Fencing for deer and elk
Learn about fencing for deer and elk.
ISSN 1198-712X, Published October 1997
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Fences must suit the size and temperament of the specific species of deer being farmed. Due to the height of deer fences, installation involves more labour and cost than regular farm fencing. Fencing is a major investment. Therefore, it is advisable to develop a thorough plan which takes into account the type of land and acreage required, the special features needed to be able to handle deer effectively, the most cost-effective way of fencing and one which includes future expansion plans at the outset. Care must be taken to ensure that the fences will not only contain the stock safely, but will also prevent entry of predators, as well as last for many years.
Aside from fencing materials and installation techniques, other factors to consider when planning the layout of deer fences include:
- good productive land yields maximum returns
- hilly land is more expensive to fence
- poorly drained land should not be fenced if possible
- wooded areas provide shelter initially but trees will be destroyed by the deer eventually
- the perimeter fence should enclose as much area as possible to keep fencing costs down
- presence of predators
- long term needs of the farm
Specially-designed galvanized wire fences with graduated spacing of horizontal wires from bottom to top are the industry standard. Wire fences with a knotted or hinged joint are suitable. The knotted type is preferred because of the extra security of the joints.
Various options are available in this type of fence. The options include: different heights; spacings of vertical stay wires (either 15 cm (6 in.) or 30 cm (12 in.) apart) and variations in number of horizontal wires.
In general, the smaller the enclosure and the narrower the raceway, the stronger and higher the fence should be.
High pressure areas such as handling yards, the final portion of raceways approaching the yards, and gates should be fenced with solid materials such as slatted boards, plywood, or shade cloth over woven wire fence. Solid fencing in these high-pressure areas is a greater psychological barrier to deer and reduces escape attempts and injuries.
In high pressure areas, wire fence with 15 cm (6 in.) vertical stay wires is necessary. Stay wires in the fawning/calving paddocks or in those areas where recently-weaned fawns/calves are kept, need to be close enough to ensure that the fawns/calves cannot get through or get caught up in the fence. To prevent this, it is recommended that the fence has 6 in. stay wires and closely spaced line wires near the ground.
Electric fence should not be used exclusively for the perimeter fence since it creates a psychological barrier only, not a physical barrier. To subdivide paddocks 14–18 strands of alternate live and grounded wire may be used. However, electric fence should not be used in paddocks where fawning/calving occurs since young animals need to be trained.
Electrified single strand wires offset 15–30 cm (6–12 in.) from the fence, at a height of 60–75 cm (24–30 in.), work well in keeping deer away from fences. This is particularly useful in preventing damage to the fence during the rut if breeding males are in adjacent paddocks.
An electrified single strand wire or barbed wire may be used on the exterior of the perimeter fence, at a height of 15 cm (6 in.) to discourage predators from digging under the fence. Barbed wire should never be used inside deer enclosures as it may cause serious injury.
Light plastic electric tape on the interior of fences is not suitable for deer as it can become entangled in antlers or be chewed, both of which may cause trauma and/or death.
- Build a pass-through area so the deer do not have direct access to the main entry gate. This area should be long enough to permit a tractor and wagon, or truck to pass through and secure the first gate prior to opening the second gate, thus reducing the opportunity for escape.
- Deer are most likely to attempt to jump fences in the handling facility. Fences or walls must be of sufficient height to prevent escapes. For added security, locate the handling facility inside the perimeter fence.
Installation of fences
Installing the perimeter fence at least 2.5 m (8') from the property line allows grass to be mowed on the outside of the fence. This will discourage predators from hiding in these areas and fawns/calves from trying to get through the fence to hide in the shade of the tall grass.
Minimum fence heights vary for the different species of deer. See Table 1.
Post and brace assemblies
Along the perimeter fence line, double brace corner assemblies are recommended especially on long stretches or on sandy or wet land. Double brace assemblies reduce the tension on the corner posts.
A maximum distance of 200 m (660 ft) between brace assemblies is considered adequate on level ground. The distance between line posts varies from 5–8 m (16–25 ft) on level ground but must be closer on hilly ground, with posts set at each depression or rise. Posts are set at right angles to the contour of the land (i.e., not plumb) to ensure that the fence is of equal height throughout.
