March 2014
For What It's Worth

Livestock Fencing

For Forage Production and Rotational Grazing

Drive anywhere livestock production takes place and you will notice various types of fencing are used for varying situations from simple to elaborate, affordable to expensive. Fencing utilized to confine cattle and horses can be as simple as a few strands of barbwire, woven wire or strands of electric wire. Fencing used to confine sheep or goats tends to require more densely woven wire, sometimes in conjunction with electrified wire. While it is commonly assumed fencing is used to confine animals within specific areas, it can be used to keep neighboring animals out, protect animals from predators and to facilitate multiple grazing paddocks for livestock. Last fall, I attended a fencing clinic hosted by NRCS in Tennessee; it was very enlightening. I learned about fencing features and options, the new fixed-knot fencing offering rigidity and quality, and some affordable practices for establishing fencing. I readily became intrigued with options and reasonable costs. Some considerations for fencing choices are cost, the type of animals to be confined, contour of land, and the ability to facilitate forage production and rotational grazing.

Livestock fencing tends to be the most expensive component for grazing management. The type of fencing chosen and terrain greatly impact the cost per foot and total cost of the fence project. The shape of the paddocks also affects the amount of materials needed and labor required for construction. Cost of labor likely matches or exceeds cost of materials when it comes to costs of fence projects.

As mentioned earlier, the type of fencing selected depends on personal preference, budget constraints and the species of livestock to be confined. Most types of fencing can be used with cattle including woven wire, high-tensile electrified fencing and one or two strands of electrified wire. When it comes to goats and sheep, exterior, woven wire in combination with electrified wire works best. Woven wire for perimeter fencing in conjunction with electric wire is ideal for containing most mischievous or problematic animals and accommodating grazing management. Electrified woven wire and gates for inner perimeter fencing facilitates rotational grazing and helps maintain costs at a reasonable price. When it comes to problematic animals, fencing may not be the first consideration.

Fencing can be configured in many different ways using various types of fencing materials, whether it is woven wire, barbed wire, high-tensile non-electric wire, high-tensile electrified wire, electrified polywire, rope style polywire and single or multiple strands of electric wire. More and more people are utilizing portable electric fencing of some type to implement rotational grazing. When it comes to posts, I have seen people useall types of materials for posts including trees, cedar posts, treated or creosote posts, recycled power poles (that can be delivered and free), PVC posts, metal posts, etc. There is a new type of t-post out there made of recycled plastic; the posts have predrilled holes for running electric wire or attaching clips.

No matter what livestock species you intend to confine, if you are struggling with making decisions about fencing or fencing supplies, take time to determine the purpose of the fence, the terrain of the land and what your budget will accommodate. Talk with other farmers to see what works best for their situation and what does not work. And, before you pound the first post or string out a mile of fence line, get several copies of a topographical map showing your property, walk the property several times, and begin sketching on the map to get some ideas of what layout will work best. Then begin shopping around for features, quality and price.

The primary roles of fencing should be: (1) Confine livestock to specific areas and facilitate easy movement; (2) Temporarily exclude animals from certain areas to allow time for forage growth and stockpiling; (3) Bio-security – to protect your livestock from other livestock and humans (carrying diseases or parasites, and discourage bioterrorism) and set aside areas to confine sick or new animals; and (4) To maintain good relations with neighbors by confining your animals to your property and excluding their animals.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.