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Extension > Small Farms News > May 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Electric Fencing for Livestock

By Laura Kieser
Extension Educator, Carver and Scott Counties

There are many fencing options for livestock. One of the most economical choices is electric fencing. Electric fencing may have lower financial and labor investment compared to other fencing alternatives. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when designing your electric fence.

Layout: Decide where your fence is going to go and what type of livestock it will be used for. It is often helpful to draw a picture of what you want the fence to look like when it's completed. This will help you determine where gates, water and laneways should be. It will also help to plan where different types of posts will be located. When sketched on paper it is easy to make changes to your plan.

Materials: It is important to have a properly sized charger for the length of fence that you are constructing. The fence also needs to be properly grounded. A good rule of thumb for determining the length of ground rod needed is three feet of ground rod per Joule of charge on the charger. When building the fence you will need to consider how many wires to attach, what type and how many posts to install. Usually you want to have three or more lines of wire on perimeter fencing. Up to five lines may be needed on perimeter fencing for smaller livestock. The strength of the wire used will also vary depending on the type of livestock being contained. Higher gauge wire will have a longer life, but is stiffer to work with. Posts will vary in size. Wire should be galvanized or coted to prevent rust. Corner posts should be built from heavy, treated wood as they are supporting the fence. Posts along the fence can be steel, fiberglass or wood. These will maintain wire spacing around the fence line. When considering insulators to secure the wire to the posts, invest in porcelain polyethylene or wrap around insulators. Although these options may be slightly more expensive, they will pay for themselves in the long run.

Tools: You will need to purchase a few tools to make constructing your fence a manageable project. You can find wire strainers/ratchets that can adjust the tension on the fence. The strainer needs to be stronger than the wire you use. Tensions springs will help to tighten shorter stretches of the fence. A posthole digger and post driver will help with setting corner posts. A wire spinner will help you to layout lines of wire efficiently. A crimp tool used with crimp sleeves helps to connect wires while maintaining strength. Other useful tools that can be used, but are not specific to fence building include: pliers, hammers, and shovels.

When you start to build your fence, be sure of the legal boundary of your property. You wouldn't want to build a section of your fence on your neighbor's property. Remember that electric fencing is a "psychological barrier" so it is critical that livestock can see the fence. Be sure to limit temptations outside of the fence line. If your fence line is next to a wooded area, goats for example would be tempted to browse through the fence. Clearing a path around the fence takes the temptation away as well as making the fence easier to maintain.

Monday, May 21, 2012

University of Minnesota Extension Offers Assistance with Soil Testing

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

The University of Minnesota Extension fields a number of questions regarding soil fertility and soil testing. The local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line offer soil testing assistance and are primary links to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, which provides routine soil testing and fertilizer recommendations for homeowners, farmers, florists, nursery workers and a number of other groups.

Soil testing, in any type of agricultural or horticultural landscape, can provide a number of benefits. A soil analysis takes the guesswork out of fertilizer recommendations, makes good economic sense and ensures fertile soil without excess fertilizer application. Based on the results of the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory, the local Extension offices and the Farm Information Line can provide advice and consultation with specific soil conditions.

Soil testing kits, which include sample bags, collection recommendations and a soil sample information sheet are available at your local Extension offices or by contacting the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory. Instructions for sampling soil in both small and large landscapes are also offered. After the sample has been collected it can be mailed or delivered to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory on the St. Paul Campus.

The sample will be processed and analysis will be provided in the selected area. Along with the returned soil test results, recommendations are provided for nutrient application. If assistance is needed to interpret the recommendations or soil test results, please visit your local Extension office or call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

More information regarding soil testing through the University of Minnesota can be found at

Row Covers

By Janelle Daberkow
Extension Educator, Stearns and Benton Counties

Row covers come in various sizes, are made from various materials, and are used for different purposes by vegetable growers. Row covers include plastic covered trenches, floating row covers and hoop-supported row covers. They are made of light-weight materials such as polyethylene (poly), polyester or polypropylene, and may be vented or unvented. Vegetable growers can use row covers to drape over individual plants, or enclose plants in rows or groups. The cover "floats" directly over the top of the crop, allowing air, sunlight, and water to penetrate the material, but protecting plants from outside pests. Plants beneath row covers without vents are often irrigated with drip irrigation. Floating row covers can be purchased through mail order seed catalogs as well as from garden supply companies and at some local garden centers. An advantage of using row covers is that they can usually be reused for two to three years.

Row covers made of heavier materials can offer frost protection to crops in the fall, and also allow for earlier season plant establishment in the spring by holding temperatures 4- 10 degrees warmer under the protection of the row cover. Crops, such as radishes, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, Chinese cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips, can be seeded directly into the garden and covered at planting time by the row cover. Row covers made of lighter weight materials can be used as a pest barrier around plants by keeping insects, rabbits, deer, birds and other nuisances out.

Row covers can be secured to the ground with sod pins, boards, bricks, sand bags, rocks or soil. It is important to leave enough slack in the row cover so that growing plants can push it up. Plants that are well suited for row covers include: lettuce, spinach, radish, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower. Other crops such as Swiss chard, beets, potatoes and snap beans can be grown under row covers, but since are growing through the hottest part of the summer and it may be necessary to remove the row covers by mid-June to prevent heat from building up around plants.

Some disadvantages of floating row covers are that pests that overwinter in the soil can become trapped under the row covers. These pests include: aphids, whiteflies, mites, trips, root maggots, flea beetles or Colorado potato beetles. Cultivating the soil before planting to reduce the number of surviving insects, and rotating crops from year to year will help with insect populations. Temperatures under floating row covers can increase dramatically, and temperatures can become too warm during hot days for plants. Also, weeds grow fast under floating row covers. It is necessary to pull the row covers back to hand-weed or hoe weeds out. It is possible to apply mulch around plants to keep weeds down. Finally row covers are difficult to use with tall plants, and covers need to be removed from plants such as tomato, pepper and eggplants, cucumbers, squash, melons, and pumpkins, when they begin to flower.

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