View Full Version : Using River as 'Fence'

Jun. 21, 2010, 09:56 AM
Do people actually do this??

i have been looking at renting a pasture for my horses, finally found one that i thought would be perfect except one side of the pasture is all river, great water supply but what the heck, wheres the fence? they just use the river as a fence. i know some one who used this same pasture before and never had any issues but i cant help but think they might just swim away!
i am no longer interested in this pasture unless i can find a way to fence in the pasture but keep a way to give them constant water supply.

so what i am wondering is do people actually ever use water as a a 'fence'? i know that there are lots of cows along this same river (very long) that have no fence on the water, but it never occured to me that it would work with horses, or be very safe!

Pennywell Bay
Jun. 21, 2010, 10:43 AM
My mare swims so I would not use a river as a fence! She swims in the water tank, in streams, in puddles....

Jun. 21, 2010, 11:08 AM
I'm trying to remember but I believe that every fence I've ever seen that tried to use a natural object as a fenceline was a fail. Our landlord used thick brush and berry bushes as a hedge and within six months his sheep had made their way through the berry bushes, and the brush owning property owner cleared the brush. We had an extremely steep unfenced slope on one part of our property and lost a Barbados sheep one rainy night.
Obviously along that river people do keep cattle, but for a large producer a certain rate of loss is built into the business model and they may consider the cost of fencing outweighs a swimming cow or two.

Medicine Wheel (Ogilvie)
Jun. 21, 2010, 11:13 AM
When I was a kid, I kept my mare at a farm that did the same. Worked for the first year, then once during a heat cycle, she crossed the river and took all the others with her... she was rather adventurous, lol. Wouldn't advise it.

tabula rashah
Jun. 21, 2010, 11:23 AM
My horses all LOFF water- I can't imagine using a river as fence!! Of course, what kind of river are you talking about- Like river as in the Mississippi or river as in it should really be a creek?

Drive NJ
Jun. 21, 2010, 11:25 AM
Works even less well if you get freezes in the winter. See the several threads about horses deciding to cross ice and getting stuck in ponds and the like.

Natural barriers seem to work better in BOs minds than in reality.

Jun. 21, 2010, 11:29 AM
no way.

Jun. 21, 2010, 11:47 AM
I boarded at a place with a huge pond.

A horse got stuck in the ice one Winter and after that there was a barrier of T-posts with hot wire strung across the pond just after it got knee-deep for the horses.

They could stroll in for a drink, but noone could get deeper.

Jun. 21, 2010, 12:04 PM
In many places it is totally illegal to not fence animals from being able to enter streams, rivers, etc. Here you have to keep all animals out. It pollutes the water and causes many problems with erosion as well. NOT a good idea.

Jun. 21, 2010, 12:20 PM
Agree with others...and even water-shy animals get rather used to water if they're pastured with it. So over time they''ll test it out.
It's nice having a stream or shallow river going through a paddock for a water source (ponds not so much for bug breeding issues) but not as a fence/boarder.
There's a property down the street from me that has an enormous 30+ acre paddock (that's huge for this area) with a tree lined all season stream going through it. The stream is about 10' wide and most of the time in summer only about 3' deep. On really hot days I get a laugh when I drive by because the 4 horses and one giant ox in that paddock will all be standing in single file belly deep in cool water in the shade. :D It's cute as heck!

Jun. 21, 2010, 12:26 PM
You see it from time to time but I would never do it. I saw a place last summer that did this, the river was very deep, fast moving and upstream from a hydro electric dam!

Jun. 21, 2010, 12:27 PM
Not a good fence. At all. Lots of horses like water.

Jun. 21, 2010, 12:29 PM
Also to consider is the flood height of the river. If you walk along you might see branches or dried grasses stuck up in the trees or brush, which would indicate the typical high water mark. Even if you run an electric fence down along the river, you'll want to know when and how badly it typically floods, so you can move the fence in preparation during bad weather/spring/etc.

Jun. 21, 2010, 01:13 PM
Call your local USDA- NRCS office. In MOST counties- they will pay 75% of the cost to fence animals OUT of waterways. They often will provide either a stream crossing (if river goes through a pasture) or pump/tank to provide water to animals they cut out off river access to.

Jun. 21, 2010, 03:39 PM
Horses swim, so a river doesn't "fence" them in.

Go Fish
Jun. 21, 2010, 03:59 PM
i know that there are lots of cows along this same river (very long) that have no fence on the water, but it never occured to me that it would work with horses, or be very safe!

I would be concerned about using the river as a drinking water source if there's any chance it's being contaminated by fecal matter dispersed by cows. That's some downright nasty stuff.

A river bank would contain my two broodies for about 5 minutes...first hot day and they'd be rolling around like hogs in slop.

Jun. 21, 2010, 04:10 PM
Back before I knew better, a BO reassured me that none of the horses ever got out of the pasture that was bordered by the 30 foot wide stream. My 19 yr. old Appy gelding and yearling filly proved her wrong. Fence went up shortly after.

Jun. 21, 2010, 05:42 PM
I have so many horses that have swam straight across our lake regardless of how high it was; at its fullest it's about 25' deep in the center. When it's hot, they love to take a dip & come out on the other side. I don't see a river as something a horse would stop at if it took a notion to go across.

