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How to Build a Cattle Fence and Mistakes to Avoid


October 9, 2021

Close shot of cows

Protect your herd from themselves and trespassers or wildlife predators by investing in a high quality cattle fence. Proper cattle management requires installing the best possible fence for your farm and livestock needs.

From determining the fencing material cost, longevity, and performance to understanding every part of the installation process, our cattle fence guide will take you through every step of the planning and set-up process to help you find the best fence for your cattle.

Choosing the Right Type of Fence for Cattle

Investing in the right type of cattle fence for your farm depends on how you plan to use your fence and the types of breeds and livestock you have on your property. Choosing the right fence from the start can save you time and money.

Beef cattle vs. Dairy cattle vs. Bulls

Beef cattle, which are stronger and heavier than dairy cows, require stronger fences compared to the lighter-duty fencing options for dairy cows. If you plan to have bulls on your property, you will need a fence that is high and strong enough to keep them in.

Livestock and wildlife

Consider the livestock you will keep on your property. You will also need to factor in any nearby wildlife. While you may want a durable and resistant fence to keep predators away from your livestock, you may also need to consider wildlife-friendly fencing to accommodate the wildlife that needs to migrate, find food, or shelter.

Budget and price

How big is your budget? Your budget will determine the quality of materials you can buy. Make sure to also consider the cost of maintaining your fence, durability, and longevity of your fence materials and construction/installation.

Local rules and regulations

Finally, you will need to consider your local government’s rules and regulations on cattle fencing which may include requiring wildlife-friendly fencing, restrictions on barbed wire fences in residential areas, and other fence design regulations.

Factors to Consider When Looking for a Fence Systems

In terms of the types of materials you will need for your livestock fence, here are a few common factors to consider when shopping around for different materials and options.

Height

Generally, cattle fencing needs to be at least 49 inches high. Fencing that is between 4 to 4.5 feet high is good for cattle. Lean towards higher fencing for bulls around 5 feet high.

Corner Posts

Corner posts are an integral part of a reliable and durable livestock fence. Without resilient corner posts, your fencing can easily topple down due to wildlife, livestock, weather, or nearby trees and make your livestock vulnerable.

One of the most common mistakes by ranch managers is not securing corner posts deep enough, especially in looser or disturbed soil.

Fencing experts recommend planting the corner post between one-third and one-half of the corner post total length. Experts also recommend the post depth in the ground should be equal to or greater than the height of the top wire.

Tension

When choosing between different types of wire fence, its tension will determine its resilience and longevity. The quality of materials and proper installation will determine if it can stand up to pressure from animals or weather without failure.

Post Spacing

Post spacing is another common area where ranchers can make mistakes. Farmers tend to place too many posts close together. Post spacing largely depends on the type of fence you choose to install. Spacing the posts just right can extend the life of your fence materials.

As a general rule of thumb, fencing experts recommend one post for every 16.5 feet for barbed wire fences. For electric wire fencing, post spacing can be between 80 to 100 feet apart, which is about 50 posts per mile.

Wire Strands

Depending on the type of wire fence you choose and the density of your animals in the space, you will need different amounts of wires.

  • Generally, for barbed wire fences, we recommend about five strands.
  • For high-tensile fences, we recommend 4 to 5 strands spaced 10 inches apart.

You may use more strands if you have a densely packed small space compared to a large, roamable space with fewer cows.

Fence Types

In your property, you will have a variety of fence types ranging from holding pens to pasture fences. Corral fences should be stronger and more durable than pasture fences, which can use barbed wire or high-tensile fences.

Cattle Fence Types

Cows behind a cattle fence

Cattle fences serve to protect, hold, and transport your livestock around your property and pasture. Choosing the right type of fence material can help safeguard your cattle and extend the longevity of your materials. High-quality fencing can last for decades.

Barbed Wire

Barbed wire is the traditional material for fencing cattle, gaining its first patent in 1867. Today, it remains a standard choice for livestock owners due to its availability, affordability, and ease of installation. However, advancements in fencing technology have allowed ranchers to choose from a wide range of effective fencing materials.

