Icelandic Sheep on a Vermont Farm: Fencing
our flock of sheep
On our Vermont Farm we started out
with no fences. When we put
our first little garden in it became patently obvious that fences
were designed not only to keep livestock in... but undesirable elements
(like deer) out. Long before we added Icelandic Sheep,
or started raising chickens, we'd become, if not skilled, at least
resigned, to tacking odd bits of plastic fence and chicken wire
to cedar posts in an attempt to defend the garden.
Before we speak of sheep I want to
say something about penning chickens. In
to Keeping Chickens we mention we free range ours. We did, but
that was Before Fox. Now the birds spend most of their time behind
chicken wire. Chickens, however, can fly. Over a 4' fence. Over
a 5' fence. And much to our chagrin, over a 6' fence. Chickens need
lids on their pens, or you need to clip their wings. When you start
looking at electric fences, you'll see electric mesh for containing
chickens. Unless you're going to clip wings... don't you believe
it. It may keep a predator out... but it probably won't keep your
When we added Icelandic Sheep to
our Vermont farm the immediate issue was not housing them, or even
feeding them, but containing them. Keeping
them in, and domestic dogs, coyotes, foxes, and yes... even curious
tourists... out. Icelandic sheep have, or usually have, horns. This
is an important point, because it means if you choose to fence with
electric mesh fencing you need to carefully train your lambs to
be afraid of the stuff and not go near it. Many a shepherd has found
a sheep in distress because they didn't stay away from the fence,
and caught a horn in the mesh. So if you use electric mesh,
either permanent or portable you must train your sheep to respect
That said, electric fence is wildly
versatile. It is easy to put up, easy to take down, comes in a stand-alone
portable fence, on rolls, in tape, the
stuff is amazing. They've made it to look like boards for horse
fencing, or to fold up like a fish net so you can move a small flock
of sheep around your yard. Instead of spending days pounding in
heavy steel posts or drilling holes for cedar posts, electric fencing
comes with fiberglass posts you simply step on to pop into place.
Really, it can't get much easier, can it? And it gets better: electric
fences are pretty cheap too!
There has to be a down side, and
of course, there is. Electric fences only work when the electricity
is working, when they're well grounded, and when they're kept free
of weeds and debris. As you can imagine, they don't work all that
well when they're buried under a 4' snow load either.
So we chose to pen our sheep with
a combination of electric and traditional (non-electric) woven wire
fence. For our initial flock
of four sheep we purchased 2 rolls of Electrostop portable mesh
fencing, 42 inches high by 164' long. And 1 roll of Quick Ground
Electrostop portable mesh fencing, same height and length. The quick
ground makes it unnecessary to pound grounding stakes in every time
we move the fence. The fencing was a little more than $100/roll.
The charger, and we chose one that runs off a car battery, was around
$150. Chargers are expensive.
Now, anyone who knows us will tell
you we are BIG fans of ebay. Surely
we could have bought the charger for less on ebay? And you're right,
we could have. But our flock of purebred Icelandic sheep is worth,
off hand, a couple thousand dollars. We're going to risk them against
saving a few bucks on ebay? Shearing equipment, I'd buy on ebay.
Ear tags, no problem. Water buckets, books, hoof trimmer... ebay
all the way. Charger for the electric fence? No. For that we paid
full freight from a reputable dealer and counted ourselves among
So now we can move our little flock
around the place with our portable electric fences. But
that isn't going to work in the winter. Obviously, when there is
five feet of snow on the ground, we're not going to be moving these
sheep anywhere. So they need a permanent enclosure.
Sheep fence comes in two heights.
Too Low and About Right. Too
low requires the use of a strand of barbed wire or electric run
above it. We decided to go with the taller of the two, about $150/133'
roll. Plus posts.
Posts come in two types. Expensive
but durable metal, and less expensive but less durable cedar. Both
are a lot of effort to pound into the ground. Both require you sink
braced corner posts where your fence turns. Posts need to be put
up at least every 10'. What you save on buying cedar you may end
up spending on straightening and reworking the fence as the posts
split and give. We went to several farms, saw a wide variety of
fences, some straight, some leaning so far over you wondered what
was holding them up, and the one universal seemed to be that metal
posts held straighter fences. So we went with metal.
Mind you, straight, leaning, or otherwise,
the sheep seemed pretty content
to stay on their side of the fence. Since sheep are considered a
delicacy by our native coyotes, and big fluffy toys by many domestic
dogs, a good part of the fencing exercise is to keep undesirables
out. What you ultimately decide to do may involve both the portable
fences and permanent small pasture arrangement we've settled on,
and a perimeter fence enclosing all your property. Creating
a "double fence" system as it were. We are prepared, at
any moment, to add a hot wire around our fences to discourage a
persistent (and unwanted) visitor. But a perimeter fence is outside
of our budget. Maybe a llama. Llamas are used to guard sheep, and
are quite effective at it. We know someone who purchased a llama
and found it kicking a coyote to death one morning.
But usually the problem is not coming
out of the wild, but from someone out with his canine companion.
the chicken guide we address the legal issues of attacking domestic
dogs. In our town there are
leash laws. Dogs are not allowed to be off leash. Which means, of
course, they frequently are. We have the legal right to collect
damages if someone's dog attacks our sheep. We have the legal right
to shoot the dog if it is harassing our stock. Unless you absolutely
have to, I don't advise shooting someone's beloved pet right in
front of them. They're likely to react very badly.
We bought our fencing from Wellscroft Fence
Systems of Harrisville, NH, the Northeaster Rep of
Premier 1 Fence Systems. Not only does their site provide information
about their fencing, it has a bulletin board system for exchanging
information. Useful information, too. We learned where to have our
raw wool processed into blankets from this BBS.
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