Jun. 21, 2010, 05:46 PM
Haven't read the other replies... but I am bordered on two sides by brookes and banks/cliffs/ledges... whatever you want to call them.

Until the Little Medicine Hat Mare, I never had a charged perimeter fence on those two sides. No one EVER crossed. They did drink from the brookes (which get very high in spring, but are just a trickle in late summer) but because of the very steep banks and the big drops on the sides, never fussed with crossing.



Miss Medicine Hat Mare was All About being the Indian Pony when she first came. Crossed right over, scrambled up 45 degree ledges, and went to the neighboring pasture to graze. She didn't care if she left the herd.

Now that she is more socialized (3 years later) She does not challenge the natural borders either. But, I will never *quite* trust her... OTOH, the only thing on the other side is 13 acres of pasture I used to lease... so no biggie.

So... yes and no. It worked for everyone else... but not for her. Now it does work for her, unless she gets it in her head she wants to go on Walkabout again.

Depending on what is on The Other Side, I would fence and charge... or... not. ;)

Jun. 21, 2010, 06:06 PM
Years ago, my husband and I floated the Missouri River in Great Falls MT. We had a great time. We saw lots of horses hanging out at the rivers edge in a couple different spots. No fencing fenced them from "going walkabout". I was amazed they were "contained" by the river. They were not wild. So, there are people who DO use a river for a fence. That is a big, deep river. We were going down the river and they were on our left.

When we moved to our property, we used a natural barrier as a fence. It was a long stretch of a creek, a small trickle, but to get to it there was lots of brush, trees, vines, and then there was a big drop to the creek. Hay field on the other side. I had my arab stallion on the property and he was with my very very experienced endurance horse. Nobody ever went through there. The experienced horse knew better to go down there, so the colt wouldn't go either. It was a visual and physical barrier. Dogs could go through, but not horses. There was one spot we could have fenced (few years later) and they could have had access to the creek, but we didn't. We own half that creek. Maybe some day we will get a GIANT bulldozer and clean all that out. We toss all brush and limbs and other natural things like grass clippings, leaves, sticks, etc on the other side of that fence. With or without the fence now, there is too much for a horse to get through.

Jun. 21, 2010, 07:27 PM
Nope. I knew someone who did this. He lost a horse one winter who fell into the freezing water. :cry:

Jun. 21, 2010, 09:12 PM
i definately wouldnt have them there in winter. i keep my horses at home but i have to feed hay year round so i want to put them on grass for the summer.

i was not going to use this place, just curious how common it is. i guess the person who used it before had his broodmares out there for 5 years or so and no problems. i wouldnt want to take the chance, and i think i have found a suitable place now.

Jun. 22, 2010, 08:59 AM
Please keep livestock out of waterways -- they cause massive amounts of bank erosion which severely damages the river and the aquatic life therein. If you need a water supply, grants are available through NRCS/cooperative extension to fence them out of the creek/river and provide an alternate watering source.

Jun. 22, 2010, 01:08 PM
I wouldn't rely on a river. Heck, last place I kept my horses in Virginia, there was a fence across the creek and far bank, and my decrepit mare STILL managed to escape one fine day, leaving the helpless geldings wondering where she went. She went where the grass was greener, of course.

Jun. 23, 2010, 06:37 AM
so what i am wondering is do people actually ever use water as a a 'fence'? i know that there are lots of cows along this same river (very long) that have no fence on the water,

Sometimes what has happened is that the landowner cleared the land down to the waters edge, fenced it, put animals on it, and then the fenced washed away in a flood. Rather than keep rebuilding the fence, the landowner decided to use the river/waterway as a living fence.

Bad idea for many reasons, most of which have to do with animal safety/welfare, and water quality.

Water levels rise and fall. What may be a barrier now might not be in August - or in November your livestock may be under 4 feet of water from a flood.

A better way to design your fenceline may be to start looking at a map. GIS maps may be available free online through your county website. It may show the floodplain as well. If not, you can obtain a FEMA map which will delineate any floodplain in your area. You can also get an idea if the land floods by looking at the trees and plants that grow near the water. Buttressing on trees is a dead giveaway, for example.

People often prefer to lay out their pastures in nice shapes like squares or rectangles - but contours of the land are rarely straight. You may have better luck with a fence by observing the layout of the land, setting your fenceline back at least 25 feet from the water's edge, and creating a riparian buffer between your fence and the water.

This does a couple of things. First, it keeps your livestock safe. Second, if water levels do rise, a riparian buffer slows that floodwater, saving your fence and depositing silt on your land rather than sweeping it away downstream.

The downside to this method is that you have to put more thought into your overall management plan for your land, and your fencing costs may be higher. Some people believe that they must use 100% of their land or it's wasted.

Your soil and water conservation district may or may not be able to provide assistance in that regard. If not cost share, you may qualify for a tax credit.

Or, you may choose to pay for it all yourself and avoid having to agree to anything with the government.

Generally though, it's wise to fence out livestock from waterways. For their health and welfare as well as for the ecosystem. If the river is the only source of water for your livestock, you can also work with your soil and water conservation district to divert some of that river water to a watering point for your livestock - but water rights is a tricky area so please be careful and verify you can do that.

Hope that helps.