Proper fencing is a must-have on any farm. Follow these guidelines to ensure a durable fence.
Fencing a farm can be a major expense, but if you consider the economic and replacement value of livestock, crops, game or farm equipment, it’s clear that you just can’t compromise on quality.
Installing a fence is much more complicated than simply digging a hole and putting a couple of poles in the ground. Tubby Hardman of TNH Fencing says good-quality fencing is an investment. Some farmers prefer to install their own fences, but in the long run, a reputable and knowledgeable contractor will save you time and money. “The farmer can rely on his expertise,” Hardman says.
The type of fence you decide to erect depends on the purpose and the budget. “The trend in fencing is away from barbed wire to safer forms of fences that can’t hurt animals or damage skins. Predator-proof fencing is also on the increase,” he says.
Electric fencing can easily be installed. The “shock” of the electric current in an electric fence causes no physical damage to animals. They learn to associate the “shock” of the electric fence with touching it. The principle is similar to barbed wire, but the electric shock is a much better deterrent and poses less physical danger for animals.
Farmers can install a conventional fence that isn’t electrified, a combination fence (a wire fence with offset electric brackets), or a fully electrified fence.
A standard stock fence is 1.2 m high and a standard game fence should be 2.4 m.
Proper installation of strain and intermediate poles is critical, as this forms the skeleton of the fence structure.
Next, move on to the Y profiles (a Y-shaped piece of metal with holes for feeding wires through) and standards. These increase the strength of the fence and stop wires splitting apart. Install the droppers last to reinforce the fence.
Hardman adds that farmers should install predator proofing at the base of the fence to prevent digging in. This could be a strip of mesh, a rock bed or a cement strip. “The weakest point of a fence is always at the bottom, so this is where it needs extra strength,” he says.
When installing poles, ensure that they are firmly in the ground, otherwise the fence could shift. Hardman explains that one of the most common mistakes is to merely fill a hole with cement to secure the pole. “You have to add concrete, but not at the base of the pole because space is needed for water to drain out,” he says. If the pole sits in a basin of concrete, it will rust.
Also read: How to plant poles sturdily in sandy soil
The thickness of the poles is also important. A 1.6 mm to 2 mm pole won’t last as long as a heavy-duty pole (4 mm or more). Don’t be tempted to use cheap poles, either. Rather pay a bit more for good quality.
Once the poles have been secured, wire has to be installed at the correct tension. “Over- or under-tension will mean too little or too much flexibility in the fence, which makes it ineffective,” he explains. Farmers can buy a device to test all wires on the fence to ensure equal strain.
Also read: A simple device to tighten slack fences
If the poles aren’t spaced at the correct intervals, the fence’s strength will be compromised. Install major-strain posts 200 m apart, intermediate poles at 100 m, standard poles every 10 m and droppers every 1 m.
Remember to attach markers to the fence – either silver paper or boards – to prevent animals running into them. “This is most important when you’re fencing new areas, to prevent injury and stress to animals,” he says.
Hardman says regular maintenance of fences is critical. “Without regular maintenance, farmers decrease the lifespan of their fences significantly,” he warns.
Maintenance starts with regular inspection, perhaps even daily patrols. Farmers should either do this themselves or set up teams to inspect perimeter fences and check for holes, breaks or other obvious faults.
The voltage of electric fences should be tested regularly, using a voltmeter. He says farmers often decide not to purchase this device which they tend to consider to be an unnecessary expense. If you don’t use a voltmeter however, it is impossible to know whether or not the fence is working properly.
Every 3 years fence poles, wires and Y-profiles should be painted with Quattrocoat to prevent rust. If the farm is in an acid-rain area, you have to be particularly meticulous about fence maintenance. If you don’t maintain a fence, it will only last about 15 years; with regular upkeep, its lifespan could be at least 25 years.
- Farmers should consider installing more than just perimeter fencing.
- Homesteads and sheds used to store expensive equipment and supplies should also be secured.
- Gates are a weak link in a fence, so it is important to ensure they are fitted correctly.
- Gates in an electric fence system can be conventional or electric.
- If conventional gates are used, it’s recommended that they are reinforced with live wires to prevent them from being used as rubbing posts by game or livestock.
- Only use good-quality materials, obtained from reputable suppliers.
- Obtain sound advice and use competent installers. Don’t be tempted to cut corners.
- Keep the fence line clean and clear of weeds and obstructions.
- This will make it easier for farmers to inspect the fence by vehicle and prevent fires jumping the fence and causing damage.
- Fires can also burn the galvanising off a fence, reducing its lifespan.
- If the area around the fence is not well cleared, it will reduce voltage and cause power losses.
- A clear fence will also be more visible to animals so they will be less likely to walk or run into the fence.
- A 3 m-wide strip on either side of the fence should be kept clear, and bushes, grass and trees be kept short.
Also read: Jack-powered device for pulling out poles
- This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.