When nature is allowed to work the way God intended it too, it works really well. (Imagine that!) As ranchers and farmers have become ‘more advanced’, the further and further away we have moved away from God’s design. People are learning more about what is really happening at feed lots and the horrific treatment livestock are enduring. Chickens being fed a slurry of feces and ground up dead chickens. Hogs that are fed the same crap in pens where they cannot move or see sunlight. Cows standing in filth often up to their hind ends. Each pumped full of antibiotics and drug cocktails all designed to keep them alive as long as possible because otherwise, each animal would die quickly. Even ‘free-range’ chickens are often kept in large cages that aren’t movable which kind of defeats the whole purpose of free-ranging chickens. (Chickens need to be moved around to find the bugs.) We can smell the feedlots before we ever even see them. This type of ranching is not self-sustaining, is harmful to the environment and to us as we consume meat that isn’t clean.
Ok I decided to write this for a few reasons... one because we made a lot of mistakes as we tested and learned about various methods (more on that later) of installing livestock fencing. Two, because our YouTube video is very popular on the subject but let's face it, sometimes you can't watch a video and you just need to read it. And three, sometimes it's easier to get a few more details on paper - so here goes.
Many a farmer, rancher or various hobbies in general need livestock fence. In my eyes, a livestock fence should be flexible for rotational grazing, secure so that animals escaping is never a concern, and affordable so that you are not going bankrupt.
Field fence and cattle panels with an electric wire on the inside provides a nice setup but you'd be broke getting 5 acres of field fencing up, much less a 15, 40 or 100 acre farm. Split rail fences look nice but they deteriorate quickly and really do not provide that much security. I remember as a kid, cows pushing boards off of Dads all the time and he would have to run an electric wire on the inside just to keep them off. Plus fencing 20 acres of split rail is only going to make the big box store rich, not you.
Enter the high tensile fence design or as we've come to install it low tensile but we will get to that. At its core, high tensile fence is a series of posts of various materials with a solid piece of wire running between them. It does not have to be electrified but that is often what it is. Upon completion, it will look like a rudimentary power line running down your field. The huge benefit is that it is by far the cheapest option to provide a flexible perimeter fence on your farm that is sure to keep most animals in.
Before we get started on construction of the fence know that at Iron Side Ranch we like electric fence. It allows us to rotationally graze our livestock within the permitter at our leisure, is safe, reliable, and creates a permanent psychological barrier for the animal that ours don't even test them anymore.
We've tested this fencing method with goats, cows and pigs. It will work on all of them with some training for the animals but cows and pigs are by far the most susceptible to the shock; which means this fence is designed better for them. It works on goats but they still manage to squeeze out and don't much care if they get shocked.
To start, we use 4"-5" creosote posts that are 8 feet long set down 3 feet in the ground. We just backfill the hole with the dirt we removed because it is certainly strong enough; concrete and gravel is costly. Corners, turns, ends and gates should all get at least one if not two posts. We use two posts on ends with an H brace and single posts for rounded corners sharp corners we use two. We add an additional wood post every 200 feet on straight runs.
Between these posts we purchase 1-1/4" fiberglass rod posts from Power Flex Fence and then use a 1 inch diameter 18" long auger bit for a power drill to set holes every 20 feet along our fence line. The fiberglass rods need no insulator but painting increases longevity and visibility which is important on road ways and for your animals. A metal T post driver works well for setting them and will not damage the post. The rods can be drilled but then the line has to be cut if the rod is ever damaged or needs removed. Not a huge problem but remember this line doesn't have any slack so splicing it can be a hassle. We wrap another piece of wire around the post and the friction keeps the wire in place vertically, making a strong and aesthetically pleasing connection.
Steel grounds out wires... period. Insulators break and pigs are notorious for breaking the plastic insulators, which then the fence is grounded and you have no voltage at all. We don't use any steel posts on our farm.
Once the fence posts are set, it's time to get your wire in place. There are a few options for attaching wire and we've tried about all of them. Most knots look ugly but they hold about as well as crimps do. One crimp is generally plenty but we always run a second and on parallel lines we bend the ends perpendicular to the lines to increase the strength of the connection.
The wire rolls weigh 100 pounds and come in 4000 foot wheels. Its a lot of wire and I dont care how strong you are, placing it over your shoulder and feeding line out is not an option. I've done and my entire neck and shoulder were black and blue. A quality Spinning Jinny is about $150 and the job can't reasonably be done without it.
Set the Jinny up at the end of your fence line and pull the wire out. This fence wraps corners but we've found it works a lot better if you just make straight runs and do each side of your paddock as a section. The fence will be tighter and repairs much easier. It also tends to make your corners stronger as the wires pull against each other instead of pushing in on the corner.
