11 Ways to Save Money on Livestock Fencing (Without Sacrificing Quality)
Bottom Line Up Front: It's important to prioritize quality when building a fence for your livestock, but there are ways to alleviate some of the expense. Good planning and an understanding of suitable alternative supplies can help you keep your fence project costs down.
Building or even repairing fence line can be a pricey endeavor. You should construct your fence with the idea of containing and safekeeping your livestock, so it is important it is done correctly. A good fence, while potentially expensive, is a wise investment that will keep your animals safe and should last many years.
I always say DO NOT CUT CORNERS. No shortcuts in putting in fence for your livestock. A few dollars saved today could result in disaster tomorrow with a failing fence line. But is there any way to save some money without sacrificing quality? I believe so. Here are my tips on how to do just that.
1. Careful Planning.
This is all about efficiency through planning. If you take your time and carefully plan out exactly what you need, you will be less likely to spend money on unnecessary supplies. Measure twice and cut once is the old adage, and it is especially true for fencing. Make sure you have all your measurements done accurately. Sketch out your fence line to include braces, gates, and fence posts. This will give you a visual representation to look at before you get started and give you a sense of what your project will look like when finished. Then list out specifically what supplies you need. Visit my previous article about steps for planning your fence project.
A good fence, while potentially expensive, is a wise investment that will keep your animals safe and should last many years.
2. Sales Tax Exemption.
If your operation is more than a hobby and you sell agricultural products to generate income, then you may be eligible for exemption from sales tax on certain products. The rules may differ from state to state. In Texas where we are located, you can apply for a sales tax exemption number through the state comptroller so long as you are "farming or ranching for the purpose of raising agricultural products to sell." Fencing materials fall under the list of exempt items here, as I'm sure they would in most states. But do not abuse this! If your operation is a hobby, then you should not pursue getting this exemption.
3. Wait For the Sale.
If you are in no rush to get your fencing project completed, then finish your project planning (Tip 1) to determine your list of necessary supplies, and then just wait for a sale. Tractor Supply Company is the local farm supply chain store in my town, and they often have sales. It's just a matter of being patient and checking prices on a regular basis. Couple a sale price together with a sales tax exemption (Tip 2), and the result can be big savings.
Note: TSC's rewards program is called the Neighbors Club and offers periodic 10% - 15% off all in-store purchases for its members. Also, TSC has a military appreciation sale twice per year (normally 4th of July and Veterans Day) that offers 15% off all in-store purchases for active duty military and veterans.
4. Grants and Fellowships.
You might be able to fund part or all of your project by getting money via a grant or fellowship fund. This likely won't be applicable if your farm is a hobby, but if your operation generates income you can apply for all sorts of funding as a business. When it comes to fencing, a common funding source is the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP offers financial assistance to agricultural producers to address natural resource concerns, and one of the areas EQIP will help fund is fencing. But be aware it's only for cross fencing that would help promote rotational grazing. EQIP pays based on predetermined rates and is intended to be a cost-sharing program with the operator.
There are many programs out there that offer funding. Check with your state agriculture office to see what grants or other funding assistance they offer. If you're a military veteran I recommend looking into the Farmer Veteran Coalition Fellowship Fund. Remember that for most all of the grants and fellowship programs will require a business plan and/or other documentation to prove you operate as a business and have a good plan to use funds that may be awarded to you. You can read my article on creating a business plan for a farm here.
5. Reclaim and Reuse T-Posts.
The bad thing about T-Posts is they seem really expensive for a very simple piece of steel. The nice thing about T-Posts is they last virtually forever. We were very fortunate in our first fence project to be able to reclaim posts from an old abandoned fence line. The T-posts were at least 25 years old, but remained in good condition. We retrieved around 100 T-posts, and that resulted in over $400 in savings! Look and ask around about old fence lines on unused land. Offer to remove the old fence, maybe pay $1 per post (that's still a 75% savings over buying new ones) and put in some sweat equity to get those savings.
Note: Do not think you're going to pull the posts out by hand. You'll be ready to go buy new posts after trying to pull a couple out with just your back. Get a post puller from your ag supply store. It's a $30 to $40 investment that will greatly aid you in saving many more dollars. If you're just pulling a few posts out of the ground, then maybe a post puller is an unnecessary expense. Other common options for pulling T-posts include using a farm jack or a front end loader on a tractor.
Also, use some common sense on the posts you reclaim. They may not all be usable . Sometimes they come out of the ground bent in such a way you can't reasonable make them straight again. And sometime the flat plate at the bottom of the post falls off when pulling the post out. The plate is necessary for stabilizing the post, and without it the T-post will not be as effective. Discard such posts and move on to the next one.
6. Utility Poles for Posts.
Buying treated wood posts at the farm supply store always feels like a kick in the gut. They're fine, but they sure do cost a lot and feel like a natural place to look for alternatives. One possibility are those big, tall wood posts used for telephone and electric lines. Usually soaked in creosote to ward off insects and decay, and anywhere from 9 to 16 inches in diameter, they can last for decades holding up a fence. Utility companies will replace them occasionally, and while they may not meet code specifications for the power lines, they're still perfectly good for fence posts in most cases. And if you're lucky you can get them for free. Contact your local utility company or co-op to see what they do with old posts. You may have to pay a small fee to get them and likely cut them up and haul them off yourself (Usually 40 feet or more in length, and HEAVY even when cut up).
