Fencing options

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My partner and I will soon be farming a 2-3 acre parcel of a hundred-acre plot that is currently being grazed by a neighboring cattle farmer. We will need to fence off these acres, which we plan to farm intensively next spring. What are our best fencing options? Our primary concerns are time (we have so much more to do to prepare for planting once we get there), skills required (we are novices, but eager to learn) and cost.

We assumed barbed wire is the way to go, but have some questions. (1) Is there an easier way to keep cattle off our parcel? (2) Is barbed-wire fencing difficult to put up? Can two able-bodied people do it? (3) How much time should we expect to spend putting up this fence around 2-3 acres of level land? How should our posts be spaced? (4) Is it considered poor form (or would we get bad results) if we used living hardwood trees (mesquite) as living posts and wrapped barbed wire around them? It may sound crazy, but we'll just have to cut them down and pull up stumps otherwise. Could trees survive this treatment? Would the fence be sufficiently strong? Would our neighbors laugh at us?

Any advice on this

-- Jeremiah McNichols (farmarama@hotmail.com), July 05, 2001


Use heavy wooden cornor posts with horizonal pole braces to smaller posts, add a wire diagonally and twist for tension. Set the cornors first, then use steel "t" posts with a driver or small wooden posts depending on what costs less. Spacing should be what ever is popular in your area, just copy what your neighbors have put up allready. If you wrap a wire around a living tree it will eventually be a dead tree in that trees grow from the outside and will strangle. There is a section of old answers named fence and it will proabily answer your questions.

-- mitch hearn (moopups1@aol.com), July 05, 2001.

Hi, Jeremiah. 1)Barbed wire is the cheapest, fastest fence to put up, at least in my book. 2)No, it's not difficult to put up. I wish I had someone to help me when I fence each spring! I do it all by myself and when a big ice storm three years ago destroyed ALL of my fences, I rebuilt everything on the farm that spring. Two of you will have no trouble at all. Once you get in the swing of it, it's actually fun. 3) Shouldn't take that long on a small piece like that. Even not knowing what you are doing I'd guess no more than four or five days. Certainly no more than a week. I really think two days would do it if you knew what you were doing. Just make sure you do good corner posts and you're in good shape. The wire stretching and line posts are almost an after thought once the corner posts are done. 4) Well, like Mitch says it will kill the trees, and yes, I'd say it would look like sloppy work. :) But never mind about me and your neighbors laughing at you, the ones you are really concerned about are the cows. If they laugh your goose is cooked. :> If this isn't an electrified fence, I suggest running four or five wires. Any less than that and you'll have cows reaching their heads through, and after a week of head reaching, the whole cow will follow. It's not much more time involved with running more wires, either.

I know a lot of people turn their noses up at barbed wire fences and call them ugly, but they are only looking at the surface of things. I happen to think a well crafted barbed wire fence is very elegant to look at as well as functional.

Jennifer L.

-- Jennifer L. (Northern NYS) (jlance@imcnet.net), July 05, 2001.

Thanks for the advice, Mitch. But maybe I didn't state my case for the tree-posts as well as I could have. These are trees we will have to remove from the property. If roots ran deep and did not spread wide close to the surface and we are faced with cutting them down and dragging up stumps, could we simply trim all branches off the trees, cut them down to an appropriate height, and use the standing trunk as a post? Wouldn't it be stronger than a dug-in post, last just as long, etc?

Sorry if this question's idiotic, I just can't get my head around why it wouldn't work. The trees will die one way or another.


-- Jeremiah McNichols (farmarama@hotmail.com), July 05, 2001.

If you trimed everything off the trees to use as a post, they will die. If they die the roots holding them in place will quickly rot & you will lose your posts. If you did use these trees for your fencing, don't wrap the wire around them. Don't cut off all of the branches (just the lower ones would be OK). But, you would have to nail the wire to the trees. I'd suggest you have regular posts between the trees, or the cattle will just pull the wire off the trees. Also this won't work if you use too many trees (never right next to each other) without enough posts to back them up, or if the trees are too small (or if the cattle want to eat them). In all, I'd say that if they aren't in the way, you might want to leave then for some shade, and some like hickory bear edible nuts or, like the mesquite you mentioned would be good to have a few seasoned chips to add to the BBQ. I'd recommend finding alturnative uses for your trees if you can't use them for posts.

