“Good fences make good neighbors.” From Mending Wall by Robert Frost
If you were to ask my husband, he would tell you that the ONLY kind of fence is a good fence. That means it should be:
In other words, “horse high, bull strong, pig tight.”
Building such fences is no easy task, especially in any area that is not completely level. With wire fences in particular, getting them tight enough means the wire must be under tension. On an incline, the wire has a tendency to lift the fence posts out of the ground. Corners suffer from the same problem. The tension in both lines meets at a right angle in a single corner post, which makes the corner post want to fall over toward the center. Thus the need to make corners with H-braces and brace wires. Sometimes you also need an anchor to offset the pull.
Spacing is another key element in building good fences. If your posts are too close together, extra materials and labor are required. Too far apart and the fence is not as strong. The general rule of thumb is one post every six to eight feet. Closer spacing is used in soft soils. You may also want closer spacing in soils that get or stay wet. If you’re fencing in a bunch of rambunctious young bulls, go with six feet. Young bulls – well, bulls in general – are very hard on fences. All those pushy-shovey fights for dominance… Old railroad ties or telephone poles make really good posts for corrals and corner posts for bull pens.
If there is a single aspect that is overlooked by novice fence builders, it’s post depth. Rule of thumb: longer posts need deeper holes. In most cases, that means a hole one-third to one-half of the post height above ground. If you want six-foot posts above ground, your posts should be eight feet overall. A few years back, some folks down the road put up a solid vertical board fence eight feet tall. They put the posts in about a foot deep. Every time we have a high wind, big sections of the fence are flattened. These folks are slow learners – they’ve rebuilt that fence at least four times.
In addition to depth, filling the post holes properly is critical. The goal is to pack the post hole so tightly with rocks and soil that you have no leftovers once the post is set. That means a lot of upper extremity work tamping in the stones and dirt. It’s hubby’s boast that when he builds a fence, he usually has to bring in extra dirt and rocks to fill the post holes.
Gates are the frosting on the cake for a good fence. Properly placed gates make it much easier to move stock. A cow moving along a straight fence will walk right past an open gate in the middle. A corner gate, on the other hand, funnels the cows right through it. All you have to do is apply pressure from behind. Gates that swing either way give you more flexibility. Many ranchers like wire gates (colloquially known as Texas or Portagee gates). As I explained in this post, they have many advantages. In corrals, metal or wood gates work better.
The other point is that good fences mean less friction between neighbors. The lady next door is apt to be a mite touchy about your milk cow going over to eat her prized roses. Not to mention – especially if you live near a highway – that your stock won’t get hurt or cause accidents. Good fences do make good neighbors. Equally important, good neighbors build good fences.