Back when we first began grazing cattle, it was the most labor intensive part of our day. We would painstakingly tear down and set up portable electric netting for our cattle, move a solar energizer, and layout as much garden hose as required to water them. And we did this every single day! Thankfully, our business has come a long way since 2011 when we were last doing that for our cattle. You do what you must to pave the way for smoother sailing, and crawl before you walk. The growth of our business has allowed us to invest into infrastructure which now makes moving cattle the quickest, easiest and most enjoyable part of our day.
While building lots of permanent fence and putting in buried water were the big tasks to make our job easier, the day to day tools that have been useful are the portable reels and fence posts. These simple items can quickly subdivide your larger grazing areas into small paddocks for the daily rotation of livestock. Daily rotation is a key management practice used to really keep your grasses in that fast growth stage, which will fatten up your cattle the quickest, and make you the most money per acre. We like to have 30-45 days of rest on a grazing area before we hit it again. By using the portable posts and reels, we can quickly size up or scale down our paddock sizes to meet the current demand of our herd, grass conditions, future grazing needs, etc. These tools are excellent for this task, and have proven themselves the last two and half seasons on our farm.
First up is the O’Brien Fence Reel. While you have several choices to pick from, it basically boils down to a geared reel or non-geared reel, with several variations there of. In short, a 3:1 “geared” reel will turn three times for every one crank of the handle. A “non-geared”, or “standard” reel, is 1:1 and turns one rotation per one crank of the handle. We started in early 2012 with the 3:1 geared reels because the 1:1 geared reels were out of stock from a local farm store. As an aside, I was told I didn’t need a 3:1 reel unless I was going to drop the wire on the ground, stand stationary, and reel it up quickly. I’ve used the O’Brien 3:1 reels the last two and a half years and absolutely love them. They are very well built, durable and do the job well. I’ve dropped them, run over them, tossed them around like a rental, and they are still ticking. You can feel the heft and quality in this unit the moment you pick it up. It will also hold nearly 1,400 feet of portable electrified fence wire (twine) which is very handy when moving animals long distances.
This Spring, my favorite online farm store (Kencove Fence Co.) was out of the stock on the 3:1 reels from O’Brien (and as far as I can tell, as of this writing, has dropped those completely in favor of a Stafix brand 3:1 standard sized reel). Not giving it much thought, I ordered three of the 1:1 O’Brien reels. Well, evidently that advice I was given about not needing the 3:1 reels was bad! I guess I must walk pretty fast when reeling up fence wire because I figured out pretty quick that I really prefer the 3:1 reels much more than the 1:1. I won’t say I hate the 1:1 reels, but I do dislike them very much. I find that I have to walk much slower when winding these, which slows me down, and it’s also harder to keep the wire taught on the reel (which is a big deal when winding wire). I also feel that the 1:1 reels are a lot flimsier in construction than the 3:1 reels. They are not as well balanced with the wire on them and I can often feel them “wobble” significantly from side to side when reeling. In short, for about $10 more, stick with a 3:1 geared reel from O’Brien. And while I can’t comment on the Stafix reels Kencove now carries, I do recommend the Stafix 9 wire electric twine for your reels from Kencove.
Concerning Kencove, I’ve generally been really happy with them and recommend them highly to anyone. However, I recently had a frustrating experience with them when buying the 1:1 reels. The 3:1 reels come with a plastic gate handle that ties off your loose electric wire and connects to your high tensile fence. Not thinking about this, I ordered the 1:1 reels and they showed up without these handles. With no handle, they are worthless equipment! I called Kencove to let them now they forgot my handles, only to be told you have to order those separately on the 1:1 reels. They cost a whooping . cents each, but cost me an additional $7 in shipping and a boat load of frustration in the interim while waiting on them. I still love Kencove, but I let them know in no uncertain terms they either need to warn you when ordering to add the handle or to simply add $1 to the cost of the reel and add the handle as standard! Be forewarned if you order from them to include the handle if you get the 1:1 reel. It’s product number “GPL” on their website, and don’t forget the jumper leads to connect your reel to your electric fence!
Next up is the O’Brien treadaline step-in fence post. Let me say up front that I first heard about these posts from a very well known grazer: Greg Judy. Greg once commented in a seminar I attended that he had bought every different step-in fence post style and brand known to man. He also said that everything except the treadaline posts were laying unused and/or broken in a pile in the corner of his barn. When a guy like Greg Judy speaks, you listen!
The treadaline posts are expensive (about $4/post shipped if you buy a box of 50 from Kencove) but man do they work. And they last! To be frank, I’m hard on equipment and I’ve yet to bust one of these posts – some are a little bent and twisted, but still working just fine. You can literally bend one around your knee into a u-shape and it will not break. What really makes these things tick however is the extra long spike on the bottom that goes into the ground. A small detail, but big difference in quality can be noticed by how far up into the post the spike goes. It’s a good 2″ longer than most, and goes above the “step” you place your foot on to drive it into the ground. This keeps it from breaking off like many other posts, rendering it a piece of junk for the corner in your barn. Add to that the versatility of 4 electric tape clips on one side, and 8 electric twine hooks on the other and you have a winning product. You can also use these posts for cattle, sheep, pigs, etc. If you know much about me, you know that I like equipment that has multiple uses (function stacking) and this post fits that bill. Personally, I like spending my money on stuff that will take real world farm abuse and keep on ticking. The O’Brien treadaline posts meet the challenge and is worth twice the cost of a cheap post at your local farm supply store. You get what you pay for, and no doubt this will fail on you at the worst possible time: When you are using it for its intended purpose!
Remember when buying any equipment, you can’t “unbuy” it. And it’s better to buy something that will last versus something that is cheap and will need to be replaced. I hope you find this review helpful and the equipment productive in making your grazing efforts faster and more profitable.