Hope this helps

animalfarms (IN)

-- animalfarms (jawjlewis@netzero.net), July 05, 2001.

If must attach a fence to a living tree don't just staple the wires to the tree. First spike something like a length of 2x2 (at least) vertically then attach the wires to that.

-- john hill (john@cnd.co.nz), July 05, 2001.

Hi Jeremiah, of course you can use the trees, you don't wrap the barbed wire around them, just nail it to the side, just like a wooden post. The biggest project is going to be your corner posts, and you may want some help with them. Copy exactly what you see working at other farms, and don't use landscape timbers (they will snap off at ground level in just a few years) get yourself big creasote posts with some bulk to them, understand the whole concept of bracing before you even start. You can also make your runs shorter like we did, with posts made into H's, this way we didn't need a tractor to pull the wire, just a come-along. We also found the goucho type wire to be much better than the american kind that stretched, stretched and need stretching again! Run one row and nail it up, do not run all your wires and then nail, it makes a huge mess. We choose to start at the top, so the wire doesn't tangle with wire below it, this is a huge debate in East Texas, sort of like do you nail in the valleys or hills of your metal roofs, theres the right way and our way :) It's metal T posts here because we do not have access to cedar posts like they do in east Texas, plus it is very humid and wet here, wooden posts would rot quickly. As you have more time and money you can add more and more posts to your fence, until they are as close together as you choose, also replacing them as they kill the trees. Here it was pine :) You will have such a great feeling of accomplishment, and how about asking them laughing neighbors for help! Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh TX (vickilonesomedoe@hotmail.com), July 05, 2001.

Jeremiah, while you're researching your options, check into using high tensile wire for your fencing. It works best if electrified, but the cost per foot is less than barbed wire, the post spacing is greater, two strands will hold cattle well, and it will survive limbs falling on it, deer crashing it etc. better than barbed wire. You could fence two acres easily in one day. As for nailing to live trees, check your local lumber yard for treated dunnage blocks (short pieces used to seperate lumber during shipping). You can get them cheap and sometimes for free, and they can be nailed to the tree trunk with the wire or insulators attached to the blocks. We have fence nailed to many trees all over the farm. Some are three feet in diameter and show no ill effects, while some die immediately. Personally, I'd hook to the tree if it was in line with the fence.

-- Paul (hoyt@egyptian.net), July 05, 2001.

High tensile can be very economical, depending on several factors above and beyond just the cost of material. It is good for straight, fairly level runs (meaning without many up 'n down changes in terrain not necessarily flat per se). It is good for long runs, not so good for short runs - because all corners require extra strong corner posts because of the high tension on these wires. A corner post not properly sunk and braced can pull right out of the ground or collapse.

Deer cannot see it and tend to run into it, causing little damage to the fence perhaps but often major damage to the deer. Horses have the same sort of problem with it.

Get a copy of the Premiere fencing catalog and read about what they have to say about fencing options before you buy. They do a pretty good job of explaining the possibilities.

-- Sojourner (notime4@summer.spam), July 05, 2001.

Okay Jeremiah, just a few things I remember from building wire fences.

Put the end 'strainer' posts in first, this is the hardest labour. Dig the holes as deep as you can manage and still have a reasonable length of post sticking out of the ground. 'Heel and toe' the posts, that is ram a block of something or a big stone at the bottom of the hole beside the post on the side opposite the direction of the fence. Ram the earth in well, a pick handle (without the head of course) makes a rather classy rammer). When the hole is nearly full ram another block, rock etc on the side towards the direction of the fence. It was the custom in this area to use a slopeing stay but someone has mentioned a paralellagram (spelling?) type brace which is better. Select a stout piece of timber for a stay, maybe a light post, measure off the length of that post along the fence direction and set another post, fix the stay between the two posts at the fence height. Wrap and fix a length of plain wire at the base of the main post and run it up to the top of the other post, then down again, do this twice so that you have four wires across the diagonal of the rectangle, make these as tight as you can then put a piece of wood between them and twist everything up tight. It is important that you make a good job of this stage as with just a few high tensile wires your work may have to withstand tons of pull especially during cold spells.

For plain wire, if it comes in coils, you need a turntable or some method of UNROLLING the wire. If you just pull it out like a big spring there will be terrible tangles (well at least when I try it that way). For plain wire, put the coil on the turntable and start pulling out the wire which is a moderately easy job even when you are dragging a full roll.