Going around corners the wire should be on the outside of the curve or the convex side. If you put it on the inside the wire will gradually pull at the staples. Secure the wire on one end of your line by using a knot or crimps. Now comes the frustrating part...
A simple error and you'll have to splice your line. Not a huge problem but it's certainly annoying. Count out wooden posts so you know how many insulators you'll need. The staples for these insulators are very important. Pound them too hard and you'll cut the insulator, ground out the wire, or worse yet make a weak spot in the wire. Not hard enough and the insulator will move which will again cause your wire to ground out.
The staple should be snug to where you cant move the insulator by hand but that the wire will still slide through (it does not need to slide easily a little friction is ok). I've tried a dozen different size and types of staples. 2 inch double barbed work the best but they're a pain to remove when the inevitable day comes you have to make a wire adjustment, and they tend to distort when you're driving them in a stubborn spot. 1 - 1/4" is the' absolute minimum I would go and we run ours with 1 - 1/2". Smaller staples tend to get pushed out when ornery animals press against them and large pigs tend to do that. Certainly more than 2" is overkill and troublesome to install or remove. Always use double barbed; barbless staples won't hold well long term.
Now it's time to attache a tensioner and springs. Personally we no longer use springs but occasionally we will put it on the top wire just to get a good feel for tension of the other lines and to keep from over-tightening the wire with the most force to move posts. Some ranchers swear by them but we've generally just found them to be unnecessary. The benefit is with damage from a storm they are less likely to break but I don't feel they add enough flexibility to truly offer a benefit here. Use them if you'd like but not a huge deal either way.
You cannot pull high tensile wire with a wire tightener like barbed wire. The slack in high tensile needs adjustments from time to time and there just isn't a good way to fasten everything to keep it tight after pulling. Purchase the tensioners from your local co-op. There are a dozen different types and we haven't found one better than another yet so get the one most affordable and buy the tool to tension them with.
A tensioner needs to be situated in the middle of a straight run and anything over 200 meters needs another one added to it. Don't tension two sections around a corner; it just doesn't work very well. There's too much friction on the line to pull well and the corners want to push in to the field instead of pushing toward one another as they would if you brought it to the opposing corner post.
Tensioned properly, the wood posts should not move but the wire should have a spring to it slightly looser then a guitar string. Too tight and your posts will move and the wire will be sagging within a day. Too loose is actually better which is why we nickname it low tensile fence. This fence is not designed to be a physical barrier and if you try to treat it as one, you will disappointed with the results. It is a psychological barrier with some physical properties. Come back out after 24 hours. If the line is still tight and the fiberglass posts are all in line now you've tensioned it correctly. If you pulled to tight the line will now be loose because the end posts gave way to the force.
In the event you over tighten (happens to all of us), you have a few options. I usually loosen the wires and use a tractor and come-along to straighten the end posts back out where you can use a bag of concrete to secure them better or put a dead man anchor on the other side. (The lines that come off the ground going to the top of a power pole are called a dead man anchor). Then you simply re-tighten the line with a little less force. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can't over tighten it if you put a spring on it's just as easy to do. Basically the goal is to tighten it to the point that the wire is smooth along the entire stretch but no more.
The last concern is the grounding. Grounding is what makes a fence strong. The electricity simply will not flow without good grounding. My rule of thumb is one ground rod per tensioner section on the wire. At the time of this writing I'm fencing a 5 acre paddock in the shape of a triangle, each corner will have tensioners for the line and a ground rod.
The way we connect them ties into our entire fence plan. All of our permitter fences have wires at 9 inches, 18 inches (for pigs) 30 inches (sheep and cows) 36 inches (ground) and 48 inches (predators or obnoxious cows). The 30 inch wire can complete a circuit if an animal touches it, but it is right at nose level for a cow. So in the event a cow tries to stick their head through the wire the 36 and 30 inch line complete the circuit without the grounding rod and really makes a monster shock on them. (Knocked me over when I hit it once.)
Electric chargers are not cruel. Its a momentary discomfort that keeps the cows safe from wondering into the woods or onto a busy highway. You have a responsibility as the caretaker to keep them safe, it is cruel to have a fence that doesn't contain them.
Lastly and most importantly none of this will work if you do not take the time to train your livestock to the fence. We have a training corral setup with various wires and posts that are used on the property solely to show the animals what they look like and what happens when you touch them. The training pen should be the hottest wires on the farm and should be pushing 8-10k volts from an approved charger. Properly trained, they will lose their motivation to test it, thus keeping everyone happy and safely inside their home area.
I'm a wife, mom of 3 wonderful children, homeschool teacher and loving ranching. After Mackay and I married, we've been steadily pursing our goals of having a self sufficient life and teaching others along the way.