What's the best fencing for sheep/goats?


There isn't best fencing for sheep/goats so much as fencing options. The purpose of the fencing needs to be considered when choosing the type of fencing: perimeter vs. interior, permanent vs. temporary, adults vs. young stock.

The primary purpose of fencing is to contain livestock. In the case of sheep/goats, fencing must also effectively deter predators. Fencing is also a management tool that allows us to manage our pastures more efficiently with rotational grazing, strip grazing, and temporary grazing.

The two most common perimeter fences for sheep/goats are woven wire and high-tensile, electric. Woven wire is the traditional fence for sheep/goats. It goes by other names including American wire, page wire, and field fence. Woven wire fences consist of horizontal lines of smooth wire held apart by verticle stays. The distance between the wires varies. The openings need to be small enough (less than 4 inches) to keep animals from getting their heads stuck and keep predators out. Woven wire fencing is usually more expensive than electric fencing, but it provides a superior physical barrer. Additional barbed and/or electric wires are often added to woven wire fences to improve their longevitiy and predator control.

For sheep/goats, high-tensile, electric fences usually consist of 4 to 6 strands of 12.5 gaurge smooth wire. The bottom wires are more closely spaced than the top wires. Which wires are electrified depends on the climate: all wires vs. some return ground wires. It is important that there be sufficient tension on the fence. A high tensile electric fence is different from a simple electric fence in this respect. Strong corners and braces are also important. Poor grounding is the leading cause of electric fence failure.

The energizer or charger is the heart of the electric fencing system. A 4000 volt charger is usually sufficient for sheep/goats. Electric fences require upkeep. Fencelines need to be kept reasonably clean from vegetation. They need to be monitored for broken insulators. Sheep/goats and livestock guardians need to be taught to respect electric fence for it to be effective.

Barbed wire fences are generally not recommended for sheep/goats as they may not deter predators, and they may cause injury to the animals. Sheep often get their wool snagged in the barbs. If barbed wire fences are used for sheep/goats, ten closely spaced wires are recommended. If there are fewer wires, some additional electric wires can be added to the barbed wire fence. Rail fences aren't suitable for sheep/goats unless electric wires are installed between the boards or the entire fence is covered with mesh or woven wire.

Sometimes temporary or portable fencing is needed, especially for rotational or strip grazing. There are different options for this type of fencing, too. You can use temporary electric (no tension), multi-strand reels of polywire, tape, or rope, or electric netting. The number of wires needed varies. Some animals can be kept in with a singe wire. Others will require several strands. Netting is the best option, but it is more expensive. Electric netting has many potential uses. It comes in different heights. As with permanent electric fencing, a sufficient charge is required for these fences to be effective at controlling animals.

There are different recommendations as to how high fencing needs to be for sheep/goats. Forty-eight inches is a common height. A minimum of 42 inches is recommended. Electric netting is usually available in different heights. The animals don't usually try to go over fences (unless they're really low). They try to go under or get through them.

The same fencing can generally be used for both sheep and goats. While goats are usually more difficult to contain, well-constructed woven wire and high tensile electric fences will keep them in. When they do get out of fences, it's usually because there's a hole or gap somewhere or the electric fence lacks sufficient charge. Gates can sometimes be weak points in the fencing system.


Additional reading
Estimated costs for livestock fencing - Iowa State University
The ABCs of electric livestock fencing
Sheep - fencing options for predator control - Ontario, Canada