Fixing fences before snow falls

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by Courtney Llewellyn

While much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic enjoyed a rather moderate autumn, winter – and all its frigidity and bluster – will be here soon. One of the many things farmers can do to prep now is check their fence lines. It’s much easier to be proactive in early December than it is to be reactive in early February (usually the coldest month of the year). 

Building a fence, no matter which design, requires sturdy materials, proper construction techniques and common sense. A team from the University of Tennessee consisting of Michael J. Buschermohle, professor, agricultural engineering; James B. Wills, professor, agricultural and biosystems engineering; and W. Warren Gill and Clyde D. Lane, professors, animal science wrote “Planning and Buildings Fences on the Farm” to assist farmers in best practices for fence building. 

Attending to fence repair issues before the snow accumulates will help ensure an easier, safer winter for you and your livestock.
Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

They noted that corner-post and end-post assemblies are the backbone of the fence, because a properly tensioned high tensile fence puts a tremendous pull on these assemblies. Corner and end assemblies must be strong enough to withstand this force. Some producers have literally ripped their corner- and/or end-assemblies out of the ground while tightening wires because the posts were set too shallow – so check them before you tighten things up. Note that while wooden fence posts can be driven in the ground or tamped into place, a driven post is 1.7 times as strong as a tamped post.

If wire needs to be replaced, be sure to string it on the inside of the posts or on the outside of curves. Drive the staples slightly off the vertical so they straddle the wood grain. Also, drive staples at an upward angle into posts in dips and at downward angles into posts on rises.

When it comes to tensioning wire, the University of Tennessee crew recommends wearing heavy gloves and eye protection for safety. Fencers should tension each wire to 200 pounds with a ratchet inline strainer or tightener. More tension than that not only damages the wire but may lift the fence out of the ground in gullies. Using a ratchet also allows for seasonal adjustment for temperature changes.

“Planning and Buildings Fences on the Farm” lists the following as part of a regular maintenance program:

• Keep the fence wires properly stretched. Fences naturally loosen over time or with seasonal changes. If tighteners are placed in the fence, check at least twice per year. Splice broken wires when necessary.

• Repair or replace anchor post assemblies whenever they show signs of weakness. Refasten loose wires to posts.

• Old woven wire and barbed wire fences which have deteriorated enough to need replacement can be restored to last for many more years by running an electrified wire on one or both sides of the fence through offset brackets.

• Use herbicides or manual clearing to keep weeds and vines from covering fences. Grass and weeds touching an electrified wire can ground it and make the fence ineffective.

Additionally, the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada – which is situated in prime lake effect snow country – offers these pre-winter fence maintenance tips. All fence lines should be cleared of overhanging branches, trees and vines. Clearing behind the fences will also help to prevent inconvenient maintenance after an ice storm or heavy snow fall.

The biggest issue with electric fencing in the winter is ensuring the lines are tight and not shorting out at any points. If you can hear a snapping sound or see flashes of light coming from the fence, you have a short.

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