Note: Utility poles may not always be suitable. We got some for free, and while most were in great shape, one was rotting on the inside. In retrospect I should have been able to tell from just looking at it, but I put in the ground to use on a brace thinking it was fine. I took a chain saw to trim off excess post from the top, and that revealed a big rotting cavity in the middle of it. Look them over, and if they don't look good then move on to something else.
7. Use Old Oilfield Pipe.
I attended a livestock workshop at a ranch here in Texas, and the owner of the ranch had put a lot of effort in good fencing. The braces are made out of old or rejected oilfield pipe welded together - no good for the roughnecks' jobs but are still great for making sturdy fences. Knowing I am from Texas, an attendee from another state leaned in and asked me, "why are so many fences here made out of pipe?" It didn't dawn on me until that moment that pipe braces are going to be found all over oil producing regions but perhaps not as much in other areas.
Here in Texas, and I imagine in other oil producing areas, you can get heavy gauge, used steel pipe at a price comparable to or below treated wood posts per linear foot. A steel brace negates the need for brace wire, tensioning, and all the fuss needed for a building a good wood brace. Normally set in concrete and needing to be welded, you should carefully calculate the cost of a pipe brace against that of wood braces. But often when you factor in that a steel brace WILL last a lifetime, it may be a more economical option when compared to wood braces.
Note: I see some fence contractors take a 9 foot steel pipe and pound it 4 feet into the ground and skip concrete altogether. The idea is at a depth of 3 to 4 feet down, there is so much pressure on the post from the surrounding soil that it is just as effective at keeping the post in place as concrete. This obviously saves on expense from concrete and associated labor, but you need a post driving rig that can do the job.
8. Posts Made From Local Trees.
Some trees make for excellent wood posts due to natural resistance to rot and insects. Just north of my neck of the woods (pun intended, sorry) cedar trees are rampant in the Texas Hill Country. A nuisance for many landowners, they make for good fence posts. Their trunks grow very straight and uniform, and they are known for lasting many years in the ground before giving way to decay. We buy posts from a local man who has access to Hill Country cedar. They're half the price of treated wood posts at the store, will last as long, and have a nice rustic look to them.
I understand Black Locust serves the same intent in other parts of the country. See what's available in your area - you may even have some on your property! If it's a nuisance tree like cedar in Texas then you may be able to work a deal with a local landowner to clear some off of their land for free.
Note: Make sure you know if the tree species you plan to use is actually rot resistant, and if there are any caveats. For example, cedar posts here are great so long as they have a well developed "heart" in the trunk. A young tree with no developed heart will rot as fast as anything else and should be avoided.
You have to get in and out of your pasture, but the price tag that comes with new gates at the store can give you sticker shock. Look on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for used gates - they last forever, so barring damage to a gate I have no issue buying used ones. Also, if you have goats or sheep, you know the generic tube gate - generally the cheapest gate at the supply store - is not ideal for keeping your animals contained as the small animals can slip through the horizontal tubes. That can be fixed easily buy wrapping excess woven wire fencing over your gate. It may not look as nice as a new wire filled gate, but it's a lot cheaper and just as effective.
10. How You Tighten Brace Wires.
Ratchet tensioners (or ratchet strainers) are having a moment in the fence supply sections. I like them, and I feel they are safe as well as easy to maintain when compared to the traditional way of tensioning fence braces: wire twisting. Sometimes called a Spanish windlash, wire twisting just means running your brace wire around the two brace posts, sticking a pipe or sturdy branch in between the wire, and twisting it around and round until it's taught.
Outside of them usually looking a little sloppy and the undeniable feeling that while twisting the wire tighter and tighter that it'll come loose and catapult you to the moon, I don't see a compelling reason to cast twisted wire braces aside. I suppose over time as posts settle and the brace loosens, it's easier to click the ratchet a few times to take up fresh slack, but twisted wire still works. A decent ratchet tensioner will run $4 to $6 apiece, not a lot but it adds up if you're installing multiple braces. Skipping the tensioner for old school wire twisting will save you a few bucks without giving up any sturdiness in your braces.
11. Borrow Fence Building Tools.
If you've never built a fence before, you need to budget in the costs of tools needed for installing a fence. (Read about those necessary tools in this article) For the most part they're affordable and can be used for other applications beyond your fence project. However, there are some tools that may be a one-use application and due to their pricey nature, it would not be wise to go out and buy one (think tractor mounted post hole auger).
See if your neighbor has tools you can borrow, or for bigger ticket items check with tool rental stores in your area. No need to invest heavily in something that will see work just once.
Those are our tips for saving money on your fencing project without sacrificing quality. I'm sure you have some tips as well, and we'd love to hear your ideas in the comments. In a future article I will discuss things to absolutely NOT do in attempts to save money.
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