While this type of fencing has largely fallen out of favor, some farmers may use a single strand of barbed wire above high-tensile or hinged-joint wire fence to reduce the risk of injury of animals while adding stronger protection for cattle from predators or trespassers. For a completely barbed wire fence, farmers use between 4 to 6 strands of barbed wire.

Hutchinson Commercial Barbwire, 1320 ft.

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Hutchison Western 6 in. 4-Point 12.5-ga. Barb Wire 1/4-Mile

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Barbed wire fencing serves as a popular option for bigger animals due to their sharp barbs which can be a physical barrier for animals. However, it is not the most eye-catching or humane of the fence types and may injure your animals. If you are going with barbed wire, ensure that your cattle have their latest tetanus boosters.

For farms with large pastures, many farmers go with barbed wire for its relatively cheap price although its maintenance costs can be higher than maintaining an electric wire fence.

Consider the additional cost that you may incur from T-posts and stays or stiffeners. T-posts in barbed wire fencing are generally required to be 12 feet apart. When you add up the material cost, it may be higher than expected. Over time, its maintenance costs can increase from the wear and tear of wildlife and livestock.

Hinged Joint/Woven Wire

Hinged joint field fences are a portable, flexible, and versatile option for cattle fencing and fences for other livestock such as sheep, goats, and chickens. Also called a farm fence, a hinged joint fence has a four wrap hinge joint where two vertical stay wires are wrapped together to form a hinge joint.

The wrapped wires form a knot that functions as a hinge when pressure is applied. When the pressure is removed, it returns back to its original shape. Generally, hinged joint fences have narrower wire spacing towards the bottom to deter small predators and animals.

Compared to a barbed wire fence, this fence type can have a slightly higher upfront cost but requires less maintenance and does not pose a serious risk of injury for cattle. However, this fence type can get damaged if you do not regularly maintain it.

If enough pressure is applied, it can lose its shape or even break due to rust and heavy pressure or lose its shape permanently.

High-Tensile Fixed Knot, Fence/Woven Wire

Fixed knot fences can provide a higher performance than barbed wire or hinged-joint fences. Also known as woven wire fences, this fence type is designed from linked horizontal and vertical wires that overlap and knot together to create squares or rectangles. Choose from a wide range of mesh patterns and heights.

Many farmers prefer this fencing option due to its longevity and value, requiring minimal maintenance and replacement costs. Just make sure to keep an eye out for your cattle since they can get their hooves caught in the openings.

High-tensile fixed knot fencing can provide a better value over other fencing types, even barbed wire. Fixed knot fencing, generally, has 20 feet between posts, meaning it uses less posts throughout the fencing line and does not use fence stays or stiffeners.

Since these fence types come in long rolls, they may be easier to install for some ranchers compared to installing barbed wires one by one. In terms of maintenance, all you may need to do is ensure the vegetation does not grow on the fence and regularly check for any damage from nearby trees.

Electric Fence

Electric cattle fence and wiring

Electric wire fences are a popular option for temporary fencing such as for rotational grazing.This type of fencing has a charge going through it which acts as a physical deterrent for cattle who come in contact with it.

This type of fencing can also be used with other types such as high tensile and wooden fences as an extra physical deterrent against predators and trespassers. One of the cons of this type of fencing is that it can easily short if touched by weeds or having broken insulators.

Wooden Fence

Wooden post and rail fences are the most eye-catching fence types and can provide a sturdy barrier for your cattle management. Generally, this type of fencing works better with a smaller herd of about a handful of cows.

This fence type can be pricey and require more maintenance over time. Since cows love to scratch themselves on the wooden fence posts, and gnaw on the cross poles, this can force you to spend more on replacement and maintenance.

Synthetic Fence

If you are looking for an alternative to the traditional wooden post, synthetic fencing made from PVC pipe can mimic the look and feel of a wooden fence without its natural disadvantages such as rotting.

