Originally, the spacing on a 4-wire boundary fence was: Top Wire (using a 36” stay + 4″ clearance above the ground) 40″ to Top Wire. Spacing from the top was 40″, 30″, 20″, 10″. There was considerable variation. Many were as low as a 36” top wire.
Nobody cared that a horse could reach over the fence and graze 3′ of pasture on the other side of the fence, mainly because everybody overgrazed and there was nothing on the other side to graze.
Our pasture is not overgrazed, therefore we need at least 42″ to the Top Wire, with an spacing of about 10″, so our wires are spaced 42″, 32″, 22″, and 12″.
Personally, I like to see the top wire tied to the top notch on the post; if it is set 18” deep. 6’-1.5’=4.5’ or 54”. This would put the wire spacing at 52, 42, 32, 22” – just a little too much clearance at the bottom. Where there is little grass anyway, this would not matter, but if it is a grassy area, cows will reach under to get it, and tend to lift the fence out of the ground. In many such cases, we will put on a fifth wire at 12”. We have tried 12” spacing but it is just too far apart; cattle will put their heads through the fence and perhaps hurt themselves.
In rocky ground, we use 6’ T-bar steel posts. Sometimes we have to try about ten places before we can drive it in, but once a steel post is in it is secure. (Well, not really. We have had posts that can shake in the wind, break off.)
Most of the pasture area is stone-free, therefore we can set cedar posts here. It is a lot more work, but we believe the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Cedar posts are traditional, and are still ecologically sound, plus they are attractive to us. We set cedar posts 18” deep, in holes dug with a post-hole digger. If the soil is too dry to dig, we will put about a quart of water in each hole and let it soak in. Repeat as necessary. This allows us to dig the hole, and it moistens the soil, so that it will tamp nicely when it is returned
to the hole.
We set our posts 12’ apart, with a stay centered between them, we have used twisted-steel stays, and always felt they worked fine. We still use them where
we have steel posts. One of our neighbors told us that he preferred cedar stays, because “the cattle can see them”. Since then, we have begun using cedar stays where we have cedar posts. Originally, I used 4’ cedar trunks, perhaps 2” at the butt, and 1” at the top. These were rested on the ground. At the present time, we use larger stays – perhaps 4” at the base and 3” at the top. These are pretty heavy, and would drag down the fence under their own weight, so we usually set then in the ground at least 1’. This system makes a nice-looking fence, we feel.
These fences are our neighbor’s. The green mobile home is on the ranch to the east of us. Actually, the two fences are about 100 yds apart.
Boundary Trees Originally, boundaries were set by stapling, or tying, barbed-wire to trees. (This was when a rancher was cutting out a piece to be purchased from the original land-grant.) Eventually, they would have this cut-out piece surveyed and reported to the authorities so that the official records would show that he had title to it.
Therefore, boundaries in the woods are always determined by boundary trees. In time the barbed wire would become embedded in the tree, so that we had a measure of how long the boundary had been there. I have never seen evidence that this hurts the tree. It might hurt the saw-blade that tries to saw through it, but theoretically no one would ever saw through that tree.
Local people use a lot of bailing wire to fix things – in fact, bailing wire has been called ‘Mexican nails’. Therefore, they use a lot of bailing wire on their fences. This works fine most of the time, but when it is used to tie a wire to a living tree, it is a disaster. The bailing wire will strangle the tree, usually killing it. We pull these embedded wires out if we can, and replace them with regular staples. If they can’t be pulled out, we try to cut through them with an old hatchet. We use Galvanized wire for tie wire.
We see some fences on trees where a 2×4 nailing block is attached to the tree first, perhaps with two 16-penny nails. Where the tree is not a boundary tree, this will protect it from embedded wire or staples.