Choose the Right Fencing for Various Livestock Types

Horses, cattle, goats and sheep have different behaviors and tendencies, requiring different fencing needs. Here's how to choose the best for your animals.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Shutterstock

If you keep livestock, fencing is a necessity. This is true the animals’ safety as well as the safety of your neighbors. Good fences might make good neighbors, but not just any fencing will do when it comes to farm animals. Different livestock species have different requirements based on their natural behavior. Let’s look at a few examples.

Fencing for Horses

Fast, flighty and deceptively delicate, horses are perhaps the most different from other livestock in terms of selecting a fence. For example, while barbed wire might appear cheap and effective at keeping horses in, it should not be used with this species: Horror stories abound of panicked horses running into barbed wire and getting themselves in a deadly tangle of wire that cuts to the bone.

Similarly, high-tensile single-wire fence should not be used unless you have a method for making it visible. Horses galloping in the pasture find it hard to see thin, high-tensile wire, and if they run into it, it cuts like a knife. Plastic flagging along the top wire is one practical and cheap method to make this type of fence visible and therefore much safer.

The quintessential white paneled wood fence is a decent option for horses, although its primary downside is maintenance—and we’re talking more than painting. Some horses have a habit of chewing on wood fences, while others develop an abnormal behavior called cribbing (also called windsucking) where they place their upper incisors on a solid object (like a fence post), press down, and gulp in air. This causes a huge amount of chronic damage to wood fencing.

Vinyl fencing is a low maintenance choice that is safe and looks great, but the initial investment is steep. PVC and pole fencing are other options.

On farms with several horses, or in situations where herd dynamics change regularly, such as at a boarding stable, consider rounding the corners of the pasture when installing fences. This helps prevent a horse from getting boxed into a corner if it’s getting bullied from a herd member higher in the social pecking order.

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Cattle Fencing

Cattle have tough hides and uses that typically don’t focus as much on the physical performance of the animal as with horses. Thus, cattle tend to be more forgiving (or, rather, durable) with different types of fences. Barbed wire does still present a danger in terms of skin lacerations, but cattle tend toward blind panicking as much as horses. Just make sure your animals are up to date on their tetanus boosters (commonly called CDT vaccine, with the T standing for tetanus).

Many cattle operations have large pastures for grazing. This means fencing needs to be cheap, so many farmers use barbed wire rather than wood or PVC. High-tensile fencing can also be relatively cheap and used safely with cattle. On smaller operations, high-tensile fencing is commonly topped with electric fence to keep animals from leaning on it, as they’ll stretch it out.

Fencing for Goats & Sheep

Goats are known to be master escape artists, and on small farms, this can present a fencing challenge. Wood and PVC don’t work, given the animals’ small size and ability to wiggle. For this reason, woven mesh fencing is most commonly used with sheep and goats. It’s durable and safe, and it prevents escapes. The most important safety aspect with this type of fencing is choosing a weave pattern small enough to prevent heads from getting stuck.

Electric Fences

Electric fencing or “hot wire” is versatile and very useful for all of the above species. For smaller pastures, it can be placed as a top strand on many different fencing types to keep animals off it. It can also be used effectively for temporary fencing, like when you wish to strip graze part of a field for consumption control or efficiently rotate pastures.

With a bit of understanding about your animals’ natural behaviors in conjunction with budget and geographical limitations, you can best choose the right fencing for your farm.

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