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What will a new fence cost this year?

Is building some new fence on your spring to-do list?

If the answer's yes, but you're still waffling on what type of fence to build, Iowa State University Extension ag economist William Edwards can help. He recently released some new data on costs for construction and maintenance for some common fencing types -- woven wire, barbed wire, high-tensile non-electric wire and high-tensile electrified.

"Fencing costs are one of the most expensive aspects of livestock grazing. The type of fence constructed greatly impacts the cost per foot, total cost, and annual ownership cost. In addition, the shape of the paddocks affects the amount of materials needed and labor required for construction of the fence," Edwards says. "The type of fencing selected varies by personal choice and the species of livestock to be confined. In general all configurations shown can be used with cattle, woven wire and high-tensile electrified can be used with sheep, and woven wire can be used with hogs."

Edwards worked up the cost for materials and labor to construct a straight quarter-mile section of each type of fencing. Costs of materials were based on 2011 prices provided by retailers in Edwards' state of Iowa, then adjusted for 2012. Labor costs, based on last year's Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey, added up to $15.05/hour for woven wire fencing and $16.25 for barbed wire.

A straight quarter-mile stretch of new woven wire fencing will cost $2,553.31, or just shy of $2 per linear foot. That takes into account the following inputs:

  • 4 8-inch wood posts ($28 apiece)
  • 57 4-inch wood posts ($9 apiece)
  • 55 6 1/2-foot steel posts ($5 apiece)
  • 10 pounds staples & clips ($1.80/pound)
  • 1,320 feet 12-gauge barbed wire ($0.06/foot)
  • 1,320 feet woven wire ($0.70/foot)
  • 42 hours labor ($15.05/hour)

What about barbed wire? It's a little less expensive than a woven-wire fence to build and has about the same average lifespan of around 20 years, Edwards says. The estimated $1,947.75/quarter mile cost of a 5-wire barbed-wire fence takes into account the following:

  • 4 8-inch wood posts ($28 apiece)
  • 57 4-inch wood posts ($9 apiece)
  • 55 6 1/2-foot steel posts ($5 apiece)
  • 10 pounds staples & clips ($1.80/pound)
  • 6,600 feet 12-gauge barbed wire ($0.06/foot)
  • 39 hours labor ($16.25/hour)

High-tensile wire fencing, whether electrified or not, can be less expensive to install and have a slightly longer average lifespan than barbed or woven wire fencing if installed correctly, Edwards says. Non-electric high-tensile fencing should cost just over $1,600/straight quarter mile, taking into account:

  • 6 8-inch wood posts ($28 apiece)
  • 65 4-inch wood posts ($9 apiece)
  • 10 pounds staples ($1.80/pound)
  • 8 springs ($7 apiece)
  • 8 strainers ($3.50 apiece)
  • 10,560 feet high-tensile wire (2.5 cents/foot)
  • 32 hours labor ($16.25/hour)

Electrifying a system like this one adds a lot of specific pieces to the process, but cuts some of the labor time, making it it almost $500 cheaper to put up, Edwards says. And, despite adding insulators, an energizer and cut-out switch, you'll need less wire, trimming that item's cost by about $100 per straight quarter mile of fencing.

"The high tensile electrified fence uses five strands of 12.5 gauge high tensile wire with three charged and two grounded wires. Bracing uses three 8-inch diameter posts and two 4-inch diameter cross braces on each end. With the exception of brace posts, steel 'T' posts spaced 25 feet apart are used. One quarter of the cost of an electric energizer is included in the cost of the 1,320 foot fence, assuming that such a unit would be used to energize at least a mile of fence," Edwards says. "Wire tension on this fence is maintained with springs and ratchet type tensioning devises."

In a head-to-head comparison, Edwards found high-tensile electric fencing to have the lowest annual maintenance cost and depreciation. "In addition to the initial material, labor and construction costs, owners need to determine depreciation and maintenance costs required over the useful life of the fencing," he says.

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