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Planning and building fences on the farm

By Rick Thomason

University of Tennessee
Johnson County Extension Director

Many innovations have occurred in the fencing industry in recent years, giving producers an array of options for fences to confine and protect livestock.  Whether used as permanent, periphery boundaries, temporary pasture dividers or to encircle a house, fences need careful planning and construction for efficient usefulness, long life and low maintenance.
The first consideration in deciding the best fence is the purpose for which it will be used.  Livestock protection and confinement are the main reasons for considering fencing, but the fencing needs for various types (species, age, breed, production system) of livestock vary widely.  Following are some of the livestock types and situations with special requirements:
Cattle – Most types of fence can be used with cattle, so most cattle producers assess factors such as expense, ease of construction and expected life of the fence when considering fencing strategy.  In the past, woven wire and barbed wire were the most common fence types; however, high-tensile fencing is rapidly gaining popularity in Tennessee.
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.
Fences for handling facilities must be strong enough to withstand heavy usage, tall enough (60 inches minimum) to prevent escape, and clearly visible.  Treated wood or heavy wire panel fences are preferred.
Sheep and Goats – Fences for sheep and goats do not have to be as tall as for cattle, but they have other special requirements.  Predator control is more important.  Electric fences are particularly useful for discouraging predators such as dogs and coyotes.  Barbed wire is not as effective with sheep, as the barbs tend to become covered with wool.
Horses – Visibility is a necessary characteristic in fencing for horses.  Barbed wire should be avoided because there are many opportunities for horses to tear their hide on the barbs.  High-tensile wire fences poses a threat to horses because they may become entangled in the strands.  The chance of this can be decreased if high-tensile fences are made more visible by placing posts closer together, or hanging ribbons or something else from the wire.  Board fences are ideal for horses.  Woven wire also works well, particularly with a single board at the top so the horses can easily see the fence.
For more information on planning and building fences on the farm, check out the UT Extension Publication, PB 1541, “Planning and Building Fences on the Farm”.  This publication can be accessed on-line at: