How to Build a Farm Fence | Step 1: Plan the Fence Line (1/4)

Updated: May 14

Building a farm fence is no small job, but important to any hobby farm for pastures and pens that keep animals safe. Learn how to build a fence for your hobby farm with this step by step blog series. First step: plan the fence line.

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Fencing is one of the most important ways to keep animals on your hobby farm safe. They keep your livestock in and unwanted animals out. Fences can also be dangerous to livestock when not done correctly. The first, and arguably most important, part of building your farm fence is the first step -- planning out your fence line.


Plan Your Fence Line


To start planning your fence, there are a number of things to think about to make sure this (hopefully) pretty permanent fencing is in the right spot and uses the right materials for the current and future plans for your hobby farm. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How many pastures/pens do we need now and in the future?

  • How and what vehicles will we drive to each pen?

  • What width gates do we need to get tractors and other vehicles in the pastures?

  • Where are any relevant utility lines to consider?

  • What livestock will we have and where?

  • How tall does the fence need to be to keep animals in and out?

  • Will we be adding barns, run-ins, coops or other structures? If so, where?

Answering these questions will help you determine where and what kind of fence.


STEP 1: WHERE WILL THE FENCE BE?

For this step, I suggest getting a copy of your property survey that you can sketch on. You will probably erase and re-draw a few times so make sure it is a copy 😉. Google Maps satellite view will also be your friend when comparing your land and terrain to the survey. We also used Google Maps measurement function to estimate the length of our fence sections. The fence basically has three elements -- the fence (wire or boards and posts), H-braces, and gates. Once you have answered the questions above, you should have a good idea of where you want the fence to be.


Now, grab your survey and go walk the fence line so you know the exact terrain you will be dealing with. For us, there is a solid caliche rock shelf right near our fence line, so we wanted to make sure and stay on one level instead of having the fence drop off a few feet here and there. We also wanted to avoid taking out any oak trees, but didn't mind taking out a few cedar trees for our fence.


While you are walking your fence line, be sure to think about gates. I tend to think more gates are better than less so you can easily move from one pasture to another, but more gates means more H-braces and more materials so you don't want to way over-do it. We chose to have a large gate to drive a truck/tractor into and between each pasture, and a small 4' person gate from our house to each pasture. Think about your daily routines when choosing the position of your gate and where a barn is (or will be) that you will frequent.


Once you have a pretty good idea of where your fence and gates will go, mark up your survey and measure your fence. If you are measuring on Google Maps, your measurement will not be exact -- keep this in mind when planning your materials below.

STEP 2: WHAT TYPE OF FENCE DO YOU NEED?

The type of fence you need will depend on what livestock you have (or want). First, determine what material fence you want. For us, we have goats and horses so we wanted netwire with small enough holes that horses can't get feet stuck and baby goats can't get heads or horns stuck -- this meant 2x4 woven netwire.


NOTE: many places I have seen, recommend gradual climb or 4x4 netwire for goats, but I would strongly suggest smaller squares. Baby goats can get just about anywhere their little heads will fit through and you do not want to mess with goats getting out or worse, getting stuck, hurting themselves, and damaging your fence. I have found the 2x4 works perfectly. It is a bit more expensive than larger netwire, but in the long run, with the cost of mending fences and the safety of my animals, it is well worth it.


Types of Fencing: (Treehugger explains these and other types of fencing well!)

  • High Tensile/Woven Netwire (common for goats, sheep and other small ruminant livestock -- this is what we have!)

  • Welded Wire/Panel (common for chickens and pigs depending on the size of the holes and gauge of the wire)

  • Board/Rail Fence (common for horses, the most beautiful (in my opinion) and most expensive)

  • Barbed Wire (classic ranch fencing, commonly used for cattle)

  • Electric Fence (make sure to ground properly and inspect regularly)

Height Recommendations of Fencing for Livestock Types:

  • 🐴 Horses: Minimum of 5 ft

  • 🐐 Goats/Sheep/Alpacas: Minimum of 4 ft

  • 🐄 Cattle: Minimum of 4.5 ft

  • 🐔 Chickens/Emus: Minimum of 6 ft

  • 🐖 Pigs: Minimum of 3.5 ft

If you have predators that you are worried about jumping wire fences I would recommend going up to about 5 feet for livestock fencing. This is the total height of the fence, not just the height of your wire. For us, we have one string of barbed wire below and above a stretch of 4 ft netwire so our fence is about 4.5/5 ft tall depending on the incline.


