Wherever you live, fencing is necessary to keep predators out and children, pets, and livestock in. It is important to consider which of those functions you want to accomplish. If it is to keep predators out, which predators would that be? That’s the general aim of a garden fence. If it is the neighbor’s (or your) dog, livestock panels will do to keep large dogs out. The spaces in those panels are 6”x8”. They are easy to install and to take with you if you should move. It will not keep rabbits, chickens, and other small critters out. Livestock panels might be your choice to keep livestock in. In All Flesh Is Grass Gene Logsdon suggests using livestock panels as a perimeter fence. You can read more about livestock panels in my blog post In Praise of Livestock Panels. One of the great things they have going for them is that they are rigid. However, that means that they don’t conform to the landscape well, making it look not so good if your ground is not level.
Welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spaces is probably the most popular option for a garden and for fencing a backyard to keep your dog or children in. It is readily available at building supply stores. I like a 4’ high fence around a garden, unless you have problems with deer. I won’t address dealing with deer in this post. The spaces in that fence will keep most things out, but not baby rabbits. For that reason, I’ve gone to using 1”x2” welded wire fencing for my garden. If you have a dog or cat that takes care of the baby rabbits, that might not be a problem for you. When installing the fence, dig a trench along the fenceline so the bottom few inches can be buried. If you have trouble with groundhogs you might want to bury it deeper. Rocks along the edge of the fence will help to keep animals from digging in. Raccoons can climb over a 4’ high fence, and even a 6’ high wire fence. If they are a problem for you, maybe a border of something prickly on the outside of the fence would help. Welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spaces and 6’ high is a good choice for chicken pens. When attaching it to the posts, if you leave the top foot unattached, it might help to keep raccoons out. They can climb over it, but if the top edge bends out with their weight, it might discourage them. Besides keeping the critters out of your garden during the growing and harvesting season, a good fence will also keep them from grazing your cover crops. If you planted your cover crops at the right time and thought they were off to a good start, only to find they never got any bigger or even disappeared, it could be that the wildlife had considered your garden their personal salad bar during the fall and winter.
Welded wire, like the livestock panels, can’t be stretched and doesn’t conform to changes in elevation. For that, you need woven wire fencing, which I’ve always referred to as field fencing. You would have seen that in pastures. It usually has 6”x6” spaces, but there are more size options available now. You might find woven wire fencing designated as Class 1, but keep looking until you find Class 3 galvanized. Class 3 will last longer. You are going to be putting in the same amount of labor to install it and you don’t want to do it again anytime soon– by that I mean anytime in the next 25 years or more. We installed a Class 3 woven wire fence 27 years ago. Just now some of it needs to be replaced, not because the wire is failing, but because our son pastured oxen in there for awhile when the pasture was inadequate and they leaned over the fence to get that greener grass on the other side. Otherwise, it would be fine and shows no sign of rust. A strand or two of barbed wire along the top or a strand of electrified wire, which we didn’t have, might have helped with those oxen. Moving those animals out sooner is what should have happened. That fence was originally designed to keep in goats and also worked well when we had a milk cow.
One of the size options available now for woven wire fence is 4”x4” and is called sheep and goat fence. If they have horns, sheep and goats can get their heads stuck in the 6” fence and in the livestock panels. We’ve had to take a hacksaw to a livestock panel a couple times to free a goat. (Heavy-duty bolt cutters would have been better, but we didn’t have any on hand at the time.) When we decided to permanently fence an area in 2006 we went with the 4”x4” sheep and goat Class 3 fencing. One farm supply store only had Class 1, but thanks to the internet, I knew Class 3 was available. Ashland Feed Store went to the effort to get it for us—thank you Danny Adams. It helped that our order was almost a full pallet. If you have a large project coming up, do your planning carefully so that you can get your supplies all at one time. Often farm supply stores have seasonal sales on fence supplies and spring is a good time for that. While we were in the fencing mood, we decided to fence our barnyard. I discovered that full grown hens can’t get through the 4” spacing! They hop through livestock panels and can get through the 6” field fence, but stay put behind the sheep and goat fence. Fencing the barnyard gave us extra grazing if needed for livestock and allowed us to open the gate to the chicken pen during the day, giving the hens access to our whole property except the yard and garden.
If your property is the least bit rolling you will appreciate the fact that woven wire fence can be stretched and will fit to the contours of your land—provided it has the proper support. There needs to be posts in the low spots to hold it there. At the corners you need strong wooden corner posts with another post about 6’ away and a third post connecting the two. About every 100’ there needs to be another set of wooden posts. The rest of the posts (line posts) can be metal t-posts. It might be that you have a lot of cedars on your property and you can cut your own posts. We’ve been growing black locust trees for future fence posts. Some of the other options for woven wire fencing have 2”x4” spacing and one has a wire V within that. That fence is called diamond mesh or V-mesh. I’m considering that for the part of the garden that may have livestock pastured on the outside occasionally and it will also keep out those little rabbits I have trouble with. The woven wire with the smaller spacing was developed for horses, who apparently can’t keep their hooves out of regular fence.
Chicken wire is a short-lived fence that might keep chickens in, but doesn’t keep dogs and other critters out. Furthermore, in a few years, it will begin to rust. That said, a 2’ high chicken wire fence would do for a couple years around a garden and it is comparatively inexpensive. After that the rabbits just jump over it, the grass grows up into it, and it will soon begin to rust anyway. Whatever fence you buy, notice the size of the wire. The higher the number (gauge), the smaller the diameter of the wire. A 9 gauge wire is thicker than a 12 gauge wire. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. I’ve noticed the welded wire fencing we got to replace some old fence around the chicken pen is a smaller gauge than what we bought 20+ years ago. A good source for fencing information and supplies is Kencove.com
Of course, you could go with a board fence. In that case, check a lumber yard for oak fence boards. They are generally available in 16’ lengths and are a full 1” thick, and 6” wide. Oak fence boards will last much longer than pressure treated boards. There’s lots more to know, so talk to people, travel around and take pictures, read all you can—then just do it. You can’t make mistakes-just learning experiences.