While fences can be an attractive feature for your farm, it’s more important that they are functional and suitable for your favorite horse. Three things you’ll want to take into consideration when building (or repairing) your fences – safety, effectiveness and appearance.
Fence visibility is important for horses – avoid barbed and high-tensile wire where possible as they are difficult for horses to see. They tend to become caught and tangled or can tear their skin on the barbs. If you do use wire fencing, either hang something from the wires like ribbon or flagging tape so that horses can see the wire or use a single board along the top of your wire fence. It will improve visibility of the fence as well as prevent them from leaning on and stretching the wire.
Board fences, on the other hand, are a strong and safe fence option but can be expensive. Boards that are 1-2 inches thick and 4-6 inches wide are easy to see and difficult to break through. Nail or screw your boards to wooden posts that are 8-10 feet apart. The total fence height should be 60 inches for perimeter fence and 54 inches for cross fencing within pastures, with your bottom board 6 inches from the ground. Cost will vary depending on treated or untreated wood, paint, nails or screws as well as the cost of labor.
Mesh wire fencing might be a more cost effective alternative but the conventional 4-6-inch openings like those for cattle are too large for horses – hooves are easily caught. Instead, use either the diamond mesh or square knot mesh that has 2-4-inch openings. You’ll want to use a minimum of 12 1/2-gauge wire or 14-gauge high tensile steel. These types of fences are strong, durable and one of the safest to use.
Set your fences back far enough from roads and driveways to account for right-of-way. This means at least 7 feet on each side of the driveway! Make sure to check your zoning easements to be sure of your right-of-way widths. Also consider room within pastures – place your equipment access gates in the middle rather than a corner so you have turning room with tractors and towed gear. A tractor with a manure spreader will use at least 16 feet, sometimes more depending on size, to make a 90-degree turn. Set your gates back from the road at least 40-feet to allow room to pull off and park to open the gate. Also make sure you maintain clear visibility in the gate access area for entering and exiting the road.
We all know that we have to have gates too but did you know they must be just as safe as the fence? Most commonly, gates are made of either wood or metal tube, hung on a post that is set deeper than fence line posts because they have to be able withstand constant swinging activity from the gate. Aluminum is not recommended as they don’t hold up well. Also, diagonal cross brace wood gates are not recommended as legs, feet or heads can get caught in narrow angles. Cattle guards don’t work well either because horses will often try to jump across or walk through, again tangling and injuring legs. The gate should be just as tall as the fence so they don’t lean over or try to jump. A handy width for main gates would be 12-16 feet wide so you can get equipment as well as animals through. If you are planning a handler gate for walking horses in and out regularly, it should be 4-5 feet wide. It’s also a good idea to have two-way gates (swings both ways) for ease of in and out of pastures and it should be designed so that one person can unlock, open, shut and lock with one hand (your other hand will likely have a horse or a bucket in it).
Brenda Jackson, Murray County Extension Coordinator & Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent