Farm fencing expert offers advice to Va. producers
WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Lewis Sapp urged the 125 people attending the 2023 Virginia Forage and Grassland Council’s Convention here Jan. 24 to know their livestock and land before starting a fencing project.
“You have to be able to put your hands on it,” Sapp said of fencing. “You have to make mistakes and you will. I try to think about livestock. I try to think about the critters.”
Sapp is a technical expert in the fencing industry who called on his experiences over the years with temporary, permanent and electric fencing systems, to develop an approach to livestock fencing that he shared in VFGC’s annual four-meeting series across the state last week.
The fencing discussion fitted well into the convention theme, “Learn to Read: Stockmanship for Better Cattle and Grass”, shared later in the week in Blackstone, Warrenton and Weyers Cave.
Sapp was joined at the podium by cattlemen Curt Pate and Johnny Rogers during the day-long events.
Pate has worked across the country to teach effective stockmanship principles based on his lifelong experience in ranching and animal handling. Rogers and his wife Sharon are first generation farmers who have become leaders in North Carolina’s pasture-based livestock industry.
Fencing should not be thought of alone, Sapp said. It is one piece of a three-part system that also includes forages and clean water, the most important of the trio.
Sapp’s advice is to first spend a day just looking at the property to be enclosed and the animal it should hold before even starting to plan a fencing project. Watch the livestock and see where they go. He said they do not walk in a straight line. Study the topography of the land involved. Find out where the steep places are, where there are ditches, shade and the many other positive and negative issues affecting livestock movement.
After scoping out the lay of the land, sketch out possibilities on graph paper. While he does not see this as the best way, it can be a useful start.
He noted that he has made a lot of mistakes in his career, calling them the “school of hard knocks”, an expensive way to learn.
“Think about what you want,” he stressed. “Build a system with fencing, watering and grass. You have to think of fence as a hired hand.”
Sapp is an advocate for curves in fences and the avoidance of corners with their complications and dangers. He maintains that no one thinks about livestock moving in curves. This failure leads to straight-line fences. He stressed that livestock does not move in straight lines, a factor that suggests watching them and knowing how and where they move in order to install the best fencing for the livestock it contains. He pointed to one need for straight-line fencing: property lines.
Interior fencing allows for creative thinking, according to Sapp, factors to ‘what you want to keep out of a field or enclosure.
He discussed how to design or add on to existing fencing and watering systems in order to improve management flexibility and enhance pasture utilization.
In addition to pasture infrastructure, Sapp touched on system design to improve operator efficiency and safety when moving livestock in and around working facilities.