Livestock panels are a heavy gauge galvanized welded wire fencing material. They are also commonly called "cattle","hog", or “sheep” panels. They are almost a must have on any new farm or homestead. They make the acquisition of livestock a much easier process and are an affordable option for smaller spaces.
Their rigidness and ability to take abuse makes them idea for goats, pigs and other animals that have a tendency to stand on or lean against your fencing.
We will explore some of the pros and cons of livestock panels and then look at some of the creative ways you can use them to keep your animals and garden safe and happy.
Livestock Panel Pros:
- Low cost
- Light weight
- Easy to setup (no post holes to dig or fence pullers to operate)
Livestock Panel Cons:
- They can have sharp edges where the panels are cut.
- Harder to transport without bending. So having a good relationship with a friend or neighbor who has a 16" trailer is a major plus. Once bent to a certain degree the livestock panels will maintain a bit of the bend.
Portable Fencing / Circle Enclosure / Rotational Grazing Systems
The most obvious use of cattle panel is to use them as intended and establish a rigid and easy to setup animal enclosure and fencing system. They can be moved by one person (though 2 people does make it a lot easier) and secured with t-posts and wire in a short amount of time. With just 4 panels you can create a fairly sizable space to keep an initial set of goats or other small livestock secure and protected. They are also portable enough that your can move them every so often for rotational grazing or used for brush control and fire lines.
For the beginning homesteader or someone looking to get started with livestock, these 16' segments make quick work of pen setup and are very affordable, ranging from $25 – $60 per panel.
Weather / Storage Shelters
With some t-posts, medium gauge wire and the right sized tarps, one can setup a low cost shelter for animals, hay, tools, and more. One of the nicest aspects of this type of shelter is that is goes up very quickly and does not require any building permits to install. This flexible design can easily be made longer by adding additional panels and tarps. The final cost will of course depend on the length needed and the quality of the tarps.
- Keep in mind snow load and wind conditions in your area when setting up a structure and securing it to the ground or a base.
- As mentioned above, there can be sharp edges on the ends where the panels are cut to length and you need to be mindful of these when attaching a tarp or covering to keep from poking holes through your covering material.
- Covering selection is important as transparent materials can cause a greenhouse effect thereby making the shelter uncomfortable to work in.
Along similar lines as the shelters mentioned above, is the potential of using livestock panels for a greenhouse. With the addition of a framed based, some framing for a door, and some greenhouse plastic, livestock panels can easily be used for a hoop house or greenhouse type structure.
With a simple back of a napkin calculation, one can find that a 8×20 foot greenhouse can be constructed for less than $200. This is a very affordable option to get spring starts going or to extend your growing through the fall and winter.
A greenhouse structure of this type could also make a great enclosure for a aquaponic system where climate control would be favorable.
- Ventillation – humidity and airflow are vitally important to a healthy environment – it can get hot fast in closed up greenhouse.
- Snowload – support beams may be necessary in heavy snow load areas.
- Benches and Thermal Mass – Water barrels with wooden slate benches need both of these needs
- Wind / Anchors – make sure your neighbor does not get a new greenhouse in their yard on the next windy day.
- Plastic Selection – Try to get a plastic covering that has a 3-4 year rating.
Chicken / Rabbit Tractor
Like the permanent structures used for hay and tools, and with the addition of a framed based, livestock panels can be used to build portable chicken and rabbit tractors. If you have the space to provide this mobile option to your chickens or rabbits, a rotational grazing method helps keep animals on new grass every day and also protects them from predators and the weather.
- Wind: if you are in an area where high winds are a problem, consider adding a method to secure your chicken tractor to the ground. An open tarp can be a powerful wind catch and you don’t want your structure blowing over and killing birds.
- Access. If adding doors and other items, weight and portability can become an issue. Wheels / skids may be necessary.
Here is a great How to Tutorial on chicken tractors: http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/cattle-panel-hoop-coop
Arbor / Trellis Styles
If you need a sturdy and supportive structure to trellis plants or create an arbor that leads into or incorporates into your garden, livestock panels can handle the job.
They can give a beautiful and supportive arch that will allow plants to grow up on and create covered entryways and simple to setup short trellis segments of crops like pole beans and cucumbers.
- If the panels will need to be cut down to size, this may require a good hacksaw or heavy-duty bolt cutter.
- Keep in mind the space and support requirements for trellised plants and their weight.
- Be mindful of where the trellises are placed as they could reduce the sun exposure of other plants that need the light. A general rule of thumb is to keep high growing trellised plants on the north side of the garden, to maximize the sun in the south (at least for us in the northern hemisphere).
I hope this article has given you some inspiration and design to build with this highly "flexible" material and help get that new pig operation going, that additional row of heirloom tomatoes growing, or just a simple shady spot (hops arbor) to think about the next resiliency project you are planning. Please post pictures and ideas of finished or upcoming project.