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Your Best Fencing Options

Property Fencing

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That ideal parcel is unfenced. What are a new owner’s options?

You have big plans for that undeveloped property you’ve just purchased, and fencing is early on your to-do list. Building a fence, especially on a sizable parcel, is never a small job, but taking on such an effort carries with it the opportunity to make sure the job gets done to your specs. And, depending on your needs, options and costs vary widely.

In evaluating a fencing strategy, a property owner should first think about his or her goals. First: Do you even need fencing? Will you have livestock on the property? Do you anticipate issues with trespassers? Are your parcel’s boundaries unclear? If the answers to such questions are “no,” it might be worth contemplating the zero-dollar-budget option of leaving the property unfenced, maintaining an open environment that can help maintain the land’s natural aesthetic.

If a fence is in order, though, think about the function that fence will need to serve. Will the fence simply mark the property line, or will you count on it to contain horses or cattle? When it comes to selecting fencing material, do you value aesthetics, or are you concerned only with function?

Before making any decisions about fencing, confirm your available options with respect to protective covenants or other applicable regulations. Some rural property owners’ associations specify the types of fencing materials that can be used.

With all of the above in mind, let’s review some of the most common fencing strategies.

Corral Panels. In terms of labor and time, steel corral panels are perhaps the ideal fencing solution. Panels go up quickly and connect with just a couple of pins. There’s no wire to stretch. And postholes might not even be necessary. The downside: because of their cost (a 12-foot panel can easily run $100 or more), steel panels aren’t generally practical for fencing a pasture or a property’s perimeter, and are instead better suited for a smaller area, like a corral or an outdoor riding arena. Where panels are a realistic option, it is usually worthwhile to set fence posts at regular intervals along each fenceline to provide better stability. A well known brand of corral fencing sold nationwide is called Priefert, and most ranchers will tell you they're the best. 

Priefert Corral Fence
Priefert Corral Fence offers strength and versatility for corrals. 

Continuous Steel Rail. Compared to interconnected steel panels, this option is better suited for containing larger areas – a pasture or an entire property – since fence segments aren’t “hinged” as they would be with corral panels. With continuous steel rail, wooden posts are set to support panels; the steel rails of each panel then connect to the rails of the next panel, forming a seamless fenceline. Costs for continuous steel-rail fencing, though, can rival figures for traditional corral panels.

Traditional Wood Rail. While offering a classic look, wooden rail fencing is both costly and labor-intensive. And, a wood-rail fence requires maintenance – painting/treating and, on a regular basis, re-painting/re-treating – to keep them looking attractive. Many landowners who opt for wood rails grow to regret the choice, as ongoing upkeep becomes an issue.

Vinyl Rail. This option offers the look of a traditional rail fence, but without the need to paint or treat rails. Vinyl-rail fencing isn’t quite maintenance-free, though, and has limited uses. Some of the most common options are designed more for aesthetics than for utility. Rails insert into posts and often just rest in place, without much securing them. Horse owners report that such fences can be next to useless, as one bump from a horse can knock rails out of place.

Flex Rail. A great alternative to solid vinyl rail options, flexible rails can be solidly attached to fence posts, and offer some “give,” making them a good option for horse owners. The polymer rails are close to maintenance-free, and are attractive; at first glance, they can be taken for a traditional wood-rail fence. 

Stock Panels. Simple in their construction, these mesh panels are built from heavy-duty welded rods, and are generally a low-cost option – a 16-foot cattle panel might cost as little as $30 – for the consumer who values utility over aesthetics, and is determined to avoid handling wire. Mounting these panels to wooden posts can make for a stout fenceline. However, since stock panels tend to have a “flop factor,” bending and curving if not solidly secured, fence posts might need to be set as close together as every eight feet. A vital point: select stock panels based on the size of the gaps between rods; panels with wider gaps are unsuitable for horses.

