Everyone has heard the expression “good fences make good neighbors.” This has never been truer than in today’s world. Many counties have closed range laws, meaning that if livestock gets out of a pasture and causes damage such as an automobile accident, the owner of the livestock is liable. As more people move to the country from the city, we have seen a need for better understanding of proper fencing for various livestock species.
Several common types of fences are five to six strands of barbed wire fence, electric fence, woven wire fence (field fence), or pipe and cable. All of these have advantages and disadvantages.
Barbed wire is the typical material used to fence cattle. Five to six strands of barbed wire are adequate to keep cattle restrained for interior or exterior fences. More strands (eight to 10) can be used at closer intervals to keep goats in. Barbed wire fences are fast and economical to install. A disadvantage is that horse owners typically do not like barbed wire fences for fear of the animal being entangled and injured. Consideration should be given to this if there is a plan to sell the property in the future.
Electric fence is a very economical method of dividing pastures into smaller areas to improve rotational grazing. Electric fence can be installed with minimal equipment and relatively quickly. Another advantage is that it can be used as either a temporary or permanent fence. It can be installed as a temporary fence to determine future locations of permanent fences. Electric fences come in a variety of materials from high tensile wire, woven wire, electric braided rope or ribbons. A disadvantage is that electric fences are not usually recommended for use as perimeter fences. An important consideration is to make sure that you use a fence charger that has the highest number of joules available. Chargers are available that are powered by 110 volts, 12 volt battery or solar energy. Additionally, not installing enough grounding rods will result in less than satisfactory performance. Alternate a “hot” wire and ground wire on the fence so if an animal puts its head through, it will touch both wires at the same time, ensuring an unpleasant zap.
Woven wire fences are also called field fences. They are more expensive and harder to install than electric or barbed wire fences. Several variations are available including horse, no-climb, goat, hog or cattle fences. The differences between the variations are due to the spacing of the horizontal strands or the vertical strands (called stays). The spacing between the stays or vertical strands of wire can vary from 2 to 10 inches apart. The horizontal strands can be equally spaced, as small as 4 inches, or increase in size as you go from the bottom to the top of the fence. It is recommended to use one to two strands of barbed wire or electric fence at the top of the woven fence to deter animals from trying to reach over the top of the fence and pushing it down.
Pipe and cable fences are the most expensive and difficult to install, but are probably the strongest and most permanent. These fences typically require the services of a welder and take the greatest amount of time to install. Pipe fences are preferred in crowding situations, such as in corrals or working pens. Horse enthusiasts and professionals suggest that pipe fences are easier for horses to see and, thus, prevent injury. A common method of fencing in equine operations is to use pipe for the post and top-line with woven horse wire in the middle. Many fence builders will use a single strand of cable at the bottom of the woven wire to add strength to the fence.
No matter what type of fence you choose, it should be tall enough to discourage and prevent the animals from trying to jump over it. Remember that the grass is always greener on the other side, and livestock have 24 hours in a day to try to figure out a way to get out. It is our job to keep them in.
This article was contributed by Robert Wells of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.