Letter Re: Advice on Versatile Pasture Fencing

Mr. & Mrs. Rawles,
Following the guidance in your “Rawles on Retreats and Relocation” book, I. recently bought a 20 acre retreat in southeastern Oregon that backs up to BLM land, with some good ground for pasturing [livestock].(But most [of it] is too rocky for cutting hay.) There is an old fruit/nut orchard with some amazing big trees. (It is half of what was originally an 1880s homestead.) There is both a well and spring. The spring only puts out 1.3 gallons per minute, but I plan to have it fill a big cistern that I’m soon to be building. We might be able to get a [grazing] permit on the [adjoining] BLM land. I’m not sure what sort of animals we will be getting (sheep, cattle, or whatnot). We might also get a horse.

The property has some old falling-down fences (three strands of old rusty barbed wire). I’m planning to rip that out and start fresh. What would you recommend for fencing that’ll “do it all”? What kind of posts, and [at] what spacing? What is the best way to stretch a fence [to proper tension]? Do you like tube-type gates?

Thanks for your blog and books. They’ve put me on the true path to self-sufficient style living. Enough skating, on my part: My 10 Cent Challenge [voluntary subscription] payment for three years will be arriving soon, in silver coins. You’ve earned it! Thx and God Bless You and Your Family, – Phil in Oregon
JWR Replies: My personal favorite for versatility is 47″ tall variable mesh woven field fencing, tensioned on six foot heavy duty studded T-posts that are spaced 10 to12 feet apart. This will give you a fence that will hold sheep, some breeds of goats, most cattle, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, horses, mules, and more.

In my experience, used, creosote-soaked railroad ties work fine for H-braces, anchor braces, and corner braces. To tension the diagonal wires for the H-braces, I prefer to use ratchet tensioners, rather than the traditional”twisting stick” windlass arrangement. Be sure to wear gloves to avoid skin contact with the creosote, which is toxic

When building a fence in rocky soil, a seven foot long plain digging bar with hardened tips will be indispensable.

If you get into an extremely rocky portion of ground along the intended fence line, you can construct above-ground “rock boxes”–the type that you’ve probably seen in eastern Oregon. These are cylinders of woven wire between 30 and 40 inches in diameter and four feet tall that you will fill with rocks anywhere from fist-size to bowling ball-size. Because the fence will have to be tensioned, make sure that side of the rock box that will contact the main fence wire has no rock tips projecting through the wire mesh that might hang up the main fence wire as it slides by, during tensioning.

Horses, in particular, tend to be hard on woven wire fences. Especially in small pastures, they’ll often lean their necks over them, reaching for grass on the other side. You can add a “hot” wire at the top of the fence that is energized with a DC charger. (Such as those made by Parmak–like we use here at the Rawles Ranch.) In anticipation of grid-down situations, a solar-powered fence charger is best.

I do like steel tube gates. If you strap on (or weld/braze on) some woven wire or a hog panel, the gate will become “sheep tight.”

For the best security, you should mount the hinge pins with at least one pointing upward and one pointing downward. Otherwise, an intruder can simply lift a locked gate off of its hinge pins. You can also tack weld the nuts onto both the bolt threads and the gate’s hinge sleeve assemblies to prevent them from being disassembled.

Tensioning a woven wire fence can best be accomplished with a 48″ “toothed” bar to hold the woven wire. These can either be bought factory made, or custom fabricated in your home welding shop. But for those without welding equipment, here is a simple expedient that can be made with wood, carriage bolts, and chain: Cut a 52-inch long pair of 2x4s, and install a row of protruding screws down the length of one of the wide sides. Drill a row of shallow holes in the other board, to accept the screw heads from the other board. (Like the teeth on a commercially-made bar, these screws will evenly distribute the stress on the full height of the woven wire.) Drill through holes and position 6″ long 3/8″-inch carriage bolts through both boards at both ends. Sandwich the woven wire between the two boards. Attach chains to the carriage bolts, and then connect the chains to a “come-along” (ratchet cable hoist). If no large trees are available as an anchor for the tensioning, then the towing hitch receiver on a parked large pickup truck will suffice. Proviso: All of the usual safety rules when working with come-alongs apply!

I am confident that most SurvivalBlog readers heeded the advice that I gave on May 19th. Pardon me for being repetitious, but this is important:

“Of immediate concern is that the increased wholesale price of steel will soon work its way down to the consumer level. So if you are certain about any fencing projects at your retreat in the next two or three years, then buy the materials in advance. (Rolls of woven wire, rolls of barbed wire, smooth wire, T-posts, staples, et cetera.) Consider it part of your Alpha Strategy.”

This same advice or course applies to tube gates and modular steel stock panels. The increased cost of diesel fuel for trucking and galloping steel prices may soon work together to double or triple the retail price of heavy and bulky steel items such as tube gates and stock panels. (And, as I mentioned before, gun vaults.) If you find that you have “missed the boat” on price increases in your local area, then shop for a used gates and panels, by placing a newspaper or Craigslist want ad. As I’ve written before, the clock is ticking.