Common Cattle Fencing Mistakes and how to Avoid them
Updated: Jun 22
A little foresight goes a long ways toward avoiding the most common mistakes farmers and ranchers make when installing their cattle fencing.
Fencing your cattle ranch is a significant investment in money and time. Yet insufficient fencing can lead to headaches of escaped or missing stock, cattle getting into areas they shouldn’t be, and, worst-case scenario, an injury to your livestock or humans.
Rather than pay later to rectify mistakes, take our word for it and avoid these most common cattle fencing mistakes from the get-go.
Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when installing or maintaining cattle fencing:
1. Poor Cattle Fence-Line Planning
Before installing fencing on your farm, take some time to think through your property and future growth. Having a plan for your ultimate goal will prevent putting fence lines in the wrong spot you’ll end up having to remove.
Your fence line doesn’t have to go in a straight line. It can follow natural land contours or swing around areas you want to fence off (like a grove of trees or a pond). Look at fencing on other farms. Seeing what the neighbors did that you like (or don’t like) will help when it comes time to start building your fencing.
Think about where you’ll place your gates. Since gates are a significant expense in the fencing building process, make sure to put them in the best access spots and where you need (and will use) them.
2. Weak Cattle Fence Corners
Weak and inadequate fence corners the number one cause of a fence failing, whether it is an electrified system or not.
Fence corners are the point where all the tension of the wire gets pulled from. If the corner posts are not big enough, not placed deep enough or adequately braced, the whole system will sag and fail. Make sure your posts are buried deep! One rule of thumb is to the depth in the ground of your corner posts should be equal to (or greater than) the height of the top wire.
The size of the corner posts (most ranchers prefer wood corner posts) depends on how many strands of wire. A one or two-wire pasture divider only needs a four to five-inch post. But a five-strand barbed wire or four-strand high tensile should have a six to seven-inch diameter corner post.
Brace your corner posts. There are several different methods of doing that, from a simple “H” style brace to a “floating brace” system popular for electrified systems.
3. Not the Right Distance Between Cattle Fence Posts
Another common mistake is either too much —or not enough — space between fence posts (depending on the system you use).
Barbed wire fencing needs closer fence posts, the rule of thumb is 16 feet. But for electrified high-tensile systems, posts that close are more likely to be broken or pulled out when an animal (like deer) hit the fence. In high tensile fencing systems, posts are usually spaced at 30 to 40 feet.
4. Undercharged Electric Cattle Fence System
Even the unruliest stock quickly learns to respect an electrified fence, assuming it is hot enough.
The typical rule of thumb is one joule per mile of fencing (no matter how many strands you have). If possible, electrify your fence through standard power — especially perimeter fencing. Solar power can be adequate and useful for interior fencing needs but is less reliable than fencing run through a regular power source.
5. Improperly Ground Electric Fence
Along with not having enough power, electric fences fail because they are not adequately grounded.
Many fence builders don’t place enough grounding rods. There should be three feet of ground rods per every joule of energy. Space the grounding rods out at least 10 feet apart. They don’t have to be placed near the energizer (though most people tend to put them there).
It is also vital to place grounding rods in an area with continuously damp soil during all seasons.
6. Steel Posts and Electric Fence Don’t Mix
Since we’re talking about electric fencing systems, another critical point is to avoid steel posts.
If you use steel posts, you depend on an insulator to keep the steel from shorting out your system. And even the best insulators are notorious for cracking or popping off. Instead, use plastic or composite posts.
7. Cattle Fence not Built for your Climate
A final mistake many fence builders make is they don’t plan for common weather events.
High snowfall pack and frozen ground is not a good conductor, leading to weakly charged spots in your fence line. Plan for high snowfall by having one or more neutral wires incorporated into the system along with the hot wire.
Another consideration is for ranchers subjected to frequent wildfires. In a fire-prone region, use steel posts and hang barbed wire, hi-tensile or woven wire for perimeter fencing. Limit electric fencing to interior strands, one or two, hung on self-insulating posts. When a fire comes through, your electric lines will still go down, but your perimeter should remain.
Georgie Smith, known in her community as “Farmer Georgie,” is a fourth-generation farmer and journalist living on her family’s historic farm on a Pacific Northwest island. She ran her own small farm for more than 20 years. These days, when she’s not herding chickens, fixing the antique tractor (again) or growing heirloom dry beans, Georgie writes about farming. Georgie is passionate about supporting healthy, equitable and sustainable food production and thriving family farms.