Sunday, 27 June 2010

Badgerproof Fencing

Rob has given us permission to post this for those who do not get the BAS magazine.

Badger-Proof Fencing
By Rob Rawlins at Wellground Alpaca Stud in Wiltshire.

It was the British Alpaca Society that provided me with the inspiration for this latest farm improvement project. Like most alpaca breeders, there are a lot of improvements that I wanted to do on our alpaca farm. However, having attended the first of the BAS TB Awareness meetings held at Bristol in January 2010, only one project was really needed on our farm. Having listened to an excellent presentation, I was determined to do everything I could to prevent our alpacas from contracting bovine tuberculosis.

We had already decided to operate our alpaca farm as a ‘closed herd’ in the foreseeable future, a decision that has proved to be very fruitful as awareness of bTB was rising in the industry. We had decided not to show our alpacas at halter shows in 2010, and not to travel our herdsires for mobile matings. All these decisions would help prevent the herd contracting bTB from alpaca to alpaca contact. We have a strict biosecurity regime in place involving disinfectant matting, footwear baths and visitor precautions.

However, we needed to ensure that we did not infect the herd from the wildlife vector. This is a far more complicated task. On my return from the BAS awareness meeting, I started to research badger-proof fencing for our farm. There appeared to be two solutions, firstly electric fencing. This needed to be specialised for the purpose, although this could be installed on our farm, the layout would make such a system high maintenance due to our hedgerows causing short-circuit issues close to the ground during the hedge growing season. The electric fencing solution would work for some breeders, but we wanted something more permanent, something low maintenance and long lasting. We decided to install permanent specifically manufactured badger-proof netting.

I know that some people think that installing badger proof fencing is over the top. I know some people thought it was a reaction of panic to a situation that didn’t call for such radical action. Not so actually, we were probably sitting on a time bomb of bTB. We have local badger setts. The badgers were coming onto our land and walking amongst our alpacas every night. They would use our paddocks as latrines and would dig up areas each night looking for worms under the alpaca dung piles. But this was nothing new, they had been doing this every night for the last 10 years we have been breeding alpacas on our land. Our local badgers were clean of bTB, they had to be or surely we would have contracted the disease long ago.

The issue that made us realise our worrying position, was finding out that less than 10 miles away a cattle herd had gone down with bTB, contracted from a local badger sett. Bovine TB was getting closer to home in the wildlife vector and was starting to be a direct threat to our alpacas. It was time for some serious action.

We employed the services of an expert in this field, Antony Griffiths of AJG Fencing Contractors. Not only is Antony a fencing expert, his parents own Toad Hall Alpacas in Worcestershire. He had a sympathetic understanding of our position and how the threat should be approached in relation to alpacas. Antony is a great believer in quality fencing products. In his opinion only Tornado’s specific badger-proof fencing would be good enough to do the job properly. Tornado fencing is made in the UK; it is made of high tensile steel and very good quality. That’s what we decided to use. To complement this quality fencing material, we needed to address the access for wildlife at gateways to our land. New meshed galvanised gates were purchased and fitted above concrete thresholds. At more inaccessible points around our land rather than concreting, railway sleepers were dug under the gateways to prevent badgers from entering under the gates.

The fencing process involved using a mini-digger to dig a trench around our entire perimeter. The old post and rail fencing was removed and the new fencing was erected with the badger-proof netting travelling down into the trench. To get the most effective use if this netting, the wire needed to travel down 450mm below ground level and then turn out away from the land being protected for at least 200mm. Having installed the fencing this way, it left a finished fence height of 4ft. The trench was back filled covering the netting underground, leaving a tidy finished appearance. That was not good enough for us or Antony though. We are very aware that badgers are capable of climbing fencing. To finish the job effectively, on the outside of the fence at the top Antony fitted an electrified single run of wire, connected to a mains operated Electric Shepherd energiser. On the inside at the top of the fence was another non-electrified single run of wire to protect the alpacas from getting shocked by the outer wire.

We thought that our new fencing would be a secure solution. However we did not allow for the tenacity of the badger. Never underestimate the single minded approach they have of maintaining control of their patch. It took the badgers one night to get in to our land. Just one night!. The only weak spot in the fencing was at one of the stud paddock field shelters. Due to the layout of that part of the paddock, fencing behind the shelter was impossible. Antony had to fence up to each side of the shelter, rather than behind it. That night the badgers burrowed under the shelter and into our land. Although annoying, this was simply remedied by manually finishing the back of this shelter with badger-proof netting. This has now resulted in our farm being a badger free zone.

However, it’s not just badgers that are now kept out. Foxes also cannot enter our land. Twice during this last winter, we had dogs enter our land and one actually bit one of our herdsires, the other attacked one of our bantams. No dogs can gain access to our land any longer. In fact even rabbits cannot get in through the tiny holes in the netting. About three days after the installation process, we found a young rabbit had been fenced inside our land. He tried for days to get out of our fencing and back to his warren but he couldn’t get out.

Badger-proof fencing is not a cheap solution, we are fortunate that our land is not too large, it made the project achievable for us. The feeling of reassurance it gives cannot be measured. I know we cannot prevent avian TB or rodent TB entering our land. But we have been able to prevent the wildlife that can carry Bovine TB from entering our property. For us it was quite simply a no brainer.

Any alpaca breeders interested in this solution for eradicating badgers from their land are very welcome to visit our farm and see how this project has been completed. Contact Rob or Les at Wellground Alpaca Stud on 01380 830431.

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