While these options are more expensive than wooden fences, they can provide increased durability against weather and pressure from livestock. They are generally best reserved for smaller operations over larger ones.

Cattle Panel

Cattle fence panels are great options for fencing in cattle and other livestock. Cattle fence panels are made of usually 4-gauge wire galvanized before it is welded into a single panel. Its welded steel construction makes it a durable and sag resistant option that will not need almost any maintenance at all in the long run and will not rust.

Cattle Panel, 8 ft.

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Cattle fence panels can usually be between 8 feet and 16 ft long. A standard panel usually has grid openings 8 inches high and 6 inches wide. These panels can be attached to a variety of posts including wood and steel.

Fence Posts

Fence posts are a critical part of building your cattle fence. Usually, corner posts are made of treated wood, which protects the wood from decay. Corner posts are usually 6 to 8 inches in diameter. T-posts are not usually sturdy enough to fence in your cattle.

Line posts provide the extra support needed throughout the length of the fence. Line posts may include wooden posts and t-posts. Line posts should be slightly taller than the fence height. The posts will typically go in the ground about 4 feet.Post spacing can be between 8 to 12 feet apart, depending on the material and length of the fence line. Many farmers use a ratio of 5 steel posts to 1 wood post for durability.

For electric fencing, steel posts are not recommended. Instead, consider very flexible plastic or wood-plastic composite posts. Even with an insulator for steel posts, there is a risk of the fencing shorting out.

Staples

Everything from your cow’s behavior to nearby tree limbs or even heavy snow can put pressure on the installed fence wires. Strong fence staples are recommended for fence wire support. Staple pullout is a common problem when used on pressure-treated softwood posts.

We recommend using 1 ¾ inch to 2 inch, 8- or 9-gauge galvanized staples with additional barbs on softwood poles and 1 ½ inch smooth staples for hardwood poles.

Electric Fence Materials

Electric fences require a wide range of devices and materials including insulators, battery powered or solar power fence charger, wires, braces, and ground rods.

  • Energizer: Invest in an energizer with slightly more voltage than you need to ensure it is providing an electric current at all times.

Gallagher M30 Fence Charger

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Gallagher S10 Solar Fence Charger

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  • Ground rods: In terms of ground rods, you are going to need at least three, 6 to 8 foot long rods.

Galvanized Ground Rod, 5/8 in. X 8 ft.

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  • Insulator: You need 1 insulator per wire for post and nails to secure them.

Powerfields Screw-In Ring Insulator, 6 in.

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Gallagher 5-Inch T-Post Insulator 25-Pack

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  • Corner strainer: It helps tie corners properly. You need one corner strainer for wire per corner post. Handles, Tensioners, Hi-Tensile Wire is recommended if using an electric fence for cattle,.One common mistake when setting up an electric fence is having the ground rods too close together. Many farmers install 3 ground rods near the energizer. If they are spaced too close together, they can interact with the overlapping soil, reducing their efficacy.

Fencing experts recommend spacing the ground rods throughout the entire fencing instead of near the energizer. We recommend a galvanized rod which is corrosion-resistant and more affordable compared to copper.

Gates

When considering gates, factor in the type of soil you have and the anchoring requirements needed to ensure proper performance and function. You may want to install a man gate for people to go through and a larger one for animals and large vehicles.

We recommend placing your gates in corners instead of adding them in the middle of a straight fence. Consider every necessary material including a durable gate, hinges, and closures.Cattle guards work well in high traffic areas.

Preparing the Space

Once you have determined the type of fence you plan to build, it is time to ensure that your property is ready for the fence installation process.

Here are a few tips to get your property ready for a fence:

  • Before installing your fence, ensure you identify your property lines to avoid overstepping property boundaries that can lead to an expensive replacement. Hiring a surveyor can help you establish the proper property lines.
  • Clear the area of debris and vegetation that could affect the electric charge of your fence.
  • Check with your gas or utility company to determine the location of any water pipes or gas lines underground. Identifying these points can show you where to avoid digging holes for your fencing materials.
  • How many gates do you need? How long will your fence line be? What type of corner braces do you need? The elements of your fence and their designs depend on the property topography, cattle, and farm layout.
  • Mark your corners, fence lines, and gates with a variety of supplies such as measure tape, bright paint, or chalk. Just make sure to use a noticeably different marker and color than the one your gas or utility company used to mark underground structures.

