Different Kinds of Fence
This hub is to discuss different sorts of fencing and their possible uses.
Wild West: Barbed Wire
The benefit of using barbed wire is that it's relatively cheap and a barbed wire fence can be put up rather quickly.
The negative side is that only large animals will stay inside the barbed wire. It cannot be used for things like sheep and goats. Another down side is that valuable animals such as show horses may be scratched if they lean against the wire. It is a cheap way to keep cattle, however, and it usually works just fine for them.
Woven wire is a good fencing for things like sheep and goats. The square holes are small enough to keep out any of the larger wild animals (except deer, which can jump a fence of up to 8 feet. They have been in with my goats and equine, grazing along with them, and it seemed my creatures were none the worse.) and it is both strong and stretchable, which is good for goats because they can and do lean on and climb on anything and everything. While a lesser fence would break, the woven wire will bend and yield to the pressure without breaking.
The down side is that a beat up woven wire fence is not very attractive. If you like a prim and pristine environment, this may not be the fence for you.
Welded wire is cheaper than woven wire, but the welds will break if a dog jumps on it often or if goats and sheep lean on it. It makes good fence for smaller animals like chickens, although it may not keep out as many wild predators as chicken wire. It is stiff and straight, and it makes good plant trellises and tomato cages. (Parenthetical note: to make a tomato cage, create a circular enclosure out of woven wire that reaches two feet in diameter. Remove the lowest horizontal wire to create downward points, which can be pressed into the ground to keep the cage in place until growing season is over. Store in a dry place over winter, then reuse in the spring.)
White vinyl fence is expensive, but it will save you money and time in the long run if you don't want to keep repainting a wooden fence. It offers complete privacy, as no one can see through the vinyl panels. It does need an occasional washing if you find any algae growing on it, and it does not hold up well in a hail storm. Depending on the size of the hailstones and the strength of the wind, it may end up full of unsightly holes. When you purchase it you are making a gamble on whether or not you will ever face such a storm. If you luck out and no hail comes your way, you should have many years of good use out of a vinyl backyard fence. It's also good for keeping things like neighborhood dogs out of your yard (and flowers).
Many horse owners use plain wood fence for their animals. Horses tend to "crib" or chew their surroundings, so if you use a wooden fence for them you will want to use wood that does not contain poisonous chemicals.
The benefit of using a wooden fence for horses it that it will not harm or cut them like wire fences can. This is especially important if you have a flighty animal prone to sudden and unpredictable movements or if you need to keep them in tip top shape for shows.
For the typical back yard fence, wooden fences can look nice when they are well maintained. Most require painting, some as often as once a year, depending on the quality of the paint you use. Although treated lumber resists rotting, it's not very good for the environment and can bleed toxins into the ground, although the later generation of treated lumber is supposed to be more environmentally friendly and less hazardous to people and pets.
Wood stands up to a beating from a storm much better than vinyl.
Chicken wire comes on a roll, a very flimsy wire that some catalogs and descriptions call chicken mesh or poultry netting. The holes are small (about an inch) to exclude the company of the fox and the raccoon (but snakes can still get through and will try to eat eggs from the nest). It is a very lightweight wire and will require a strong frame with posts that are close together.
Some crafts like rustic flower baskets are made from chicken wire.
When properly installed it can also be used for ducks, geese, guinea fowl, pheasants, swans, turkeys, and peafowl. If your fence has no ceiling you will want to make sure that either it is tall enough to prevent domestic birds from flying out, or that their wings have been correctly clipped.
Chain link fence is expensive and is considered one of the best kinds to have for people and pets. It's rugged, and since the wire is interwoven it has no welds to break or let go. It's galvanized, so it will not rust for a very long time. It's not as easy to climb as woven wire because intruders will have trouble getting a foot through the small holes, and it won't bend out of shape as easily as woven wire does. It's relatively safe to touch; it doesn't usually deal out any cuts like barbed wire. If you were to run as fast as you could and crash into it, chances are it would bend but not break.* What this proves is that it will keep animals in or out pretty effectively, barring an attack by a wild hog or a black bear, which nothing seems to stop. (It has also proven pretty useless against cars. Do not fence your car with chain link. Consult your dealer for the best way to keep a car contained humanely.)
*The author does not recommend running and crashing into chain link fences. This could be hazardous to your safety. Consult a physician before doing so. Do not proceed unless so directed by your doctor.
Welded wire. Good for anything not strong enough to break the welds.
Woven wire. Expensive, but it does the job.
Barbed wire. Handle with care!