Fencing: Repair or Replace?

May 15, 2009 07:00 PM

Bonus Content:

Tips to finding a contractor

  1. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations.
  2. Ask for references anc check them out.
  3. Look at a contractor's longevity in the business.
  4. Inspect fences the contractor has constructed.
  5. Check with fence product manufacturer for recommended contractors.
  6. Interview contractor face to face.

Fencing 101

Need help calculating or want to see pictures and video showing fencing installation? Check out the information on these Web sites:

Red Brand's Web site offers a fencing calculator. Follow this link to watch Ken Anderson demonstrate "Barb Wire Installation."

Click here to access StayTuff's "How to build a fence" guide.

Follow this link to go to Gripple's Web site for more information on the products for splicing and repairing.

Gallagher's Web site offers information on electronic fencing and also has a calculator.


Fences typically exist for a simple purpose: to keep something in or keep something out. Most times, that "something” is livestock.

You want a strong fence to protect your livestock as well as to prevent animals from straying and bringing harm to others—for example, by wandering onto the highway and causing a vehicle accident. While rules regarding fencing and owner liability vary from state to state and county to county, you can be held liable if livestock go off property and cause an injury.

Most fences have existed on the property for generations, and over time require repair or replacement. The question is, when do you make the decision to replace rather than just keep on repairing? While there are no concrete criteria, consider these questions:

What's your time worth? "Farmers and ranchers don't always consider the value of their time in going out and repairing fence,” says Ken Edwards, technical support manager for Red Brand at Keystone Steel & Wire in Illinois. At some point, he says, you should put a dollar value on your time and consider how many hours are spent fixing fences.

Payne Hall, Gripple agricultural sales manager, agrees. "If you're spending more time and labor on repairing fence versus doing other things around the farm or ranch, it may be time to replace.”

Assess the tools and labor you will need to keep fences in good repair. There are some tools and products on the market that simplify fence repair and can save producers time. You can find more information on these products at www.beeftoday.com.

 How old is your fence? A 20-year-old barbwire fence that is leaning over with broken, rusted wire is an obvious candidate for replacement. Any fence older than 10 years should be evaluated to see if the posts are still solid and the wire inspected for rust.
"Take a visual look at your fence,” says John Kearney, a cattle producer and dealer for Behlen Country. "If 50% of your posts are off and your wire is beginning to rust, go ahead and look at replacing the fence.” Also check steel T-posts to see if they are beginning to rust below the ground.

In time, if the fence is not managed well, vegetation can cover the area, making it difficult to assess a

perimeter fence's condition. "Look at the vegetation and brush around the fence. If it's grown up, this could potentially aid as something of a natural fence,” Hall says. "If it is grown up, it will be that much harder to tear down and clean up the old fence, which adds cost and labor.”

If that "natural fence” won't keep livestock in, you may want to build a new fence in front of or behind the existing overgrown fence until time allows removal.

Randy Lenz of Stay-Tuff Fence Manufacturing repairs a fence by splicing together broken wire. With the right tools, repairs like these can be simple.
How does weather or environment impact fence condition? There are three elements that decrease the life of a fence, Edwards says. They are fire, water and spraying fence lines with herbicides. All of these elements can compromise the coating of the fence.

Kearney, who runs cattle near Lexington, Neb., says that snow knocks down fences of all kinds. In addition, ground moisture can wear away wooden posts and corrode T-posts. Even wind can impact the integrity and limit the life of a fence due to soil erosion.

Extreme weather conditions may mean you have to replace fence more often, depending on the quality of fencing materials you use. When replacing older fences, use high-quality materials that will stand up to conditions longer.

What is the purpose of the fence? "Some animals require stronger fences than others. Horses and brood cows are easier to contain then goats, sheep, recently weaned calves and bulls,” Hall says. You might get away with repairing an older fence for horses and cows, but replacement may be more urgent to keep bulls in their pasture.

What does it cost? In the steel market, much like the cattle market, prices vary depending on supply and demand, says Randy Lenz of Stay-Tuff, a fence manufacturing company in New Braunfels, Texas. Last summer, steel prices were extremely volatile, pushing wire and metal T-posts prices higher. Now, steel prices have stabilized.

Hall says repairing a fence while prices are high may delay the need for a new fence until supply costs fall.

But steel is only a portion of the cost of replacement. You have to weigh the total cost of replacement, not just material costs. Lenz says to compare material costs on a per-foot basis rather than total dollar amount. Then look at the labor cost needed to install as you compare the different options.

Be careful, however, not to base the decision on price alone, Edwards warns. "You also need to evaluate the quality of the materials used, because a higher-quality fence will last longer for future generations.” BT

Fence Maintenance

A fence that is properly cared for lasts longer. Include some of the following tips in your regular maintenance program:
  • Repair or replace anchor post assemblies whenever they show signs of weakness.
  • Refasten any loose wires to posts and splice broken wire when necessary.
  • Keep fence wires properly stretched. Do this once or twice a year, depending on the fencing product.
  • Keep weeds and brush cleared from the fence line.
  • Plan and follow a regular inspection routine for any needed maintenance.


Be sure to choose the right product, as there are a few different classes of zinc coatings on fencing materials.

Class 1 (low-tensile): Most common coating. Less expensive, but may not last as long. On average, it has 0.28 oz. per sq. ft. of protective zinc coating.

Class 3 (high-tensile): On average, it has 0.80 oz. per sq. ft. of zinc coating. The additional coating prevents rust and corrosion in more extreme and wet climates. It will typically cost 30% more, but it has twice the life of Class 1 wire.

To contact Kim Watson, e-mail kwatson@farmjournal.com.
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