As the Keyboard Clicks...
The Collected Writings of Lori Roets Valone
Fence Maintenance


Orginally published in Salt Block Gazette, April 2008

Better Safe than Sorry - Common Sense Fence Maintenance

by Lori Roets

Driving up to your farm, you casually count the noses in your pasture as always.  Uh-oh…must have miscounted… better count again.  That sinking feeling starts growing as you realize a horse is out.  A gaping hole in the fence line indicates the probable escape route.  Now you have both a horse to find and a fence to fix to prevent others from following their pasturemate.   With a little common sense preventative maintenance, this scene could be avoided.

 

Jay Thomason, owner of A Farm Hand (www.afarmhand.com), advises there are three considerations in any equestrian project – including fencing:  safety, aesthetics, and budget.  First and foremost, all work must be designed and performed to insure the safety of both horse and human.   Second, the work should not detract from the overall beauty of the property, and third, the work should seek to minimize the total cost of ownership. 

 

There are many types of fence in use today for equestrian properties.  The most frequently used types are wood, vinyl, wire mesh, hi-tensile and electric, but there are many other variations available, all requiring some degree of maintenance. 

 

The most common source of fence damage is farm equipment.  Tractors, mowers, brush hogs, bobcats, even weedeaters – all can take their toll on fence lines.  From a cracked board to bent wire to downed lines, the fence is going to come out on the losing end of the machine / fence collision.  Taking care when operating equipment near fence lines can save time and money in maintenance. Use caution with weedeaters to avoid chewing up fenceposts while cleaning fence lines. 

 

Greg Williams of General Timber (www.generaltimber.com) provides several common sense steps property owners can take to help safeguard their investments, regardless of fence type. 

 

Inspection is the first line of defense.  Riding or walking the fence line every other month is a best practice to ensure all sections are intact and secure.  “Rather than relying on memory”, says Mr. Williams, “take along a roll of highly colored ribbon tape and use it to flag any areas found to be need of repair, making it easier for the repairer to locate them.”  In addition to regular, planned full fence line checks, feeding time provides an excellent opportunity to scan the visible sections of the fence line daily. 

 

“Another common sense tip is keeping weeds under control along the fence line through weed eating and the application of an herbicide such as Round-Up”, says Mr. Williams.  “First, it helps improve the visibility so problems can be more easily seen, but it also helps reduce the moisture the fence is exposed to.”  Moisture leads to wood rot in posts and rails, as well as rust in wire fences.  And for those with electric fence, weeds can be even more of a problem – in many cases short-circuiting an entire line. 

 

Mike McCarthy, owner of Hunter Fence in Aiken, South Carolina, suggests shaking posts while inspecting to check for signs of loosening or rot, particularly at the frost line.  “Weed eating provides another great opportunity to check the security of posts and fencing materials,” he says.  “Rails – whether in a wood fence or as a sight rail on another form of fencing – are typically the first to go.”  Most wood posts, if properly prepared and installed, have a life expectancy of 20 or more years. 

 

The most common forms of wood fencing, such as 3-rail, 4-rail or crossbuck fencing, generally require the boards to be nailed or screwed to the posts.  Greg Williams of General Timber recommends checking the rails periodically for signs of warping or excess knot loss, both of which reduce the structural integrity of the fence.  Any compromised boards should be replaced promptly.  Additionally, scan for any nails or screws which are backing to make sure the boards are securely attached.  Mr. Williams also advises, “Fence styles are available which do not require the use of any nails to hold the rails place.  These types of fences are some of the safest and most maintenance free fences available”. 

 

To protect the integrity of wood fences, fence posts and sight rails, fence coatings are a good option.  In the Carolinas and adjacent areas, most coatings can be applied every 3-5 years to reduce the harmful effects of weather on wood.  More frequent use may be desirable to maintain the original beauty of the fence.

 

Newer fence materials – such as vinyl or plastic-coated treated timber – have been developed to help reduce required maintenance and improve the look.  Steve Carson, owner of Palladium Wood Products (www.palladiumwoodproducts.com), advises with plastic-coated timber fence little more than periodic washing or pressure washing is required to eliminate the growth of algae.  Interestingly enough, Jay Thomason of A Farm Hand tells us, “Algae does not actually grow on plastic or vinyl fencing itself, but on the dirt that sticks to the fence”.  While algae will not weaken a plastic-coated treated timber or vinyl fence it does reduce the beauty.  Washing is generally sufficient to restore the original look. 

 

Some forms of fencing – such as electric tape or rope, hi-tensile, or certain types of vinyl fencing – require re-tensioning to maintain their structural integrity.  Over time, weather, sun and weeds will create sag in most types of individual strand fence lines.  Of course, retensioning will likely also be required should large debris – such as a tree limb – fall on the fence line.  In some cases the retensioning can be done very easily by hand through the use of barrel splice type connectors.  Other fence systems – such as the more traditional electric wire fence – use spoolers and tensioning devices.  Wire mesh fences rely on the proper tensioning at installation time as it is not possible to retension this type of fence.

 

Electric tape and electric rope fencing is subject to more UV damage than other types of fencing.  Conductivity in these types of fencing is provided by small metallic filaments woven into the tape or rope.  As the sun beats down on the fence, these small metal pieces become more and more brittle.  Ultimately, what results is a “dead spot” in the fence line through which the electric current will not pass.  When this occurs it is necessary to cut out the bad section and splice in a replacement piece to bridge the gap.  It is, therefore, important with any type of electrified fencing to use a fence tester regularly to make sure electricity is being conducted on all lines all the way around the property. 

 

Jay Thomason of A Farm Hand recommends adding a single electrified strand to any type fence as a way to help protect the integrity of a fence line.  Horses quickly learn to respect an electric line and bad habits such as rubbing, leaning, and cribbing will be cut down, resulting in less overall maintenance to the primary fence.

 

Fence maintenance can be summed up with an old familiar saying:  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  Be observant. Act at the first sign of a potential problem. Taking of advantage of the time already spent in pastures, coupled with good common sense, can significantly reduce the time, cost and effort required to protect your fence and your horses.