Letter Re: Observations From Fence Building

Dear Mr. Rawles:
As a Texas rancher, I understand the difficulties associated with fence building and repair. Too much fence building in a short amount of time will run off a good ranch hand. Mudflap’s comments about proper clothing and hydration when fence building are right and should be given attention. We use twisted smooth wire (no barbs) for horse pens but to contain cattle, barbed wire is necessary. Good gloves are essential. Pigskin gloves are very barb resistant. You will be nicked by the barbed wire, so stay current with tetanus shots. Every vehicle on my ranch has a set of fencing pliers and other fence repair items because I have discovered many small repairs over time to be much easier than waiting for things to get so bad entire fence sections need rebuilding. Many small repairs over time is also much easier than continually tracking down stray cattle.

Six wire barbed wire fences are stronger and seem to function longer than those with fewer wires. They also catch more tumbleweeds and blowing debris which in high wind conditions can bend T posts. We go on tumbleweed patrol during sustained wind conditions. I can walk across the prairie and maybe see one rattlesnake but let me work on a fence and they are everywhere. My wife was bitten by a rattlesnake a few years ago and almost died. After that, we got really serious about rattlesnakes and wear pistols in flap covered holsters at almost all times when doing routine ranch work, and at all times when fence building. Flapped holsters are a must in our windy and dusty climatic conditions. They also protect the pistol against wear and damage and help preclude loss, especially when on horseback. Sure these holsters are slow but so is a dirt clogged weapon and where the wind blows almost all of the time, a weapon can clog in one day. Graphite rather than oil helps reduce dirt problems. Blowing dirt also causes magazine feed problems so we use flapped holders for them as well. We disassemble magazines routinely for cleaning but I digress.

Many fencing problems are caused by not placing rigid poles (steel pipe, creosote dipped wood, or cedar) at intervals in a T post fence. We use six to eight inch oil field pipe either driven into the soil with a ram or set in concrete both at low spots to keep a tight fence from pulling the T posts up, and on ridges which seem to be weak places for wind and animal caused shear forces.

We take extra time with T post clips to ensure both ends are securely wrapped around the barbed wire. This causes the wire to be pulled up tightly against the T post. It can be tedious but I believe greatly improves the integrity of the fence. Western union and other type splices can work with barbed wire but I have found that pairs of high tensile crimp style tube splices per wire splice to be more trouble free in the long run. Tab through the photos to see how these are crimped. A well built fence (and it must be surveyor straight – vertical T posts with tops all aligned) will always need less care than a shoddy fence.

At every point where a barbed wire fence changes direction we use six to eight inch pipe braces set in concrete. Such a brace consists of an eight foot long vertical pipe at the point of direction change (three feet buried in the ground) flanked by similar pipes on either side in line with the old and new fence directions. The three vertical posts are connected by five foot runs of horizontal pipe welded a foot below the tops of the vertical pipes. A front end loader is essential because these size thick walled pipes when welded together into a brace, may weigh a thousand pounds. Wooden posts are easier to work with and steeples easy to use, but nothing lasts like thick walled oil field pipe. We wrap several turns of a short piece of barbed wire around the vertical pipes leaving two wire ends, one about two feet long and the other four feet long. The shorter free end is wrapped tightly around the the longer end. The fence stretcher and splices are then used to connect the free end of this wire to the long run on down the fence line. This is the only way I have found to ensure taught wire runs using when metal pipe braces. We strive to get it right the first time.

A good quality fence wire stretcher is also important. T posts can be difficult to pull out of the ground if a fence line is being moved. We use a T post puller T-Post Puller. Everyone should have a Hi-Lift Jack and they work well with a post puller, but if I’m moving a line of fence, we usually have a tractor with a front end loader on site so I chain the T post puller to the front end loader in order to pull up the posts. The loader bucket is also a good place to store the pulled T posts. The higher on the T post the puller is placed, the less chance of bending the post.

I hope these comments help. The only thing I like about fence building is the end of the day. – Texas Rancher