An Evolution of Fence, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Keba M Hitzeman
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10’ + pedestrian gate + 16’ panels used as a “gate” – we sometimes need to get the tractor into this area, but not often enough to buy and install swinging gates

“Fence” is a tiring word for farmers who raise animals. We are constantly thinking about where to put it, what kind to install, how much it will cost, what it will take to maintain it, and what to do to plug the hole when an animal runs through it or digs under it. Having transitioned from a 20+ head Angus beef cattle herd to a dozen Shetland wool sheep, Kinder goats, and a few all-purpose bush goats, my outlook on fence has changed, although all of those thoughts remain.

No longer does the fence need to withstand the bull, who discovered that barbed wire and field fence was the perfect combination to scratch his chin. It doesn’t be tall enough to contain that heifer who thought she was an Olympic gate hurdler. The tallest animal I have now is around 36 inches at the withers. As I cut the honeysuckle and scrub trees to the height of the fence (don’t want to cut them out for fear that they are now anchoring the fence better than the old t-posts!), the goats don’t feel the need to stand on the wire to stretch out their necks for the highest leaves. And the livestock guardian dogs don’t bother the perimeter fences; I just need to keep an eye on any weak spots that they may try to push their noses through.

We have big pastures that are already fenced in, plus some areas that are marginal grazing, but still good enough to keep the sheep and goats happy. I have only so much time and energy to install fencing, and some of those marginal areas aren’t conducive to permanent fencing, either with field fence or with cattle panel wired to t-posts. Maybe that area floods, or perhaps we need to get farm equipment through for fieldwork during the year. So what do we do to make those areas grazeable when needed, but open for other uses the rest of the time?

 16’ corral panels as semi-permanent fence to keep the animals out of this section of the creek

The first iteration of portable fencing, way back when we first got goats on the farm, was a mobile shelter, built from 2x4s, cattle panel, and heavy-duty caster wheels. This shelter would be surrounded by cattle panel on t-posts, and when it was time to move the goats, we could shut them in, wheel it to the next section, pull up the cattle panel and t-posts, and reset the whole thing. Great idea, not so much in execution. The goats learned there was enough clearance between the frame that the caster wheels were mounted to and the ground that they could just lay down, the shelter would go over them, and they were free to run and eat the daylilies. Back to the drawing board.

For version 2.0, 16′ corral panels were purchased, along with several pedestrian gates. For the number of goats we had then, a 32’x32′ was adequate, so 7 panels and 2 pedestrian gates were enough to make 2 attached pens. The goats would eat one down, we would open the gate to the other pen for them to eat, then move the panels of the first pen in a leapfrog to the other side of the currently occupied pen. But the space between the tubes was enough that none of our quick-thinking goats and guardian dogs were going to stay put. Cattle panel to the rescue! We wired the cattle panel to the corral panel, set up the pens, and were pleased with our handiwork. Until we needed to move those 16′ long panels and discovered precisely how heavy they were. The tractor could be used at times, but when moving them through hilly or wooded areas, nothing but manual labor would get the job done. That was a long, tiring summer, dragging them up and down hills, and around thickets of honeysuckle. Now, those 16’ panels are used as “gates” in places where we don’t need to open and shut them regularly, and also as semi-permanent fence in areas where we might want to take the fence down at some point.

10’ corral panels + cattle panel

Version 2.1 used 10′ corral panels with cattle panel cut to size and attached. Much easier for one person to move, but used more panels for an equivalent sized pen to the 16′ corral panels. We also were expanding the flock to include sheep, so more mouths to feed meant moving the pens more often. Ten-foot panels were much easier to move than the 16′ panels, but the frequency we were moving them almost negated that. Plus, cutting the cattle panel to fit the smaller panels was time-consuming!

Next post: Version 3.0 of portable fencing, where we are now, what we learned

All photos by the author

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