Barbed wire is a different story mainly because you cant drag much of it, maybe with a tractor. Barbed wire is (was?) sold here on crude wooden formers with a hole through. Push your crow bar through the hole, attach the end of the wire to the post then two people can carry the coil laying out as you go.

I like to run out the top wire first, fix it to the top of the post then tension it up tight and fix to the other end. Don't tension the wire if it has any sharp kinks in it, that will weaken the wire and cause a break, straighten the kinks by hand first. Keep spectators well away when you put the strain on barbed wire.

When fixing the wire to the end post take one turn right around the post then bring the wire around again, bend it over the fence wire and up INSIDE the second loop continue around and make about three turns around the fence wire. You can use all sorts of tools to make this neat but the easiest is a flat piece of steel with a hole of about 3/16inch near the end.

I like to use a 'figure 8' knot to join.

Pulling the wire tight then making it fast without loosing any of the tension is, I find, quite difficult. One solution is to use permanent ratchet type tensionsers that remain on the fence, these are of course expensive but have the advantage, especially on troublesom short fence spans, of lending themselves to convenient future tweaking. My technique is to fix a short length, say a yard, of wire to the post and use the chain type tensioners between that and the fence wire. Using pliers I make a right angle bend about 6 inches from the end of one wire then lay the other wire over it and make an bend in it too. If I have remembered there will be two machine nuts of about 5/16 size (metric nowadays!) in my pocket and I thread one on each wire then bend one wire on the other and slide the nuts on the doubled wire and as close as possible to the join. Just bend up the wire to lock the nuts in place and snip off the surplus. Release the tension and if it moves more than about 1/4 inch it is too loose!

Like I said, I like to do the top wire first and use this as a straight line to dig all intermediate post holes, if this is a barbed wire carry a couple of old sacks to cover the wire where you are working. Put each post in but try to not have then actually touching the wire, if they do each post will slightly misalign the fence and there will be a visible curve in it.

When all the posts are in I fix that wire then lay out, tension and fix next and so on until the job is done.

Just a few things to remember, it is easier to make a straight fence and it is easier to keep tension on a long fence than a short one.

Your neighbours will be very impressed.

-- john hill (john@cnd.co.nz), July 06, 2001.

For cattle I use 5 strands of 4 barbed, 12 Ga. wire on 6' T-posts 14' on center and screw on wire stays. 5-6" treated corner posts., some times i set them in concrete other times I USE A 5 post corner with 2-4" horizontal braces and wire turn buckles. 3 winters ago we strung out 20,000 feet of barbed wire. Keep in mind to make your gates wide, at least 10' I like 12 foot gates. If you buy gates, they will be 3" short or your opening to accomidate the hinge, (9'9" = 10'). If you must use trees, buy the longest fence staples you can get and drive them on the diagonal to the grain of the wood, to prevent cracking. And keep in mind you can't tighten wire unlees it is on a straight run. I usually pull 400' at a time because I use a 3-post brace every 400'& we pull corner to brace & brace to brace. you have to run a string line to set your posts, every time you change direstion, horizontal or verticle you need a brace or at the very least a wood post. I set my wires at 6-8-8-10-10 using a 1x2 marked so when you are stepping the fence in to clip it off it stays pretty uniform. don't tighten too much but keep it tite enough so when the summer sun expands it you still have a tight fence. Fence with the wire on the side of the posts where the cows are so when they push on the fence they are also pushing agains the post.

-- Hendo (redgate@echoweb.net), July 06, 2001.

I agree High-tensil wire is far better than barbed wire and cheaper. If you could electrify the wire that is nose high that would help. If you don't have power on the property you could use a solar charger we have one and it works great. We also had a battery powered charger not worth the trouble to blow it up. Linda in Indy

-- Linda in Indy (peacefulvall3@yahoo.com), July 06, 2001.

I'm not clear from your post who OWNS the land that you'll be farming. If you own it, check your local zoning, the person who owns the cattle may be the one responsible for fencing the cows. If this is so, and the neighbour is unhappy about having to fence it, work out some kind of barter of materials/labour, and put the fence up together. Our neighbour's cows kept trampling on through our property, I've helped him run the herd back through the woods, hills and bush. There was one section through the rough country where they were getting in on us, he got the barbed wire, Dad and I and the neighbour put up a section of fence to keep them out. No cows, and friendly neighbours.


-- Chelsea (rmbehr@istar.ca), July 07, 2001.

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