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What is a Barbed Wire Fence?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A barbed wire fence is a fence made with barbed wire, a fencing product which consists of wire strung with barbs. Barbed wire fences are used to keep people and animals in or out of the fenced area, depending on the need and the design. They are utilized all over the world, and there are a number of fencing products which can be used in the construction of a barbed wire fence. Hardware stores and livestock suppliers often carry the equipment needed to make a barbed wire fence.

The development of barbed wire dates to the 1800s, when farmers were looking for a fencing product which would contain livestock and be cheap to implement. The design, using wire strung with small barbs, proved to be highly effective and very popular. A basic barbed wire fence with three to four strands of barbed wire can be an effective way to keep many breeds of livestock contained, as they will be disinclined to push up against the fence, because the barbs are painful.

Other barbed wire fences may blend fencing products. For example, a mesh fence may be installed with a strand of barbed wire at the top. This design creates a more solid barrier which is difficult to penetrate or scale. Barbed wire can also be used with razor wire, also known as barbed tape, which includes sharp blades which are often used specifically to repel humans from the fence.

Barbed wire fence posts can be made from wood or metal. One advantage to metal posts is that they can be driven quickly and efficiently, and they may be equipped with loops or clips which can be used to string barbed wire. The wire itself can feature barbs at varying intervals, may be single or double stranded, and can be treated to resist rust and other forms of corrosion, which can be a common problem with fences exposed to the elements.

Other variations on the barbed wire fence include electrified fences, in which contact with the barbed wire results in an electric shock, and fences blended with more solid barriers such as concrete walls. Such fences can be seen in use on farms, prisons, and military installations, used to control the movement of people and animals for safety and security. Firms which specialize in fence construction can be consulted by people who are not comfortable designing and constructing their own fences.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By wavy58 — On Jan 18, 2012

@shell4life – Just don't use copper nails, because these can kill a tree. However, you have to consider that the tree may continue growing and totally engulf the section of barbed wire fence attached to it.

I have heard some people say that when this happens, it can kill a tree. However, I have heard an equal number of people say it is perfectly harmless to nail barbed wire fences to trees, and it cuts way down on the cost of putting one up.

Maybe you should look around other fenced-in areas and see if any trees there have died because of barbed wire attachments. This might be the best proof of what happens to trees infiltrated with barbed wire fence, and you could also observe the effects on the fence itself.

By shell4life — On Jan 17, 2012

I recently bought some wooded property, and I would like to put up a fence to prevent trespassers from walking through the area. I want to use three lines of barbed wire fence, and even though I know that people could scale this if they really wanted to, I think it will discourage the casual trespasser.

My issue is getting the money to buy enough posts to stretch the fence across. My boyfriend says we should just use the trees that grow there as posts, but that doesn't sound like it would be very good for the trees. Does anyone know if nailing barbed wire to a tree can harm it?

By StarJo — On Jan 17, 2012

@orangey03 – The threat of electrical shock certainly would make a cow think twice, but an angry bull might not remember. I wouldn't feel safe with just one line of barbed wire fence, either.

I have longhorn cattle living next to me, and I am glad that their owner chose to use a tall mesh fence with barbed wire in various places. He has one line of barbed wire fence at the top, one near the bottom, and one in the middle, so wherever a cow presses up against it, he is likely to feel the pain.

Those horns are long enough to pierce clean through a human, and I feel much more secure with this combination barbed wire/mesh fence. I like having something in place that could hold the entire bull back, as well as a few barbs to poke him if he even tries to break through.

By orangey03 — On Jan 16, 2012

The house where I grew up was surrounded on three sides by an old barbed wire fence. My neighbor owned pasture bordering our yard, and he kept several cows and bulls out there.

I never understood why he only used one line of fence, until I touched it one day and discovered that it was electrified. Something as big as a cow would have to touch this fence to get away, even if it were trying to leap over it, and the shock it received would be plenty to discourage it from attempting that again.

I backed into the fence accidentally while playing with my friend. The force of the voltage knocked me to the ground, and I though that she had slapped me at first. I'm sure that the electrical shock would have to be this strong to affect a thick cow.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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