A fence is just a fence, right? Not even close when it comes to choosing the right one for your farm. Before you ready your shovel, tractor and other tools, grab a pencil and draft a plan before you start digging.
The art of getting started
“There are instances where the time frame of installation is a factor in buying a fence,” said Colin Kennard, operations manager, Wellscroft Fence Systems, based in Harrisville, New Hampshire. “It happens. A person can walk in and say, ‘The sheep are coming in tomorrow and I need something!’”
For those with more realistic plans for fencing installation, there are many factors to consider. In his article, “Farm Fences: Planning, Construction, and Cost,” Ken Andries, livestock specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, suggested constructing a series of maps to get started: Soil type, an aerial photograph and topographical (topo) map.
“Soil type maps show what soil types are in an area and what use and management practices are best for the land,” he explained. “Aerial photos show details of the present farm layout and give you an overall perspective of the land. Topo maps tell you the lay of the land, or elevations and contours of your farm.”
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (http://goo.gl/TLhxKM) provides information that can help with the beginning stages of fence planning.
In addition, some distributors, such as Wellscroft, offer Fence Clinics that break down the complexities of fencing options, from the basics of an electric fence to the construction of hightensile woven wire systems.
“You can build a Fort Knox around any farm, but that’s just not realistic,” Kennard said.
They’re the basic requirements for a fence: to keep livestock in and keep predators out. Choosing the right fence to keep your animals in is critical. For example, the University of Tennessee publication “Planning & Building Fences on the Farm” (http://bit.ly/1doQBoV) states: “fence height for perimeter cattle fences should be a minimum of 54 inches. When bulls are penned separately from cows, special attention must be paid to construction. Heavy posts with thick-gauge wire or cables are required, or electric fence may be effectively used.”
Pigs might also require barbed wire that’s positioned low enough to deter a dig-worthy escape, while board fences are ideal for horses. (More on fencing options for horses on page 48.) It’s best to confer with your local fence supplier to decide what type of fencing is best for your livestock.
Any predator, from big game seeking forage to a coyote hungry for sheep, is bound to wreak havoc on your farm. The article, “Modifying Fences to Prevent Ungulate Use of Cropland and High-Value Pastures,” by the Montana State University Extension wildlife program states: “Some farmers have highvalue areas that must be protected. Fences provide the most consistent long-term control compared to other deterrent methods, but are costly to erect. Many designs of woven wire and electric fences are currently used.”
No matter how focused your attempts are in trying to keep predators away, your strategy will somehow be foiled by intruders. Wooden mesh and woven fences might keep some away, but it’s easy work for a deer to leap over it if it’s not installed at the proper height. Electric fencing, on the other hand, may look harmless to the unsuspecting fawn or curious Jersey, but after the initial charge they’ll quickly learn the boundaries.
Options vary for electric fencing which include aluminum, galvanized steel high-tensile wire, electric netting and polywire or polytape ribbons. Categorized as a psychological barrier, electric fences are durable and allow for easy maintenance. However, it may not be suitable for wilder livestock, such as goats or swine. Winter can also present some challenges with an electric fence.
“The snow acts as an insulator,” said Kennard. “With the electric fence, the livestock or the predator is going to stand on frozen ground, which will insulate them from getting a shock. It can be less effective in the winter. if livestock and predators have not developed a respect for it during the warmer and wetter months. That is the physiological factor.”
Controller selection is important for an electric fence, with different options for the power source, such as battery or solar power. The Montana State University Extension publication, “Electric Fencing to Control Deer and Elk on Montana’s Farms and Ranches,” recommends: “deep-cycle battery-powered chargers and [a] combination of solar/battery-powered chargers are good alternatives when main power is not available.”
The report also noted that purchasing a low-impedance charger is an effective way to account for stray vegetation or other possible shorts.
Permanent or portable
For some types of livestock portable netting is a good option. Polytape materials with bright visibility come in various densities depending on your desired length. Temporary fences are ideal for rotational grazing. Having a portable boundary allows for a renewal of energy reserves and keeps your pastures divided into designated areas. In addition, a portable electrical fence can deter deer and other predators if they become a threat to your crops.
Permanent electric fences are generally constructed of woven, cable, mesh or high-tensile wires. In his article, “Fences for the Farm,” for the University of Georgia Extension, John W. Worley stated that a “good [permanent fence is built to] last from 25 to 50 years.” For a fence with such long-term use, a significant amount of planning is required.
Planning for the future
Kennard said with younger farmers, planning for the future has to be a key point in fence construction.
“A young farmer who wants to [raise] chickens might ask about a type of fencing. Then he’ll say he wants to raise pigs in a couple of years,” he noted. “Young farmers need to think big picture.”
Kennard offered this advice: “If you can get economical electrical fence just to get started, that’s fine. Some of the more physical fences, like woven wire are a little more expensive, and they might not have the initial investment. It’s better to go that route if you are planning to add other types of animals.”
Cover Photo by VLIET/iStockphoto.com