There really is no one right way to fence and shelter your animals. It’s a subject that will largely depend on your individual circumstances. But it’s also a subject that must be addressed, so here goes.
What type of fencing and where to put it is going to depend a great deal on what kind of livestock you have. Nearly all grazing animals respond well to electric fencing. This is great, because a portable electric fence makes rotational grazing easy. Even goats, which are notorious for their scorn of conventional fencing, can be contained with an electric fence if properly trained (more on that in just a minute) and if the fence is always kept in good working order. There may be particular cases when you might need to use barbed wire for cattle, such as along a property line. Just keep in mind that even cattle don’t respect a barbed-wire fence the way they do an electric one.
For the more vulnerable animals, such as sheep and chickens, you may want to consider electrified netting to exclude predators. Just be prepared for the following drawbacks:
- This type of fencing isn’t the easiest to handle.
- Weeds must be kept away from the bottom strands.
- Even electric netting cannot contain a lightweight chicken in the habit of flying out.
With chickens, the best way to avoid escapes is to move the pen often enough to keep the birds busy and contented. Also avoid placing potential launch pads near the fence. Stubborn cases may need to have their flight feathers trimmed.
With the exception of chickens, newly purchased animals will need to be trained to respect electric fencing. Training consists of placing the animal in a safe enclosure, such as a pipe corral, with a short strand of electrified fencing set up at about nose level. Once the animal has received a shock on the nose, it will develop a healthy respect for the fence. Animals that have been born on your pastures do not need to be trained to the fence if kept with the rest of the herd or flock, as they will be taught by their mothers and the other animals.
So where do you put fencing? Some type of permanent fencing should definitely go around the boundaries of your land, but the rest is a little more subjective. Many regenerative agriculture experts advise against fencing in straight lines because this practice does not take into account the landscape and its needs. Instead, fences should follow natural contours, keeping similar forages and areas of terrain together to ease management. (See Water for Every Farm by P.A. Yeomans for an in-depth explanation; read our full review here.)
In the beginning, however, you may want to keep permanent cross-fencing to a minimum while you practice grazing management techniques and learn how to “read” your land. Once you have left a temporary fence in the same location for about three years, you can probably replace it with a permanent fence.
Shelter, too, largely depends on the type of animal you are raising. A short drive through just about any part of Kansas will tell you that beef cattle can get along with little more shelter than a draw, a shelterbelt, or perhaps an artificial windbreak, depending on how far north and west you are. Sheep, on the other hand, can benefit from a simple shelter during lambing and after being sheared. Goats like to have someplace dry to go when it rains. A llama just wants a shady spot to lie down during the heat of the day (and maybe a kiddie pool). Chickens need shelter from rain, heat, cold, and predators, as well as a clean, dark, private place to lay eggs.
Of course, in no case does the shelter have to be elaborate. The simpler the better, especially if it’s only for seasonal use. If you can put it on wheels or skids and tow it around the back forty, so much the better.
With most small animals, you probably don’t need elaborate facilities of any sort. If you have several dairy goats or cows, you may need to consider a portable milking parlor, and having a small corral for handling newly purchased beef cattle will probably make your life much easier. But for the most part, think simple. What are the bare basics you can start out with? One horse may require a field shelter, but almost certainly not a stable. Likewise, processing your own broiler chickens for personal consumption will not require you to build a professional abattoir. As you expand and gain experience, you’ll probably find it worth the money to invest in a better setup, but start small and grow into it.
Once you have a rough idea of the fencing, shelter, and other facilities you’ll need, you’ll be ready to juggle pasture, harvested forages, feed, and supplements as you put together a healthy diet for your livestock.
This handy book offers guidelines on building a number of structures for housing and containing livestock of all types. Great for the do-it-yourselfer! Read our full review.
Free LSU Building Plans
Although the plans at this site are free, they are generally more elaborate and geared toward commercial production. That said, there is quite a bit here that could prove useful to those getting started with livestock.