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How to Keep Sheep & Goats Safe with Proper Fencing

Goats and sheep should be kept separate due to the transference of disease and parasites, despite varying habits, they cohabitate well. Both are kept in pastures with similar shelter needs. And when it comes to eating habits, they’re complimentary. Sheep are grazers, and goats are browsers–between the two, they can keep any pasture in good shape. If you plan to raise smaller livestock, here’s what you need to know about fencing to keep them safe.

The Best Fencing Material & Types for Sheep & Goats

Fencing serves two primary purposes–it contains your animals, and it protects them from natural predators. When it comes to keeping smaller livestock like goats and sheep, there are a number of suitable fencing options, including woven mesh, welded wire, and smooth wire configurations. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each fencing material.

Woven Mesh

A woven mesh fence is a wire fencing system that features a grid of wires to create an effective barrier. Each intersection of wire is woven together to create a durable bond. Woven mesh provides a safer alternative to barbed wire, which can present a hazard to animals like goats and sheep. Goats are playful and naturally challenging to contain. They’re likely to attempt climbing a fence. That’s where the durability of woven mesh comes in handy. And sheep have thick coats; their wool can become easily entangled in barbs. For sheep and goats, Red Brand recommends a12-½ gauge woven wire mesh.

Welded Wire

Welded wire fencing is very similar to woven mesh. The difference is in the construction of the wire gridding. With a welded wire fence, which can be either a mesh roll or a solid panel, each intersection of horizontal and vertical wires is welded together. With welded wire, the two wires are fused together using heat. While this provides a durable fence that is suitable for both sheep and goats, welds can break over time with environmental exposure and wear and tear from the animals.

Smooth Wire

A smooth wire, or high-tensile wire fence is another popular option for all types of livestock, including sheep and goats. A smooth wire fence does not have barbs that present a danger to these animals. Instead, most farmers choose to electrify their smooth wire fences to enforce respect for boundaries. An electric smooth wire fence can provide a low-cost, effective enclosure. However, smooth wire can present a visibility problem and may require more upkeep to ensure that the wire is properly tensioned and always hot.

Appropriate Fencing Height & Spacing

Between the two species, goats present a few more challenges when it comes to containing their playful personalities. For the most part, sheep are docile; however, a herd can push on a fence, especially when spooked. Here are a few tips for building a safe, durable fence for both goats and sheep.

Fence Height

While most breeds of sheep and goats aren’t significantly large, you’ll still need a sizable fence to contain these animals as well as keep predators away. As a general recommendation, the fence height should be at least 48 inches when keeping sheep and goats. In addition to the four-foot height, many goat farmers choose to add a top hot wire to deter animals from attempting to jump the fence.

Post Spacing

For most livestock, including sheep and goats, posts set on 8-foot centers are appropriate. However, there is a little more that goes into post spacing than meets the eye. For one, consider the overall size of your pasture and the length of each fence line. Larger pastures with longer fence lines may need more stability, not less. Red Brand recommends spacing posts 8 to 12 feet apart depending on your environment, fence material, and temperament of the herd you need to contain.

Protection from Predators

Goats and sheep have plenty of natural predators. Depending on where you live, your fencing needs might change to keep certain predators away. For most farmers, coyotes and possibly bobcats present the biggest danger to their animals. However, in mountainous regions, farmers have a number of bears and large cats to consider as well. For larger predators, adding a hot wire on top of a woven wire fence can provide an effective deterrent.

Another precaution to consider when it comes to protecting your livestock from predators is to avoid creating a situation that turns a prey animal into an easy target. For example, woven and welded wire livestock fences often come in different sizes. A 4x4 grid is a good size that is too small to catch a horn and large enough to keep a hoof from becoming trapped. Plus, most predators won’t be able to slip through the tight weave. On the other hand, a 6x6 grid is a little too large. If an animal catches their horn in the fence, it won’t be able to escape a predator.

Environmental Considerations

Every region across the US and Canada is a little different. The ground is different, with some areas rich with fertile black soil that is often soft, sparking the debate of whether or not posts should be set in concrete. Other areas of rocky soil or sandy soil can provide a naturally firm base so long as fence posts are set 2 to 2 ½ feet in the ground.

Some areas are completely flat, allowing for a good visual across the entire pasture. Others have a few more hills and a few larger predators. As you plan to put up a fence for sheep or goats, consider how your environment might affect your fence material and layout choices. Woven wire field fence is a suitable material for permanent livestock fencing in a variety of terrains, and it can be combined with high-tensile hot wire for extra protection against larger predators.

Animal Temperament

Did you know that different breeds of sheep and goats have different temperaments? It’s true–Nubians, a popular breed of dairy goat, are particularly full of personality. Pygmies and Nigerian Dwarf goats are also well-known for their climbing, jumping, and general tendency to be a bit chatty. These breeds will all require a sturdier fence compared to the notably more docile breeds like the Saneen or Oberhasli. With calmer breeds, you have a little more leeway.

Final Thoughts

Keeping smaller livestock like goats and sheep can be a fun hobby or a lucrative business so long as you can find a way to keep your animals safe and secure. Electric fencing provides the most portability and the lowest cost, but, especially for sheep with thick coats of wool, it may not be that effective on its own. Similarly, woven wire or welded wire can provide the durability that you need to keep your animals in but may not do enough to keep predators out. Ultimately, farmers should consider their animals, geography, and natural predators when making a fencing decision. In many cases, it may be appropriate to combine woven wire field fences with a top hot wire strand to achieve both herd containment and a layer of safety from natural predators.

Author Bio:

Dain Rakestraw is the Director of Marketing and Client Services at Red Brand, a line of premium agricultural fencing products known as the most recognized brand of agricultural fencing in the United States.


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