Fencing is an integral part of a livestock or equine operation. It is very important for the safety and welfare of animals and producers. Should it fail at an inopportune time, there could be liability consequences to the animal owner or safety issues to the animal. In evaluating your fences, it could be that you need to reinforce, repair, or renovate your existing fence, or maybe you have a new area that needs to be fenced. Fencing is a major expense for livestock owners, and takes considerable time and labor. It is important to plan wisely to achieve the desired results.
The purpose of this publication is to provide producers with information to aid in the decision-making process regarding the type(s) of fencing to build or have installed. For detailed information regarding how to build or install a fence, refer to the resources at the end of this publication.
Where to Begin?
First, be clear about your objectives. Fencing is designed to keep animals in and often times to keep predators out. If this is your goal, choose a fencing system that will do this. It is much easier to select the correct fencing system in the beginning rather than modify it after it is in place. It is also important to allow for flexibility and the ability to make modifications as needs change over time. Let’s say your goal is to build a cattle fence, but later you may want to add sheep or horses to your operation. Instead of building a barbed-wire fence, which is common for cattle, you may want to build a high-tensile electric fence or woven wire fence. The latter two fence options will allow for flexibility in the future.
Considerations for a fencing system include: single or multiple species use, budget, maintenance requirements, longevity, safety for people and animals, availability of materials, potential impact on wildlife, cultural norms, and building ordinances or covenants.
What if a Fence Fails?
When building a new fence or updating an existing fence, it is important to consider the potential consequences if a fence fails. The following situations warrant strong physical barriers to protect both animals and the property owner:
- Is the fence along a busy highway or road where a stray animal could potentially get hurt or cause an accident? Could you be held responsible for such an accident?
- Is the fence near a play area for small children? Or next to a neighbor’s house where a stray animal could potentially hurt humans or personal property?
- Are there high-value crops, fruit trees, gardens, or expensive landscaping on the other side of the fence that could be damaged by escaped animals? Is there risk to an escaped animal’s health from eating excessive stored grain and hay, or potential bloat from eating too much fresh alfalfa or clover? Or are there poisonous plants that animals could consume if a fence fails?
Different animals react differently to fencing, especially when potentially threatened by predators, or reacting to unknown circumstances. So it helps to have a basic understanding of animal behavior when planning a fencing system. Horses and cattle may try to run through or jump over a fence when chased or threatened, or try to reach over a fence when there is “greener grass” on the other side of the fence. Whereas sheep and goats may put their heads through holes and get stuck. If you select woven wire for sheep and goats, make sure the openings are no larger than two by four inches. Similarly, these small openings will prevent a hoof from getting caught if a horse paws at the fence.
Physical vs. Psychological Barriers
Fences designed as physical barriers must be strong enough to deter animals from trying to escape from the pasture or pen that they are in. Examples of physical barrier fences include barbed wire, woven wire, wooden and vinyl rails, and panels (made of heavy-gauged wire, or round/square tubing). These types of fences are built to withstand at least some pressure from livestock and horses before failing. They often include strong posts and corner bracing to keep the fence tight. Physical barrier fencing tends to require frequent maintenance and is generally more expensive than psychological barrier fencing.