Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Discussion of fencing choices

MMP asked that I talk a bit about why I chose barbed wire to enclose my new property, so here's the basic rationale for that type of fence there.

The property is surrounded on 3 sides by a wildlife preserve, which makes it a pretty safe bet that there's wildlife there. Coyotes, bobcats, cougars, bears. Certainly deer and coyotes; I've seen tracks from both. Of that list of predators, there isn't any cheap way to fence them out. So I'm going to have to live with predators on the property.

I don't live anywhere near the property; it's 10 miles north of my current farm. So I'm not going to visit it very often. Once a week maybe, so controlling the predators via direct action as at my main farm isn't an option. And I can't put animals there that need daily care.

Pigs actually do protect their piglets pretty well from coyotes; I have not lost a single piglet to a coyote or other predator, and I'd actually bet pretty high on a pig vs bear interaction, particularly if the pig was a motivated sow. But pigs do require some care, and they're expensive to fence in unless you use electric fence, and I don't have electricity out there. So I'm going to rule out pigs for now, but I may put some out there in the future.

Adult cows also don't seem to be bothered by coyotes, at least not so far.

Sheep or goats are coyote snacks. Not going to put them where I can't protect them. Not going to mention chickens, turkeys or ducks.

Ok. so out of livestock that I keep, cows seems to be the best choice for remote acreage and low care. Drop them off in march, pick them up in october, do a welfare check once a week or so.

The county, in the person of Roxanne Pilkenton, the ag coordinator for snohomish planning and development services, seems to have an issue with some kinds of fencing on the flood plain. She's said explicitly that 3 strand barbed wire on T posts is OK, and then clarified to say that the county had checked with FEMA and FEMA had OK'd 3 strand barbed wire. And that other types of fence might be ok, but that they'd not checked them. But all of the ranchers, every single one I've talked to, says that 3 strands just isn't a good fence. Washington state law defines a "lawful fence" as a four-strand barbed wire fence, 48" high, and if you make a lawful fence, you have some protection under the law that you lose if you do not make a lawful fence. In the event that the county decides that 4 strand barbed wire is not permitted, I can remove a strand easily.

Woven field fence is nice stuff, but putting up a half-mile of it would be very expensive. A 100' roll of 5' fence is $150, so the fencing cost of a woven fence would have been around $5k. The barbed wire cost for the same length is $720. If I were going to keep horses on the property, I might have chosen woven wire despite the cost, but I don't keep horses because I don't eat or use horses. I only keep food or working animals as a philosophy thing.

So my fencing criteria was:
1) lawful fence or equivalent
2) possible to erect in less than 14 man-days around the 9 acre parcel, including clearing the fenceline
3) properly constructed, would contain cattle and require little maintenance
4) low cost per linear foot

One side of this property has a path along it, and while I was working on the corral I noticed that of the 20 dogs I saw with people, 18 of them were not on a leash. so I modified my plan a little, and put up field fence along the edge that borders the foot path. I did that so that I could minimize livestock-dog interaction. the alternative would be to kill the dogs that mess with the livestock, which I've had issues with on my farm, talked about in my blog entries here and here and here.

The field fence along that edge is graduated, with smaller holes near the bottom and larger near the top. It's a calculated risk - I'm not interested in provoking the county, but I'm also not interested in having to shoot peoples dogs. Field fence comes in 330' rolls, 5' tall, and is $180 per roll, so I increased the cost of the fencing job by about $200 in materials. Stretching field fence takes more labor, too.


Robin said...

I read your back posts about the dogs. WOW! Sounds like a good idea to use the woven in that section near the dog path. We are going to put up woven all around our property to protect sheep, due to amazing amount of people who have loose dogs in the neighborhood. No one around here seems to believe in fences to keep their dogs contained.

Melissa said...

Will you also do a post about stretching field fencing? Thanks, appreciate all the info!

Anonymous said...

My neighbor has a large herd of cattle and has some coyote losses, mostly calves, but has also lost a birthing cow before. But, I believe it's a small percentage that he chooses to live with, rather than embellish his fencing.

He runs his cattle year-round with a bull & does very little intervention. So, they are somewhat of a "Darwinian" herd, in that all sorts of factors drive them towards hardier and hardier stock. Including the coyote presence: calves that aren't on the run quick, or mamas that don't birth quick or are under-protective will experience natural selection right out of the gene pool. It seems to work pretty well for him!