TESTORS 307588 Spray Chalk, Pink, Flat, Matte, 6 oz Aerosol Can

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Gathering the Fencing Supplies

Once you have planned out your fence design and installation, it is time to get all of the necessary supplies to set-up your complete livestock fencing system.

Here is a basic list of fence supplies you will need:

  • Fence posts (metal, treated wood, metal T-posts, etc.)

6-1/2-ft. Medium-Weight T-Post

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6" Treated Blunt Wood Post 8 ft.

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  • Boards, rails, or wire

Hillman Single Coil Galvanized Wire, 14 ga., 100 ft.

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  • Wire stretcher for wire fences

Zareba Fi-Shock A-54 Fence Stretcher

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  • Post hole digger

Braber 6 in 3-Point Post Hole Digger

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True Temper Razorback Post Hole Digger with Fiberglass Handle

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  • Post driver

T-Post Driver

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  • Hammer

Double-Face Engineer's Hammer, 4 lb.

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  • Pliers

Master Mechanic 10-in. Fence Pliers

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  • Nails
  • Fence Staples

Bekaert Fence Staples, 2 in., 8 Gauge, 8 lb.

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  • Gate(s)

Behlen 14 ft. Green 2 in. by 4 in. Wire Mesh Heavy Duty Gate

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Behlen 4 ft. Green 2 in. by 4 in. Wire Mesh Heavy Duty Gate

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Behlen 4 ft. Gray 6-Rail Utility Gate

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  • Concrete (optional)

Quikrete Concrete Mix 60 lb.

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  • Work gloves

Atlas Fit 300 Gloves

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  • Safety glasses

Carhartt Billings Clear Lens Safety Glasses

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Carhartt Billings Gray Lens Safety Glasses

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  • Steel-toed boots

Georgia Boot Amp Lt Logger Composite Toe Waterproof Work Boot, GB00272

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Danner Men's 8" Black Quarry USA Waterproof Alloy Safety-Toe Work Boots 17311

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How to Build a Cattle Fence

Cowboy putting up cattle fence

It is time to build out your perfect livestock fence.

Step 1

Learn how to use a hole digger or ask someone/hire someone who knows how to use it to dig the post holes. Dig the post holes where you have previously marked. How deep you need to dig them in depends on the structure of your soil. Looser and disturbed soil may require more depth. Generally, post holes should be three times the width of the post.

Step 2

When you install the corner posts, you may fill the surrounding space with soil, gravel, sand, or even concrete for added stability.

Step 3

If you will be installing brace wire, for example, you can start installing the wire from the top of one post to another. Ensure that the wire has sufficient tension if you are installing it around the fencing. However, you do not want to pull it too much. Use some staples to secure the wire onto the posts and continue until you secure the entire top line of wire. Fencing wire is not required if you are installing electric fences or wooden rail/board fences.

Step 4

Install the line posts at regular intervals. For larger herds and higher budgets, we suggest using more line posts and placing them closer together for support and longevity of the fence.

Step 5

When all the line posts have been put in place, it is time to install the other wire lines. Here is where you will secure wires with staples and a hammer. Securing the wires to the post can protect the wire from breakage if a cow applies heavy pressure.

Step 6

Ensure that every part of the fence is secured and there are no weak spots throughout. Ideally, the fence you have installed should be able to withstand the tension or pressure from your livestock.

Build Your Cattle Fence with Wilco Farm Supplies

Ready to build your dream livestock fence? Trust the farm store professionals at Wilco to help you get your project off the ground. We have helped our clients identify the best design and build for their cattle fencing needs. Shop high quality fencing supplies at Wilco Farm Stores.

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