Fence posts are either pounded in or put in with an auger. If using an auger, ensure that the ground around the posts is tamped down properly, to prevent the posts from shifting. Pounded pressure-treated posts, which are inserted into the ground small end down, are generally more stable. Corner and brace posts must be of a larger diameter and put deeper into the ground than line posts to reduce heaving and slacking of the fence. See Figure 1.
|Variables||Fallow deer||Sika deer||Red deer||White tailed deer||Elk|
|Fence height - Perimeter||75 in. + 1 HTSW*||75 in. + 1 HTSW||75 in. + 1 HTSW||96 in.||75 in. = 2 HTSW|
|Fence height - Internal||60 in.||60 in.||75 in. + 1 HTSW||96 in.||75 in. + 1 HTSW|
|Number of line wires (horizontal) - perimeter||17||17||17||20||17|
|Spacing of stay wires (vertical) - perimeter||6 in.||6 in.||12 in.||6 in.||12 in.|
|Mesh size - Bottom (maximum)||3.5 in. X 6 in.||3.5 in. X 6 in.||3.5 in. X 12 in.||3.5 in. X 6 in.||3.5 in. X 12 in.|
|Mesh size - Top||7 in. X 6 in.||7 in. X 6 in.||7 in. X 12 in.||7 in. X 12 in.||7 in. X 12 in.|
|Post spacing - Level ground||16-25 ft||16-25 ft||16-25 ft||16-25 ft||16-25 ft|
|Post spacing - Sloped ground||as required||as required||as required||as required||as required|
|Post & diameter & length - Corners||5-6 in. X 12 ft||5 ft 6 in. X 12 ft||5 ft 6 in. X 12 ft||6 in. X 12 ft||6 in. X 12 ft|
|Post & diameter & length - Line posts||4-5 in. X 10 ft||4-5 in. X 10 ft||4-5 in. X 10 ft||5 in. X 12 ft||5 in. X 10 ft|
|Post depth - Corners||4 ft||4 ft||4 ft||4 ft||4 ft|
|Post depth - Line posts||3 ft||3 ft||3 ft||3 ft||3 ft|
*HTSW - High tensile smooth wire placed 6 in. over fence and if two wires, 6 in. apart.
The use of imperial measurements represents the standard used in the industry.
Secure the wire to the inside of the posts, except at the corners. For the smaller species of deer, particularly in the fawning paddocks, the fence should be flush with the ground to prevent deer from pushing under and to keep predators out. The fence should have some flex without being sloppy. This will be achieved by tensioning it to remove approximately 1 of the tension curve from the line wires. See Figure 1. The horizontal wires should be able to move freely through the staples on the posts, so do not set the staples too tightly.
- Driving posts in with a post pounder is faster and the posts are more stable than those put in with an auger.
- For fallow and sika deer, internal fences of 60" in height are suitable except for raceways and handling yards.
- Horizontal boards on the section of raceway leading into the handling facility and within the facility itself are effective for elk and red deer.
- Placing a perimeter fence away from the property line allows the grass to be clipped for better monitoring of the fence and to discourage does/hinds from pushing fawns through the fence for shelter.
- Adjustable hinges on gates are helpful and enable the raising/lowering of the gates, in areas where snow accumulates.
Raceway and handling facility
For raceways, use the same height of fence as that recommended for the perimeter fence for that species. The raceways should be wide enough to permit vehicles and equipment to get through easily. An average width for a raceway is 5–10 m (16–33 ft). However, elk farmers in particular seem to prefer wider raceways. Remember that snow accumulation will limit access in the raceway, therefore, keep them wide and if possible, position them parallel to the prevailing wind.
The last 10–20 m (33–66 ft) of raceway near the handling facility and the facility itself should be slatted or boarded, to prevent deer from running into fences while under pressure. The fences or walls around the handling facility must be of sufficient height that deer will not attempt to jump. For most deer 2.5 m (8 ft) is adequate but white-tailed deer and elk require at least 2.7 m (9 ft).
A bend or turn into the handling facility from the raceway is necessary to keep deer flowing. Deer move around corners easily but will balk at a dead end.
