Hobby Farms

Homestead Fencing

Before that post-hole digger hits the ground, consider this advice before building livestock fences.

- By Lesa Wilke

Consider this advice before building fences.

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 and electric (see “Popular Fencing Types” on page 18 for descriptio­ns) or combinatio­ns of these. Aspects to consider when choosing fencing include legalities; the type, age and gender of the livestock to be pastured; 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, and these may 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) and your city or county planning office.

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 but is 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.

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 to be fenced are to 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, enter your address and 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 so that you can 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 so that you don’t build your fences on neighbors’ land.

Dave Perozzi, owner of Wrong Direction Farm (www.wrongdirec­tionfarm.com), 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 your fences but 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.”

FENCE SELECTION

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

The sidebar on page 16 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 — and 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 that you can afford. Selecting durable constructi­on materials will be more expensive initially but can extend the life of a fence by 10 to 20 years. Cutting costs on materials typically results in livestock losses and fences that fail prematurel­y.

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, with thicker coatings preventing 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.

Also, a fence is only as strong as its posts, so budgeting enough to purchase sturdy posts is very important. 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 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 that will save you time, money and effort down the road.

Lesa Wilke has raised Nigerian Dwarf goats, Buckeye chickens, honeybees and produce on her small farm in northeaste­rn Ohio. Her writing has inspired new homesteade­rs on their journey to more sustainabl­e lifestyles via her blog Better Hens and Gardens (www.betterhens andgardens.com).

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Because of the cost of lumber, board fences (above right) work best in small sections around farm buildings, yards and corrals.
An electrifie­d, high-tensile fence can last 25 to 40 years. Because of the cost of lumber, board fences (above right) work best in small sections around farm buildings, yards and corrals.
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Electric net fencing offers a portable, electrifia­ble prefabrica­ted fence that’s affordable and easy to setup, move and store.
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Woven wire fencing with electric strands on top and bottom provide great combinatio­n fencing.
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For goats, choose wire that can withstand climbing and leaning and that they can’t get their heads stuck through. A woven wire and electric combo (left) might be required to keep some goats contained.

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