Building Fences

Jim Fairfield lists ways in which a modern subsistence farmer can put up just as much fence as he needs at a price he can afford.

| July/August 1975

A good fence, farmers say, should be "horse high, bull strong, and pig tight". But as Jim Fairfield — who lives on a family homestead in Virginia — points out, that can be an expensive proposition these days. Jim then lists ways in which a modern subsistence farmer can put up just as much fence as he needs at a price he can afford. 

I built my first fence 10 years ago, and it's still standing. Barely. Had I used proper equipment and known how to go at the business, however, that prematurely useless enclosure could have done its job for another 30 years.

Building Fences

Easy as it may look to set posts and string wire, there's usually a science to the job, a science I've been learning from my neighbor, Bill Deavers. Deavers builds a good fence. He ought to. He's been at it for 35 years. "If I haven't learned come along the way," says Bill, "I been wasting my time. Why, found out something new just last week. If those steel companies keep putting up the prices, though, I'll be right back to making rail fences again."

Old Time Fences

As Bill Deavers implied, there do remain a few ways to enclose land without buying wire at today's prices. The trouble is that many farm plots no longer contain the primeval resources you need to build some of the best early American arm enclosures.

Building fences, rail or snake fences, for instance, look roughly like interlaced fingers and are held up by the angle at which the ends of he rails overlap, so that the finished fence runs in a zigzag. A split rail post is then sometimes driven on either side of each meeting point to give the structure added stability. As you can imagine, this uses up hewmongus quantities of whole or split young trees. If you're clearing away a patch of locusts or, cedars anyway, however, the trunks can save you a bundle in woven wire fencing.

Old-timey stone walls — to use another example — weren't so ouch fence as the handiest means of relocating rocks that kept surfacing to the plow (on land that might better have remained permanent pasture). If you've bought a place with a stone fence around it, then, you most likely won't find the enclosure — all enough to turn cattle. Some farmers with more borrowed — money than sense simply build a new fence inside the Ad but as Bill Deavers says, "It's not the dollars you make, It's what you get to keep that counts."

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