Perimeter Fencing: How To Secure Your Property Without Violating the Law

A fenced perimeter is a must on any prepper retreat, survival homestead, or suburban bug in location. Being able to control entry onto your property will help ensure the safety of your loved ones, and the security patrol team tasked with monitoring the area.

Preppers have three very important things to consider when establishing fencing as part of a perimeter defense plan:

  1. Everyday Use – Unless the property is to be used solely as a bugout location, the fencing created will have to allow for typical entry and survival homesteading activities – gardening, livestock pasture and the rotation of pastures, hunting, and fishing. You need a sturdy fence that can one day double as part of a dependable perimeter defense barrier but yet not scream, “a prepper lives here.”
  2. State And Federal Laws – Regulations regarding boundary fencing responsibilities and liabilities, as well as the type of fencing and posts that can be used vary widely by region and state. You might find it shocking to believe that in some states you can be charged with trespassing on your own property!
  3. Cost – How securely you can legally fence your perimeter and other portions of your survival retreat will depend on how much money you have at your disposal. Perhaps you will have to work on the project one section at a time, or on a lesser scale that becomes more fortified over time, Making use of natural elements at your bugin or bugout location, and creating your own fence posts will help keep costs down tremendously.
barbed wire tied to tree

Like most folks, you likely spent a lot of time thinking about #1 and #3 on the list, but really did not ponder long about #2. Farmers and homesteaders have been rolling up their sleeves and digging post holes and stringing wire for generations without getting arrested for building illegal fence, right?

Well, yes an no. The omnipotent power of big government did not forget about the need to build and maintain fences when spending time passing laws that encroach upon our lives during the past three or four decades.

iron gate detail

Know the Law Before You Buy, Build, or Repair Fencing

Constructing a perimeter fence that is not in compliance with state laws can cause steep fines to be levied against you as well as the loss of money and time spent building the illegal fence.

Although there are absolutely not zoning laws or permit required to build or repair anything in my rural county except regarding septic tanks, we still fall under the state’s perimeter fencing mandates.

I am willing to bet not only are 99.9% of the perimeter fences in our county (and others) not only are out of compliance, but property owners do not even known the laws exist.

In my Appalachian state perimeter fences, unless otherwise agreed to by bordering property owners, must be comprised of either high tensile or standard woven wire that include at least one or two strands of barbed wire and it situated no less than 48 inches from the ground – or high tensile non-electric fence that includes 7 strands of barbed wire which complies with the United States Natural Resources Conservation Service standards.

If the owners of the bordering properties agree in writing, a partition fence can be a combination of barbed wire, electric fencing, or living fencing.

Preppers who live out West are subject to open range laws. In such states, livestock can wander off the property of their owner unless a property owner takes it upon him or herself to construct a partition fence that meets state standards.

As already noted, laws vary by state, but the requirements outlined below give a broad overview of some common regulations.

Legal Fencing Options in Some Open Range States

  • Fences constructed of “sound” wooden posts, concrete, or steel AND three strings of barbed wire that are no less than ten inches apart, and no more than 15 inches across the top.
  • Wood posts must be a minimum of four inches in diameter.
  • Posts must be firmly set in the ground at a depth of at least 20 inches deep.
  • Fence posts must be set no further apart than 22 feet from the next post of 33 feet apart with a minimum of 2 wood or iron stays between the wood posts. Stays must be placed an equal distance apart from both each other and the wood posts they are situated between.
  • A fence made out of wood boards must include wood posts that are no larger than four inches in diameter and set no further than 10 feet apart.There must be three boards placed on each fence section and the boards must be 1 inch thick and 8 inches wide, and placed no more than 10 inches apart – or four boards that are 1 inch thick and six inches were placed no more than 8 inches apart.
  • Partition fences could also be constructed of rails, stones, poles, or living material like trees and hedge plants if the barrier is “declared” to be strong, effective against livestock breeches, and protective.
  • In addition to being forced to adhere to state boundary fence laws, regulations regarding pastures, fields, and hay coral also exist.

Barbed Wire Fences

Creating a perimeter fence using only barbed wire may not be legal in your state. If such a fence is allowed, state laws might mandate its height. Common barbed wire allowable fencing heights are typically, 36, 48, or 52 inches tall.

Barbed wire must be properly and firmly secured, stretched and maintained to remain in compliance with state laws.

fencing tools on the ground

Line Fencing Equal Shares

In some states, property owners on either side of a boundary line fence are responsible for its upkeep. Even if you do not care if a fence surrounds your property, you may be legally and financially responsible for not only keeping it sound but removing brush and debris in its vicinity.

In fact, if you live in a state with strict line fencing laws you could be charged with trespassing if you do not permit the adjacent property owner to come 10 feet past the fence onto your land to do repairs or debris removal.

Insurance and Fencing

Placing a perimeter fence on your property, as well as the type of material it is constructed from could reduce or increase your insurance policy premium and/or deductable or invalidate the policy. Read the fine print on your policy carefully before buying fencing material and investing any time in its construction.

Gate Laws

Just like with fencing, copious amounts of regulations also pertain to gates. Not just the setting of gates, but the type of material that can be used, as well. In some states where it is illegal to fence across a waterway, you place a cattle guard in place of a gate to keep livestock in.

