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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
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Fencing Options for Horse Farm Management in Virginia

Livestock Update, April 1999

Larry A. Lawrence, Extension Animal Scientist, Horses, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

Safe, secure, durable and attractive fencing is a key component of horse farm management. It is important to design fencing systems as a part of the overall farm plan. Labor, safety and initial and maintenance costs must be considered. Locate areas of the most intense use close to the barn and pastures that horses are turned out on for extended periods of time at a greater distance. Aesthetics and tradition play important roles in the image of the farm. Well designed and built fencing gives the impression of a well organized and managed enterprise.

Plan fields needed according to the categories of horses to be housed. For example separate mares and geldings. Separate yearlings, weanlings, and older horses.

Fenced Areas
Larger pastures and paddocks are desirable in terms of fencing costs. However, there is a need for smaller paddocks in many management plans. When horses are housed in stalls and turned out for a few hours a day they may go into pastures or exercise paddocks.

Exercise paddocks are usually 1 acre or less. Paddocks designed to provide forage and make up a portion of the horses nutrient requirements need to contain about 2 acres per horse. Fencing requirements for this area dictate strength, visibility and safety. Horses in small areas tend to run into fences. Wire fences are generally not acceptable for smaller areas unless it is "Vmesh" wire with a top rail for visibility and to keep horses from riding the fence down.

Board or some types of "HighTech" fencing (see table 1) work well for exercise paddocks. Paddock fencing should be high at least 4.5 ft. and for stallions 6 ft. may be necessary. Higher fences discourage fighting across the fence and discourage attempts at jumping out. Stallion paddocks are usually double-fenced with lanes separating other pastures.

Table 1.

Type of Product
Approx. Price Per Linear Foot Maintenance Life Expectancy
Wood*$5.00low20-25 years
Polymer-coated wood*$7.50-$8.50low-to-noneLasts indefinitely, rot and weather resistant
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) flexible and rigid*$2.40-$7.00lowLasts indefinitely, rot resistant
Plastic grid/mesh*$2.20none20-25 years depending on color; black variety may have a longer life expectancy than white
Steel and rail*$3.00-$5.00low10-30 years
Woven wire*$1.10-$3.25low30 years or more, depending on installation
Smooth wire$.017highMust be replaced when rusty or stretched
Electric tape$.047highLong-lasting, rot and weather resistant
* Acceptable fencing for small paddocks (woven wire used in small paddocks should be Vmesh). The lanes need to be wide enough for equipment and to insure that horses cannot reach across and fight. See table 2 for lumber size recommendations and table 3 for spacing.

Table 2. Lumber Size1

Fence HeightPasturesRings and Paddocks
 Line PostsCorner PostsBoardsPostsBoards
4 1/2 ' 4x42 - 7 1/2'6x6 - 7 1/2'1x6-16'-14'----
5'4x42 - 8'6x6 - 8'1x6 - 16'-14'6x6 - 8'2x6 - 12'-14'
6'5x5 - 9'6x6 - 9'1x8 - 16'-14'6x6 - 9'2x8 - 12'-14'
1 Adapted from Scarborough and Reitnour. 2 or a 4x5 post.

Table 3. Board Spacing1

Fence Height3 Boards4 Boards5 Boards
4 1/2'12, 12, 128, 8, 7, 7- - -
5'- - -8, 8, 8, 126, 6, 6, 6, 6 - - -9, 9, 9, 9- - -
6'- - -7, 7, 7, 736, 6, 6, 6, 83
1 Adapted from Scarborough and Reitnour. 2 Distance between boards from top to bottom. 3 2x8s.

The common choices for board fence materials are treated pine and rough cut oak. Posts should all be treated wood. Untreated locust posts with the bark removed can be used and have a long life, lasting 15 to 20 years.

The decision between rough-cut oak and treated pine is related to economics and aesthetics. The treated planed board fence gives a more finished appearance. Rough-cut oak has a more rustic look. Availability of 16 ft. oak and cost is a major factor in some cases. Consideration of using 14 ft. boards may reduce cost. You will need an extra post every 64 ft. compared to 8 ft. centered posts with 16 ft. boards.

The advantages of oak include the fact that is hard and horses don't like to chew on it and it has a high tensile strength if horses push on it.

The disadvantages of oak include a portion of the boards may warp partially when freshly milled, undried lumber is used, and there will be spots on the board that will rot faster than the rest of the boards. One place is at the post board interface and another is at locations where the tree was weakened by natural processes.

The advantages of the treated pine include the finished look, the treated lumber resists rotting and the treatment discourages chewing.

The disadvantages of treated pine include thicker boards must be purchased because of the reduced strength of pine, and the treatment eventually wears off and horses may begin chewing the wood, especially in small paddocks and around gates.

High Tensile and Electric Fence
Board and wire mesh fencing can be used to fence larger pastures. In addition high tensile wire and electric fences are being used more commonly. High tensile wire can cause serious injury if horses run into it or get legs hung in it. Poly tape electric fences are good for dividing pastures but should not be used as perimeter fencing. Running horses can break through the polytape.

If high tensile fencing is used it should be electrified. Also, young horses should not be housed in high tensile fence with or without electricity. Young horses must learn to respect fence. They very often challenge fences and injuries can be devestating.

The installation of high tensile fence requires some background and experience. For most people, hiring experienced fence builders is a good investment when using high tensile fence. The fence must not be undercharged. Its safe use requires horses have a respect for the charge. Also, light strips of cloth tied to strands of wire improves visibility. Installation of electric poly-tape types of fencing is easy and quick.

Metal "T-posts" are often used with electric fence and can cause serious injury to horses. The safer choice is fiberglass (which must be handled with gloves). If metal T-posts are used, plastic caps can be purchased to help keep horses from impaling themselves on the sharp tops of the posts. A strand of electric fence at 18 inches and 4-5 ft. is preferred to a single strand.

Farm fencing design and construction will impact the day to day management of horse farms. Management must be efficient and provide a safe environment. Fences and building are the first and second leading causes of injury to horses. Successful operation of horse farms depend on sound, healthy horses.

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