Bad Ideas For Saving Money On Your Livestock Fence Project
Bottom Line Up Front: Fencing projects can be expensive, and as a result you may be tempted to cut corners in order to save money. While there are some ways to save money without sacrificing quality, there are some ideas that are unwise and can cost you more money in the long run. These bad ideas include using smaller posts than necessary, over-spacing your line posts, skimping on building solid braces, and using the wrong wire.
Are you getting ready to build a fence on your farm or homestead? If you haven't done so before, I'll let you in on the inconvenient truth about such projects: it's expensive. We all want to populate our farms with animals, watch them graze and begin making us money. But we have to make sure the proper infrastructure is in place first, and the most important piece of that infrastructure is the fence. It needs to be built correctly so that it lasts a long time and is effective in both keeping your animals contained and safe. While there are some ways to save money on fencing without affecting the quality of the fence, you must avoid unwise shortcuts in an effort to reduce costs. You will pay for it in the long run. Here are 8 bad ideas for saving money on your fence that should be avoided.
1. Using Posts That Are Too Small.
Big, sturdy posts needed for fence braces are usually accompanied by a big, sturdy price when buying them from a farm supply store. A 6-inch diameter treated 8-foot post goes for $20 or more at most stores. And honestly I'd prefer bigger posts for my fence braces if I can find them. So it's understandable to cringe at the cost of these posts, especially if you've got a big fence project with multiple braces. Can I get away with 5 inch diameter posts? you'll ask yourself, doing some quick math and seeing a savings of nearly 25% by just going down one inch in diameter. The truth is you may be able to get away with it... for a little while. The additional truth is you lose so much sturdiness you get with 6-inch and larger diameter posts, so it's likely your fence will start failing sooner in its lifespan. You may be able to find suitable substitutes that cost less, such as utility poles or cedar posts, but if those options are not available, don't give up durability to save money at the supply store.
...we have to make sure the proper infrastructure is in place first, and the most important piece of that infrastructure is the fence.
2. Using the Wrong Kind of Wire.
We raise goats, and as a result we use the "goat and sheep" style woven wire field fencing. This kind of wire is woven together in 4-inch by 4-inch squares and arguably the largest size of holes you can have in a fence and ensure goats will stay safely contained. Because there is so much extra wire involved with goat and sheep fencing, the cost is pretty high compared to other woven wire options. And it's at this point you question the wisdom of such expensive wire and begin to convince yourself that some other wire with larger squares and a smaller price tag will work just fine. Remember the primary goal of your fence is to keep your livestock contained and keep them safe. Cheaper woven wire with larger squares could result in your goats getting their heads stuck in them (virtually a guarantee with 8-inch by 8-inch squares) or getting out altogether. The 4-inch squares also do a fair job in keeping larger predators out, whereas the larger squares will not.
It's no different with cattle. You may elect to go with a smaller gauge barbed wire because it's cheaper but forgetting a feisty bull will tear through it like paper. Or use 4 strands of wire when you need 5 or 6, and the result is calves getting out of your pasture.
Research the requirements for your animals and resolve to put in the right kind of fence wire to meet those requirements. A few dollars saved today is not worth the aggravation you'll have tomorrow from using the wrong wire.
Note: There are other fence wire arrangements that keep goats contained. You may see them using combinations of cheaper woven wire and barbed wire or electric fence. These can work, but I would not recommend using anything other than 4-inch by 4-inch woven wire for a perimeter fence. If you want to experiment with different designs, do it with your interior cross fencing where there is less risk to your herd.
3. Using Welded Wire Fencing.
We could have put this under Bad Idea #2, but I think it needs to be highlighted on its own. Let's say you raise goats or sheep. You know you need fencing with small openings between the wires, but as you walk into the material yard at your farm supply store you spot 48 inch tall welded wire. You think to yourself hey, that wire is cheaper per foot than the woven wire I was going to get, has even narrower spaces between the wires, annnnd it's WELDED so it has to be way stronger. This is the option I will go with! Nope, nope, nope. Livestock, and goats especially, will put too much pressure on the fence for those tiny welds to hold for long. In no time the welds will fail, the wires will come apart, and then your goats are standing on top of your car mocking you.
Welded wire has its functions, but it should be restricted to light duty. And while you may find it is cheaper than woven wire, it's only by a small amount. Also welded wire fences are difficult to pull tight as they lack the give and flexibility you'd find in its woven wire counterpart.