In states where it is allowed, (or during a SHTF scenario where state and local laws are no longer a concern), you could use trees as gate and fence posts instead of cutting or buying wood posts. Using the natural elements on your survival retreat will save you money and allow you to construct the fence quicker.

barbed wire over creek

Fencing Over Waterways

A myriad of state and federal laws also exist related to placing fencing over waterways that run through your property. In some locations, it is illegal to fence over a public waterway to prevent its use for recreational boat passing.

In some states, you are allowed to establish some type of fencing across waterways on your property to allow livestock to water by not escape or to keep domestic pets from leaving the property.

fencing on the homestead

Stringing barbed wire and using trees, wood post, or metal T-posts to create a perimeter or in-property fencing to secure livestock, and prevent trespassing in some states, but specific guidelines pertaining to the above water positioning of both the lowest and highest portions of the fence do exist.

Floating fences, homemade or manufactured, are also legal in some states. However, even if you are fortunate enough to live in a state which allows you to fence across a waterway, that doesn’t mean you have the legal right to prevent the public from using the area of the creek, stream, pond, or river that is on your land.

Right to portage laws in some states permit a member of the public to use the waterway for recreational purposes by maneuvering under, over, or around fencing in the “least intrusive” way possible – without causing any damage on any private or personal property.

State laws pertaining to waterway fencing tend to be far more detailed that similar laws relating to boundary or on property fencing requirements and liability.

Several state laws indicate a property owner can create a barrier, but also mandate that the structure not inhibit public recreational use of the waterway. In a situation like this, hanging a gate and not stringing fencing across the waterway, should not violate state law and still prevent livestock from escaping.

During a SHTF scenario, the gate could be permanently chained and locked to help deter trespassing – if you are no longer concerned with the long arm of the government issuing you a warning letter or a fine.

States with stringent waterway fencing laws also require an inspection of the barrier after it is built – some during the planning stages. If the government official does not approve the waterway fencing, appeals and court petitions are available to property owners to try and overturn the determination.

When setting up a fence across a waterway, it is best to do it when the water level is at its normal depth – especially if the barrier will also be used to keep livestock in. Drive a wood or metal T-post into the bank of the waterway as close to solid ground as feasibly possible to garner maximum durability.

Bank erosion will cause the post and the fencing to become loose or collapse entirely over time. A waterway fence will need to be monitored more closely and more often than your other perimeter fence sections.

If using barbed wire, the tangled fencing that will occur after it falls into the water and mud can entrap livestock, and cause potentially fatal harm or cause injury to a person using the waterway for recreation – and that would get you sued… or arrested.

Fencing Stockpiles

The Lengths A Prepper Will Go To…

man up on ladder

Adam, one of our tribe members, somewhat eagerly followed my instructions and put a ladder on the summer kitchen stainless steel counter and sink combo to retrieve a stretch of chain and a clip for a project I tasked him with completing.

We had quite a stockpile of chain and clip ends around our survival homestead, but we have gone through it quicker than expected, while in the middle of a gate repair and addition project I did not have time to run to town and buy more chain. So, the two dangling chains and clip ends that had held a porch swing for the former owners were sourced to complete the project and keep my livestock pasture rotation plan on track.

When figuring your prepping budget, make sure to include funds to stockpile these common fence building and repair supplies:

  • Single and double sided chain clips
  • Sturdy chain
  • Fence multi-purpose repair tool
  • Barbed wire fence stretcher
  • Fence staples
  • Hammers
  • Power drill and manual drill – and paddle bits
  • Gate hardware
  • Barbed wire
  • 2 inch nails – if using board fencing
  • Level
  • Chalkline
  • Measuring tape
  • Post pounder
  • Post hole digger
  • T-posts and fence connector hardware
  • Locust posts – for corner posts and securing heavy fencing
  • Gates
  • …and last but most definitely not least – leather work gloves.

Once you are aware of what state and local laws you are currently bound by, you can create a pre-SHTF fence that also adheres to your OPSEC philosophy. But your perimeter defense fencing project is not done yet.

Stockpile the type and amount of fencing you want to use to further secure your land, home, and waterway with a long-term disaster and desperate trespassers in mind. Draw up a diagram of your property or print a Google Earth to lay out potential points of entry and blind spots from your home and LP/OP locations.

Determine how much fencing and how many gates will be necessary to limit entry at the noted points. Cut the fencing to the necessary specifications and bundle it with all the hardware and supplies needed to complete that section of the project.

Label your bundles so they can be grabbed and constructed in the proper spot by a member of your family or tribe at a moment’s notice to lock down your survival retreat – and yes, even your suburban bugin location, as quickly and in the most sturdy manner, as possible.

perimeter fencing pinterest image

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.

5 comments

  1. Avatar

    Excellent article! Thank you.

    Just my opinion.

  2. Avatar
    Content with life

    One more thing to consider is utility right of way. If you have power lines, gas pipelines, or water lines running through your property, you need to check into those laws also. I unfortunately have both gas and power lines going through my property, so I have to allow ingress and egress at all entry/exit points. Also, fencing laws in these areas are not always the same as a regular perimeter or cross fence.

    • Avatar
      Tara L Dodrill

      Very good point. We dealt with just that issue in our upper pasture where s pipeline runs across. Thankfully for us, it just meant putting in additional gates that I got the gas company to pay for.

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