Custom fencing professionals share best infrastructure tips
Keeping fences in good repair not only extends their life, but reduces risk of injury to livestock and reduces the chance of animals getting out on a highway or into a neighbor’s pasture.
Most permanent pasture fences for cattle utilize barbed wire, net wire or multiple strands of high tensile electric wire, secured to well-set posts. In some terrain, however, a jack fence is better than trying to set posts in deep mud or solid rock.
Pole fences need periodic maintenance to make sure no poles come loose, and poles often need replaced as the lifespan of a wood fence is 20 years or less. A properly built wire fence will last longer.
Jason Nelson, a rancher in southern Alberta, does custom fencing for many ranchers in his area. He says the key to a good barbed-wire fence is good braces.
In easy terrain on straight stretches without corners, Nelson puts a brace every quarter mile – at the end of every roll of wire.
He explains, “Low spots require additional braces to make sure the tight wire doesn’t pull up the posts. Often, when we go through a gully, we put a brace on each side, but with some we just put eight-foot posts through the low spot.”
With this practice, main wires can go straight across with additional wires in the low spot.
In some situations, Nelson hangs an anchor in the gully to keep the tight wires from pulling up the posts, and normally uses large diameter eight-foot posts that will hold well.
“I also use eight-foot posts for braces and a 12-foot angle brace and these hold very well,” says Nelson.
Wire spacing – and how many wires – will depend how big the pasture is, how much pressure there will be on the fence and whether there is a lot of wildlife pressure. Post spacing can vary, as well.
“With a typical four-wire fence we usually put posts every 12 to 13 feet,” Nelson said. “This is standard in range country, but in high-pressure areas some ranchers want a five-wire fence.”
Nelson uses barbed staples for attaching wires to wood posts. They stay in better and don’t pop out as readily as smooth staples if an animal hits the fence, he notes.
Wood posts last longer in dry ground and dry climates, but the biggest factor in how long a post lasts is the treat – to keep the wood from rotting – and the greatest risk area for rot is at ground level.
Moisture is not as damaging for wood posts as exposure to sunlight, oxygen and water – a combination that breaks down wood.
Nelson explains, “This is why a post should never be set deeper than the treated portion; the treat should extend at least two or three inches above ground after the post is set.”
Sometimes you can adequately repair or extend the life of an old fence by setting steel posts in between old wood posts that are starting to rot off. Metal posts may eventually rust but last much longer than wood.
Nelson often uses posts made of sucker rod with wire hooks welded on.
“These go through rocks very well and don’t bend easily,” he says. “We set the wires in the hooks and take a pipe wrench and give the post a quarter turn and it locks the wires into place. We often use these posts when fencing in frozen ground, because we can pound them down through frost – a lot easier than trying to set a wood post.”
Metal posts also work nicely when a fence must go through wet areas where it would be difficult to drive wood posts.
He shares, “I’ve done fencing through bogs and used seven-foot T-posts. They go far enough down to hit solid ground and hold.”
Dick Iversen of Timber Creek Ranch near Culbertson, Mont. has had a lot of experience building and repairing fences.
“We had a flood in 2011 and had to replace seven miles of fence on our river bottom place,” Iversen says. “Then, we had a fire a few years later and had to replace six miles of fence between us and the neighboring ranch, in rough terrain.”
He continues, “We use some temporary electric fence but also a lot of permanent fencing with 12.5 gauge high-tensile electric wire. We’ve used every type of post one can imagine, from oil field sucker rod to Insultimber from New Zealand, to wood posts and steel posts. We use a lot of single-wire high-tensile permanent electric fence, and some perimeter fence that’s two wires, though we generally use barbed-wire for the boundary fences.”
Iversen explains oil field drill-steel pipe is great for making braces in rough terrain.
“When we had the fire, the only thing that burned were the wood posts,” he adds. “The pipe posts did not burn.”
Iverson has replaced many deteriorated wood braces with pipe braces.
He continues, “With wooden H-braces, the posts often rot off or the horizontal pole falls out after about 10 years. The pipe post bracing system is cheaper, lasts longer and is easier to install.”
Additionally, he notes pressure-treated wood posts last longer than standard wood posts when an operation is considering replacing fence.
“There are a few companies that pressure treat and give a 40- or 50-year guarantee,” he says. “We’ve put in many posts that rotted off in five or six years, we have to get the right kind of pressure treat.”
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.