The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Permanent pasture fences

Woven wire fenceOne of my favorite parts of All Flesh is Grass is Logsdon's fencing advice.  Every other book and blog I've read about rotational grazing sings the praises of temporary electric fences, but Logsdon and I both aren't fans of electric fences.

Logsdon started out his operation with woven wire fences, mostly because he found a lot of free materials.  He uses heavy wooden posts that are nearly eight feet long, driven two and a half to three feet in the ground and separated by fifteen feet along the fenceline.  As an old-fashioned farmer, he likes posts he can cut himself --- red cedar, black locust, catalpa, osage-orange --- but  he will also split old electric poles or railroad ties into thinner sections to use as fenceposts.  His corner posts are eight inch in diameter treated lumber, nine feet long, sunk four feet into the ground, and braced.  After pulling the woven wire taut between these fence posts (and, yes, I was exhausted before I even got to that part of the description), Logsdon adds a strand of electric fence over top of the woven wire as a final line of defense.

All of that said, Logsdon is now changing over to livestock panels.  These four foot tall and sixteen feet long fence sections can be used on uneven terrain, don't collapse if a tree limb falls on them, are modular and easy to replace piecemeal, and are rated to last twice as long as woven wire fences (for twice the price, of course).  Installation is easy --- just set a post every eight feet, with panels overlapping two inches at the each end.  After a year of closing up the holes Lucy made in our chicken wire fences (and watching Mark swear as he tried to stretch the fences up hills), I'm wishing we'd gone the livestock panel route as well.  Maybe for our next fences!

Cedar fencelineWhile we're on the topic of fencing, I should add that one benefit of permanent fences is that you can plant trees long the fenceline, adding another layer of productivity to the pasture while making animals less likely to break through.  Logsdon has tried many different types of trees and sings the praises of apples and peaches (both grown from seed), pears, thornless honey locusts, and chinquapin oaks for providing extra food for livestock.  Red cedars make a good windbreak and don't taste good to livestock, so you don't have to fence the animals away from the young trees as carefully, plus you can use them to make fence posts.

On the other hand, Logsdon has tried some trees he wouldn't plant in a pasture again.  Weeping willows and black walnuts love to drop limbs all over the fenceline, black locust leaves are toxic to animals, and cherries not only have poisonous leaves, they also don't make very tasty fruits if grown from seed.  In addition, even if you plant the best-behaved Rosa rugosatrees, you'll need to spend a day every year cutting out grapevines, poison ivy, and tree seedlings growing along your fencerow, but you'd spend the same time weed-eating if you didn't have trees.

I've always liked the idea of turning fencelines into productive zones, but with our small pastures, trees are out of the question.  However, when I bought the scionwood for our pear tree, I threw in a couple of shrubs that are supposed to make good, thorny hedges while providing edibles for chickens --- Rosa rugosa and Siberian pea shrub.  Meanwhile, the timber bamboo (Phyllostachys vivax) that I planted last year seems to be holding its ground.  Maybe in another five years or so, our fences will be lost in a sea of edible and beautiful greenery.

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This post is part of our All Flesh is Grass lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Have you priced fencing material and tools yet? If not you may be in for a real shock and become a fan of that electric fence.
Comment by Heath Tue Mar 13 14:11:10 2012

Since I do not plan on raising large live stock, I want to avoid the expance of fencng.

We do have chickens and hope to raise up some geese this summer, so we plan on the movable fencing like you have for your chickens free range.

Thank you for that idea.

Comment by Mona Tue Mar 13 15:04:10 2012

I like the idea of old-fashioned hedgerows, but growing trees up along a fenceline can be much more of a pain than it seems. Our pastures are pretty well locked in to their shapes because the old barbed wire fencing has allowed a tangle of weedy trees, shrubs and brambles to grow up. It's great for the birds (they've been busily planting this fenceline for the past 30 years) but the fence is useless to us now- rusted and collapsed in some areas, and the tree line isn't secure enough to serve as a living fence itself (most of these species, goats would just eat through it). I am slowly chopping down and replacing some of the invasives with more useful plants, but it's quite a task. To remove the fencelines, which is what I would like to do now, would cost so much in labor alone that it's just not feasible. We have 4 paddocks across 20 acres. I'll probably end up just breaking through the fencelines here and there to get better access to all of the pastures, but it will be a long time before I'm able to get all of the old fencing pulled up to make the pastures more functional for what I want to do.

