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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Updated: Jan 19

jackleg fence

Understanding the legal rights and responsibilities involved with different aspects of land ownership is an important part of rural life in Montana. Our state is one of only three legally classified as "open range" so something as seemingly simple as fencing can become a big deal. While "open range" is not a blanket classification covering all areas across Montana, a good neighbor will learn about and understand the need for good fences. A link to learn more about Montana fencing laws is available below.



Whether you're legally obligated to fence animals out, or to fence them in, you have several fencing options. The type you choose will largely depend on the particular purpose of the fence, the type of terrain you're needing to cover, and your budget. It is common to see a combination of different fencing types used together. I cover here only a few of the many options from which a landowner might choose.


Jackleg or Buck fence (pictured above) is a traditional rustic style of fencing that can be used as containment for horses and cattle, and to define property boundaries. This fence consists of rails that are supported by two uprights joined together at an angle to form a long legged X. This type of fence does not include vertical posts, eliminating the need for digging post holes. This makes it versatile, allowing you to build on many different terrains including very rocky or steep ground where digging is hard or nearly impossible.


Named for its meandering layout, the Worm or Snake fence (shown at end of story) is made of wood rails resting across each other at an angle, forming a zigzag. It does not require nails or other hardware nor vertical posts and post holes, making it an easy-to-build fence suitable for very rocky terrain.


Buck & Worm fences are also a common solution for ground that is always damp or wet. Where the wet ground won't tightly hold a fence post for long, or the posts rot too quickly, Buck & worm fences solve that problem because they don't require the support of posts in the ground.


pipe fence and smooth wire

Pipe Fence is commonly used in pastures. Though this type of fencing involves a more significant investment, the clean lines it creates tend be more aesthetically pleasing and the steel tubing withstands the test of time. There are no busted wires and rotting wood to worry about. These fences resist pressure from large animals making them a very durable alternative to barbed wire or woven field fencing.


field fence

Woven Wire fence has a linked yet loose structure that permits a fair amount of twist, pull or bend without breaking. This makes it a suitable material for containing grazing livestock. In some styles of woven agricultural fence, the vertical wires are one continuous strand making it a strong, secure mesh that withstands pressure from animals.


barbed wire

Barbed Wire is most commonly used for cattle. Though they don't always respect the barbs at first, cattle soon learn to stay away from the fence. Barbed wire is not recommended for horse properties. One advantage of this type of fencing is it can be relatively quick and affordable to put in place, especially if you have a lot of ground to cover, and it can be easier to move if necessary. Barbed wire requires more maintenance.

I encourage you to read the excellent article by MSU Extension Range Manager, Jeff Mosely, linked below. Follow me for more tips on "how to" live in the Bitterroot! :)


fence in Sula MT

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