Horse Fencing. This woven-wire option is designed with a tight mesh so that a horse’s hooves are less likely to get caught in a fence. A relatively affordable option, horse fencing unrolls so it can then be attached to fence posts. Quality products are key to durability, and fencing companies like SASCO have years of experience making high end fencing products. Stretching woven wire evenly is an art form, as it’s easy to pull the wire out of shape. Woven horse fencing, especially when paired with wooden posts, can make an attractive fence, with security on par with that of higher-cost strategies. Other woven-wire options exist, including game fencing to contain deer and elk; as with stock panels, pay attention to the size of the gaps in the fence, as large openings in a woven-wire fence almost inevitably lead to livestock injuries. 

SASCO Horse fence

Horse fence and other game and wildlife fencing must be strong and durable. Don't skimp on lesser quality products to save a buck! 

Cable. When it comes to wire fencing, cable options (to the extent that cable is “wire”) offer the advantages of strength and flexibility. Livestock making contact with a cable fence won’t encounter solid rails; instead, cable will offer some give. Cable can be paired with steel posts to create a high-end version of a wire fence, but with greater durability and better eye appeal than ordinary wire options.

Coated Wire. A good alternative to cable fencing, coated wire is constructed from electric fence wire that’s been wrapped in a polymer coating. As a fencing material, coated wire offers the simplicity and utility of a wire fence, but with greater strength and, with a white polymer coating, better visibility. Depending on the variety purchased, coated wire can be electrified.

Smooth Wire. With this option, we’re venturing into budget-conscious choices that are likely more realistic, and certainly more common, for large acreages. Smooth wire is, essentially, barbed wire without the barbs. Constructing a smooth-wire fence is a labor intensive option, as each strand of wire will need to be unrolled and stretched individually. (Although the same is true with cable and coated-wire fencing.) Heavy brace posts will be critical at each corner and, intermittently, along longer fencelines. Between brace posts, smooth wire is most often paired with steel t-posts, which need to be driven into the ground; doing this by hand, with a t-post driver, is incredibly labor-intensive, but produces the best results. While an infinitely better and safer choice than barbed wire, smooth wire still isn’t the ideal choice for horse owners, but is commonly used as a low-cost choice for pasture fencing.

Barbed Wire. This low-cost, labor-intensive option is best suited for cattle. You’ll often see horses pastured inside a barbed-wire fence, but that combination, sooner or later, will lead to serious injuries. Fence-construction strategies are akin to those used with smooth wire, but complicated by barbs, which snag on just about everything they touch; plan on wearing durable gloves for this fencing job, and plan on those gloves having plenty of holes in them by the time a barbed-wire fence is complete. With both barbed- and smooth-wire fences, expect strands to loosen and require re-tightening.

Barbed wire cattle fence

Barbed wire is found on most cattle ranches across the country. It's cheap, durable and always in a rancher's truck.

Electric Wire and Tape. Electric fencing was once regarded – and most often used as – a temporary option in lieu of a permanent, more substantial fence, or as a supplemental strategy to pair with a “real” fence. For some consumers, though, an electric fence’s low cost and ease of construction made it an appealing option for permanent fences. Electric fencing, though, tends to be fragile (easy to put up, easy to tear down), and traditional electric-fencing wire generally has low visibility due to its small diameter and its metallic color. Wider electric tape can be much easier for livestock (and humans) to see, but offers little advantage in terms of strength. Moderate winds can force a strand of electric tape to essentially saw itself in half against an insulator. Despite the convenience offered by electric fencing, it’s still best suited to temporary uses, and requires constant vigilance to be sure it’s both in place and functioning.

When it comes to gates, property owners need to be diligent – militant, even. Convey, through signs, if necessary, that gates are to be left as they’re found.

Legible Signs made of durable materials are your way of communicating to neighbors, passersby and potential trespassers. A sign with your address number placed at the head of the driveway will be a vital landmark for the UPS driver. And, especially if a property was previously unfenced, “no trespassing” signs indicate that, as a new owner, you have your own expectations. When contemplating signage – whether it’s needed, and how it should be worded – think about preexisting behaviors that may have been created by a property’s prior owner. (Maybe the neighbors have been in the habit of hunting or riding on what is now your property.) And, think about the “clueless wanderer,” the hiker or hunter who may not see a fence line as a boundary.