Livestock Fencing 101: Essential Advice For Your Farm Needs

Animals have different needs, and your farm has its own livestock fencing needs. So before that post-hole digger hits the ground, consider this advice.

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by Lesa WilkeOctober 29, 2021
PHOTO: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Permanent livestock fencing is a big investment of time and money on the homestead, so it’s important to think through all the key aspects before building it. There are many types to choose from, but it’s critical that the fencing be carefully matched to your farm needs. 

Commonly used livestock fence types include:

  • board
  • barbed wire
  • woven wire
  • high-tensile
  • cattle panels
  • electric
  • combinations of any/all of the above

Aspects to consider when choosing fencing include legalities. The type, age and gender of the livestock to be pastured matters, too. Also look at areas to be fenced and material durability versus cost. 

Legalities

The first things to check when planning to pen your animals are the applicable laws in your area. It would be devastating to plan and construct homestead fencing only to find that it wasn’t legal and needed to be removed. 

Each state has laws that regulate livestock ownership, and these laws typically require owners to fence their animals. They also define what makes a legal fence, who is responsible for building and maintaining fencing, and who has liability if animals get out.

Many local governments also have fence laws. These may actually prohibit some types of fencing. Good places to start investigating the laws that apply in your area are with an internet search (for state laws). You can also call your city or county planning office. 

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Read more: Keep your farm secure with these fencing fundamentals.


Species Specifics

Livestock fencing is normally used to keep animals in and predators out. However, knowing the type of livestock you intend to keep is crucial to selecting the correct fence type. Specific kinds of fencing are better suited to some species than others.

For example, board fencing is often used for cattle, horses or sheep. It is, however, considered less suitable for small animals such as goats, hogs and poultry because they can slip out between the boards. 

Try to consider all the types of animals you may own over the life of your farm and how you’ll manage pasturing them. Plan with flexibility in mind because conditions and livestock species frequently change as time passes.

The better you can identify all the animals you intend to keep, the better you can plan fencing that will successfully contain them all. 

livestock fencing farm fence
Lesa Wilke

Map Planned Fence Areas 

After determining what types of fences are allowed in your area and what kind of livestock you plan to own, prepare a map of your homestead and the locations to be fenced. Planning what areas are to be used to confine each type of animal is the key to good fencing.

Remember that some types of livestock can be pastured together, if the fencing is selected to accommodate all species. 

The easiest way to prepare a map of your farm and the areas you need to fence? Start with an aerial photograph. A good aerial photograph will show the details of your land and can usually be obtained from your local tax office.

Or, you can go to the Google Earth website or app and enter your address. then just print out a two-dimensional aerial map. 

As you plan on your aerial map, utilize straight fences wherever possible because they’re cheaper and easier to build. Plan lanes to connect livestock barns and outbuildings with all planned pasture areas. Gates for animals and equipment should be located in the corners of pastures closest to barns for convenient entry and exit. 

Also, allow for several feet of empty border around the outside of fences. You need this to easily inspect and maintain them.

Livestock will need access to water in the fields. And it’s often desirable to pasture males, females and weaned young stock separately. Finally, while planning and before actually building, verify exactly where your property lines run. That way you won’t accidentally build your fences on neighbors’ land. 

Snow Days

Dave Perozzi, owner of Wrong Direction Farm, raises grass-fed beef and pastured poultry in upstate New York. He recommends that those new to a piece of land, particularly those in snow regions, should plan fences.

But, he advises, wait through the first winter before building them. 

“Build fences on the windward side of hedgerows because on the leeward side snow can drift and accumulate to great depths,” he says.

“We have places where trees and topography conspire together to bury 4-foot-tall fences in dense snow. In one case, the neighbors’ bull was able to walk out of his pasture into ours because the snow drifts provided a ramp over the perimeter fence.” 


Read more: Check out the lessons we learned when replacing wooden fence posts.


Fence Selection

So you know what is legal, the species to be fenced and where the fences will be located. Now’s time to select the specific fence type for each area. Keep in mind that you can combine fencing types to make a more effective solution. 

The sidebar below identifies recommended fence types for differing animals. When choosing the fence(s) for your homestead, remember that male livestock may require stronger enclosures,  particularly during mating season. Also, young livestock may slip through fencing if the grid or wire spacing is too large.

Material Durability & Cost

No matter what type of fencing you select, choose the highest quality materials you can afford. Selecting durable construction materials presents a greater initial expense initially but can extend the life of a fence by 10 to 20 years.

