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A ‘Little Bit’ of
Fence-Savy Advice

By Natalie Macewko

Nat’s Little Bit Farm

It took half a dozen goats and one long summer, but Natalie Macewko, Nat’s Little Bit Farm, turned an overgrown pasture lot into a usable field. Thanks to her dairy goats and a few fence-savy tips, Macewko saved hundreds of dollars which a landscaper might have charged to do the same job, and her feed bill for the goats was nominal as they had a variety of browse to keep their tummies full.

In the process of clearing her land, Macewko discovered that to keep goats in and away from foliage not intended for their consumption (like the neighbor’s roses, decorative fruit trees and family gardens which might contain poisonous leaves), fencing must be durable, cost effective, and able to keep out predators!

Based on her experience, she made the following recommendations for goat fence builders.

The type of fence best for each grazing/clearing situation is dependent on many variables, such as: climate (snow load, high winds), landscape (mowed pasture vs woodlands, heavy brush, hills, dry lots and rocks!), maintenance (weed whacking for electric fence, tightening wires, painting boards, moving fence) and cost (temporary fencing vs. permanent, or special needs like strong buck yards and/or small secure kid pens, etc.). Some rules to remember when planning goat fencing include:

Reclaimed field - opened up by goats.
Reclaimed field – opened up by goats.

  • A fence is as strong as it’s weakest link.
  • Don’t get cheap posts.
  • Be prepared for maintenance.
  • Some animals require special needs-goats with horns, intact breeding animals or even small kids.
  • No fence will hold a hungry, thirsty animal.
  • Even a good fence can be challenged by frightened animals, deer, or acts of nature.
  • When using electricity, appropriate chargers and grounds are essential, and be prepared to weed-whack .
  • Build appropriately for each situation. Permanent fencing should be that-permanent.

There are many different kinds of fencing available and prices for each type may vary by region and availability. I used several different types, found pros and cons with each in my pasture clearing situation, and offered the following information.

Field Fencing

"Field fence" or "box wire" is a 330′ roll of square boxed wires that costs anywhere from $60-125 depending on gauge of wire, quality, and height. This type of fencing is considered to be permanent.

Field fencing - a good choice for the buck pasture.
Field fencing – a good choice for the buck pasture.

Supplies needed: Rolled fence; metal T or U posts, or wooden ones; wire clips to hold wire to posts (or 1-1/2" staples in the case of wood or trees); post rammer, sledgehammer or post hole digger; come-along to help get fence taut before attaching to posts; and finally a gate.

Suitable for: Older kids, yearlings, dry stock, milkers, bucks (with heavier gauge and supports), fiber and meat goats.

Problems: Horned goats may get entangled. Small kids and smaller dwarf breeds may be able to squeeze through. Goats have a tendency to rub against fencing, or eat through it, possibly knocking it down or stretching it. This type can be difficult to install on hilly or brushy terrain.

Advantages: It is a strong, durable, and permanent fence. I consider it the most basic, multi-purpose animal fence for goats, to cows, etc. It is readily available through local feed dealers and some hardware supply houses.

Tips for installation: Get an extra helper for moving fence as it can be heavy. Space posts 5-10 feet apart so the fence is taut and well supported. To discourage jumpers or fence rubbers, add a hot wire (electric fence) at chest height, and as a top wire.

Electric tape/wire fence

Note: animals need to be trained to fence before turnout.

Hog panel used as gate.  Electric tape on top is a jumping deterent.
Hog panel used as gate. Electric tape on top is a jumping deterent.

Electric fencing is electric tape (poly tape with metal wires inlaid), or metal wire used to create a mental barrier fence by use of multiple strands placed at strategic heights. While this fence is semi-permanent, it cannot be considered as a sole containment system. Animals can escape from it during a power failure or panic situation. When installed properly and maintained, it can be a cheap fencing alternative, making it possible to fence large pastures at a low cost. It requires a brief training period behind permanent fence for the animals it is to enclose. Cost varies by size of pasture, fencing unit and number of strands.

