I live on a farm with cows, chickens and bees. We purchased the farm a few years ago. The property includes two main pastures mostly surrounded by 40+ year old fencing. The existing fence was a combination of electrified barbed wire, steel and aluminum lightweight wire, poly wire, and poly tape all hung on a mixture of wooden fence posts made from landscape timbers, t-posts, lightweight u-posts, steel pipe, and rebar. There are even a few panels of hog wire and field fencing.

This series of “posts” will cover all of the details I have gathered for installing high-tensile fence. I will include links to the blogs, videos, and online materials I used for my initial research and education. I will also share some of the tools and techniques I have applied. Keep in mind I did the project 100% on my own with no extra help, so yes it can be done on your own. A knowledgeable helper will most likely make things easier, but too many people (or non-knowledgeable people) will definitely slow things down. As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.

I highly recommend that if you can find a farmer in your area who has already implemented high-tensile fencing, that will be your best education. For me, I was able to meet with the farmer from whom we buy our grassfed beef each year. He was able to tell me about his experience with different types of fences, his techniques for HT, and local sources for materials (I had some trouble locating fence posts, but he knew exactly who to call). Also, there is a ton of online information – I found it to be of mixed usability.

This series will break down the process and tools into 6 phases (one post for each phase):

Step 1: Survey fencelines

Step 2: Project Planning

Step 3: Acquire materials

Step 4: Fence Installation

Step 5: Electrical Installation

Step 6: Troubleshooting

 

Step 1: Survey fencelines


No, you don’t need to run out and buy a theodolite and invest in surveying lasers. If you are like me, you live in a county that has a fairly sophisticated, publicly accessible GIS System in place. In the absence of that (if your county does not have GIS), Google Maps also works (though Google has backed out some of the most helpful features for fence planning- namely polygon shape measures). One easy thing to do is login to GIS (or Google Maps), enter in your address, choose the map layers which include property lines and aerial photos, and then take a screen capture (make sure you include the legend in your screen capture so you can measure relative distances). In Google Maps, you cannot view property lines, but you can get an image of your property.

Then in MS Paint or any other photo editing tool (I like Gimp, a free, open source variation on Photoshop), you can draw out the fence lines. I like to use the straight line tools because I want my fences to be made up of as straight a line as possible. Then using the legend as a guide, you can estimate the dimensions of your fence lines. [Note: This is actually what a fence installer did when estimating the job for us-he never walked our fencelines with a wheel gauge.]  The aerial photo also helps you identify treelines, roadways, and possible pasture subdivisions. You may already have figured out your subdivision plan, but if you are starting from scratch, GIS and the technique I describe here will definitely give you a sense for the scale of your project.

Next up, you’ll want to actually walk the fence lines. Using your pace count (see inset below) you will want to get a more precise estimate of the distances for each span of your fence. You also want to estimate how much prep work you should plan for. Prep work will include cutting any trees or branches  in your fenceline, brush cutting a width of about 3-6 feet on either side of the fenceline, moving any large rocks or other impediments, ripping out any old fence that may be in the way of the new fenceline, or in some cases sculpting the fence line using a bulldozer or other earth mover.

I really encourage you to prepare the entire pasture line in advance of building the fence. It is really frustrating to find that you missed one tree and then have to run back to the shed to get your chainsaw and other equipment, or worse that you need a dozer to move a boulder in your way.

Determining Your Pace Count

When I was in the Army, I learned a few handy land navigation techniques. One is the “Pace Count”. You want to establish a somewhat predictable number of paces that it takes for you to cover a fixed distance. To set your pace count, make sure to wear whatever boots you will wear while working the fences. For me, I wear knee-length Muck-brand boots. I like to use 100 feet for the fixed distance: it is easy to measure (using four lengths of 25 ft tape measure) and 100 ft is a common dimensiosn for fence post spacing. Start by marking your 100 ft span using a wooden stake or a big rock or something easy to find. Use your tape measure or some length of rope for which you know the exact length. Mark out 100 ft from your starting point to a finish line, marking the finish line similiarly. Now return to your start point. Take a calming breath and stand with both feet together at the starting point. Walk naturally towards your finish line, counting your steps along the way. Remember that number. Turn around and walk back to the start counting your steps along the way. Repeat a few times if needed. This will be your pace count. For me, my pace count is 40 paces per 100 feet, or 2.5 feet per pace. It is dead on (I have recalibrated with a tape measure). This will help in planning AND during execution as you install your fence posts.

Step 2: Project Planning

This step for me was the least fun part of the whole endeavor. But I definitely encourage you not to skip this step and run to Home Depot or Tractor Supply and expect to build a fence. I had to source materials from at least four different sources (based on price and availability, you may not be able to get what you want when you want it. Having almost all the materials on-hand day one was a big help to me. Also, having a gameplan allowed me to fit my fence-building tasks in with all my other farm chores (and did I mention I work a fulltime off-farm job).

Pre-work:  For me, one early planning task was to install work lights on my tractor and my Gator such that the lights were powered from a secondary battery (I chose these on Amazon for $18 per pair). Having work lights enables me to chip away at the project in the early hours before dawn, and more importantly into the evening hours after I read to my son.

Planning Process: My planning process for the fence project followed what has been referred to as the OODA loop- this is an iterative technique used by fighter pilots to make sure they continually assess and react to situations based on updated information. My learning about, and planning for, fence building definitely went through many iterations as I read, watched and experienced the process.

  1. Observe – learning about how fences are built. Reading, watching videos, and talking to as many farmers as I could. Even after building my first strand of wire, I evaluated my approach for subsequent strands.
  2. Orient – based on my learning, figuring out which techniques would work on our farm, with our mix of terrain and the ways in which we wanted to organize pastures and access points.
  3. Decide – making the final determination of “which kinds of fence strainers”, “how many fence posts”, “how to deal with different lengths of fenceline” and more
  4. Act – The act of planning is the creation of your project plan.I used Evernote to write down and record notes along the way (see this post where I discuss my use of Evernote and handwritten notes) . But I had one master Evernote notebook which included my notes for how I intended for each section to be layed out, how I wanted my braces built, how I would handle dip-and-rise posts. I also used Google Sheets to list all of the materials I needed to purchase. I researched prices on every piece of equipment from different vendors.

Research:

My research included many resources. Also note that there are many resources I intentionally did not consult, but you may want to (I include links to those as well)

As I performed my research, I kept copious notes in Evernote. Evernote has a useful “clipper” that you can add to your web browser toolbar. It can copy the whole page into Evernote, or just a hyperlink and you can add your own notes either way. You can also access your notes on any device (I used my smartphone numerous times during the first few hours of building). I keep all of the PDFs and links above in my notebook for ready access wherever I am.

In the next post I will detail out all of the various materials and tools used for HT fence installation. I will also share information about which versions of the products I use.

If this information is useful to you, or if you have questions, please leave me a comment below. And feel free to share this post widely. I spent a lot of time searching for information…hopefully these posts will server as your online index of High-Tensile fence information.

Step 3: Acquire materials

Step 4: Fence Installation

Step 5: Electrical Installation

Step 6: Troubleshooting

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