Fencing is a strange thing – on one hand it’s an investment that isn’t cheap so investing in quality is good. On the other hand if you’re getting into quality animals it’s the least expensive and most controllable part of the system.
A long held saying is good fences are hog tight, horse high and bull strong. They’re sufficient for whatever someone puts in the field. As more places cater to appearance there’s another factor in fences that are functional and decorative. Fences that are easy to maintain will get the maintenance to last longer. With good planning it’s easy to put up a fence that will still be there and functional in 30 years. For looking at fencing that the initial cost may be in the thousands of dollars but if spread over the course of 20-30 years it’s very easily the least expensive thing. Feed costs, fuel, insurance and many other costs vary – a good fence, properly installed, will need a minimum of annual maintenance to maintain structure and appearance.
There are obviously different types of fencing. Some use one type of fence for the perimeter – the fence that goes around the property. Others use the same thing to divide fields as well as around the property while others use one type of fence across the front and others down the sides/back.
Before pricing fencing consider carefully several factors. How long will you have your property? What will you raise? Is there any chance things might change? When looking at permanent things be sure to include what if. What if your plan to raise horses changes due to illness? What if cattle are too much for you to handle? What if the latest exotic animal craze ends up a bust? Consider what you’re fencing and all aspects of that.
Barbed wire has long been a popular choice. It’s inexpensive, it’s quick to put up and lasts a long time. A quarter mile roll can be purchased for about $30-50 – four to five strands will keep in larger livestock. However, many horses are injured, crippled and killed by barbed wire injuries. A horse who panics can do irreparable damage to legs and muscle if caught in a fence. The fence also allows smaller animals – dogs – *in* – and if a pack of dogs begin running a horse they can easily be on or in a fence quickly. The Tposts often used with this fencing can also be a source of impalement should a horse try to jump and fail – a grusome and fatal injury. While it can cover large areas visibility can be a factor – which can be dealt with – barbed wire should never be used for small tightly fenced areas especially with multiple horses. Other big issues to avoid – fencing foals, stallions or aggressive horses. When the adrenaline kicks in a terrified foal or a stud horse after a mare or another stud will too often not recognize a fence like this. Cattle normally don’t have the issue with it that horses and small animals do.
Picture perfect postcards show immaculate pastures surrounded by board fencing, usually either black or white. These fences are much more labor intensive to put up and much more expensive. They will require annual painting to maintain good condition and posts may need replaced occasionally if they are broken or chewed up. Without an inside hot wire horses and cattle can both push on it and pop boards off, making an easy escape. The fences are highly visible and attractive, will safely contain foals and are better for smaller paddocks. They do still allow access by small animals like dogs. The costs of construction and maintaining wood fences have made other choices more favored.
One almost close fence, with many characteristics of a wood fence but not as many disadvantages, is the nylon poly fencing. Some types are belts while others appear to be a wood fence but each board or post is encased in a poly sleeve. These are highly visible, durable fences – but expensive and labor intensive to install. Annual maintenance is needed to power wash the fence for appearances, removing the dirt, mold and other gunk that can get on it – and occasional posts or boards will need to be fixed. Like the board fence, if a horse reaches through and pops a board off it can allow escape. These tend to be a higher end fence.
One of the most durable paddocks I’ve seen was using railroad ties as posts and welded steel “cattle panels” or combo panels on the inside of the posts. These panels are roughly $18-25 each and come in 16′ lengths 50″ high – the combo panels have narrower squares towards the bottom. Mounted on the inside of the posts it doesn’t allow an animal pushing or rubbing on it to pop it off the post nearly as easy. With solid posts and steel fence panels this is a great solution, even using 6″ posts, for stud paddocks where horses aren’t on top of each other, and also easily used for bull paddocks and fencing rams, bucks and other male breeding animals known to be hard on fences. If a buck stands on it they won’t break it down…but equally if a horn gets stuck or a foot does it’s also not going to break – meaning the animal is either trapped or injured. While it’s not common it can happen and is best to be aware of it.
“No climb” horse fence is another popular option – often with a wood board around the top for a little more height and a hot wire inside to keep animals from reaching over. The squares on this don’t allow for feet getting caught in the fence – it’s more expensive than some other types of fence but much less than board fences and goes up much faster. It’s not unusual for a 200′ roll to be $225-250.