Supplies needed: Rolls of electric tape or metal wire; metal T or U posts; plastic or wood rods; post rammer, sledgehammer or post hole digger; hammer; insulators (dependent on post type and wire vs. tape); fence charger unit (with grounding rods and lightening arrestor); gate or electric gate handles; and most importantly, a fence current tester!

Suitable for: Older kids, dry stock, milkers, bucks, meat goats, fiber goats, pygmy and dwarf breeds. (Note: Bucks in rut must not be penned near does with electric fence as some will not respect electric fencing with does in heat next door. Electric fence is a nice addition to a permanent fence for these boys.)

Problems: Electric fence requires a lot of maintenance with constant weedwhacking, tightening of wires, and daily checks to see that enough current is reaching remote areas. Animals must be trained to respect fence within a permanent fence! Do not just throw them in a new electric fence and expect them to stay in. Entanglement is possible with horned breeds and this type of fence may not be acceptable for young kids or problem animals as a sole fencing solution.

Three strands of tape and one low strand of braided wire fence.
Three strands of tape and one low strand of braided wire fence.

Advantages: Cost is cheap when compared to other system investments, minus initial materials. Electric fence is easily reusable and moveable which makes it ideal for rotational grazing or brush removal. One-person installation is easy over any terrain (brush and woods may require some removal on fence lines).

Tips for installation: Use plenty of posts to keep wires or tape taut dependent on manufacturer’s instructions. Tape fences are easier to see, metal ones need flagging with surveyors tape for animal and people safety. The ideal fence has four or more wires with a low wire that is metal (to prevent weed whacking the poly tape). Be sure to test fence regularly, walk fence lines daily and weed whack, or get a charger made to charge through weeds and wet conditions. While this fencing may seem great, it requires a lot of maintenance and is not for everyone.

Electro-Net by Premier
(temporary rotational fence)

Note: Animals must be used to electric fence.

This has to be the easiest solution for rotational grazing. This fence looks like a field fence or box wire fence, but all the strands are made of a poly rope with metal fibers intertwined re-enforced with plastic vertical supports. This fence is an all-in-one unit with built-in step-in-posts! Not only is it cheap (when you consider costs of other fencing systems and life span) but it installs in minutes with one person.

Supplies needed: Charger unit with grounding and lightning arrestor unit.

Suitable for: Goats of all ages and breeds, although goats with horns may face entanglement. I would not recommend it for use with bucks during rut or newly weaned kids. Once again animals need a training period behind a permanent fence.

Problems: Can be difficult to use in brushy conditions. Grass must be kept short and cut before installation as the wires are spaced close together and close to the ground. Requires a charging unit and can get tangled on stumps.

Advantages: The cost is great for a rotational grazing system. It is the easiest fence to install when you follow directions on proper rolling and unrolling (accordion style, not wrapped in a bundle!).

Tips for installation: Follow manufacture’s instructions on rolling and unrolling. Keep grass short!

Premier 1 Supplies, 1-800-282-6631

Welded wire panels
(hog/cattle panels)

These are heavy metal panels that come in 14′ lengths and different heights depending on model. Easy to slap a temporary holding pen together, or keep Mr. Buck in his own pen (with good posts). Makes nice gates or hay feeders, too. (There are 101 uses for the miscellaneous parts and pieces you end up with!) Although a bit costly at $14-21 per section, it holds up to the test of time.

Welded wire hog/cattle panels for instant pens.
Welded wire hog/cattle panels for instant pens.

Supplies needed: Wire panels; metal T or U posts, or wood; wire clamps or staples; post rammer, sledge hammer or post hole digger; and either bolt cutters or a hack saw.

Suitable for: Goats of all ages, sexes and breeds. Goats with horns, even hornless goats can get heads caught on occasion. (Keep bolt cutters or hack saw on hand!)

