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PHOTO: Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock
Whether you’ve just purchased new farmland or are fixing up an existing farm, fencing should be at the forefront of your planning.
Although there are plenty of other things involved in maintaining a farm that are important to plan for, poorly planned fencing can lead to costly losses and even legal issues.
Farm fencing can also take up a good chunk of your budget, although plenty of quality, affordable options exist. If you plan on having a varied herd, keep in mind that each type of animal has its own fencing needs, and that males and females will need to be separated during breeding season.
And don’t forget to be prepared to maintain and patch fencerows at a moment’s notice.
You’ll not only want to consider the animals you’ll be keeping in but also the animals you want to keep out. Ask yourself:
- Are you in an area with a lot of predators?
- Do you have pets that might wreak havoc if they get through your fenceline?
- Do you have a tight budget or a strict time line?
- Is it important that the fence have good aesthetics? If so, are you looking for a polished or rustic look?
You’ll also want to consider fence posts when working on your strategy.
Fences That Make Sense
Here’s a rundown of some of the more common farm fencing types, although you will find other options out there.
Woven wire fencing is sturdier and, thus, pricier than welded wire. Rather than the panels being welded together, they are woven together with a wire crimp where the horizontal and vertical wires intersect.
Because of this construction, it’s easier to stretch tightly and to repair. It also withstands weather-related contraction and expansion better than welded wire fencing.
Woven wire fencing comes in various mesh sizes and heights, so choose what is best for your livestock needs.
Goats will need high fencing with small mesh openings to keep them from climbing or jumping over or getting their heads stuck. Wider openings are fine for larger animals or animals that don’t have a tendency to lean. This is also an ideal option if you have a large herd and a variety of terrain to cover.
Field fencing is a more affordable version of woven wire fencing. It is held together by a flexible hinge joint made of high-strength, high-tensile steel and generally sells in rolls of 330 feet for nearly half the price of woven wire fencing.
It also has varying gaps that start small at the bottom to keep small animals out (or in).
Field fencing is a solid option for smaller animals that will put less strain on a fence and for fencing in garden areas or dog pens.
Barbed wire requires less fence posts, which reduces cost significantly.
Ideal for covering large areas, barbed wire should only be used with large, thick-skinned animals not prone to jumping or wriggling through fence gaps such as cattle.
Due to the use of a large amount of steel, it tends to be strong and can be stretched tightly. Barbed wire is often used to cover gaps where other types of farm fencing isn’t needed or would be unrealistic.
Keep in mind that barbed wire isn’t easily visible to horses, which like to scan the horizon for a distance or can be spooked near a fence. Avoid using for horses, if possible, and always tie bright cloths or something else highly visible along the fence line to increase visibility.
Barbed wire also requires special tools and extra care when installing. It needs to be braced at regular intervals, and it’s a good idea to install fence stays between posts. A fence tensioner is also a good idea, although you can get by with pliers.
And, of course, wear heavy clothing and gloves when working with barbed wire!
Electric fencing is inexpensive, but the cost of electricity must be kept in mind.
Like barbed wire, electric fencing requires less posts and can be stretched across long distances. For it to be effective, you’ll need a fence charger, grounding rods and insulators.
It can be used for a wide range of animals, but keep in mind that its effect is only psychological. If a buck or bull really wants to get to the other side of the fence to visit “his lady,” he may be willing to withstand the initial shock.
Corral panels can be installed quickly and don’t require posts. They’re assembled with pins and no wiring is involved. They can cost more than $100 a panel, though.
These are definitely not good options for a long-term solution or for fencing a pasture. But if you need something for a small area that sets up quick and is portable, they’re ideal.
Posts can be used at intersections to keep them stable if you want to create a more permanent pen or corral area.
Continuous Steel Rail
Continuous steel rails are similar to corral panels, except they don’t connect by a hinging system. Each rail connects to the next, making for a seamless fence line that is quick to install.
They can be used to fence larger areas than corral panels with the use of posts. Simply attach the rails to the post with a lag bolt and mast clamp. Whenever you need to turn a corner, use an elbow connection.
The relative ease of installation and longevity of this style of farm fencing may be worth it to you, but this isn’t one of your most affordable options.
Traditional Wood Rail
Avoid traditional wood rails unless you really want to go for that classic look and are willing to keep it up.
It takes time and a lot of labor to maintain. And its high cost is long-running, as it will need to be regularly repainted or retreated to keep it visually appealing and to stave away rot.
It’s not cheap either. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before going with this option.
