LIVESTOCK FENCE 101
by Tracy Breen
If you live in the country, eventually you will probably get the itch to have some type of livestock. Almost every type of farm yard animal requires fencing to keep it in the pasture and keep unwanted predators out. The better the fence, the more protected your animals are and the longer the fence will last. The problem is knowing what type of fence to put up. There are a variety of fencing options on the market from high tensile electric fence to woven wire panel fencing. There are more options than there are days in a week. Along with researching the different types of fence before you decide on a certain type, you have to decide if you are going to put the fence up yourself or have it done. Having fence installed is the quickest and easiest option but it is also the most expensive which typically forces most of us to put up our own fence.
I recently interviewed Mick Bowman from Kansas about putting up fence. Bowman lives in the heart of cattle country and makes his living stringing fence for ranchers across Kansas. He puts up barbed wire fence, electric fence, chain link fence and even fence made from pipe. Bowman does it all.
According to Bowman, regardless of the type of fence you put up, the most important features of a fence are the corners and braces. “Corners and braces are the backbone of a fence. High quality corners and braces that are properly installed will last for years and keep a fence tight. A fence that is quickly thrown together and built with inexpensive materials will likely start to fall apart in a few years or less. Corners and braces are very important,” Bowman explained.
When putting in corner posts, Bowman likes to set his posts in concrete with three feet of the post below the ground and five feet above. His favorite style of corner post system is an H-brace. As the name applies, the corners look like a large H with two large posts and a brace going across the middle. “We use #9 wire doubled from the top of the brace post to the bottom of the corner post twice and then we wrap it for strength. We typically use hedge posts or steel pipe for our corners,” Bowman explained. A hedge post is an Osage orange tree which is known as one of the hardest, weather-resistant trees on the planet.
Different types of corner posts and braces are used depending on which part of the country you live in. Bowman uses metal pipe because it can withstand the extreme temperatures found in Kansas and the acidic soil better than other types of posts. “The summers are extremely hot and the winters are extremely cold. Combine that with acidic soil and most things will rot here if they aren’t metal.” For example, treated posts rot quickly in his neck of the woods. In other parts of the country, treated posts work well. Railroad ties are extremely popular because they are heavy, sturdy and last a long time. “When choosing posts, people need to choose one that can handle a lot of pressure. There is a lot of torque and weight being put on corner posts. This is why I take my time when setting the corners on the fence I am building. I often spend several days setting the corners to ensure that when I start stringing fence the posts don’t move and can handle be tugged on in all directions.”
After the corners are in, it is time to put up posts. One of the most popular types of posts used today is a T-Post. T-Posts often go in quickly. They should be put in the ground about eighteen inches. “When I am using T-posts, I space them about twelve to thirteen feet apart to get the desired amount of tension I am looking for. Every type of post is different. When I am using steel pipe for posts, I don’t have more than eight feet between them,” Bowman said.
There are a variety of post types on the market. On my farm, we have high tensile 5-strand electric fence. Our posts are made of fiberglass. They are durable, long lasting and can handle all types of weather. Some people use wooden posts, metal posts and even step-in plastic posts.
For extra fence support, Bowman often concretes in a hedge post after every fourth or fifth T-post. “Many of the ranchers I work for have large beef cows which can plow over fence. If people have this problem, we typically concrete a hedge post into the ground after every fifth T-post which keeps large animals from pushing a fence over. It adds to the cost but it will keep a fence up and in good condition for years,” Bowman said.
When putting up fence, the straighter the line between corners and posts, the better the fence will look. Some people use a chalk line to ensure the posts are in a uniform line; some people just use their eyes. Having a perfectly straight fence is more important to some than others. The straightness of a fence can depend on the type of terrain you are in. If you are building a fence in hilly or rocky terrain full of boulders and deep ravines, keeping a straight line can be more difficult. Obviously the straighter a fence is overall, the tighter the fence will likely be and the better it will perform but at the end of the day. It all depends on how much time you want to spend on a fence. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can make sure everything is perfectly square and straight throughout the length of your fenced-in pasture.
There are plenty of different types of fencing on the market. Probably the most popular style of fence nationwide is barbed wire. Barbed wire is economical and effective at keeping most animals in and predators out. “I put up more barbed wire than any other style of wire fence because it is the best option for cattle. Barbed wire is fairly easy to put up, easy to repair and can last for decades,” Bowman said. If you ever wonder how long it can last go out west, consider the barbed wire fences that are miles off the road that were hung well over a hundred yards ago. In some cases, they are still used to keep cattle in or out of certain areas. Many of the styles of barbed wire used today are derived from a barbed wire that was patented in 1873 and 1874 by Joseph Gliddens from Illinois. Barbed wire became a staple of the farming landscape from that point forward.