STEP 3: WHAT MATERIALS ARE NEEDED?

Once you have decided what type of fence, you can move on to making your materials list. You can get these in stages instead of getting a load of stuff all at once 😊 As mentioned, the fence basically has three elements -- the fence (wire or boards and posts), H-braces, and gates. The number of gates you need will be pretty straightforward once you have completed step 1. NOTE: If you are doing board/rail fencing, you will not need H-braces. Going forward, I am basically explaining what is needed for wire fencing.


For H-braces, you will need an H-brace at each end of the fence line and on either side of each gate. For one straight length of fence, your formula for how many H braces is --> # of H-braces = 1 (for the starting edge of your fence) + (# of gates x 2) + 1 (for the end edge of your fence. Or, more simply:

# of H-braces = 2 + [(# of gates) x 2]

You can buy or make pre-fabricated welded H braces or make them with large wooden posts like us. Learn how to build an H-brace in the next step of this blog series. If you are making them out of wood, each H-brace will need:

  • (3) 8 ft round posts (6' diameter)

  • (2) brace pins

  • (1) in-line strainer

  • 10 gauge wire (allow for about 40' of wire for each H-brace)

  • (2) barbed staples

The fence materials are the more complicated parts to estimate because exact measurements get hard over tens and hundreds of feet. Just make sure you keep receipts so you can return any unused posts if needed. Board/Rail, Barbed Wire and Electric fencing will need vertical posts (usually every 8-10 ft) and the horizontal material being used (boards, barbed wire, electric wire). Remember to multiply the number or length of horizontal materials needed by however many horizontal strands or boards you will have. For example, if you will have 3 strands of barbed wire, remember to multiply the length of your fence times 3 to make sure you have enough wire. Netwire, Woven Wire or Wire Panels will need vertical posts (usually every 10-12 ft), the length of wire being used, and t-clips and staples to fix the wire to the vertical posts.


The formula to determine how many posts you will need is [Length of Fence - [(# of H-braces) x (length of H-brace)] - [(# of gates) x (width of gates)]] / (# of feet between each post). Assuming your H-braces will be 8' wide and you want posts every 10 ft, more simply:

# of Vertical Posts = [Length of Fence - [(# of H-braces) x 8] - [(# of gates) x (width of gates)]] / 10

For wire fencing, you will want to use majority t-posts, but will want a wooden or metal in-line brace post every 100 ft or so.


For wire fencing, make sure to get more than the exact length of fence you have because you will be tying off the wire to the end posts by wrapping them around the posts. In addition, if you have stretches of fence longer than the length of wire the rolls come in, you will need extra to splice two or more rolls together.


Materials List Should Include

  • Gates

  • Gate Latches

  • H-brace Posts (8' 6" diameter)

  • T-posts

  • In-Line Posts (6' 3-5" diameter)

  • Barbed Staples

  • Brace Pins

  • In-Line Strainer

  • Wire/Horizontal Boards


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In addition to the materials that will be a part of the actual fence, you will also need the following additional materials:

  • Fencing Gloves

  • Hammer

  • Fencing Pliers (at least two of these so work can be done simultaneously)

  • Screwdriver or T-clip tool

  • In-Line Strainer Handle

  • Cordless Drill & bits sized to the holes you will drill for the brace pins in your H-brace as well as the bolts for the gates into the posts.

  • Stakes and orange string to mark the fence line

  • Auger (hand or gas powered), Shovels, Post-hole digger, and -- if you are unfortunate enough to sit on rock like we do -- a jackhammer

  • Fence Post Driver

  • Come Along to stretch wire (two if you are stretching high-tensile wire)

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STEP 4: PREPARE THE FENCE LINE

Now that you know where your fence will be and have all your materials, you are ready to clear your fence line and prepare to begin fencing! First walk the fence line and level it as best you can, moving any large rocks, mowing down really tall or thick grass and taking out any small shrubs. Take out any tree limbs that are in the way of the fence line and up to 4' on the side of the fence you will be stringing the wire (you will need room to roll the wire out next to your posts). Make sure to dig out any stumps that are right on the fence line as well.


Once the fence line is clear, Use stakes and orange string to make a straight line where the fence will be. Then use stakes or orange spray paint to mark where each H-brace and gates will go.


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Get ready for a lot of long days because you are ready to start fencing!


Next Step: How to Build an H-Brace.