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Barbed Wire – Fencing the West

The Homestead Act of 1862 kicked off the expansion of the American West. President Abraham Lincoln signed the law in to place, which provided western settlers 160 acres of land- for a small price and the agreement of living on the land for 5 continuous years before receiving ownership of the land. Hundreds of thousands of people moved west to take advantage of one of the largest stimulus programs that the US has ever provided.

As settlers and ranchers made their way out to the plains, they soon found that they needed a way to protect their land from encroaching neighbors. Traditional walls or fences were made from materials such as wood, stone, or brick. The plains did not provide enough resources for these fences to be feasible. Something new needed to be figured out if landowners were to protect their property and cattle owners were to contain their animals.

19th Century

Before 1865, there were a few new fence ideas proposed, but it wasn’t until 1873 when four innovative men got together to improve fencing ideas. Joseph Glidden, a farmer, was the first to form an idea for a successful and sturdy barbed wire fence, names “The Wooden Strip With Metallic Points”- a wooden block with spiked wires, developed to prevent cows from leaning against the fence.

Another of the four, Jacob Haish, applied for a patent on his own type of wire, the S wire, which he called “The Winner”. Glidden was joined by Isaac L. Ellwood and the two founded The Barb Fence Company.

Barbed wire fence began to be promoted in Texas, but consumers were hesitant. They were concerned that the wire would hard their livestock. After some live demonstrations in San Antonio, barbed wire began to take off. Between 1873 and 1899, up to 150 companies at a single time were manufacturing barbed wire fence. The fence was praised and seen as a great option for the west as “it takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts, and is both durable and cheap.”

The mass fencing off of lands began to start range wars between farmers and the open range ranchers. The US government settles these disputes primarily in favor of the farmers. Heavy penalties were put in place for cutting a barbed-wire fence. It became clear that the barbed wire fence could do the job of ranchers, and within 2 years, most of the open range was fenced in and under private ownership, resulting in the death of the American cowboy.

20th Century & Beyond

The barbed fence may have been efficient at discouraging cattle to escape, but it was not the best at keeping humans out. Razor wire began to be utilized to keep people off of private properties or keep them in areas like prisons.

Barbed wire maintained its growth at the turn of the 20th century, and then was used heavily in World War I and World War II.

Today, there are many different fence options- both agricultural and residential. Many livestock owners find themselves using ranch-rail or high tensile wire when fencing in livestock.

There has been a push to move away from using a barbed wire fence, as it has been found to cause many cases of wildlife entanglement. Livestock may also suffer severe injuries due to the barbs. In 2010, Norway banned the installation of  new barbed wire fence when used to limit the migration of animals.

High-Tensile Wire Agricultural Fence

The State of Florida does not require livestock owners to fence in their properties, but livestock is not allowed to wander onto public roads or onto private properties. If this happens, the livestock owner is liable for any damages their animals caused. Because of this, most agricultural land and livestock owners have fenced in their properties. But fencing in or repairing a fence on a large piece of property is an extensive – and expensive – task. Many landowners find themselves wondering if fencing is worth the cost and the trouble. But without agricultural or field fencing, livestock can still wander off, and predators can still get in.

So how can agricultural landowners in Central Florida protect their property and livestock? The answer comes in many forms, but today we will be focusing on one: High Tensile Wire Fencing.

High-Tensile Wire Fencing

High tensile wire fence is a semi-new fence style that came out of New Zealand. This fence style utilizes a smooth 12 ½ gauge wire stretched tightly between fence posts, up to 250 pounds of tension on the wires.  High tensile wire fences are now being seen as a good alternative to barbed wire agricultural fencing, as it is easier to handle/install, there are no barbs to harm livestock or wildlife, is lower maintenance with longer life (up to 40 years), can easily be electrified, and is less expensive to install.

This unique wire fence can be electrified – just the top or bottom wire for instance – to help keep predators such as coyotes or fox out of livestock fields. The wires are also smooth, allowing for wildlife to slip in or out if needed. It’s very common for deer or even livestock to get stuck in wired fences, or snared by barbed wire.

To prevent this, install the wires to your fence where the livestock can’t slip through, but keep it wildlife-friendly. The top two wires should be 12 inches apart, while the bottom wire should have 16 inches of clearance above the ground. The fence should be no taller than 42 inches tall, short enough for wildlife to escape by jumping over if necessary. The top wire should be marked in some way for visibility- this is important for both wildlife and livestock. Visibility can be achieved by using a top rail when installing the fence, using flags, or running the wire through PVC piping. A wire fence that is not visible is susceptible to having animals caught in it, a potential for fence damage and life-threatening injuries for the animals.

High tensile wire fence marked with PVC pipes

High tensile wire fence with a top rail for visibility

High tensile wire fence with a top rail for visibility

High tensile wire fence with visibility flags

High tensile fencing is proven to be just as efficient and more environmentally friendly than the average mesh metal wire field fence. These fences are dangerous to livestock and wildlife as well. Animals that get caught in a fence line may pull down sections of fence, allowing for livestock to escape their fenced-in land or allowing predators to easily get into their enclosure. The wire mesh fencing can cause serious injuries to animals, including broken limbs or death.

Sheep caught in wire mesh fence

Baby deer stuck in wire mesh fence

Overall, high tensile wire fencing seems to be the most fitting option in many cases for environmentally-conscious livestock owners. It’s reliability, strength, and low-maintenance installation makes it a favorable option for Central Florida. Paramount Fencing does recommend using pressure-treated pine posts for the installation, as well as not using concrete on the install to extend the life of your fence.

If high tensile fencing does not look like what you need, remember to consider your other options, and to call Paramount Fencing for a free fence estimate.

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