 inches from the ground. Fences should be at least 40 inches in height.

For a less permanent option, use step-in posts and 2 or 4 strands of American FarmWorks® wire. Electrify this cross-fencing by tying them to the "hot wires" of the main perimeter fence.

Tip: Moving your milking herd from a paddock to the barn means you’ll need to send them through multiple gates each day. Your gates must be secured and electrified, yet still be easy to open and close. Do this with gate supplies(((LINK))) available from American FarmWorks®.

Handling facilities

For cattle-handling enclosures, use wood fencing or heavy wire panel fences. For these fences, electric lines are not appropriate. To prevent escapes, these fences should be at least 60 inches high and provide good visibility to the outside, which will reduce stress on the cattle and keep them moving.

Feedlot Fencing

For feedlots, fences should have at least 5 strands of high-tensile wire. These lines should be spaced 10 inches apart, with the lowest approximately 12 inches above the ground. Minimum fence height should be 52 inches.

Fence Chargers

To safely contain most dairy cattle, a fence charger that delivers at least 2,000 volts to 3,000 volts to the fence line is required. Remember that voltage levels can vary depending on the length of fence, the type of wire and if there’s vegetation intruding on the fence line.

American FarmWorks® recommends purchasing a fence charger based on your fence’s characteristics:

  •       Low impedance fence chargers(((LINK))), which include all American FarmWorks® fence chargers, are best for heavy weed conditions, long fences and/or large animals.
  •       Plug-in (AC) fence chargers(((LINK)))  must be placed near a power outlet. They deliver continuous, inexpensive electricity to a fence. They are the best all-around chargers thanks to their reliability.
  •       Battery-powered (DC) fence chargers(((LINK)))  are ideal for remote locations that are regularly checked.
  •       Solar-powered fence chargers(((LINK)))  are ideal for remote installations where AC power is not available. They have self-contained batteries.
  •       Note: Solid-state fence chargers were once an option for electric fencing. That is not the case anymore, and this style of charger is not safe for use. American FarmWorks® does not offer any solid-state charger options.

Tip: What’s the best electric fence charger for your operation? In most cases for dairy cattle, an AC fence charger is best. Since, you’ll be moving your milkers into and out of the milking parlor at least twice a day, it will help to have the charger controls nearby.

Containing Bulls

Bulls are highly motivated breeders, and you should segregate them from dairy cows, especially when the cows are in heat. Hormones will drive bulls to test fencing, so it’s important to plan for this accordingly.

To keep bulls properly contained, your fence line needs to run 3,000 volts to 4,000 volts. To do so, you’ll want a high-mile American FarmWorks® low impedance charger(((Link))) that can easily operate a fence with 5 or 6 lines. With these aggressive animals, you want your American FarmWorks® fence to deliver an intense shock whenever they test it, which will discourage their efforts to get to a cow.