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Home >  Blog >  Electric Fence vs Traditional fence: what's the best choice for small farms?

Electric Fence vs Traditional fence: what's the best choice for small farms?

Posted by Amanda Walker on 15 February 2017
Electric Fence vs Traditional fence: what's the best choice for small farms?

Choosing the best fence for your farm

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above/Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love/Don't fence me in

When Bing Crosby immortalised these words in song, it's clear he wasn't living the reality of farm life. On a property containing (or excluding) animals, fences are a necessity.

Depending on your property size, fencing can be one of the biggest and costliest jobs on the farm. So what are the benefits of electric fencing vs traditional fencing?

Which fence choice is best for your property?

When considering fencing options, you need to start with a few criteria to ensure you get the right fit:

Landform and property

  • How big is your farm?
  • Are you fencing small or large areas?
  • Do you need a boundary or internal fences, or both?
  • Is your property hilly or flat?
  • Are you in a flood or fire prone region?


  • Are you trying to contain animals within internal fences, or keep animals out?
  • What sort of animals are you dealing with?
  • Is the main purpose of your fence as part of your landscape architecture?
  • Do you have poultry that you need to protect from predators such as foxes?


As with anything else, there are more and less expensive options for fencing. You may need to choose an option based on what you can afford now. If you can, weigh up the costs over time, including the costs of repair and maintenance of your fences.


All fences will need some form of checking and maintenance to ensure they are intact. Some fence types take more upkeep than others. How much time do you have to maintain your fencing, and how long do you want it to last?


How important is the look of the fence to you? Traditional post and rail style wood fencing might suit your leisure property more than barbed wire or electric fencing. On 'working' farms, how fences look can be less of an issue.


Traditional fencing options

There are a huge variety of fencing options and materials available. In general, they sit in two main categories: traditional and electric fencing.

Traditional fencing relies on placing a physical barrier between areas on your property. Options include wood and wire fencing options.  Some materials are stronger than others - you will need to consider the types of animals you are enclosing or excluding when making your choice.

The most popular traditional fence options in Australia include:

Wooden fences

Wooden fences are an age-old choice.  They are made from local hard wood or treated timber which is resistant to rot and termites.  This style is also known as post and rail fencing and is popular on horse properties.  Wooden rails can also be combined with concrete or steel posts. Newer 'wood look' options such as composite plastic fences give the look and strength of wood without the maintenance.

Wooden fence pros

Wooden fences are strong and sturdy, and look picturesque. They are also very visible, an important factor for horse paddocks and exercise yards.

Wooden fence cons

Wooden fences can be expensive to install. They need lots of labour both to dig and erect posts and to maintain over time, particularly in sunny or wet climates. You will need to repaint or stain wooden fences periodically to keep them in good condition. Composite plastic 'wood look' alternatives need less maintenance, but cost more.

Plain Wire Fences

Plain wire fences use strands of wire stretched between strainers or posts. Low tensile galvanised wire in standard or heavy weight is used for fencing. Heavier weight galvanised wire is more resistant to corrosion and suited to wetter climate or coastal areas. High tensile wire creates a stronger fence suited to high pressure situations. The advantage of High-tensile wire fencing lies in its elasticity if an animal runs into it, it can absorb more pressure and won't snap easily.

Plain wire pros

Plain wire is long-lasting, easy to install and inexpensive. For large animals such as cattle, as little as one to two strands of wire may be adequate, although four to five strands is most common.  They suit properties with undulating land and slopes as the wire is flexible.

Plain wire cons

Because many fence posts are needed to support the wire, labour costs to install this type of fence can be high. A different number of wires and spacings may be required depending on the type of livestock to be contained.

Barbed Wire Fences

Barbed wire consists of two stands of wire twisted together to form sharp barbs every 10cm along the length of the wire. It's often used for security as well as livestock fencing.

Barbed wire pros

Barbed wire is durable and cheap. Barbed Wire deters stock from rubbing against the fence, which can be one of the major causes of fence damage especially with cattle. It is also cost effective for large lengths of fence.

Barbed wire cons

Barbed wire fencing lasts between 7-12 years and can require a high degree of upkeep and maintenance. Because it can cause significant injuries to livestock, it is only suitable for certain types of enclosures. Inexperienced installers can also injure themselves when working with barbed wire. It is not recommended for containing horses or sheep due to the risk of injury.

Woven wire net or mesh fences

Woven wire fencing is made with knotted horizontal and vertical wires. It is also known as wire mesh fence or box wire fence and comes in various patterns and hole sizes. 

Woven wire fence pros

Woven wire fence is cost effective to install and can be buried in the ground to dissuade burrowing predators such as foxes. It can't be easily climbed over.

Woven wire fence cons

Animals such as goats and even horses can become tangled in the holes between the wires, causing injury.

Electric Fences

In the alternate category to traditional fences, sit electric fences. Electric fences rely on an electrical circuit rather than a physical barrier to keep animals enclosed.

An electric fence system includes:

The fences work by sending a high voltage pulse down the wires in a steady rhythm. If the current is interrupted by an animal (or person) touching the fence and the ground at the same time, an electric shock is received. The shock caused muscles to contract and feels unpleasant, without harming the animal animal in any way.The strength of the shock can be adjusted to suit different sized of animals.

Rather than working by repeatedly shocking animals, electric fences do most of their work through conditioning. Once an animal has been shocked once or twice, they learn to avoid the fence, reducing the chance of injury.  Hence, electric fences are said to create a psychological rather than physical barrier.Electric fencing prosll come down to many factors, starting with exactly what you are trying to fence in and out. Remember to weigh up all the criteria when deciding what sort of fence is right for you.

In our experience at the Farm Co, electric fencing offers an inexpensive, safe and low maintenance fencing option for small properties raising livestock. It is a safer alternative to barbed wire as it does not cut or damage the animal in anyway, saving money on veterinary bills.
Other traditional fences can be damaged by animals trying to pass through them, lean against them or by horses cribbing. Electric fences don't receive physical pressure from the animal so are less likely to be damaged. It's also affordable and is easier to construct than other fences as the materials are lighter.

At the end of the day, you must choose the right fence for your situation. If you need some advice, don't forget you can always call our specialists at the Farm Co and we would be happy to talk about what might work best for you. Check out our online store's fencing section filled with tools, parts and full electric fencing options. 

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Author: Amanda Walker
About: Amanda Walker is the Director of The Farm Co and Yerecoin Traders. Amanda has extensive experience in animal health, working for a number of years with the Institute for Animal Health in the UK. Amanda also worked for a UK government response team during the Foot and Mouth outbreak back in in 2001. Amanda has a keen interest in sheep and livestock health, working with her local grower to help manage their parasite control throughout the seasons.
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