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7. Fences, part 2

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Fencing is never done.  Never.  You’re either building new ones, repairing old ones, maintaining existing ones, or modifying current ones.  The best fence in the world only serves its purpose if you maintain it regularly.  Multi-strand electric fences have to be tightened, adjusted, have the weeds and storm debris cleaned off, and occasionally replaced when a substandard wire rusts away.  Field fencing needs tightened occasionally and some weed and debris control done to it.  Posts may need replacing or re-secured.  Its always something. 

Even today I’m working on fencing; subdividing one of my paddocks into two smaller paddocks to provide me with greater freedom in planning different forages.  I want the open pasture to rest longer and establish forage better, but I want the goats to browse the woodland area on the northern corner of that paddock. Yesterday I went back to my cedar stand and cut a dozen more posts to get me through this project.  It was 94* and humid.  30 minutes of chainsawing had me drenched in sweat from my hairs down to my toes.  Soggy underwears are the worst. That’s off subject though. My point being, and a common theme throughout my journey, there is always more you can do to improve your situation.  I have two well developed paddocks, but it can be even better and provide better forage for my livestock.  So now I’ll have three well developed paddocks with higher potential. 

I guess I should have led with in my previous fencing post the type of fence I have going on.  For most of my perimeter fence I use an 8-wire electric fence.  The bottom 2 wires are hot wires, and then the remainder of the wires alternate between hot and ground wires.  I have a charger that puts 7kV on the line.  That’s quite a snap and a good snap is required for goats.  Goats are also the reason I have such a robust fence.  Goats are notorious escape artists.  My fence started out as a 6-wire electric.  Within 10 minutes of adding my second pair of goats and before I learned the tactic of fence training, the goats walked through that 6 wire fence like it wasn’t even there.  I was …..shocked.  I spent 30 minutes chasing them down and then the rest of the day adding 2 more wires near the bottom.  I also built a “catch pen” with hot wires on the inside.  I built it out of woven wire fence to prevent them from walking through it, but since it was small and had hot wires inside the goats we able to get a quick education on what 7kV does when you hang out close to it.  I now have well educated and respectful goats.  And I would be happy to help you sharpen your learning curve if you need advice.  

One of the most aw-inspiring fences I have seen is a stretch of cross buck fence out in rural Alabama on a large property that borders the Chattahoochee River.  It is over a mile and a half of 5 foot tall crossbuck fence constructed out of treated 2×6 lumber and 6×6 posts.  It is beautifully constructed in a very well planned manner running through wooded, hilly terrain with ease.  But…its been up for a couple years now and has never been surface treated.  The wood is becoming weathered and will soon need pressure washed before it can be coated, if that’s the goal.  If not, another 5 years and it will be a gray, grainy, cracked wooden fence.  The cost of this fence well exceeded 20k in material.  Why on Earth would someone build that fence if they weren’t going to care for it?image

I digressed again.  Fences need upkeep for as long as you are going to use them.  Its a good idea to have, what I call, a fence box.  In my fence box, made from a Rubbermaid container, are all sorts of insulators, wire tighteners, lighting arrestors, electric fence warning signs, crimps, split bolts, fence pliers, and odds and ends that I use on my fence.  After a big storm or after several weeks of neglect, I load the box into my tractor bucket along with the weed eater and hedge trimmer and head out. I’ve found out that the hedge trimmer does a great job in clearing out large swaths of bush from the fence line.  I don’t just want to cut the growth off the fence, I want to cut it back a couple feet to give me more than a few days before it needs cleared again.  My fence line is my property line, and on the other side of my fence is abandoned woodland.  It grows up in all sorts of a raging mess and really puts the weed pressure on my electric wires.  I’d love to turn the goats out into it but don’t think I’d ever get them back. My luck would be that the neighbor has a secret pot farm out there and either me or my goats would end up shot.    

So the hedge trimmer, yes, great investment.  I have an Echo brand hedge trimmer attachment.  I recommend a commercial duty one because if you get out into the bush where your fences are running, you’re going to be clearing some pretty thick stuff and one of those Box Store hedge attachments isn’t going to cut it.  Literally. I found out that the cheap attachments actually have plastic parts inside the gear box.  They’re fine if you’re cutting Boxwood leaves in your landscape.  Not fine if you’re hacking up 1/2 inch bramble and limbs. 

Fencing once again is a big deal and something that is going to take up more of your time than you ever expected.  Unless of course you have a small situation going on in a completely cleared and flat area.  I drive by a small-scale homestead several times a week with a 1/4 acre horse pen near the road.  Its neat.  Neat as in appearance.  Its a really attractive fence with solid corners, 4 evenly spaced electric wires, nicely done corner insulators, and t-posts for the line posts.  Even though I’m not a t-post fan, they look good.  The pen looks good. And I can tell by the looks of, its a really low-maintenance situation.  But, its really low cut turfgrass and way too small to do any kind of useful grazing in.  I’ve also never seen an animal in it.

So fellow homesteaders out there, you know what I’m talking about when it comes to fence work.  Aspiring homesteaders out there looking to get into livestock, be prepared to work hard for your fence.  If I had to do it all over again, I would probably opt for woven wire field fencing instead of an 8 wire electric. I’d run 2 hot wires inside the fence, near the bottom and one at top.  That’s for goats now.  Anything sturdy enough to keep goats in will keep a cow in, and probably a horse too.  Keep your pastures developed well and you won’t even have to turn the electric wires on unless you have predator pressures.  Until next time.  

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