01/31/2014 3:13PM

Fencing crucial for farm safety, value

Barbara D. Livingston
The quality of a farm’s fencing can affect its property value.

The first impression that a farm gives to its visitors is not the gates that welcome them to the property but often the fences that line roads on the drive to get there.

Those fences have a dual purpose, not only keeping the horses in their confines but serving as the roadside advertisement of a farm’s attention to detail, safety, and upkeep. The quality of a farm’s fencing also can affect its property value.

“Fencing is important,” said Bill Bell, an agent for Justice Real Estate, a prominent realtor of Thoroughbred farms in Lexington, Ky. “The horses are going to injure themselves if there is any possible way. They’ll figure out a way to hurt themselves, so you want to try to make things as safe for them as you can, and good fencing is important.”

The most common form of fencing found on Central Kentucky farms is four-panel wooden plank. The types of wood used vary from oak, pine, and poplar to imported wood, which tends to be weaker than its domestic counterpart.

Gary Hardin, farm services manager and maintenance supervisor at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, said that oak plank fences are the standard among commercial operations. The Thoroughbred Center offers fence construction among many farm project services, and oak fencing is the least-expensive option the company offers.

For farm owners looking to build on a budget, Hardin said one way to do so is to install three-panel fences instead of four panels, thus cutting costs on materials and man-hours putting up the fence. However, a three-panel fence at the same height leaves more room between the boards for horses to potentially get themselves caught.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hardin said that selecting quality wood and using proper nails are facets of fence installation that should not be bargain-shopped.

“You shouldn’t go with straight-shank nails,” he said. “You should have the nails with the shanks on them or the twist type. They hold better. You can always cut corners if you want to, but those types of things help secure the boards for a longer period of time.”

However, Hardin said the most important thing farm owners can do to prolong the life of their wooden fences is to ensure they are properly painted, which protects them from the elements.

Most farms use black acrylic paint. It is typically the least-expensive option per gallon when compared with asphalt or white paint, but Hardin said it might require more long-term attention.

“A lot of times, when you drive around the farm areas, you’ll see a lot of [fences] are in desperate need of being painted,” Hardin said. “Most of your black paints will last up to about three years. Anything over that, you’re starting to cause damage to them because water and moisture and some light is going to start getting to your wood and have it start to deteriorate. White paint should be painted every four to five years.”

Another popular option is wire mesh fencing, often with a plank at the top. While slightly more expensive than planks alone, wire mesh offers its own benefits.

“It looks nice from the road, it’s very secure with your horses, it keeps their legs from getting stuck between the fence as they may with a traditional fence,” Hardin said. “You usually have less maintenance because there’s just less lumber on it.”

Both Hardin and Bell spoke highly of Centaur polymer fencing. While on the higher end of the price spectrum in terms of fencing options, Centaur fencing is lauded for its safety, longevity, and ease of maintenance compared to traditional wooden fences.

Centaur fence is comprised of high-tensile wire bonded with a proprietary polymer, which allows for increased flexibility and does not have the risk of splintering. The polymer also includes ultraviolet stabilizers and fungicides to help maintain its color, and the fence can be electrified to keep horses from leaning on it.

“The biggest selling point of that is it’s probably truly maintenance-free except for the painting of the post that you put in the ground,” Hardin said. “Once you put it in, it maintains its color, it doesn’t fade, and you very seldom have to do anything with it. There’s no boards falling down.”

The condition of a property’s fences also is an important factor to consider when in the market to buy a farm or expanding to a new property. Bell said fencing is often figured in with the price per acre and can give a property added value.

When considering properties for purchase, Bell noted that spending a little more for land with well-built fences already in place is likely to be easier on the long-term bottom line than seeking out less-expensive properties with fences in need of repair.

“I think if someone is just starting out, you’re better off to find something that’s already improved than trying to improve it,” Bell said. “The improvement costs, I think, are more [substantial] than putting in something new. Then, you get to that fine line with the condition of the property. If it’s not in good condition, you’ll have to tear it up to fix it up. You can try to find something in decent condition that you can live on and use, and that’s a lot less expensive than having to put it all in or redo.”