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Fences: The Most Underappreciated Farm Structures

No one (who doesn't live on a farm) really thinks about fences. They're just...there. Many times I have been out hiking in the woods, and I encountered, perhaps along a park boundary, a barbed wire fence, barely supported by rotting posts. We all have noticed the endless fencing along rural highways to keep the livestock off the road. SOMEBODY strung up those miles of fence long ago, and now we just take them for granted.

And so, when we were setting up our farm, I, in my inexperience, naively said, "Now, all we have to do is put up some fencing, and then we can get the animals." I was envisioning hammering in a few fence posts, unwrapping a roll of fence wire, and Voila! a fence! Two weeks, tops.

Oh, probably an experienced crew working full time could have done the job in two weeks, but we're not a full crew, we didn't know what we were doing, and we certainly didn't work anywhere close to full time. Tom ended up watching lots of YouTube videos and referring to websites and pieced together many construction techniques, and here's what we got from it all:

First, we had to plan the project, considering size, shape, and placement of the pasture. We thought about future expansion, connections to the barn, and pasture rotation so we could determine where to place gates, and how many we would need. Positioning corner posts was awkward since we were dealing with distances upwards of 400 feet...and all we had was a 25 foot tape measure. We didn't have sight lines from one end of the field to the other because of the gentle hills on the property and the excessive undergrowth.

Then, the corner posts went in. There are four corners, and each post was sunk three feet deep and secured with concrete. On either side of the corner post is another big wooden post (a brace post), with a horizontal beam between them. Wire is strung diagonally between the corner post and the brace post, and it's twisted up tight. Tom can explain all the physics of the tensions better than I can.

The gate posts (endposts) went in the same way: Dig a three-foot-deep post hole, put in the post, concrete it in place, dig a second hole eight feet away, insert the brace post and backfill, notch out the posts for the crossbar and wire it tight. We used five gates. Altogether, there are 27 big wooden posts around the pasture.

Between the wooden posts, we used steel T-posts. They were easier to put in, since they didn't require post holes, but the post pounder is heavy and the T-posts are numerous.

With the posts in place, it was finally time to string the fence wire. We used 100-foot rolls of 60" no-climb woven wire horse fencing. We had to splice several together to get a long enough length. Each join requires 16 crimps, since there are 16 horizontal wires.

The end is secured by stapling it onto a gate post and wrapping the end around the post, where all 16 horizontal wires are twisted around the fence so that there are no loose ends. Then the fence needs to be pulled tight before it's attached to the remaining posts. Tom used our (parked) truck and a pair of hand winches to pull the fence, then clipped it to each T-post (five clips per post)...

....stapled it to the other end post, and wrapped the 16 horizontal wires there.

Whew. It was a lot of work. It probably shouldn't have taken three years, but my original "two weeks" estimate was completely unjustified.

Our next step is to connect the pasture to the barn. Think we'll get the post holes dug before the ground freezes for the winter?

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