Some insight on fence building

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

Let’s take a light look at fences for livestock or garden, and otherwise.

Fences can be decorative, such as a nice Virginia split rail, or functional, to keep cows and livestock under management.

A fence is a barrier that encloses an area, usually consisting of wood or wire, and connected by posts. It is used to keep livestock from roaming wild, and can also keep other animals out, such as in an orchard or berry patch. (1)

Fences can also be large, upright obstacles, such as hedges, for use in steeplechasing, or stone walls used in fox hunting.

A fence in this case is not an informal dealer of ill-gotten goods, hiding in shadow.

Fences can be self-made or a professional installer may be sought, to build fences on farms or land.

Fence building always incurs some amount of risk to self.

Tools are sharp and dangerous, as are the materials used.

Electric fences are one type of utility fence for livestock, they must have a main power source to hook up to, and the unit requires a ground and a direct connection. (2)

Good electricians never get shocked, but working around electric fences, wires, gates and testers I always seemed to get zapped, giving me an unwelcome surprise to make sure I’m awake for the day.

Barb wire is sharp and can cut, and high tensile is so strong under tension that if it snaps, it can put your eye out or send you to the emergency room.

We’ll look at some safety tips for good fence installation even though I know people still do some of the no-no’s, (as I have myself.)

Farm equipment and tractors are dangerous. If clearing brush or felling trees, don’t go alone. Have a helper and a cell phone, and do not overload the tractor with big, heavy logs or branches, especially if it doesn’t have a roll bar. Those things can flip over backwards in the blink of an eye.

Do not wear ripped or torn clothing with holes or shreds, (old Arnold Palmer) and do not wear loose clothing, either, as all of this can get caught in the PTO or auger, etc.

Arnold used to joke that if his shredded coat sleeve got caught in the PTO, he would just make a vest out of it.

Do not use fire to clear brush, it is always dangerous, fire can leap out of control or re-ignite at the most inopportune time. (My sister.) You’ll have 17-House blocking your view of the smoke plume.

Fire also kills the tiny ecosystem of living things that goes on at the root level of grass and plants; glow-worms and other beneficial larvae live in the tangled undergrowth on a sub-terranean level.

They actually eat and dispose of leaf cuttings and grass, etc.

Besides, what duffous would install wooden fence posts first, and then light a fire? (I saw the warning in the book, so someone somewhere must have done this.)

Do not install fence during a lightning storm.

Here’s one for me: Don’t steady a fence post with your hands while someone else pounds the T-post with a sledgehammer.

Also, stand back when swinging a sledge hammer, do not allow your legs or feet to remain in the arc of the swing, and just like baseball, keep your eye on the- -- post.

Never stretch high tensile wire with a tractor, it can break unexpectedly and anyone and anything will be in serious trouble in the wide swath of lethal whip-like destruction of wire. (3)

That leads back to the old saying of "going haywire"- - I’ve seen real haywire, on bales of hay.

Don’t carry fence staples around in your mouth, your mama wouldn’t approve. Use a pocket or bucket or tray, it can work.

Obtain a good electric fencer and controller, get a nice metal grounding pipe, and keep the cats away from the fuse box or circuit breaker at the barn.

Male cats who spray urine are a fire hazard at electrical boxes and outlets, the chemical combination causes live flame ignition, and this goes for in the farm house, too.

Spay your cats, fix ‘em today, and they won’t spray.

Always regard as probable that wire will swing and snap and wiggle. The whipping action of barbed wire, electric wire or high tensile will happen as sure as the sun will rise. (4)

I shouldn’t have to tell you to always wear eye goggles or other protection when clearing brush, using an auger in the dirt or breaking up rock in the post hole, hitting T-posts with sledgehammers, or hammering staples into hard wood.

Wooden fence post may be chemically treated, so use gloves, that’s what real cowboys do.

They work great for rock-picking and brush-clearing, too.

When lifting heavy items, such as large stones or heavy rolls or wire, always squat and lift with your legs, to avoid back injury. (5)

A flat wheel barrow is a handy item that can be used to haul tools and lay the roll or fence wire on as you work down the line.

Before you charge off, sledge hammer in hand, to begin the construction of your fence, make a little plat map of the designated area.

Use some graph paper, with the little squares, and in pencil, start to draw your idea. Use a ruler and sketch your proposed fence line, at about 1/4 scale. (6)

Think of where the gate should be and where animals may walk or run the most, and how many total gates for the area. Gate posts and corner posts are important, and think in terms of 6 foot or 8 foot increments on fence line.

The measurements will have to be shortened or lengthened to fit, and from there, estimate how many of each type you will need; corner, brace and line.

You should calculate how many fence boards, fence rails, or bales of wire will you require.

Barbed wire always comes in bales, and pasture lands are often measured in rods. (7)

You can pretend to be a real cowboy, gloves and all, as you measure the number of rods along your fence lines.

A rod is 16 ½ feet in length.

Draw on your graph paper and get an idea of what will take place out on the land.

This can help you calculate how many posts, rails, staples, or plastic T-post wire holders, bales of wire, and gates will you need.

Get a working knowledge of your paper fence, and then take the drawing outside and walk the fence lines.

Place survey pins or stakes at corners and gate marks, watch your symmetry, and proceed in full-scale fence sections. (8)

Be self-critical and look for defects or get a partner to help.

When this looks good, get a mason stringer and place it between gate marks. Driving stakes and using the mason’s stringer can give an idea of straightness between gate posts and corner posts.

Make sure all brush is gone, along with any other obstacles.

Ask for help, or hire a professional.

Even if you only want the professional to review your plans and survey, ask about pricing and estimates for consult, as a courtesy. (9)

Knowing the local soil types is useful, also, along with weather patterns for your area.

Feed mills often sell barbed wire, and even might have some advice.

We’ll look into some various types of fencing, such as picket and Virginia split-rail, in some upcoming editions, along with types of wood, such as Poplar, White Oak or Hemlock.

Going back to my long winter’s nap, I’m not counting sheep jumping over my fences, as I close for this week to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1: Webster’s Dictionary

2-9: “Country Wisdom & Know-How, Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land,”

Storey Books Editors, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York