I like the perimeter fence. Over time it seems that you just have to keep moving the fence in further and further because old, overgrown fencelines are nearly impossible to maintain. For the perimeter, I'd recommend either fences OR well designed hedgerows that are suitable for the species you want to raise. Or a layer of one after the other. I wouldn't want to do both on top of each other, especially if the plant species can't hold their own after the fence is no longer useful. For the interior paddocks, I'm still planning to go with electric fencing. I don't want to add any new, 'permanent' obstructions to the fields. Living with someone else's fencing decisions has been a huge headache, and pasturing practices continue to change. Changes may come again and I'd find it too troublesome to be stuck with an outdated arrangement.

Comment by Sara Tue Mar 13 16:11:18 2012

Heath --- Fencing materials are expensive. On the other hand, they also take a lot of labor to put up and take down. With that type of homesteading infrastructure, I generally just start small and pay for as much or as little of the good stuff as we can. After all, if you can't afford good fences, you probably can't afford good livestock, and you probably don't have the time to take care of large expanses of pasture either.

Mona --- We're very pleased with our temporary fencing for moving chickens around the garden. If you've got a congested homestead and are just running poultry, you're probably on the right track to stick to temporary!

Sara --- It sounds like you're dealing with a tough fencing situation! I think the key to putting trees along fencelines is choosing perennials that don't drop too many limbs, committing to maintain the fencerows every year, and using solid fencing like livestock panels. Logsdon goes through and weeds his fenceline every year, which is one option, or you can choose hedging perennials and weave them together every year so they eventually replace the fence. It sounds like the previous owners at your place didn't do that, which does seem to turn it into a nightmare. We're still pulling up old fencing that fell into the soil from fifty years ago.

I think it's also helpful to start small with living and permanent fences. Logsdon began by fencing the perimeter, then slowly divided the pasture area up as he learned the land and his own pasturing arrangement. (To go back to Heath's comment, that makes it much more financially feasible too.)

Comment by anna Tue Mar 13 16:57:37 2012

I've heard of using living fences for ornamental purposes but never for livestock. I find this intriguing. Do you know what kinds of perennial plants/shrubs are generally good if you want to go that route?

~ Mitsy

Comment by mountainstead [] Tue Mar 13 18:11:18 2012

Mitsy --- I've been looking for a good book on edible hedges (or even inedible hedges) and haven't found one yet. However, I've been posting tidbits on the blog as I come across them. Here are some ideas on edible hedges and traditional British hedge plants.

If you run across something more definitive, I hope you'll let me know!

Comment by anna Tue Mar 13 19:16:04 2012

Congratulations on the book! I knew you could do it and I expect that it will sell well.

The photo on the fence item looks very familiar!!! I do enjoy looking at the painting hanging in my house.

Comment by Sheila Tue Mar 13 23:09:51 2012
Sheila --- Good eye! When I was researching Rosa rugosa, I realized the rose hips I painted several years ago probably belonged to the new species I was trying out.
Comment by anna Wed Mar 14 13:20:31 2012
Thanks for your advice on permanent fencing for rotating pastured chickens. I wish I would have stumbled onto your site a year ago, when we were first planning our first flock. We threw perfectly good money at electro-netting, which has kept our chickens sort of contained and safe for the past year, but has been the source of endless frustration. And yes, our chicken coop has been sitting in the same place since, say, early September, so our mobile chicken coop dreams died pretty fast. We're making plans now to build a pie-shaped set of paddocks and focus our efforts on pasture improvement instead of wrestling with rolls of electro-netting (which are, in case anyone is still optimistic about them, just about 10 pounds heavier than the heaviest thing you want to have to carry in your arms, and are also the most efficient snaggers of roots, thorny stems, chickens' feet, etc.). Anyway, thanks again, and good luck!
Comment by Cassie Sun Nov 24 21:13:56 2013
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