There is also a similar style made from vinyl that doesn’t require painting or treating. If you want aesthetics and are on a budget, go for that, but it’s not known for being the most sturdy farm fencing solution.
Keep ’Em Posted
There are various other types of fences on the market, many of them variations of the ones previously mentioned.
Regardless of what you choose to go with, you’ll also need to think of posts and gates. As with the fencing, you’ll want to strike a balance between affordability, longevity and effectiveness.
T-posts are a versatile option for meeting these criteria.
Metal T-posts range in height from 4 to 8 feet. They are quick and easy to install with a sledgehammer or T-post driver. They do require the additional purchase of wire T-post clips, but they’re still an affordable option overall.
If you just want something quick and easy to put up for your farm or garden, a T-post is a great option. They are long-lasting but can also be pulled up (not easily, mind you) if you decide to relocate your fencing area.
Treated Wood Posts
Treated wood posts are a viable option for longevity and aesthetics. They tend to come in lengths of 6 to 8 feet and can be round or square. If placed properly, they can provide a highly uniform fencerow.
At a cost of around $8 to $10 per post, they’re not the cheapest option but are worth it if they fit your needs.
They tend to be cumbersome and need to be buried in at least a 2-foot hole, so there is some work involved in placing them. A handheld posthole digger will get the job done, but if you have a tractor, a hydraulic posthole digger is a worthwhile purchase. There are also various gas-powered posthole diggers on the market.
Because they are chemically treated to handle extreme weather, environmentally minded farmers may want to avoid them. The use of arsenic in wood treatment was phased out in 2002, and some studies have been done on the effect of chemicals in treated lumber on surrounding soil.
If this is something you’re concerned about, do some research and make an informed decision.
Split Locust Posts
An alternative to treated wood posts is split locust. Locust is naturally resistant to rot and thus has a long lifespan without the need for chemical treatment.
They are midways in cost between metal T-posts and treated wood posts. Shape and size of each post can vary, which can be aesthetically pleasing if that’s your kind of thing.
You may need to ask around and look through classifieds to find them, as the big-box stores don’t tend to carry them.
Keep in mind, too, that although they will practically last forever, they become extremely hard with age and can thus be difficult to staple new fencing into.
Hold the Line
Fencing is a never-ending process.
Don’t just put up your fence, pat yourself on the back and ignore it. Walk it regularly to look for the following:
- Loose strands or posts wood that may need to be repainted or retreated
- Anything else that presents a potential for critter escape or predator entry
Patching a fence need not be pricey, but be sure you do it well. Some areas can simply be patched with excess wiring or a short panel of new fence.
But some may need to be bolstered with whatever solid items you have around the farm. This is particularly likely if you have an area that separates the boys from the ladies. You will need to constantly watch these areas during rutting season.
Large animals such as cows or goats may lean against certain areas, weakening the fence.
Goats, being browsers (as opposed to sheep, cattle and horses, which are grazers), have a tendency to lean on fencing to try to reach a tasty morsel on the other side. Trimming around the fence line can mitigate this, but regular monitoring is still critical.
When you notice a gap or weak spot, you have a few options:
- Attach a new piece of fencing over the weak area
- Completely remove the existing fencing in that area and replace it with new fencing
- Patch it with whatever you have on hand that does the job
When checking fencing, inspect posts as well. Some may have weakened and may need bolstering or replacement.
For our farm, we usually patch with a budget rather than aesthetics in mind, at least for the back property. If there is a gap, but the lower fencing is still in adequate shape, we will simply run some barbed wire over the exposed area. Or we’ll take new fencing and run it over the exposed area, attaching it to existing posts or hammering in new T-posts if needed.
For areas that get a lot of traffic, such as corralling and breeding pens, you may need to bolster existing fencing with an additional layer of welded wire, cattle panel or even pieces of tin or pallets to ensure they can handle a lot of leaning and pushing.
Follow these tips and don’t let up on maintenance—you’ll be sure to keep your critters where they need to be at all times!
Sidebar: Gated Communities
You will, of course, need to get in and out of your farm fencing.
While there are fewer options available for gates, how you handle your gates is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Whatever gate you choose, it needs to be able to securely close and not present any gaps. Sometimes this requires extra wiring for smaller critters, but if you set the gap between your gate posts right, you should be fine.
The most commonly available gates to purchase are metal tube gates. They can be one of your more expensive purchases but are a necessary expense. Other options are to purchase or make gates made from lumber, excess split wood or even pallets. You can get creative here but be sure it’s sturdy!
This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.