So you want to build a fence?
Step 1: Find a handsome guy.
Step 2: Buy some expensive materials.
Step 3: Have said handsome guy do 80% of the work to build your fence.
Okay but really…
When we decided that we were going to add some dairy goats to the property, we knew that we could save a lot of money by building the fence ourselves. I had done a ton of research on what type of fence was best for goats (and specifically Nigerian Dwarf Goats) as well as what type of fence would be the most practical where we live. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with building a fence out of t-posts, but I have always been extremely picky about aesthetics, so we decided that if we were going to build a large enclosure for the goats, we wanted to build it out of something that we wouldn’t mind looking at for the next 5-10 years. Now that we have had the fence up for over 6 months, I am happy to say that I personally believe it was well worth the additional dollar investment to build the fence the way we did.
Without further adieu, let’s get down to the nitty gritty details!
Post hole digger
We chose the 6 foot tall wood posts knowing that we were going to have to bury about 2 feet of each post underground in order to get a very sturdy fence. Then of course the 4 foot horse fence comes into play; when you have 2 feet of your 6 foot posts buried, then you have 4 feet of post above ground. All of our research told us that 4 foot high fences were plenty tall for Nigerian Dwarf Goats, but if you are getting full size goats (or any other large farm animal) you may want to look into a 5 foot fence to be safe.
We currently have a 20 acre property, so we mapped out where we wanted the goat pen to be ahead of time. We then measured how many feet the perimeter of the fence would be to enclose that entire space. Again, after doing a lot of research, we had determined that having our fence posts 8 feet apart would work well for our needs. The only place we altered this was around the gate (see more below).
In order for your fence posts to be sturdy, they need to be about 2 feet underground. This is so that they are not hindered by the freeze and thaw process that affects top soil. We purchased 6 foot fence posts and used our fence post hole digger to dig each hole 24 inches into the ground. We then placed the post into the hole and one of us leveled the post and held it in place while the other filled in around the post with dirt and sometimes small rocks. We live in an area that has rocky soil, so we decided to use the rocks to our advantage. By pushing some of the smaller rocks back into the hole with the post, we were able to pack the dirt very tight around them to better stabilize the posts.
We chose a galvanized mesh gate with varying block sizes (linked above) because it deters climbing; and goats are notorious climbers so we didn’t want to take any chances. Additionally, a few friends recommended to us that we use concrete around the base of the fence posts that support the gate. This was fairly easy as we just purchased some Quikrete from our local hardware store an poured it into the holes we dug for the two fence posts that would support the gate. You will want to make sure that the Quikrete is completely dry before you actually hang the gate on these two posts. For us, that meant leaving the posts to set for 48 hours; however, we live in a very dry climate and you may need to extend this time if you live somewhere more humid. One we were sure the Quikrete was dry, we hung our gate. The hardware for this process came with the gate and we had no issues whatsoever.
Attaching the horse fence to the posts:
You would probably think that digging the 2 foot deep fence post holes in rocky soil would be the most labor intensive portion of this fence building process; but you’d be sorely mistaken. HAMMERING BARBED STAPLES INTO SOLID WOOD POSTS IS NO JOKE. A lot of people who have tractors or more powerful machinery will use them to pull the horse fence tight while you hammer the staples over the wiring to adhere it to the fence posts. We did not own any machinery like this when we built the fence and did this part ourselves. One of us would unroll the horse fence, line it up with the post, and pull as hard as we could to get the horse fence taught; while the other person hammered the barbed staples over the horse fence wiring to adhere it to the posts. Both portions of this job are tough and we rotated quite a bit, though John definitely hammered more than I did. We found that for our 4 foot high horse fence it worked best to apply 4 barbed staples to each fence post to hold the horse fence as taught as possible; this is extremely important because if your fencing has any “give” in it, your animals will be able to push against it and escape. We ended up using a mallet to hammer the barbed staples in because it gave us a larger surface to hit them with and after you’ve driven about 40 of these puppies into fence posts while bending over sideways, you need all the accuracy help you can get.
Now that you’ve read all the fun details here’s a more condensed step by step process:
1) Measure the area you want to enclose with fence posts.
2) Divide that total perimeter area by 8 feet to see how many fence posts you will need. Then add 2 to that number for the posts around the gate.
3) Buy your fence posts, post hole digger, tape measure, and grab a friend (preferably someone who has heard you curse and grunt before).
4) Start digging your fence posts holes every 8 feet. You can put the posts in the holes as you dig, or dig a few holes and then go back and do the posts. We often times would dig 5 holes and then one person would hold each post in place while the other filled the dirt in around it and stamped it down really well. (Make sure you stamp the dirt in as tightly as you possible can or your posts will sag the first time it rains). We used the handle of a shovel to pack the dirt in really tightly but I’m sure there are probably tools designed specifically for this process. If you’re on a tight budget, a shovel handle will work just fine.
5) Dig your holes for the two fence posts that will hold your gate in place and add the fence posts. Fill the hole with Quikrete around the fence post and use something to hold your fence post in place for 48 hours or until the Quikrete is completely dry. We used large rocks to hold our posts while the Quikrete dried.
6) Once all your fence posts are up, measure your perimeter one more time and go buy horse fencing for that measurement.
6) Have one person unroll the horse fencing and hold the fencing in place while the other person hammers the barbed staples over the horse fencing to adhere it to the posts.
7) Continue step 6 all the way around the perimeter of your fence, making sure the horse fencing is pulled as tight as possible across each 8 foot segment.
8) Verify that your Quikrete has dried completely and hang your gate on the designated posts.
We primarily worked on our fence after work and on the weekends, and it took us about 3 weeks in total. Don’t be discouraged if it isn’t going as quickly as you would like it to, and if you have a drop dead date that your fence needs to be completed by, make sure you give yourself plenty of time. I was extremely surprised how quickly my arm muscles would fatigue and there were days where 10 posts was all I could do. Our fence has 65 posts in total, just to give you a better idea of what our work load was.
We are hoping to add Icelandic sheep to our property in 2019 and will be building another pen using this same process in the spring. We wouldn’t be planning to reuse this process if we didn’t think it was successful. This method is certainly a lot of work, but if you are on a tight budget and have the man power and time to dedicate to this process, I believe it is 100% worth it. We have goats, chickens, and our Great Pyrenees puppy in this fence and have never had anyone escape. In addition to that, we have had complete strangers stop by and ask us who did our fence, to which we proudly reply that we built it ourselves!