Published in the June 2007, edition of the Western Horse Review.
BY CHAD WAKEFIELD
There are many types of horse fences out there these days, all in various states of repair or disrepair. Fences not only make good neighbors, they also keep your animals safe, protect your property and allow for good pasture and animal management. Having a fence that is strung too loose or too tight is a hazard.
There is an art to tightening a barbed wire fence and not one that can easily be taught with a step-by-step process. It’s a matter of trial and error. Hopefully with this step-by-step process you can eliminate some of the errors that normally occur.
1. Make sure you have a properly built brace on your fence. In a barbed wire fence, all the tension occurs at the braces. Because of this fact, you must have a 4x4x8 or treated land-tie, or four-inch rail as top board to create a brace for the rest of the fence line. I use eight-foot corner posts for my brace and I might use a 6×8 brace post for strength. A brace is notched between the two posts, not just nailed on top.
2. Look at your terrain. If you have flat land the fence tightening process will be different from hilly terrain. With hilly terrain, check the wire at low spots first, because if they are too tight, posts will pull out of the ground.
3. Know the ground under your fence line. If it’s solid, you can tighten the fence more than with soft ground. If it’s soft, tightening your fence too much will pull posts out of the ground. In the case of an untouched hay field, you’ll need longer posts – seven or eight-feet– since the ground will be soft and won’t hold posts as well.
4. Check your posts carefully. Sometimes a post looks fine, but from the ground down, it’s rotten. It’s a good idea to check each post. Maintaining a barbed wire fence is labor intensive. If you’re only doing a quick visual check of your fence line, you’re not properly maintaining it.
5. Ideally you should be using #9 galvanized wire (or stronger) to build your brace – the foundation of your fence line. If you’re using barbed wire for brace wire, you need to have a stick in the wire, at the brace point, to tighten the wire and keep it tight. You can use the other wires and brace to hold the stick in place and tight. This will allow you to increase or decrease tension in the wire as needed.
6. You may have to add a splice into the fence if the wire has been loosened by an accident or age. Make a loop with one end of the wire by bending it backwards and twisting it back around itself. Then take the opposing wire, loop it through the loop you just created, bend it back again and twist it back around itself.
What not to do
1. Some people use their hammer or fencing pliers to pull the wire tight at each post and then hammer the staple in all the way to keep the wire tight to the post. By doing this, you take away all the give that a barbed wire fence should have to be safe and effective. It weakens your fence line.
2. Many people use spring ratchets sold as barbed wire tighteners; this is what I use. But you’ll see people set up at the end of a fence line, ratcheting in the wire until it can be plucked like a bow. If barbed wire is too tight, then it loses an important element: the give. When your horse backs up against the fence, it should have some give to it. If it’s too tight, it will break, causing problems for you and your livestock. Tightening your barbed wire fence line is a big job; it’s not just a matter of ratcheting in the wire a few notches.
3. An engineer might tell you that having a diagonal board at your brace will make it stronger, but this isn’t necessarily true. As mentioned before, the tension is on the top of your posts and therefore you need a top, horizontal brace and not a diagonal plank for a strong, properly built brace.
• Wear safety glasses!
• When pounding posts, be aware of your surroundings and if possible, acquire some training regarding how to use the post pounder properly.
• Wear safety footwear, long sleeved shirts, jeans and sturdy gloves.
• If you aren’t comfortable seeing the sight of your own blood, you may want to call a professional. If you’re fencing longer than five minutes with barbed wire, you’ll get a scratch or two.