Pipe fencing has been popular in many areas as a durable long lived fence – again high labor in putting it up and if you don’t weld that means a great deal of cost. Once up the fence will BE THERE. The good part is other than annual painting and checking for rust it’s maintenance free – the bad part is if in 10 years you change a fence line it’s also high labor and expensive.
One popular intermediate fence is “field fence” or “stock fencing” – these are typically in 330′ rolls for about $120 per roll – a wire fence with six inch squares. Once stretched and secure it will last for years. With solid posts it’s the BEST fencing if you think you might change livestock or might move. If someone wants cattle or horses it’ll keep them in but will also hold back goats, sheep, pigs and other livestock and helps slow down dogs and other tresspassers from getting in. Often a strand of hot wire is put over it but with using T posts or wood posts it’s more visible and less dangerous than barbed wire and less expensive than many other types of fencing. My dad has a fence up still today that has been up since the mid 1960s – an occasional post (which were painted EVERY year as a summer project growing up!) needed repair but other than that it’s needed little maintenance. While the livestock is gone the fence still remains.
High tensile fencing has gained immensely in popularity. While it can be somewhat labor intensive to put up it’s long lasting and can be done to even keep piglets and rabbits from getting through. (or if you have valued trees from getting IN!). The wire itself is a smooth wire running about $75 for a 4,000 foot roll – taller, stouter fences can be done economically and ideally certain wires are “hot” (electrified) while others are grounded, providing a visible and other deterrant to animals wanting to lean on the fence. Fans of it say it will even fence bison and ostrich. Critics point to the high tensile part, while accidents are rare if an animal does get caught it can slice them up badly.
One note for any fencing that is electified – post it. In some areas this is required by law and is easy to do when alternated with “no tresspassing” or “no hunting” signs. Never assume a fence is – or isn’t – on. With hot wires there can be also maintenance on the charger – and make sure the fence is well grounded with a lightning arrestor. Lightning hitting a fence can travel for miles – and it’s reported that cattle ten miles from a lightning strike were killed when the continuous fence held enough power to zap them. With hot fences do not rely on that alone to keep them in. Some wooled sheep, llamas, horned cattle and others learn if they hit just “so” the wool or horn protects them from getting zapped.
There are many many choices in fencing. Posts can be of many materials also and may change with the fence. An exterior fence with field fence might have a wood post every 50′ and steel T posts (quicker to put up and cheaper) in between. Put the *fence* on the inside of the posts for more durability, the outside of the posts for looks. Personally I go for durability every time…a fence exists to keep animals in not please those driving down the road…but different people and areas may see that differently! You might opt for woven wire along the exterior fenceline and high tensile within it, or vice versa!
A good fence is critical to animal care and safety. When planning your fencing projects also consider gates. Where will you need to access fields and how? Remember to consider ALL POSSIBILITIES! This can’t be stressed enough. If you’re raising horses and have an eight acre field you may need just a four or six foot gate to get the *HORSE* in. But what happens if the horse dies on the back part of that eight acres? Without a gate to get a truck or tractor in you have a half ton animal that you will not be able to drag. Even with smaller pens always leave access to get a vehicle in. Trust me that 150 pound buck feels MUCH heavier when he dies and you have to pull him out by hand. Additionally a larger gate access may be needed to get equipment in to clean paddocks, or mow, fertilize, spray or otherwise maintain pastures. Without a gate how are you going to get the tractor in to mow? Even if those gates are kept locked most of the year – make sure you have a “what if” plan. You will be happy that you did if a bad situation happens. Also plan for water locations – if it’s going to be along a fence line try to avoid having the water at the gate – unless you’re in the unfortunate position of having to haul water (and even then that will be short term – it’s too easy to short animals if everything has to be hauled).
Fencing is not a cheap expense – but if you have $100,000 of animals in that eight acre field it’s silly to scrimp a couple hundred on a fence that will contain them safely and keep other animals OUT. Ask questions, research, consider all aspects of keeping animals and plan your fence right the first time. Construct it once and it can make all the difference.