By Nancy Pierson Farris – Fifty years ago, when we started developing our two-acre land, we had no homestead fencing. Don built a tiny chicken coop with a small “run” for our flock of three. Our dog entertained friends from around the neighborhood, and we often found dog tracks in the garden. During the next five years, while Don worked full time and I birthed and tended three babies (using cloth diapers), we had limited time for building homestead fencing.
We built a small wood frame barn, increased our flock to six chickens, and acquired an Alpine goat. We enclosed a chicken yard with standard poultry netting stapled to wooden posts. The goat wore a mule collar to which I attached a 25-foot length of chain every morning. I led the goat out to an unplanted area and fastened the chain to one of the stakes Don had driven into the ground at intervals. The goat grazed on grass and weeds in a circle around the stake. By evening, her udder was full of rich milk and she stayed in the barn overnight, chewing her cud.
After having a couple of dogs killed on the roadway, we decided to install homestead fencing in our backyard to protect our toddlers and the dog. For that, we used five foot high, 14-gauge, 2 x 4 mesh, welded utility fence, locally referred to as “dog wire.” We attached the fence to treated wooden posts spaced 10 feet apart.
Fast forward two decades. We had used concrete blocks and clapboard to build a larger barn with stalls for two goats, plus a milking stand; space for raising meat chickens each year, plus a dozen hens and 20 rabbits.
Setting a few fence posts a week, we had created separate yards accessible from five openings in the building. During those years, we learned a lot about homestead fencing.
Our original enclosure of poultry netting disintegrated. We replaced it with utility fence. A gate at the end of the hens’ run opened into a fenced garden plot. We created a six-foot wide lane along the backside, so the goats could pass behind the chicken yard to browse along a drainage ditch at the rear of our property. It seemed expedient to install a gate between the lane and the garden. In years that we use that plot for summer vegetables, we can allow the goats to go in and eat the spent cornstalks, bean plants, and so forth. Then we open the gate to the chickens and they scratch up the soil, mixing in mulch and eating weed seeds and insects.
When the fence came loose from a post, we observed that the goats often leaned on the fence. We tried three different deterrents: old boards or poles cut from downed trees, fastened about two feet above the ground; or a strand of barbed wire tacked about two feet above the ground. All keep the goats off the fence.
To fatten a feeder pig each year, we needed a different type of homestead fencing. We poured a concrete slab about five feet square, and enclosed it with sturdy posts. Pigs don’t jump over fences, but they do go under. When tackling DIY fence installation projects, best to make your homestead fencing “hog-tight,” as they say. “Hog wire” has smaller mesh at the bot- tom, and we found four feet high adequate. We first used logs along the bottom; but in hot, humid Low Country South Carolina, any rotting wood becomes housing for termites. Pigs easily shove through rotting logs and they like termite larvae. We acquired a few old railroad ties to put around the edge of the pen, stapling the bottom of the fence firmly to them. After that, our pigs stayed in their designated area.
Over the years, our country location has changed. A nearby farm was sold as building lots and much wildlife habitat was destroyed. One day when our three-year-old grandson was helping us in an unfenced garden plot, we saw a deer track. As Don voiced his annoyance, the little boy said, “You need a fence, Grampa.”
We realized the child was right. Out came the posthole diggers and my packing stick and, at a rate of two posts a day, Grandma and Grandpa built six-foot high garden fencing. Since the barn lot formed one side of the plot, we put a gate there. As we rotate crops, every third year we plant spring greens, cole vegetables, and green peas in that plot. When heat builds and the early garden wilts, we open a gate for a cleanup crew of ever-busy hens. In the years that corn and beans grow in that plot, the goats get first chance at the spent plants.
Recently, another pesky animal has invaded our garden. We enjoyed Peter Rabbit tales when we were children, but Peter does not amuse us when he eats a whole row of sprouting bean plants in our garden.
We tacked 30-inch poultry netting along the bottom of our fences. Rabbits don’t climb well, and they can’t squeeze through the small mesh.
As our bodies have accumulated mileage, we have found fences useful inside the garden. Thirty-inch poultry mesh keeps spring peas up off the ground. It takes only a few minutes to set plastic “step posts” and fasten the fence to them. Picking is much easier when we don’t have to bend so far to reach the pods.
We still grow some bush beans, because they start producing earlier; but our main crop now comes from pole beans. For these, we use five-foot utility fence clamped to “T-posts.” These easy-to-install metal posts withstand summer heat without buckling.
We also use fences to support curbits. Planting cucumbers, spreading type squash, melons, and even pumpkins along a garden fence saves space and gets vegetables up off the dirt. Pickleworms, which come up out of the ground to bore holes in cucurbits, can’t get to vegetables hanging on a fence.
We use 4 x 4 mesh utility fence to make tomato cages. Don cuts a four-foot length, and bends it into a circle to enclose a plant. The larger mesh allows us to reach through to pick the tomatoes. We sometimes use a cage to support a cucurbit. One year, we grew snow peas around cages.
Whether the need is to confine livestock, deny access to wildlife, protect pets and children, or support spreading/vining crops, it makes sense to use the right fence to tackle your homestead fencing projects.
Published in Countryside November / December 2013 and regularly vetted for accuracy.