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Fencing Maintenance Facts

You’ve spent a lot of time and effort deciding what type of fencing will enclose your happy little herd. And you’ve spent as much money in materials and in installation. But no matter what fencing you’ve decided on (and what the manufacturer claims), there will be some repair work and general upkeep involved to keep it safe, effective and looking great.

The level and kind of maintenance you will have to undertake as well as the costs involved depends on the fencing you have. As a general rule, the higher the initial investment, the less work will have to go into keeping it well maintained.

“[In Eastern Canada] this year’s spring repairs could be more extensive than in some years,” says Dwayne Job of System Fencing, Stalls & Equipment, based out of Campbellville, Ontario. The large amount of snowfall, drifts and ice are likely to have played havoc with many fences, downing wire, knocking off boards and shifting posts. “The fences have been covered right over in some cases,” he says.

Job shares some tips on how to do spring clean up and general upkeep for the more common types of fencing used in Canada.

What About Wood?
Wood requires a high level of maintenance compared to other fencing but, if you are willing to put in the time and effort to ensure that it is safe for your horses and continually provides a solid barrier to escape, this most traditional of fencing will last for decades.

Wood contracts and expands due to temperature and moisture and is not immune to equine antics. For these reasons, a fence made of wood should be inspected on a regular basis but there is no time that this is more important than in the spring. Any part of the fence that is less than perfect should be replaced immediately because a weak spot can undermine the integrity of the fence. As well, fences in disrepair can cause horses serious injury.

“You should go around and check to see if any boards are off from over the winter and then also check if there are any nails sticking out or if any boards developed a big splinter or crack. Usually when a board breaks or a horse leans on it, it creates a spear and you want to check for those so that if a horse is running down the fence line it’s not likely to get impaled,” says Job.

In addition, he suggests that fences be checked as a matter of course, every couple of days or once a week as wood breaks down over time.

Hammer in loose nails. Shake each post and, with the bucket of a tractor, push down any that have heaved over the winter or straighten them by using a shovel and stone dust to pack the post back into place. If gateposts have shifted, adjust the hinges to make the gate hang straighter again.

Wood can be painted and stained with a preservative to protect it from weather conditions, insects and fungus as well as an anti-chew/cribbing substance (see sidebar on page 44) applied to prevent horses (and other animals) from gnawing away your investment.

Oak board fencing doesn’t necessarily require painting or preservation. It is a popular choice of material because, as a hardwood, horses aren’t as able to chew on it and its more durable. It can make maintenance a bit more difficult, however. “If you have to replace a board you’ll probably have to pre-drill the nail holes because the wood is so hard you can’t just nail a nail through,” said Job.

With softer woods such as spruce and pressure-treated woods, Job says, “You should put something on to help them last longer.” Paint and preservatives
can be applied by rolling, brushing or spraying.

“We don’t really recommend creosote anymore because it’s just not as powerful as it used to be. It now goes to a light brown colour where it used to be jet black and it’s because the government has cracked down because of all the toxic stuff that was in there,” explains Job.

Another Paige
Paige wire, also commonly known as “farm fence”, is not an ideal horse fence but nevertheless, says Job, “there are a lot of farms around that have it.” If a horse gets a leg stuck in the holes in the wire (about 6” x 12”) they can find it very difficult to extract themselves especially if they are shod and the wire slips between the shoe and the hoof.

In the winter, paige wire is particularly susceptible to being pulled down from the weight of snow. At any time of year, horses lean on it, stand on it and pull it down themselves. “You have to pull it back up. It can’t really be retightened,” explains Job. “Once it’s stretched, it’s done.” He adds that if it is an old fence, it’s probably just best to re-install it because you’ll probably break the wires when you try to pull and bend it back into shape again.

“The way to increase the lifespan of a paige wire fence is to put some electric on there or use an electric off-set nine inches from the post. That helps prevent the horses stepping on it or bending the fence down.”

Wire fencing such as this also rusts over time. “It depends on how much the horses are using it and where it’s situated. I’ve seen fences rust within five years and other stuff is 40 years old and it’s rusty but still structurally strong,” says Job.

Mesh-ing Around
Mesh fences, such as diamond and square mesh (the safest for horses, as it is more difficult for them to get hooves and other body parts stuck between the weave), are best installed with wood or PVC rails on top and bottom for added strength, security and visibility. Often electric wire is used as well.

