May 2006
Featured Articles

Fence Out Your Food Plots

  John Howle makes sure the solar fence charger is placed in an area that will receive plenty of sunlight.
by John Howle

For years, I would look across the pasture bottoms and cleared hilltops of my family’s farm thinking this land would make ideal food plots for deer, turkey, and other wildlife. Every time I planted forage that was preferred by wildlife, the cattle were the first to eat the fruits of my labor. It is possible through solar charged fencing, however, to fence out your food plots so both livestock and wildlife can reap the benefits.

Effective food plots range from one to four acres in size. If visualizing an acre poses a problem, picture a football field in your mind. An acre is about the size of a football field without the end zones. Knowing the exact acreage of your food plot will come in handy later when estimating the amount of seed, lime, and fertilizer you will need to order from your local Co-op.

Just as you have been doing with pastureland, take soil samples, state the forage you intend to plant and that it is for food plots, and follow the recommendations on the soil test report. The areas that produce the best growth in pastureland generally perform the best with food plots. An advantage of a pasture food plot is that, more than likely, the soil pH and fertilizer requirements won’t need much adjustment.
On the sides of existing fencing to be used for the food plot, raise the lower strands to 18 inches off the ground to allow wildlife access and have the higher wire around 32 inches high.  
Start the Fence

Begin your food plot fence at an existing fence on your pasture property border. Run the fence to your desired size and shape, then, tie in to the existing fence again. This allows the existing fence to be one side of your food plot. The existing fence side is where wildlife will enter the plot. I select a few spots along the existing fence side, and raise the lower strand of wire so wildlife can enter easily.

If you plan for the food plot fence to be semi-permanent, you might want to use wooden fence posts in the corners, bends, and fence gap openings. If your fence will run in a fairly straight pattern, you can save money by alternating metal T-posts and fiberglass fence rods. I usually run two strands of fence wire. The first strand will be approximately 18 inches off the ground and the higher wire will be around 32 inches high.

A ground rod will be required for the solar fence-charging unit. Be sure to drive the ground rod into the ground at a depth of three or four feet. This will help prevent the unit from becoming knocked out of commission by a passing thunderstorm.

Many of the modern, solar fence chargers that can be purchased from your local Co-op are convenient to use, easy to move, and offer high performance if you follow the instructions closely. Obviously, make sure the solar charger is placed in an area that will receive plenty of sunlight. Many of the units allow adjustment of the speed of the current and will give you a reading of the charge level.

To help make the fence wire more visible to cattle, I tie blaze orange flagging on the wire between posts. However, usually all it takes is one sniff of the wire from a cow’s wet nose standing on damp ground to remind it that the food plot is off limits.

Once the initial investment of a solar fence charger has been made, solar fencing can provide a huge savings over traditional barbed wire fencing. If you have more than one food plot within pastures, as the cattle are rotational grazed, simply move the fence charger to the fence where the cattle are. After a while, the livestock will learn that the small, smooth wire packs a big bite.

Just as solar fencing is used widely in intensive grazing systems for cattle, the same principle can apply to your food plots. If you decide after a couple of years to move the fence, often all that is involved is pulling up the posts or rods, respooling the wire, and moving the fence to a different location.

Once you’ve fenced out your plots and planted forage, be sure to place a couple of exclusion cages within the plot. An exclusion cage allows you to see how much forage the wildlife are eating because they can’t eat inside the cage. I will roll dog wire into a hoop with a diameter of about three feet and secure it to two, metal T-posts with tie wire.

Arrowleaf clover is one of the legumes used in food plots.  

When it comes time to mow your plots, being in the pasture has another cost cutting advantage. Simply open the solar fence gap, and let the livestock in for cleanup grazing. This helps beat the high cost of fuel and wear and tear on the tractor. This will also make reseeding easier. If you plan to seed clover in February, for instance, livestock traffic inside will promote good seed to soil contact by compacting the seed into the ground.

As with all solar charged fencing, it’s important to check your fences periodically. There may be briar growth into the wire that can cause shorts. A summertime thunderstorm might send a shock through your fence system. Also, rotten overhanging limbs and trees may hit the fence by strong winds making fence repair necessary.

Food plots and pastureland can exist together to benefit wildlife and livestock, so fire up that fence.