There are several reasons that a small farm needs fences:
- Marking the boundary lines between farms or next to roads.
- Separating fields used for distinct purposes
- Keeping animals from straying
- Keeping animals out of crop fields
The fence represents an investment of labor and/or money. Both items are always scarce on the small farm. While in general labor and money are interchangeable, it is always desirable to limit both. While a fence costs something, it also yields something — protection. On a small farm it is always desirable to increase the yield, that is, the positive results obtained through money and effort.
A living fence can increase the yield of labor. Major fences are usually constructed of poles and wire. Minor fences, such as those used for fencing small animals, can be constructed entirely of wood, or of poles, slats, and woven wires. Major and minor fences can be constructed principally of living poles, thus reducing the costs of the initial price of the fence. Usually living poles will last much longer than wooden (dead) poles and thus maintenance may be reduced.
Living fences are widely used now in a wide range of ecological situations, from very dry to rain forest conditions.
Suitable plant materials are available for almost all ecological conditions.
Other Benefits From a Living Fence
As a general rule, firewood is used for cooking in third world countries. A living fence post can be trimmed periodically and the branches can be used as firewood. Where wood is scarce, this means that firewood is produced readily near the farm home where it will be used. Extra firewood may be sold or bartered.
The leaves that fall from the tree as well as the leaves and small branches cut away on harvest of trees for firewood can be (1) composted, (2) immediately mixed with the soil as fertilizer, or (3) left on the ground as a sheet mulch. Because trees are deep rooted they bring mineral nutrients from the deep soil that may not be available to annual crops. After residues from trees rot in or on the soil, such minerals are released into the soil and become available to crop plants.
If the tree is leguminous the amount of nitrogen in the leaves will be large enough to significantly affect crop yields. Furthermore, pruning of trees results in partial die back of roots, releasing additional nutrients directly into the soil. Nitrogen is always difficult and costly to obtain, and leguminous trees are a principal way to get nitrogen from trees.
c. Other Uses
- Feed. The leaves of many trees are edible as feed for small animals. The edibility of leaves as feed varies not only from species to species but also with age. When fence posts are used to produce feed, space is conserved on the farm.
- Food. Leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds of some species might be good food for people. Knowledge of these edible qualities might be useful in producing food for family use and for sale.
- Fibers. A few plants in living fences yield from large or small branches that can be used directly for tying, can be retted (rotted under water), or can be pounded into useful fiber or cloth.
- Shade. Trees may provide welcome relief from the hot sun for people or animals.
- Construction materials. Many trees can be harvested for their wood, which then can be used for construction of building, small articles, or artwork, or be sold.
- Medicines. Some plants used in fences are also used in primitive medicines. However, caution is recommended in their use.
- Windbreaks. In some areas windbreaks might be very necessary to protect against winds and thus to permit the growth of some crops.