It is relatively inexpensive to install and maintainance is low-level but mesh should still be examined for sags and areas where horses may have interfered with it.

A High-Tensile Situation
This is a strong, long-lasting type of fencing but Job doesn’t recommended it for horses because it is difficult for horses to see and is very sharp should they become entangled. But as with paige wire, many horse people still use it.

He suggests using high-tensile coated wire - covered in polymer - with an 1 1/2” electric tape on top or in the middle to make the fence more visible. “Also, when you turn a horse into a paddock like that, make sure you lead him around the field and even push him into the fence so they understand and respect the fencing,” instructs Job.
Again, maintenance is particularly important in the spring. High-tensile wire should be retightened after the ground is finished shifting (i.e. after the frost has come out). Tensioners located right on the fencing require a special handle to tighten any slack. “It’s very, very easy to do,” says Job.

Note: when working with high-tensile wire, wear safety goggles and work gloves as wire can re-coil and cause serious injury.

Flexing It
Flexible rail is comprised of high-tensile wire with a polyethylene coating. This type of fence also requires tensioning after winter once the ground has dried up. Like, regular high-tensile fence, this can be done with a tensioning handle. If any posts have moved, they can be adjusted the same as those in a board fence. Flexible rail does not need painting or preserving.

Simply Electrifying
Other forms of commonly used fencing are the ropes, braids and tapes that carry electric current. Electric fencing is often used in combination with other types of fence for added security and to prevent horses from interfering with the fence. The addition of electric lines, in effect, add to a fence’s strength and longevity because horses are not inclined to fuss with or go near a fence that gives them low-level, harmless shock each time they touch it.

He said that electric fences should be checked a couple of times a year. Like with other types of fencing, the most important time is post-winter. “All of these should be checked for tautness in the spring,” says Job. The electric tape can even be tightened by hand “and it snugs right up again. It’s very easy, very low maintenance.”

He cautions that electric fencing can get pulled down by the snow in the winter so with any of the electric products it is important to make sure that insulators are still secure, the lines aren’t broken, that the fence isn’t arcing (when the current jumps through a gap in the line via a spark). Also ensure that the grounding rod at the power source is still properly attached and that any under-gate cables haven’t been chewed by mice or other rodents at ground level.

Clean brush out from underneath the fence line to prevent grounding out and make your fence last longer. Job suggests using grass inhibitor such as “Round Up” in the middle of the summer underneath the fence line to help keep the grass from growing up into the fence.

Frequently inspect the power source (electrical outlet, battery charger, even solar-powered in some cases) because horses will soon find out if there is no charge on the wire. Replace batteries before they run out of charge - set up a schedule to help you remember.

“Anytime you have an electric fence, you really should have a fence tester,” advises Job. This gadget (also called a voltmeter), available at farm stores or fencing equipment providers, lets you know whether a charge is still running through your fence and at what voltage. Ideally, says Job, “You should have over 4,000 volts of power on your fence line.” The less expensive models have five lights that indicate the voltage. More costly digital models can also be purchased. Poke one end into the ground and touch the fence with the other end and voila - you have your reading.

Says Job, “It used to be that horse owners said, ‘Oh electric, it never works, it won’t keep my horse in, it always breaks down.’ But nowadays most of the electric materials have anywhere from a 10-20-year warranty on them and they’re using a lot of different polymers and polyethylenes and stainless steel and copper wires to be the conductors and they’re really quite reliable.”

PVC - Easy As Can Be
Polyvinylchloride fencing, better known as PVC, is a durable fencing material that is definitely more costly initially than other options but because there is virtually no upkeep, it may be, in the long run, less expensive overall. PVC fence construction is such that the boards are slipped into slots in hollow posts, thus no nails are used.
The product contains titanium dioxide to prevent breakdown (the heat of the sun can weaken some synthetic materials) and to stop discolouration caused by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. This negates the need for repainting and/or resurfacing. In addition, most horses with the tendency to chew on fences don’t appreciate the taste or texture of PVC. Therefore, no time will be spent applying anti-cribbing material or replacing chewed up boards.

Job says most PVC fencing carries a 20-year warranty.

As with other fencing, adjust posts that are out of line and pound down those that are sticking up. Replace any rails that are damaged.

Job suggests that PVC be used with electric fencing because it can get brittle and break when it is really cold. The board edges can be very sharp and
dangerous. “The winter is very hard on it, especially if there are horses right on the fencing.”

by by Nicole Kitchener - May, 2001

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