Monday, May 23, 2011

Fencing Season

Every inch of fence needs to be checked after the winter snows go.

As the snow goes, the fences emerge or rather the lack of fences emerges.  In the high country of Colorado and here at the ranch, fencing “season” begins early and goes through the summer.   Fencing begins as soon as the snow melts, the water dries up, and the ground becomes dry enough that as you tighten the wires on the fence, the posts won’t pull out of the soft ground.  Every inch of fence must be inspected, spliced (the two broken ends are tied together) where needed, tightened and stapled back to the posts whether it is along the road, up steep hills, through brush or in the roadless back country. In snow country, there are lots of breaks, sagging wire, and pulled out staples just due to the weight of the snow.

In Colorado, fence guidelines state that cattle must be fenced out, horses fenced in, and sheep herded.  This means if you don’t want cattle on your property, you must build a legal fence to keep them out.  If you own a horse, are responsible for building and maintaining a fence to keep them off other people’s property or off the road, and because sheep can go through a legal fence, if you can’t build a fence to keep them in (usually with a woven wire that has fencing going both vertically and horizontally) then they should have a sheep herder with them.  A legal fence is three wires with a post set ( the bottom foot and a half or two feet of a post is packed into the ground to give the fence strength and stability) every twenty feet sufficient to turn any horses and cattle with gates equally as good as the fence.  Any fence that can turn any horse or cattle as efficiently as a “legal” fence is deemed legal also; electric, wooden, plastic, etc.
Horses, which  have thinner more sensitive skin than cattle, don’t push fences as hard as cattle so it doesn't take as strong a fence keep horses in.  On our ranch, however, all our fences are built to hold cattle because we rotate cattle among all our fields.  We build our fences with a minimum of four wires with set fence posts every 12 feet with stays (light weight posts which are nailed to all the wires of the fence for the purpose of keeping the fence wires straight and  tight) between the set posts. Where we have a lot of pressure on a fence due to weaning, our fence is five to six wires and the set posts are 10 feet apart with steel posts set between wooden posts and stays between those.  Strong fences are important to good range management and for keeping the cattle secure and safely off the roads. 
While these posts were completely covered by snow, the top wire didn't have as much snow weight as the lower wires.
While all the wire needs to be tightened, the number of wires in the fence which needs to be spliced is determined by how the fence came to need repair.  A fence which only has snow load may or may not be broken but will definitely need to be tightened because the wire will be stretched by the weight of snow and the staples holding the wire to the posts popped out.  The wires which are above snow level or close to the top of the snow will be somewhat tight while the lower wires will be stretched and sagging or broken.
Fences along the road will have all four wires sagging, some wires toward the top may be broken and the posts will be pushed inward, away from the road. Fences which need repair because wildlife, in our case elk, are going over and through it, will have the wires tangled because some animal had caught it with a foot, stretched it and when it snapped back into place it became tangled.  Sometimes just the top or two top wires are broken.

For most of our fences along the road or where ever we can get with the tractor, we can use the tractor to carry our supplies and tools in the front end loader.  We carry extra posts, a tamping bar (a heavy metal bar for pounding dirt tightly around a post to make it stand straight), a shovel for digging the post hole, fence stretchers, fence pliers, staples, a roll of wire and, of course, leather gloves to protect our hands.  If  the fence is in a place where we have to walk in or ride a horse in, then we carry the fence stretchers, staples, and loops of wire, the handle of the shovel becomes the tamping bar, and hopefully we won't have to set new posts. 
This an efficient way to carry the wire and be able to unroll the right amount as needed.

The fence stretchers bring two broken ends together by placing the wire in the clip and using leverage to stretch the wire tight.  The fence pliers were an multipurpose tool invented prior to the leatherman.  They have wire cutters, the pointed edge for pulling out staples, the other side for pounding in staples, and a wire cutter edge between the handles.
The staples are built to hold the wire to the wooden posts.  When you buy them, you must know how long you want the tines to be.  

We make splices by making a loop in the end of the wire, put it in the vice at one end of the fence stretchers and the other end slips through the loop.  When we've made the fence as tight as possible, the wire which has come through the loop is folded back on itself and wrapped around so it doesn't slip.  The fence stretchers are then removed.
We expect to fix fence every spring but usually once the fence is fixed, it stays up until the heavy snow takes it down the next winter.  There are a few places in the late fall when the elk begin to migrate where the fence must be put back up and this too is expected.  The most frustrating fencing issue; however, is when people drive through our fences.  We, like many ranchers, find out that someone has driven through our fence when the neighbors call to tell us our cows are out on the road.  It gets expensive in materials and time to repair the damage done to our fences.  Sometimes, people let us know when they’ve gone through our fences right away and either come to help us fix the fence or buy materials and pay us for our time to fix the fence and we certainly appreciate that.  Because we live on a curvy road, we have many people going through the fence down by the gate to the meadow.  In the last 18 months, there is one fence post that Jim has had to reset seven times, the last three times have been once a week for the first three weeks in May.  Of the seven people who have taken out the fence and that post, one died at the scene, two were hospitalized with serious injuries, one with minor cuts and bruises, and two ended up in jail.  I’m thinking of painting the post red and putting up a sign that says, “Hitting this post could be hazardous to your health or freedom.”
The truck entered down by the 4 wheeler, straddled the fence for 200 feet, went into the field and came out at the at the upper end.

Luckily, our neighbors, Larry and Maryann Sasak, came by with their post pounder.  It saved us from having to set all those posts by hand. 
The pounder is put onto the back of the tractor and as the PTO turns, it drives the heavy metal down onto the post and pushes it into the ground.
The fence is back up except for the stays.

 It looks like fencing season will be a long one this year, it is still too wet to get to much of the fence in the high country. 

No comments:

Post a Comment