Alisdair and Emma Davidson farm at Poldean near Moffat in Scotland, running to 800ha with 300ha of improved grassland. The farm climbs from 270ft to 1,760ft and has 360 Salers suckler cows and 500 Lleyn ewes, with both breeds chosen for their maternal attributes. As Alisdair confesses, being part of the GrassCheckGB farm network is “just what a grass geek needs to get even more from grass to improve our productivity without necessarily increasing inputs to achieve this”.

Grassland management through rotational grazing can see an increase of grass quantity, quality and utilisation if moving from a traditional set stocking regime. Alisdair can accomplish a 16-day grazing rotation during the peak growing season and yielded 18T of dry matter from a reseeded paddock across the season.

Their move to mains electric fencing dates back to 2000. “We took the decision first to run a hotwire around the dykes offering them more protection”, explains Alisdair. “When we then made the leap to rotational grazing four years ago all we had to do was hook in, with no faffing about with batteries. You can literally get up that morning and subdivide a paddock with poly wire and create a 10-minute fence.” 

Some of the flock on the Davidson farm at Poldean
Some of the flock on the Davidson farm at Poldean

One of the perceived barriers to the move to rotational grazing is the additional infrastructure required, such as watering points and fencing which are crucial elements in the management of grazing livestock. During peak grass growth, paddocks may need to be split several times and require frequent animal movements to keep on top of grass growth to maximise utilisation and retain quality. Alisdair explains that this does not need to be seen as a negative “We have lots of stock but little staff and moving them every three days in the peak grazing months allows you to check the stock at the same time, a daily and time-consuming task you need to undertake anyway, to keep on top of the job”.

Replacing conventional fencing with mains powered permanent electric fencing is increasing in popularity and offers significant cost savings and provides a reliable and flexible long-term solution that rotational grazing demands. 

A mains powered system can be used to supply a live wire around the farm boundary or along sections of the fields. From these points, it is possible to then attach temporary lines from the permanent fence. Flexibility is key in a paddock grazing system and temporary systems added to the mains or powered by smaller solar powered energizers are ideal. 

In New Zealand, most farm fence lines since the 1960s have been made of tanalised pine posts with 2.5 millimetre gauge high-tensile wire for sheep and cattle, with five lines for sheep or a single line for cattle providing good conductivity across large areas if the system has a powerful enough energizer. A correctly earthed system together with high quality components is essential for good conductivity. Stock will quickly learn to respect this fencing. 

Any new fencing Alisdair erects at Poldean is fully galvanised metal, including Clipex stakes and smithy-made strainers and he expects them to last a lifetime. Like many producers, he is frustrated with posts rotting out in a very short space of time. 

Alisdair recently took delivery of a new Speedrite 46000W energizer* which can power up to 290 miles of fence line, capable of enclosing 260 hectares (640 acres) of grazing pasture, and he can monitor and control the energizer from a smart phone. He adds; “We have put in so much poly wire that we were running short of power and I’m very impressed with the new energizer. It also helps when training sheep onto electric and ‘the 10-minute fences’ also come with galvanised end posts complete with gateways and end-springs, so the stock never walk over wires when being moved. They always go through a gate instead, which is a must-do practise when moving stock.”  

Along with the mains electric infrastructure, the Duncan drill has also been an invaluable tool with direct drilling paying dividends in his rotational grazing programme and he comments; “One thing we can do is grow grass which is our biggest asset here, and getting the right mixture established can be quickly accomplished too. Graze one day, ½ strength Roundup, then direct drill after that. We have invested a fortune on our top two inches with lime so we have no desire to plough it in and bury it. There’s no picking stones either! After all, my late father Willie always said; "I don't mind working hard, but we don't make work hard” and rotational grazing with mains fencing and direct drilling works for us". 

*For professional use only.