December 2014
Howle's Hints

Keeping Things In and Out

Instead of centering the post in the hole, place the post at one hard edge of the hole. This reduces the amount of surface area that has to be tamped, and it gives your tamp bar more room in the hole.  

"Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up." – Robert Frost

There’s a lot more satisfaction in putting up a new fence than there is in mending an old one. There’s a fresh neatness to the look of a brand new fence. Fences are great for keeping things in or keeping things out. A lot of us fence builders on farms across America would be willing to donate our fence building skills and time to put up a solid fence along the U.S./Mexican border, especially with the new threats we face from overseas and the credible evidence we now have of their entry through this poorly protected border – but I digress.

Whether you are building a barbed wire fence, horse fence, field fence, dog fence or chicken fence, fence construction follows a few simple rules of physics. First, all corners need to be braced well to avoid pushing posts inward or having the wire sag. Second, all posts need to be deep in the ground to allow strength while stretching the wire and support from livestock that might push against the fence. Finally, plan a strategy so the fence is not only strong but neat looking as well.

Post Placement in the Hole

When you are planning to tamp posts tight in the ground, you can save time with your tamping if you place the post in the hole next to one side of the hole. The side touching the post will be hard packed ground, and you have less area to tamp tight around the post. You can set the posts in cement, but this is impractical as well as expensive.

Instead, having a front end loader bucket full of creek gravel mixed in with the soil around the post will allow a tight-set post. If you don’t have access to creek gravel, it may be worth having a load of gravel such as crush and run or other crushed stone that can be shoveled into the hole as you tamp the post tight.

Level Before You Shovel and Tamp

Once you drop the post in the hole and begin tamping the first couple of inches, keep a carpenter’s level handy to get the post straight up and down. It’s important to level the post in the first stages of tamping, otherwise, the post will be too tight and difficult to straighten. It only takes a short amount of time to level the post in the first stage, and you’ll be glad you did once the fence is complete and all posts are straight and perpendicular to the ground.

  Pouring cement in a tire placed around a metal T-post can secure the post when the fence goes across areas of slate rock. It takes about 1/8 of a cubic yard of cement to fill one tire. One yard of cement will complete eight cement posts.

Concrete Can Serve a Purpose

If you are blessed with hard, slate rock in unforested areas of your pasture, putting up a fence can be a challenge. Sometimes you may hit hard, slate rock you can’t even bust through with a 16-pound, sharpened tamp bar. If it’s virtually impossible to break through rock on longer sections of fence, you can actually use concrete to help set some of these posts.

My Dad came up with a technique where he would drive the metal post as far into the rock as he could go. Next, he placed an old car tire around the post. Finally, he poured cement in the tire surrounding the base of the metal post. It takes 1/8 of a yard of cement to fill one tire. Once the cement sets hard, we found the posts were then solid and tight enough to hold six tight strands of wire in place securely. Over time, the cement can rust the post, but you will have years of problem-free service with this section of fence.

Chicken Fencing

Certainly the most inexpensive way to contain chickens is with the use of chicken wire supported between posts. However, you also have to have solid entrance doors or gates going into your chicken run. About the cheapest way to create a predator proof entrance into a chicken pen is with the use of skinned, pine posts.

Simply cut some pine timber as big around as a standard post and peel the saplings with a draw knife or a garden hoe that has been straightened out. You can then slice the post in half lengthwise with a steady hand and a chainsaw. These pine slabs can be attached to two parallel 2-by-4s evenly spaced at top and bottom, and attached to the post with heavy-duty hinges.If you get truly skilled at fence building, you might want to consider using your talents to help create a secure southern border fence for the United States as well.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.