On both hobby farms and commercial farms, fences serve the important function of confining and protecting animals and crop areas. Your choice of fencing should be made based on what purpose it serves—there are dozens of different fencing products you can choose. In most cases, this will be some version of wire fencing. And remember to consider whether you need a permit to build your fence, or if you should hire professionals.
The sturdiness and strength of wire fencing material can be measured by its wire gauge, and by its method of securing the wires together. Metal wire is measured according to an American Wire Gauge (AWG) rating, in which smaller numbers indicate thicker wires. In this system, 10-gauge wire is heavier than 12-gauge wire, for example.
The strength of wire fencing material is also dependent on how the wires are secured together. The least expensive (and cheapest) wire fencing is welded wire, in which the individual wires are simply spot-welded at their intersection point. From this basic level, there are a variety of ways to weave and crimp and knot the vertical and horizontal wires together to provide the strength that is appropriate to the use of the fence. Large animals have different needs than poultry, for example, and animals known to push or climb have fencing material designed especially for them.
Any farm's homestead may, of course, have the same types of residential fencing common in urban and suburban homes, such as chain link, picket fences, etc. Here are some common types of fencing unique to farms.
Barbed wire is the classic farm fencing for confining cattle, consisting of two or three horizontal strands of strong woven wire into which sharp barbs are inserted. The strands are strung between metal or wooden posts. Barbed wire fences confine livestock through simple aversion—animals come to associate the fencing with painful pricks and learn to stay away from it. Barbed wire works fairly well for confining relatively docile animals in large spaces, but can easily be breached by a large, aggressive animal. They are not very attractive, but highly effective for their purpose.
However, barbed wire does nothing for keeping deer and most wildlife out of your agricultural fields. And make sure to check zoning regulations. In some semi-rural areas, barbed wire may be against regulations.
This basic farm fencing is made from rigid wires arranged in vertical and horizontal rows with joints welded together. Typically the grid squares two inches wide and three or four inches tall. Welds may break, so this type is normally used for light-weight applications, such as confining small animals or to protect poultry or gardens. It can, for example, be used to keep foxes, coyotes, and other small predators away from small livestock. Welded wire fencing is typically made from 16-gauge or 14-gauge wire, and is sold in rolls that are 24 inches, 36 inches, 48 inches, or 60 inches wide.
Another type of wire fence, but one which uses heavier gauge wire, with joints that are crimped to provide extra strength. It is used for cattle, hogs, and other large livestock. Wire gauge is typically about 12-gauge, but the top and bottom wire may be of heavier 10-gauge wire gauge to provide extra durability. There are several variations:
- Hinge-joint knot fence reinforces each wire intersection by wrapping the vertical wires around the horizontal. This provides considerably more lateral strength than a standard welded wire fence, but it is possible for animals prone to climbing to cause the horizontal wires to slide.
- Fixed-knot fence: In this style, the wire intersections are reinforced from both directions, which prevents the fence wires from sliding at all.
- Woven field fence: In this style, the wires are interwoven as well as being reinforced with some form of a knot. Special crimped joints allow some flexibility under the impact, allowing the fence to spring back to shape after large animals push against it. This can be especially useful for confining livestock animals known to push or ram a fence, such as goats, steers, or bulls.
This is similar to welded wire fencing but is smooth on both sides to prevent livestock from scratching themselves. This is especially useful for horses, who are prone to scraping their hides against fences. Some types use a V-mesh design to prevent horses from getting hooves caught in the mesh. Wire gauge is usually 14-gauge or 12-gauge, and the fencing is sold in rolls that are 60 inches wide or more. When sold as a "non-climb" fence, it will use other a V-mesh design or narrower, two-inch-wide grid squares that are too small for hooves to get through. Joints will be crimped or knotted to prevent the horizontal wires from sliding on the vertical wires.
Deer and Wildlife Fence
This refers to a specialty form of woven or knotted wire fence that is typically taller than other types—often six feet tall or more. It also features a design in which the grid sizes are graduated, with the grid squares near the ground fairly small to discourage small wildlife, but becoming gradually bigger as the fence approaches the top. Wildlife and deer fence can be effectively used to keep plant-eating animals like deer out of field or gardens and can prevent predators large and small from reaching livestock.
The ubiquitous chicken wire fencing is the familiar small-weave diamond grid pattern used to protect poultry enclosures and garden spaces. Relatively lightweight 20-gauge wire is woven into diamond-shaped grids one to two inches in size. Chicken wire is sold in rolls two to five feet wide. It is useful for keeping foxes, hawks, and other small predators from feasting on poultry, and can also protect gardens.
This is the familiar wooden post-and-rail fence, in which two or three horizontal rails are nailed or otherwise attached to wooden posts. These are quite high-maintenance, so rail fences are now often reserved for ornamental use or stylistic purposes. Rail fences are often combined with wire fences to improve their practical function. A decorative wooden rail fence may, for example, have an electric fence inside its perimeter to keep large livestock from pushing against the rails. Other types of wire fencing can also serve to reinforce the inside of a wood rail fence, offering the best of both worlds—attractive appearance and a strong livestock barrier.
Electric fencing is effective but unappealing fencing that makes use of insulated horizontal wires attached to insulated vertical stakes. A pulsating current is sent through the wires, quickly deterring any livestock that brushes up against it. It may sometimes be installed inside an ornamental wooden fence. In some forms, an entire wire mesh is electrified—which is especially useful for poultry enclosures, where it can keep birds in and predators out.
Electric fences are not particularly dangerous, though brushing up against one does produce an unpleasant surprise. Use caution, though, if your household includes small children.
In locations where snowy winters are a fact of life, snow fences made from narrow vertical wooden slats joined by wire can serve to break the wind and prevent snow drifts from blocking driveways and field roads. These are especially useful in prairie regions or bare hilltops subject to harsh winter winds.