4. Spacing Posts Too Far Apart.
It's simple math - 9 posts are cheaper than 10. Just 8 posts are cheaper still. You may be tempted to increase the space between your posts in order to reduce the number of posts you need, thus reducing your expenses. But doing so could invite problems later on. The closer the posts are together the sturdier the fence line will be. High pressure animals, especially goats who test the strength of fences as a hobby, will wear the wire out in a hurry if line posts are too far apart. At a minimum you will get a sagging fence years earlier than you should, and worst case the fence could get pushed over altogether resulting in expensive repairs and wayward livestock.
5. Not Building Braces.
It's likely that the most common fence brace on U.S. farms and ranches is the H-brace, virtually the same as the box brace as it's called in other parts of the world. An H-brace consists of 2 vertical posts (an end or corner post as well as the brace post), a single cross member post, and some sort of brace wire that is anchored to the end post. A good brace needs sturdy posts. I recommend nothing less than 6-inch diameter end & brace posts, and if you're using a wooden post as the cross member, then is should be nothing less than a 5-inch diameter post.
Remember the primary goal of your fence is to keep your livestock contained and keep them safe.
Going back to Bad Idea #1, those posts add up to a big bill. Just the 3 posts for a single H-brace cost $55. Add in a $6 dollar strainer along with some brace wire and you've got over $60 invested in a brace. Maybe you've heard of some "old homesteader" tricks for using just a single post and not having to build a brace (a post "key" to anchor a post in place comes to mind). Don't do it. Look around at any functioning farm - one that's not falling apart - do you see such a brace? I'll bet a cold drink you do not. Tricks may work at first, but eventually give way to the laws of physics. You'll be back repairing your makeshift brace before you know it. Spend the money and do it right.
6. Using Railroad Ties (and Other Bad Wood Posts).
This one might ruffle some feathers as I'm sure there are fans of the railroad tie, so I will caveat up front this only from personal experience. Railroad ties are attractive because they're big, they've been soaked in creosote to ward off decay and insects, and they're cheap - sometimes free. But I don't believe they're as sturdy as they look. My uncle got a bunch for a fence he put in years ago, and those ties began bowing and splintering within a few years forcing him to reinforce them before building a new fence altogether. Maybe it's the years of heavy trains passing over them that break down the fibers (I'm totally guessing), but they don't look like they hold up near as well as other reusable options like utility poles.
In the same vein, you may be tempted to use wood posts from trees that are not rot resistant. Posts made from such trees may look sturdy at first but can quickly decay. The common rot-resistant wood used in many parts of the country are cedar and black locust.
7. Using Old Wire.
On our first fence project where I replaced several of my grandfather's ancient fences, I thought I was going to be sooooo smart and reuse the old barbed wire he used on some of those fences. I went through the trouble of fighting through all manner of prickly brush to pull the wire off old posts. I moved it over to the new fence line, wrapped one end around a brace and began to tighten it. After a few clicks on my come-along the wire snapped. I knew at that point it was foolish to try to splice it and attempt again. The wire was too old and brittle.
Ultimately I was trying to be resourceful, but considering the age of the old wire, there was no sense in trying to reclaim it for a new fence project. Also, the cost of barbed wire is cheap. A 1,320-foot roll of the kind of barbed wire I would use is about $60, or a cost of less than $0.05 per foot.
So be mindful of reusing old wire. Inspect it and consider what you would use it for before making that an option for saving a few dollars.
8. Reclaiming and Reusing Old Fence Staples.
I read once of a couple who bought a ranch and were so strapped for cash that they pulled out hundreds of post staples from an old fence line so they could reuse them on a new fence. Look, if we're that close to being out of money then we probably need to look for another source of income. There's hardly anything cheaper when it comes to fencing supplies. Right now an 8 pound bucket of 1.5 inch staples runs about $20 at Tractor Supply Company. An 8 pound bucket has 500+ staples in it, so each staple goes for no more than $0.04 apiece. The effort to reclaim that many old staples is worth nowhere near what you get out of such an endeavor. Hours of work to save $20? Furthermore, most staples come out of the old post twisted and bent, and as a result are hardly in any shape to be used again.
When it comes to fencing in your livestock, don't take shortcuts to save money. Don't sacrifice quality to save money. You will absolutely regret it later. There are some ways to save money and spend effectively, and you can read about them here.
If you read my blog you see me say it all the time - the fence is an investment. Invest smart up front and it will pay dividends for a long time. Make risky deposits early on and you will lose money in the long run.
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