Another type of fence that is extremely popular and economical is high tensile electric fence. This style of fence is simply wire cable that is strung between fence posts and electrified by a fence charger. When hanging electric fence, you need to use fence posts that don’t conduct electricity or use insulators on your posts. Insulators don’t conduct electricity and act as a guide that attaches the fence to the post. There are several different styles and brands. Buy the best you can afford. Inexpensive insulators break from the stress of the wire and need constant repair. I learned this the hard way.
Electric fence can keep in almost any animal. Even if the fence starts to sag over time, if it is electrified, most animals that have been kept in an electric fence won’t test it. Many farmers use 5 strand electric fence. Five strands of fence will keep in most animals, including goats and sheet. Dairy cows, pigs and other larger animals often only need one strand of electric fence to keep them in which is quick and simple to install. “Dairy cows don’t need much to keep them in. Once they realize it is hot, they stay away from it,” Bowman said.
If you purchase livestock and plan to keep them in the electric fence, you may have to train them if they are not used to an electric fence. “When I kept sheep or goats, anytime I added an animal to the herd, I walked them around inside the perimeter of the fence and they got tickled by the fence once or twice so they understood what it does,” Len Kriger, a former sheep farmer said. After they get poked a time or two, they probably won’t ever test it again.
If you are into horses, one of the best type of electric fence options is polytape. Polytape is smooth to the touch, easy for horses to see, and looks nice. Polytape has five small strands of electric wire running through it so it will deter horses from getting out and animals from getting in. In addition, polytape is more horse and livestock friendly than other forms of fencing. “If a horse gets hung up in high tensile electric fence, they can really hurt themselves. Polytape, on the other hand, won’t hurt a horse if it gets tangled up in it,” Bowman added.
Many farmers graze livestock on multiple paddocks instead of one large pasture. This method of grazing allows the grass within each paddock to rebound after livestock have been allowed to graze on it for several days. Many farmers have half a dozen (or more) paddocks. The livestock spend a few days on each paddock and are rotated to a new paddock. One of the best fencing options for this style of grazing is Enet electric netting made by Premier Fencing of Iowa. Enet electric netting is portable electric fencing that can be easily moved around from one spot to another. This style of fencing is very popular with sheep and goat farmers. Many farmers have a large permanent electric fence and then separate each paddock by using electric netting. Some farmers don’t have a perimeter fence; they move the electric netting wherever they want the livestock to graze. There are several styles of this fence. In many cases, this style of fence has eight horizontal twines. The fence is electrified by a solar powered charger or a plug in unit. If you want to move your livestock around to different pastures but don’t want to spend much money on permanent fencing, this is a great option.
A woven wire fence is a good fencing option, especially if you have smaller livestock like sheep, goats or pigs. These animals are known for being escape artists and can easily find their way out of the smallest hole in even the hottest electric fence. Woven wire fencing is also regularly used to keep whitetail deer in or out of certain areas. Many fruit farmers use this style of fence to prevent deer from eating their blueberries.
“Electric fence can keep in almost any animal. Even if the fence starts to sag over time, if it is electrified, most animals that have been kept in an electric fence won’t test it.”
If you are looking for a fence that is pleasing to the eye, you can always opt for a wooden fence. A classic white wood fence is popular today with many horse enthusiasts . The downside of wood is it requires more maintenance than many of the other types of fence because it will need to be painted or stained regularly if you want it to last.
If you don’t want the maintenance of wood, check out PVC fencing. It looks like wood and doesn’t need to be repainted.
In the Western United States, wooden fence made of small diameter trees or posts are popular and look great. If you live in a part of the country that is dry and doesn’t receive much rain, a wooden fence made of poles looks attractive and lasts a long time. Building them, however, can be very labor intensive.
One of Bowman’s favorite styles of fence is the all steel pipe fence. This style of fence is by far the most expensive on the market but if you are looking for a fence that you only have to build once and forget about, this is it. “A pipe fence will last decades longer than any other style and keeps all animals in. However, they can be costly,” Bowman said.
The bottom line is there are as many different fencing options. Spend a few weeks out west and you will see more varieties of fence than you ever thought existed. The only thing that limits you when it comes to fencing is your imagination.
Sidebar 1: The Perfect Gate
Are you looking for the perfect gate to keep your livestock in and allow you quick and easy access to the pasture or your driveway? Check out the Ecklund Drive Thru Gate. This simple gate is made up of one rod that has a height adjustment on it that can be electrified. The gate is a bump gate. You bump into it with a car or truck and it swings open. After you pass through it, it swings back into place. It has a soft tip that won’t scratch your vehicle if it brushes against it. The advantage is you don’t have to get out of your car to open it and it keeps the livestock in. Learn more at www.ecklundgates.com.
Sidebar 2: Dog Fence
Do you have a dog that you want to keep away from your livestock or a livestock guardian dog that you want to stay with your livestock? Keep them in with a PetSafe Fence. PetSafe makes underground fences that you bury and a wireless fence that you plug in. It creates a perimeter around your house or barn and keeps your dog in where you want it. If they cross the barrier of either fence, they get an electric shock. Both systems are easy to set up and use. Check it out at www.petsafe.net.
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