Fencing Tips and Tricks

When Dennis and Birgit Boelk found 16 affordable acres near Kalona, Iowa, the first thing on their mind was not fencing. But moving in next to Amish farmers with inquisitive animals made property-line fences a priority.

Dennis is in the fencing business, so he wanted to try several different types and styles. He struck a deal with his neighbor; he provided materials and the Amish farmer installed the fence. They mutually decided on woven wire as a barrier to hogs and sheep with an electrified wire on top to keep the huge draft horses from leaning over the fence and breaking it.

Fences can be both practical and attractive. Here are some types of fences, along with fencing tips and tricks to help you get started.

Barbed wire and woven wire

Barbed wire is used for large stock. Woven wire restrains smaller animals such as sheep and swine. Many livestock fences have woven wire on the bottom and one or more strands of barbed wire on top. The posts for wire fences are wood or steel. Corner posts need to be braced, and wires need to be tight.

Construction costs for a commercially installed woven and barbed wire fence range from 90¢ to $2.50 per foot, depending on the spacing, type of posts, and the kind and number of wires.

For example, alternating wood and steel posts 12 feet apart with five barbed wires costs about $1.30 per foot to be custom installed. A fencing crew with skid loaders, hydraulic pile drivers, and ATVs to unroll wire might install 2,000 feet in less than three hours.

High-tensile wire

High-tensile wire fences are gaining in popularity because they are easier and less expensive to install than traditional wire fences. You still have to set the posts, but the wires are tightened with a small winch that stays in the line. Many high-tensile fences have electrified wires to restrain livestock.

You can install these fences yourself with inexpensive equipment. If you hire it done, it will run from 25¢ for a single wire on wide post spacing to $3 per foot for nine wires (three hot on one side and four hot on the other). You can put in a high-tensile fence for $1 to $1.50 per foot, depending on post spacing. Some people set posts as wide as every 100 feet and put stiffeners in between, while others want posts closer together. Professional fencers use hydraulic pile drivers to drive posts and special carts to unroll many strands of wire at once. Driven posts are more stable than those set in a dug hole.

Coated high-tensile wire

A popular variant of high tensile is one coated with a highly visible and attractive white vinyl. It's called horse wire. For $2.50 per foot you can build a horse fence of five wires.

Vinyl fence

Vinyl is attractive and excellent for horses. These are the most expensive fences, but when good materials are chosen they have a long life. Putting in a vinyl fence should be done right. You can do it yourself if you're handy, but vinyl is less forgiving of construction errors. About $5 to $7 per foot will get you a standard three-board vinyl fence.

Dennis and Birgit used a vinyl look-alike that is made of three high-tensile wires connected by a solid white vinyl web. It's cheaper and easier to install than rigid vinyl, but can wrinkle slightly when installed on uneven ground.

Specialty fences

For specialized uses, you may need unique fences. Chain-link fences enhance security. Corrals for large or dangerous animals may be built of highway crash guards, pipe, sucker rods from oil wells, and thick lumber and railroad ties. It takes strong muscles and heavy equipment to put these fences in, and most people hire it done. Costs vary widely depending on the type of construction.

Construction tips

Make sure your materials suit your environment. Untreated wood posts will rot in damp soils. Soil types that don't conduct electricity well may require the ground system on your electric fence to be specially designed. Constant strong winds can blow debris and dirt against a panel fence and break or bend it. Wildlife frequently damage wire or lightly-built fences.

In some cases, special construction techniques are advised. "If you build a fence with a curve in it, be sure to set the posts in the curve in concrete so they can resist the pull of the tight wire," Dennis says. When going through a low spot with a tight wire fence, several extra-long wooden posts are necessary to keep the fence from being pulled out of the ground by the taut wire when the soil is damp. If you paint wooden posts, Dennis recommends using an oil-based primer followed by two coats of latex paint.

Before you build

Most states have laws that define a legal fence. Some states require you to fence part of the property line between you and your neighbor. It might be your responsibility to fence unwanted livestock out. Check with your local zoning office or your attorney. In some states, if you refuse to build a required fence, the government can hire it built and bill you for the cost. And, you may be required by law to notify utilities before digging or setting posts that might damage buried wires or pipelines.

Total costs can be substantial

Let's say you have 40 acres. Fencing all the way around that area can run from as little as $1,350 for one wire to as much as $37,000 for a three-board vinyl show fence. A good traditional wire fence will cost you about $9,000. A high-tensile barrier can run up to $8,000. This assumes the area is prepared and you don't have to remove trees or brush or level the land.

Should you build it yourself?

Here are some factors to consider. Contractors can usually buy materials in bulk much more inexpensively than you can. Do you have the time, tools, and labor? Study up on fencing techniques before you start. Take a look at professional fences in your area. Do your research close to home so your fence fits your soil type and laws. As for labor, it is much easier to build a fence if there are two or more people to unroll wire, set posts, and fasten the wire.

Equipment for the do-it-yourself fencer ranges from hand tools sold in garden shops to hydraulic post drivers and power takeoff-driven post augers. Many power tools can be rented. Hydraulic post hole augers rent for $40 to $80 per day.

Powered fencing equipment can be dangerous. Posts being driven can snap or splinter, and wires being stretched can break and coil back like a scythe. Be careful.

Building a fence is not a complicated construction project. Whether you build your own or hire a contractor, a little forethought will ensure you get the fence you want for the price you want to pay.

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