It is my busy season so what better topic to write about this month but fencing. It keeps me fit. On a quick estimate, I have about 32 miles of perimeter fence and about 28 miles of cross-fencing to check in the spring. That is approximately 60 miles of posts, wire, staples, insulators and trees to deal with “to properly and reasonably protect the animals from escape.” Picture me with my quad loaded with posts, wire, a chainsaw, a carpenter’s belt full of staples, a hammer and a good pair of rubber boots. Oh… and I can’t forget about “Big Bertha.” She is my hand-powered post-pounder and she loves to give me a workout. She is a little on the heavy side but she can sure make me sweat!
I thought I would share with you a few of the fencing tidbits I have picked up over the years. Firstly, I have a lot of old, rickety barbwire fences on my rented land as perimeter fences. They have been patched and then the patches have been patched. If you try to tighten the wire you will end up breaking it a little farther down.
Do I spend $4,000 in materials and labour to replace it? Not likely on rented land. Can I work out a deal with the landowner? Maybe, but I have found the least expensive way to make that fence strong. It does not have to be that sturdy to hold up a one-wire electric offset. This is an electric wire run about 30 inches off the ground and eight inches off the fence. It is held up by an offset. Now you can buy proper offsets as they come in various designs but I am pretty economical and I have found that some old water line works just dandy. As you can see from the picture, I use a bent piece of water line to hold the offset wire and fencing staples to hold it to the post (not nails) with a small nail to hold the wire in place. I attach an offset every fifth or sixth post (depending on the terrain). Sometimes I will just drag a length of water line behind me and cut off the length I need as I go along. I’ve found 12 to 18 inches is a nice length. That makes the wire sit six to nine inches off the fence.
Even new pipe at what, 32 cents per foot, is a pretty inexpensive insulator, but I have yet to use new pipe. Old water line is cheap at auction sales. I also use cut-offs from a local house plumber. They work well too. I like to use high-tensile wire with them but have used poly wire.
With the offsets that rickety, old barbwire fence is just a visual barrier — seven to nine KV of electricity is what keeps them in. They won’t be reaching through that fence.
How about splicing wire? My father taught me a handy little trick with a claw hammer that can sure tighten up a barbwire fence. If a wire is broken or just loose, I will splice in a new piece so I can tighten it up with my hammer. Just loop the wire through, grab it with the claw and then backspin the wire around the head of the hammer until the fence is guitar-string tight. It works best with single-strand barbwire as the barbs will slide along as you tighten. I always try to have a part role of single strand close at hand. It works with regular barbwire as well but you might have to tighten both ends of the splice as you will get hung up on the barbs. It does not kink the wire to weaken it and it does not cost as much as buying an in-line fence tightener. It takes me about 12 minutes to splice all four wires snug tight on a four-strand fence.
My cross-fences are simple. In some cases I use portable ones but I prefer to use permanent fences. If I need to set up and take down a fence in the same place more than once, I might as well buy new material and leave the fence in place as the labour costs as much as the materials. I like pigtail posts for portable fences. I used to use rebar and plastic insulators but I am tired of replacing insulators. I try to avoid having my wire held up with plastic insulators or posts. They break. The pigtails are easy to carry and last longer. I have found that not all pigtails are made equal.
I like my poly wire braided, not weaved.
For my permanent cross-fence I have recently tried self-insulated rods and so far have been happy with the results. They might cost a little more than wood but I do not need to own or rent a post pounder. Each farm is different and we all have different preferences.
I hope I have given you a nugget or two for you to use on your ranch. To see some of these materials in action, and to see what I will not use again, join us at a pasture walk some time.
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