Deer appear to be more calm if they can see through the fence rather than being behind a solid fence of plywood. Horizontal boards work well for red deer and elk. If there is concern that deer may use the horizontal boards to gain a foothold, place boards vertically. In any case, it is strongly recommended to build the handling facility within the perimeter fence so that if a deer jumps, it is still within the compound.
Snow drifting can create problems especially in areas with wooden fences. When erecting a slatted fence, allow spacings about three of the width of a board, between each to prevent snow from accumulating.
Deer will flow more easily if there is a gradual transition from wire fence to solid-sided fence in the raceway. This can be achieved by attaching boards at shoulder height to the last stretch of wire, prior to the solid fence.
Surveys have indicated that the main causes of escape of farmed deer are an open gate and inadequate fencing.
- use recommended fencing only
- place handling facilities within perimeter fence
- inspect fences regularly:
- block holes
- repair and maintain as needed
- remove broken/unhealthy trees or branches to prevent them from falling on the fence
- build a pass-through with double gates at the main entry to allow easy, yet secure access for trucks, tractors, etc.
- put padlocks on all external gates
- remove snow accumulation along perimeter fence
- fence off ditches, creeks and rivers
- use electric wire close to the ground on the exterior to discourage predators from digging under the fence
What to do if deer escape:
- entice the deer back calmly and quietly, using feed and opening the gate into compound if possible
- ensure that the rest of the herd is safe
- notify the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the surrounding land owners
- obtain a tranquilizer gun and drugs from your veterinarian if necessary
- once the deer are back, keep them separate for a while for observation
Wing and corner fences
In rectangular or square paddocks, partial fences known as wing fences, which create a funnel towards the gate, can be useful for moving fallow deer in particular, out of the paddocks.
Fencing off corners is effective especially in small yards to prevent deer from bunching up. This practice, while not always practical in the paddocks, creates ideal sites for planting shelter trees.
Ditches and gullies
Deer should be fenced away from ditches or gullies where possible. This will maintain water quality while reducing erosion and parasite problems.
When erecting a fence over a ditch or gully, use culverts or flood gates to prevent erosion under the fence. If the diameter of the culvert or the spacings in the bars of the flood gate are such that a fawn can penetrate, then grates or wire ought to be installed.
Gates of a height compatible with the fence are recommended. They must be wide enough for machinery to turn into and to give the deer ample room to get through without balking.
There should be at least one gate into the raceway from each paddock. Along the raceway, gates should be positioned to allow maximum flexibility for moving animals and to prevent deer from breaking back.
Position gates to allow machinery to enter the raceway and turn comfortably into paddocks and around corners. This may involve placing gates across corners. Gates ought to be properly fitted with no gaps either along the bottom or at the sides, which can allow deer to escape or become trapped. Hinges should be positioned to prevent deer from dislodging the gates. Adjustable hinges will be helpful in areas where snow accumulates.
Latches on all gates must be secure and strong enough to prevent them from being opened accidentally or by the force of deer playing or rubbing against them.
Gates in the raceway and handling facility should be covered in a solid material similar to that used in the fences.
To prevent escapes, it is strongly suggested to build a pass through area so the deer do not have direct access to the main entry gate. This area should have a minimum length of 15 m (50') and be long enough for a tractor and wagon or stock truck to pass through, and secure the first gate prior to opening the second gate. See Figure 2.
One or two gates positioned along the perimeter fence may be useful in the event of an escape. The herd instinct is highly developed and deer will naturally want to be reunited with their herd mates. Opening a gate and placing corn or other favourite feed in the open paddock will often be sufficient to lure the deer back into the paddock. At other times, gates along the perimeter fence should be closed and locked.
A detailed plan for fencing is essential due to the high cost of deer fencing. Fences will provide a safe enclosure for deer and will last for many years with:
- forethought and attention to detail;
- use of appropriate materials and fencing techniques; and,
- good maintenance.
In addition, a well planned and constructed fence will save time in managing and handling the deer.
A double gate pass-through at the main gate makes entry into the facilities easier and reduces the chance of escape.
This fact sheet was written by P. E. Martin - Firgrove Farm and Dr. R. Wright - veterinary scientist, equine and alternative livestock, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.