How high does a sheep fence need to be?

The requirements for livestock fencing differ according to the goals of grazing/farming management, species, age and sex of enclosed animals, topography, environment conditions, predation control, requirements for ecological restoration, maintenance problems, aesthetic issues and cost. In general, livestock fencing is one of three types: 1) Boundary or perimeter fencing-used to hold livestock on site, with predation protection, and to establish a management unit that is spatially distinct from other units; 2) Cross-fencing or paddock fencing-used by regulating the space, density and period of grazing-used to monitor livestock distribution and attain grazing management goals “California law (Food & Ag Code 17121) also requires sufficient perimeter fencing to contain animals, as Mendocino or Lake Counties are not regarded as “free-range” counties.

Barbed, wired, mesh and electrified wire plus mixtures of these materials have been used in conventional livestock fencing materials. Treated wood, metal and fibreglass provide different types of posts.

Barbed wire is the material most widely used for cattle, but if correctly spaced, it may also be used for sheep and goats and may discourage some predators. For sheep and goats, with the first wire no more than 6 inches off the ground and the second wire 6 inches up from that, the bottom spacing must be closer. If predators are a concern, to deter coyotes or domestic dogs from burrowing under the fence, the first barbed wire is mounted virtually on the ground (0 to 2 inches). It will be necessary to space 8 inches apart the remaining wires that follow. Sheep fences are usually only 4 feet high, but goats need the same height as cattle. A downside to sheep and angora goats’ barbed wire is that their fleece sometimes gets stuck on the barbs. Barbed wire consists of two or more wires twisted together with two or four sharp barbs spaced every 4 to 5 inches of smooth, galvanised wire. Generally, normal barbed wire fences have three to five barbed wire wires extended between posts. The average height of a fence is either 51 or 54 inches. The spacing between wires is dependent on the number of line wires and the height of the fence (Figure 2). Usually, line posts are spaced 12 to 20 feet apart.

Popular spacing of lines for barbed wire fences.
Figure 2 Typical line spacing for fences with barbed wire
Suspension barbed wire fences consist of four to six strands of stretched taut 12 1/2-gauge barbed wire, such that between posts there is no more than 3 inches of sag. Twisted wire stays, or plastic battens or droppers spaced 16 feet apart, keep the wire strands apart. Usually, line posts are spaced 80 to 120 feet apart.

For sheep and goats, woven wire is most commonly used as it is a tighter fence that keeps young lambs or children from getting out. For non-horned sheep and goats, heavy or additional heavyweight woven wire fences are excellent. To stop animals jumping over the fence, the height of the fence should be at least 48 inches high. For cattle, woven wire fencing can be used provided that many strands of barbed top wires are used to prevent the cattle from rubbing down the woven wire.

Smooth horizontal (line) wires held apart by vertical (stay) wires consist of woven wire fences. For small animals, the distance between line wires can range from 1 1/2 inches at the bottom to 9 inches for large animals at the top. With fence height, wire spacing usually improves.

Generally, stay wires should be spaced 6 inches apart for sheep and goats and 12 inches apart for large animals when coyote predation is not an issue. However, Coyotes will slip through gaps as small as 4 1/2 inches, so if predation is a problem, woven wire fencing with closely spaced remaining wires can discourage animals from accessing fenced-in areas. For predator protection, some manufacturers produce fencing with bottom openings of 6 inches by 3 inches and 3 inches by 3 inches for predator proofing. The best non-electrified fencing for sheep and goats is to use one strand of barbed wire at ground level with woven wire above and two to three strands of barbed wire on top.

Usually, the top most barbed wire is replaced with a smooth wire of similar gauge if wildlife-friendly fences are required. Where predation is a problem, wildlife-friendly fences are not recommended.

Fencing in many areas of the North Coast, such as the Little Lake Valley in Mendocino County, for instance, poses some specific challenges due to high winter water levels and patterns of wildlife migration. As the elk will walk through it, electric fences will not operate there. In addition, East/West fences should not be woven wire or barbed with very near spacing as these fences can be filled with debris by high water floods and ultimately take them out and create a maintenance nightmare. The minimum number of barbed wires to contain livestock could likely be used by East/West fences in this area. This may be as low as three strands for cattle. Four or five strands should be appropriate for sheep or goats. In this case, North/South fences and most of the perimeter fence may be either a mixture of woven wire and barbed wire, or as in Figure 2, more closely spaced barbed wire. Often recognise the special area that must be accommodated and built appropriately by fences.

H-brace end posts made of 2 inch steel set in concrete are stronger and can last longer than wooden posts. Steel T-posts for all line positions should be used. The gates should be 16 foot high for farm machinery and for lime, hay or gravel trucks made of 2 inch tubular steel. For sheep or goats, welded mesh wire should be welded to the tubular steel on the gates. This size would also allow fire suppression equipment to have sufficient access. When planning fences for the management units of the ranch, remember to provide a corral for collecting, sorting and loading each individual management unit. The size and shape of the grazer will depend on the type of livestock. Finally, recall the old saying, “Good neighbours make good fences.”

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