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Equipment Hub: Making ‘good fences’

Andy Overbay for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 June 2020

Good fences make good neighbors. Good fences also serve as “curb appeal” for your farmstead. I sometimes find myself in the unenviable role of a farm business analyst and, frankly, one of the first observations I make about the future prospects of a farm is the state of its fences.

Why? Good fences are expensive. Good fences require a good bit of work or a good bit of investment – and, finally, good fences do not stay “good” forever.

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There are a number of fence-building tools on the market that can help you build and maintain a good taut fence. Fencing tools, like the fence itself, can be expensive and, therefore, it is wise to do some homework and invest wisely.

Probably the most popular fencing tool is the fencepost driver. Drivers come in a variety of sizes, strengths and mounting configurations. The driver you select will have a lot to do with your personal situation, but there are some common considerations.

What is the lay of your land? One thing I notice is: Most post driver promotional materials are shot on land that is perfectly flat. That is not always the case on many farming operations that build fences to control grazing animals. In fact, one of my fine colleagues once described his land as “steeper than a horse’s face.” Folks … that’s pretty steep.

So one thing to look for in a driver is versatility and ease of adjustment. This can be done on the driver itself, or you might consider adding a hydraulic link on your tractor’s hitch. Drivers mounted to skid-steer loaders or front-end loaders can readily be adjusted, but there still may be some rotation needed to place a square blow to the post.

Your land may also help you determine the force you will need to successfully place posts. My dad’s mantra was a simple one: Bigger and heavier is better. He modified his post driver by adding about 2,000 pounds of steel knockouts to the boxes (which were about 4 feet deep) on each side of his driver. The result was: Two to three drops would drive most posts. On the negative side, the extra weight was hard on the latches that secured the driver, leading to some misfires when in use. In other words, under no circumstances did the person setting the post physically hold the post when he was preparing to drive it.

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No one wants to sit there all day driving a post, and I have seen drivers that would ruin the top of a post by repeatedly striking it without actually driving it. That said, safety is the number one feature to look at when selecting a driver. Our driver had (note the word “had”) a door that held the post in the driver while it did its work. With the added force and the intricate angles our driver worked under to squarely drive a post, the door was soon history, and our post retaining system became a round pointed shovel. (The shovel, by the way, became our measuring stick for post height.)

Safety isn’t exclusively a feature on the driver. A friend and I were discussing drivers recently, and he remarked that while it wasn’t ideal, having a driver mounted on the front of his tractor saved a lot of sore backs and necks when compared to a rear-mounted driver. I would have to agree. Not only does it reduce fatigue of the driver operator, I believe it adds to the safety of all involved. Being able to see what the driver and those helping are doing with a clear view is never a bad thing.

While I have never owned one personally, I could see why many of our area’s professional fencing crews utilize skid-steer-mounted drivers and augers. Versatility and visibility only add to the productivity and safety of the entire operation.

Once the posts are driven and the wire is unrolled, front-end loaders and skid steers can be used to place tension on the fence as well. Fence stretchers can be connected to the bucket or forks, and the fence can be raised or lowered on the posts using the booms.

Fences can be over-tensioned, so don’t go crazy pulling the wire. You can hand tension the wire, but one advantage of tensioning the entire fence at once is: You are setting a constant tension on the fence from top to bottom all at once.

Properly bracing the fence is imperative to a strong fence with a long life of service. Good fence braces are what I think of when a high school physics student asks, “When am I ever gonna use this?” Braces require:

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1. Strong bracing materials (wood or steel)

2. Correct brace wire placement and tension

A good taut fence should be trying to jack the end post or corner post out of the ground, so that post should be braced at the top and the wire drawn from the bottom of that post to the top of the next inner post. You may or may not be surprised how many fences I see braced backward.

Again, forethought and safety need to be exercised. If you use a piece of wood to twist the brace wire into a turnbuckle, make sure you are close enough to the brace that the brace will serve as a stop or scotch when the tension is set. A neighbor was once pummeled when he released a brace wire tightener. The stick struck him hard enough to break his jaw.

Even if you hire all your fence construction done and never build the first foot of fence yourself, you do need to keep tools on hand to maintain your fence. Wire tighteners, fencing pliers and a good hammer go a long way toward maintaining your fence and to increase your farm’s visual appeal.  end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

Andy Overbay
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