A Simple, Modern Rail Fence

| 4/4/2016 10:05:00 AM

Fencing is a perpetual challenge for our wildlife-rich homestead farm, as we try to balance security, aesthetics, budget, and sustainability. Our fences range from serious permanent barriers made from thick cedar posts and wire mesh to lightweight and portable electric lines.

Recently we’ve been experimenting with a modern twist on the classic split-rail fence, with a method that fits many of our goals for a good fence.

Traditional rail fences reflect their era, relying on abundant local resources (time and trees) to produce fences that were functional and aesthetic. Most such fences didn’t use vertical posts, but relied on the flat surface created by split rails to keep the fence stable. They also took up lots of linear space as the rails zig-zagged back and forth, fine for an era when horses and other grazing animals were ubiquitous, but less optimal for a modern setting in which mowing and electric lines are part of the management strategy.

The traditional features are well exhibited in two fences we photographed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, such fences will do little to exclude problematic wildlife such as deer, the single biggest threat we face, and take up too much space.

We were intrigued, then, to see a unique approach to the rail fence at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in southwestern Missouri, which used longer angled posts to support both a more linear rail fence, and a higher extension of the fence. This still relies on a lot of rail-splitting, though. While trees are abundant on our homestead, we’ve found, after experimentation, that splitting rails just isn’t time-efficient enough in the modern era to justify the work.

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