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Tips For Building A Fence

One day, early last spring, I backed my truck out of the driveway and ventured off for another day of work. As I headed out, I noticed a few shadowy figures at the end of the drive.

It turns out, some of our bigger calves had all of a sudden realized the winter coats that they were still hanging on to were working as a perfect barrier for the electric fence between their home and mine.

Naturally, I was running late and – seeing how the calves were in the yard, plenty content and a good distance from the road – I saw no issue with letting them have their freedom until I returned. When I got back, I lowered the fence and ran them right in. With a sense of accomplishment and feeling like a pretty good ol’ cowpoke I ventured inside.

When my wife got home, things took a turn.

The flowers, plants and landscaping she had worked tirelessly on the previous weekend were destroyed. Plants were chewed down to nubs, flowers uprooted and mulch scattered everywhere. Needless to say – and it should have been done long before – it was time for a more permanent fencing solution.

Fencing isn’t the most glamorous job to do on your land. It’s time consuming, tiresome and monotonous. But a good fence will do a lot more for you than just save you some grief. It ups the property value of your land, having good fences. It gives your property a good clean border. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, it keeps your cows, horses, sheep or anything else you may have where they belong a lot better than a single strand hot wire.

There are countless types of fences. You have your privacy fences – great for circling your yard – panel fences, vinyl fences, barbed-wire fences, wooden fences and much, much more. They can be decorative or conventional.

For my project I knew right off the bat I needed a barbwire fence. Barbwire is a staple of cattle ranches and farms and for good reason – it’s effective. Growing up I had helped Dad build miles of fence as he picked up new properties here and there. Anyone who has run livestock on the same property where row crops are being grown knows the importance of a good fence.

The first step to a good fence is getting good, square corners set. The corners of the fence are the foundation. If the corners are set properly, you will have a fence that will keep tight wires for years and years to come. When I was a kid, we always used hedge posts for the corners. You can find hedge posts in various sizes in about any old fence line or timberline. It adds an extra step finding ones that are big enough, straight enough and then cutting them out. But, if you are able to find them and cut them yourself, you can save some money.

For our fence, we used railroad ties for the corner posts. If you have ever crossed railroad tracks, you have seen the large wooden beams on which the steel rails are held. You can find them stacked up in the parking lot of just about any farm store. That’s where we got ours. The railroad ties work like the hedge posts, but they are manufactured, so the square look gives your fence a little bit of a nicer appearance. That was the main factor for us using them in our fence, seeing as how it borders where our house is. A fair warning, though, they – like any corner post – are very heavy. Using a tractor and loader to move them is a good idea. If you don’t have one of those on hand, call in some favors and get some help from your friends.

Any corner in your fence will need three corner posts – the actual corner post and the first post going each direction. Once you get the hole dug, hopefully with the post-hole digger and not by hand, you can drop the post in. Use a level to square it up and then you can start tamping dirt around the post until it is solidified.

A brace post between the corner and the first post going each direction will solidify the corner. Running a nine-gauge wire diagonally between the posts and twisting it with a stick or pole will give your corner extra support and make it last even longer.

Once the corners are set, the really hard work is over, and the tedious work begins. I recommend running your first wire before putting in T-posts to ensure your fence ends up as straight as possible. Once you have the guideline up, you can drive in your T posts. A post driver works fine, but a tractor and loader is welcome, especially if the line is very long.

With all of your posts in, you can then run as many wires as you like. Most of our barbed-wire fences are five-to-six wire lines. It mostly just depends on how mischievous the animals on the other side of the fence are. Use a fence stretcher to get the line good and tight. After that it’s just a matter of clipping the wire to each post using T-post clips on the line posts and steeples for the corner posts. This is the most maddening part of fencing because you are so close to being done and it takes forever. You are doing the same exact thing, over and over, on every single post. The payoff, though, is more than worth it.

All of the time, effort, money and work you put into its fence will pay for itself in increased property values and a general lack of headaches caused by mis-behaving bovine. 

While I was putting in time on the fence after work each day, my wife, bless her soul, reclaimed her landscaping. It looks great and, thanks to my fence, it will continue to make her happy and give our house a nice accent for years to come.

by Seth Herrold