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Give That Old Fence New Life
During the course of your daily chores, you probably encounter areas of your horse fencing system that need some serious help. You know that the longer you wait, weather and your horses will continue to take their toll. But... budget, time and manpower considerations make installing a new fence system out of the question. What are your options?
There are actually several ways to improve the condition of an existing fence system, but you need to know where to start. First, you need to evaluate the fence in question, making careful notes about the condition of posts, rail, wire, mesh, brackets - whatever materials are used. Prioritize your problems by identifying those areas that need immediate attention to ensure the safe containment of your horses.
Now find an expert with a fencing company or installation contractor. Be prepared to tell them what kind of fence you have; how many rails and of what material (wood, flexible rail, woven wire, mesh, etc.); current post spacing; bracing used (if any) for ends, corners and gate areas; size of the fenced area; number of horses regularly maintained in the area; unusual soil conditions; and the problems you are experiencing. The more information you share and the more questions you ask, the better equipped a fence expert will be to advise you about the solutions available.
You may want to discuss some of the following options with your fence expert:
- Adding electric to a spilt rail "broken" fence system. This type of post-and-rail fence generally constructed of wood is referred to as "broken" because the rails are installed as an independent unit from one post to the next contiguous post. As a rule, a split rail fence without electric will last anywhere from eight to twelve years with moderate daily use. Install new posts in the place of any that have begun to rot at the base, replace warped or damaged rails, and ensure that you have even soil compaction on both sides of the fence line to prevent loose or leaning posts. Avoid "quick fixes" such as supporting bad posts by driving stakes next to them or tying rails to posts; these can create a hazard for your horses. Supplement your repaired fence with electric mesh to minimize cribbing, "walking down", leaning or other equine behaviors that will damage your fence.
- Add a top site rail to woven wire fence. First, replace or repair any broken or damaged areas in a woven wire fence. Exercise care in splicing woven wire; each splice needs to be crimped and checked for sharp edges that can cut your horse (or you!). Check tensioning of your woven wire fence and ensure you have proper bracing in place on corners, ends and gate posts. Never use uncoated wire for fencing horses or other animals. Improve visibility of the fence by adding a top rail of continuous run flexible fencing. In widths ranging from 1" to 5-1/4", this type fencing has tremendous break strength which will alleviate the load on the woven wire.
- Test existing electric mesh and electric wire systems. Regularly check electric fence systems to ensure the entire fence is "live". Fence testers are available for around $14, a minimal investment to ensure your fence is working as it should. Any broken or damaged runs of electric mesh or wire are relatively easy and inexpensive to repair by splicing. Ensure that posts are solid and straight. Be sure you have a sufficient number of ground rods for your system.
- Ensure proper post spacing. For all fence systems, posts should be spaced at no more than 12 feet. Generally, a need for more than normal levels of maintenance may indicate inadequate post support for your fence. If your current fence has post spacing of 15 feet or more, you should consider adding posts to better distribute the pressure that your horses and the weather place on a fence.
Your horses spend 50 to 100 percent of their time in a pasture surrounded by fence, make sure you maintain a safe, strong living space for your equine friends.
Fencing Considerations: Dry Lot Areas
"The grass is greener on the other side" takes on very realistic meaning for your horse. To get to grass your horse can see (or smell), he may literally lay down or push through your fence rails to get to fresh grazing. Consequently, your fence becomes a "high traffic" zone and may require some special attention.
Rotational grazing is one of the best long-term solutions, if you have the land available. This practice allows one pasture to rest and regenerate while the other one is being used. Horses can freely graze and are less likely to damage your fence trying to get through it.
If your circumstance can't accommodate rotational grazing, you need to make sure you have a fence system that will hold up to your horses' attempts to push through it. Flexible rail continuous run fences with high break strength are a good option. While traditional fences can break or come apart at the post where a rail is attached, continuous rail is one unbroken stretch of fence. When a horse leans on it, the continuous rail slides through brackets without creating a pressure point at each post. Flexible rails with high tensile wire have "memory" and will flex back to their original shape.
In some situations, horses can become so abusive that you may need to add electric wire to protect the investment you have in your fence. In addition, you may need to experiment with providing your horses with grass hay between regular feedings.
Choosing the Right Fence Post
Posts are the backbone of any fence system. The type of soil you have to work with will ultimately affect installation, maintenance and longevity of your fence.
First, consider what type of fence you are planning. Most wood systems will utilize a 4" x 4" or 4" round (or larger) wood post. Electric fencing can use wood posts, metal t-posts (with or without sleeves) or fiberglass rods. Flexible fencing generally calls for 4" to 6" round pressure treated pine posts or solid plastic posts.
Next, find out the content of your soil. Shale, rock or hard clay may require the use of a special auger. Consistently damp conditions or sandy soil may create a need for extra bracing or setting posts in concrete. Make sure the type of posts you'll need to use are suitable for your soil situation.
Finally, evaluate installation requirements and related expense. It's easier and a lot less costly to make a change during the planning stage.
Debbie Disbrow, owner of RAMM Equine Solutions, has owned horses for over 40 years. She started the company over 15 years ago after the frustration of purchasing a fence system that failed. Committed to farm testing each product, RAMM carries comprehensive lines of equine fencing, stalls and horse equipment. For more on RAMM, visit www.rammfence.com.