Problems: Heavy to carry or shape around trees, rocks, hills. Difficult to cut without proper tools. Entanglement issues exist with some horned or big-headed goats. Use enough posts to prevent pushy goats from bending and/or felling sections of fence.

Advantages: Strong, long-lasting, good for permanent installations. Nothing kills them but stupidity-and/or falling trees. Great to use as hay feeders, gates, or small kid raising pens around a calf hutch. Great to bring smaller sections to shows when pen space is limited-you can snap a pen together with large snaps for a temporary pen ringside.

Tips for installation: Get delivery from a feed supply company or pick up from store using a pickup truck with a ladder/pipe rack as this is an oversized item.

Chain link fence

This fencing material is heavy duty, heavy and expensive. It comes in different heights and lengths, coated or uncoated. Looks nice around the barn and good for keeping other animals in or out, too! This is available from your hardware supply house.

Supplies needed: Rolls of fence, metal posts, caps and top rail, wire clips, post hole digger, and concrete for a permanent installation, especially for gate posts.

Suitable for: Animals of all ages, sexes and breeds. Watch horned goats for entanglement. Some goats may try to climb this fence.

Problems: This fence is expensive, heavy, and not good for large areas. Goats may rub or climb it.

Advantages: A strong, permanent fence that keeps animals in or out! This has a long life expectancy. Chain link is nice for small pens around the barn and for fencing in Mr. Buck during breeding season.

Tips for installation: Sometimes professional installation is easier. A helper is needed to drag fence around and help dig holes. Traditional chain link gates may need extra bottom latch and locks.

Wooden fence

This beautiful, but high maintenance and costly fence will keep just about any animal penned. It looks attractive, adds value to your property but can be high maintenance with painting.

Wooden fences look great but are higher maintenance than other types.
Wooden fences look great but are higher maintenance than other types.

Supplies needed: Depends on style of wood fence desired-anything from stockade wood sections to pressure treated wood, or rough cut lumber (use caution with treated wood as animals can become sick chewing on boards), nails, hammer, post hole digger, crushed stone, gate and paint if desired.

Suitable for: All ages, breeds and sex dependent on board spacing and wood thickness. Use your judgment.

Problems: This fence is expensive and has yearly maintenance requirements. It can be difficult to install in some climates due to frost line and heaving problems during winter and spring. Bored goats may chew on boards or climb them. They may also rub the fence, weakening posts.

Advantages: Adds to property value while making the barnyard look nice. Holds just about anything when built high and strong enough with proper board spacing.

Tips for installation: Treat post ends with preservative before setting into ground. Post holes should have a good base of crushed stone to give a secure base. It is recommended for corner and permanent gate posts to have a concrete base to prevent shifting.

PVC fencing

The latest fad to reach the horse world and home and yard improvement. Mimics wooden fencing but is made from hollow PVC materials. While this low maintenance fence may look beautiful, it comes at a high installation cost and lacks the strength of wood. Cost can run over $4 a foot!

Supplies needed: Posts with caps, boards, gates, post hole digger, crushed stone for post base.

Suitable for: Adult animals with additional improvement of inner electric wires or inner fence as boards are easily popped out by rubbing (or smart animals). This fence makes a better yard fence than livestock fence.

Problems: It has a high cost and lacks strength. Installation is best left to professionals.

Advantages: Adds to your property value. The PVC does not need painting-ever.

Installation tips: Call a professional fencer as this fence can be time consuming and frustrating to install.

In summary

The world of fencing allows the goat owner many options in keeping their animals properly contained. Usually a combination of the fencing types is the best choice, as it better meets the needs of different sizes and ages of goats in a herd, ie. fencing in small kids, pasturing does on a rotational system, or keeping bucks in rut at bay.

It’s a good idea, when fencing, to check local zoning regulations that may restrict how close fences can be put to property lines. Also always check for power and utility lines before digging post holes. Another good idea is to label hot electrical wires with a "Caution electric fence" sign to limit liability. Finally, please make sure wire fences are always visible to both humans, livestock and wildlife.

Happy fencing!

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