Cutting costs on materials typically results in livestock losses and fencing that fails prematurely. 

Wire

For example, wire for many types of fencing is coated with zinc (galvanized) to prevent rusting. The thickness of the zinc coating controls how long the wire is resistant to rust. Thicker coatings prevent rust longer.

Class 1 fence wire has the thinnest coating, while Class 3 fence wire has the thickest. Choosing a heavier gauge Class 3 wire over a lighter gauge Class 1 wire will cost more. However, it’ll last much longer and require less maintenance. 

livestock fencing farm fence
Lesa Wilke
Posts

Also, a fence is only as strong as its posts. Budget enough to purchase sturdy post.

There are typically two types of posts used, anchor and line posts. Anchor posts are used at corners and gates and give fences strength and stability so should be given priority. Line posts are evenly spaced between the anchor posts and hold up the fencing material.

Posts can be made from wood or metal. But wooden posts should be treated to prevent rotting where they contact the soil. 

The type of livestock fencing you choose will dictate how far apart posts are placed. This can range from 8 feet for woven wire fencing to 50 feet for high-tensile fencing. Obviously, it’s extremely important that posts be sized and spaced appropriately so they support your fence for many years. 

Unless you know exactly what you will do on your homestead now and in the future, it’s probably not possible to design perfect forever farm fencing. However, by carefully planning and choosing fencing systems and materials, you can give yourself maximum flexibility for whatever your homestead will become.

Strategic planning before building results in enjoyable livestock pastures. You will save time, money and effort down the road. 


More Information

Popular Fencing Types

Barbed Wire

These fences are usually constructed using three to five strands of barbed wire spaced 8 to 16 inches apart horizontally. The wire is typically strung on posts spaced 10 to 12 feet apart.

Barbed wire is often used for cattle pastures since cattle have tough hides. However, it’s considered unsuitable for most other livestock because of the risk of injury from the sharp barbs.

Board or Rail

There are many options available today for building board fences. Types of board available include painted, treated, plastic and vinyl coated.

Board fences are commonly 4 to 5 feet tall. 

This type of fence is popular on horse farms or situations where expensive animals are being confined. The labor and materials needed to construct these fences make it one of the costliest. Therefore, it’s also often used for smaller pastures and paddocks built to hold larger male livestock. 

Cattle Panels

Cattle panels are made of heavy gauge steel 14 to 38 inches in diameter welded together in squares. They are 3 to 4 feet high and are usually 16 feet long.

There are panels designed specifically for most types of livestock (i.e., hog panels for hogs, etc.), and they can be configured and reconfigured in many ways. They can also be cut into smaller sections. The individual panels are somewhat expensive, so they are typically used for smaller pasture applications. 

Electric

These are normally constructed from multiple strands of smooth electrified wires strung on strong posts. The number of wire strands and horizontal spacing depend on the livestock being fenced. A fence controller is used to energize the wires and selecting a controller that will provide a strong enough shock to deter your livestock is critical. 

Once animals learn that they can get through an electric fence, it is difficult to keep them contained. Animals with tough hides or thick coats (such as cattle or sheep) can withstand stronger shocks.

Electric fences are usually cost effective and are frequently used in conjunction with other fence types—to either better contain livestock or to keep predators out. For example, electric strands placed at the top and bottom (on the outside) of woven wire fencing can be used to keep predators like coyotes out.  

High-Tensile Wire

For this type of fence, stronger (high-tensile) wire is strung and held in tension between end posts which may be spaced quite far apart. Permanent tension springs and line stretchers maintain tension in the wire.

The number of wire strands used and horizontal placement depend on the livestock being fenced. It’s typical to electrify at least one wire strand to prevent livestock from standing or rubbing on the wires and moving them out of place. 

A well-designed high-tensile wire fence is safe for livestock, easily adapted to uneven terrain, has a long life, requires little maintenance and looks good. They provide better livestock restraint and predator control when electrified. 

Woven Wire

This type of fencing consists of horizontal and vertical wires woven into a grid with wire “knots” wrapped around the intersecting wires to hold the fence together. The grid spacing selected depends on the animals being fenced with smaller grids being used for smaller livestock. Many combinations of wire sizes and grid spacing as well as fence heights are available. Posts are typically placed 8 to 16 feet apart. 

Woven wire fencing is suitable for almost all types of livestock and is particularly popular for containing goats, sheep, poultry and pigs. 

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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