Thursday, February 26, 2015

Local Solutions to Herd Management in Nicaragua

When working in countries with limited resources, creative and local solutions are key. In January 2015, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Wayne Burleson traveled to Nicaragua for a two week assignment to train local farmers in intensive rotational grazing and the installation of electric fences for herd management. During his assignment, Wayne identified two notable challenges for cattle farmers. First, electrical fencing supplies and other materials are difficult and uncommon to find locally. Second, the security of fencing equipment is an important concern for local farmers, as fencing equipment is very valuable and could be stolen.

To address these challenges, Wayne worked with farmers to identify local, inexpensive materials they could use for their fences that would be less likely to be stolen and more readily accessible. He then trained farmers on the installation and maintenance of these practical electric fencing systems. Wayne offers the advice, "When you find yourself in a difficult position, just look around for substitute materials. [You might be able to] recycle waste material into something very useful". Below Wayne describes the viable solutions he and the farmers developed:
                                                                                                                                  
I was working with a dairy farm that already had several permanent pastures fenced with barbed wire. I brought a fence charger with me from the USA and the electric fence wire was already provided. We just needed to invent some homemade insulators, gate handles, switches, lightweight electric fence posts and wire tighteners.

Electric fence outrigger constructed by Wayne and local farmers.
The dairy farm wanted to strip graze each permanent pasture with temporary electric cross fencing for a 12-hour pasture rotations system. This would give them greater pasture rotation flexibility, more uniform controlled grazing, and longer plant re-growth and recovery time. In the long term it would allow them to grow more forage with improved soil fertility.

The fence building ideas from this electric fencing project were cost effective and were phenomenally simple. Homemade fence insulators were designed, constructed and tested. They were made from high density old plastic pipes that were just lying around the dairy farm. I had suggested a solar fence charger, but they informed me that it would be stolen.

We came up with a rough design of an electric fence outrigger to accommodate running a hot wire up steep hills next to an existing barbed wire fence. We took our idea to a local blacksmith who used a hammer and anvil to make a beautiful shaped wire rod outrigger. Once the design passed our testing on a live tree, it worked great, and we were successful at developing a uniquely made electric fence outrigger (see photo). This invention can be added to an electric fence wire after the wire has already been strung out. The curled end accommodates easy installation, and the cost was about one dollar compared to 3-dollar commercially made models.

Wire tightener created from inexpensive, local materials.
We made several other tree and wood post insulators that are so simple that I kick myself for not coming up with these uncomplicated ideas sooner after years of buying expensive insulators. All you do is cut off sections—approximately 5 inches long—of PVC pipe or HD black plastic pipe, drill two holes in each end, and drive a nail through the pipe and attach it to a wood post or tree. Next you drill a hole in the side of the plastic that is bigger than the diameter of the wire and cut a slot in the plastic pipe with a hacksaw to slide the fence wire into this hole. We also constructed a wire tightener with an S curved chunk of rebar with an extended handle. To use, you just slide the loop over the fence wire, turn the whole S curved rebar to the desired tension, and lock the loop with the rebar handle.

Since completing his assignment, Wayne received news from Leonardo Castro, one of the farmers who installed the new electric fence, that it has been successful at keeping his cattle confined. Leonardo also noted that he has already seen a difference in the quality of the land and regrowth of the grass after allowing the pastures to rest. With support from volunteers like Wayne, farmers in Nicaragua (and elsewhere) can be resourceful in identifying local materials and techniques to improve efficiency in production and natural resource management.

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