Friday, September 5, 2014

Fence Repairs

Along one mile of my property line is a fence that has been in place for close to 50 years.  The effective lifespan for a fence expected to contain livestock is 20 years.  Since my neighbor and I neither have livestock, the fence needs only to serve as a visual indicator of where the two properties join.  This fence is primarily bordered by woodland.  The combination of falling trees and deteriorating posts results in a fence that sags and at times lays flat on the ground.

The fence wire is rusty, but is still strong and functional.  I periodically select a section of fence where I will splice broken wire and replace non-functional posts.  This year I chose an 1100 foot stretch and spent five days cutting and setting posts, cleaning obstructions from the fence line and attaching the fence to the new posts.

Posts are cut from cedars in the woodland that died long ago from lack of sunlight and have stood long enough since death to lose their outer coating of bark and sapwood.  A typical tree will give three eight foot posts with diameters ranging from eight inches at the base to four inches at the top.  The red inner wood of these posts is rot resistant enough to survive for many more decades.  Notched poles are used to hold broken posts in place until I’m ready to attach the fence to the new posts.

My primary fence building tools are the spade, spud bar, and posthole digger.  The star of the show, and the tool I would most like to leave in the barn, is the 18 pound spud bar.  The chiseled end is used to break up rock encountered while digging postholes and the flattened end is used to tamp in the earth used to fill the holes after post placement. 

This is a common sight in most of the postholes.  Shallow bedrock is responsible for the conditions that allow such a diversity of rare and unusual life to exist at Blue Jay Barrens.  I remind myself of that fact as I chisel away at the rock with my spud bar.

My work is helped along somewhat by the condition of that rock.  The meteor that hit this site 350 million years ago fractured, and in some cases pulverized, the bedrock.  Much of the time, I’m able to break out chunks of rock by applying pressure to already existing cracks.  There are times though that the spud bar rebounds from the rock with the sound of a clear chime and I know that I’ve found a bit of rock that is both massive and unbreakable.

Even when it does break apart, dealing with rock is tedious and time consuming.  Sometimes I accumulate a nice pile of rocks.

In some locations the limestone bedrock occurs in thin beds sandwiched between clay.  These beds, usually an inch or less thick, eventually yield to the spud bar.  Getting the first break in each layer is the hard part.  After breaking through, it’s fairly easy to chisel an opening large enough to accommodate a post.

The most uncommon experience is to encounter no rock at all.  This was my only rock free posthole.  It just served to remind me of how quickly I can set a post when I don’t have to deal with rock.  That made the rock filled holes that much more aggravating.

The fence isn’t pretty, but at least it’s recognizable as a fence.

I’m pretty good about staying on task while I’m out working, but occasionally I’ll take some time to look at nearby things of interest.  I was wondering why there always seemed to be a shaft of sunlight breaking through the tree canopy at just the place I was working, when I noticed the chewed condition of these Prickly Ash leaves.

It didn’t take long to find the cause of the chewed leaves, the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.  This is one of those bird poop mimics and its camouflage is quite effective.

I had to pull the branch down in order to photograph this guy and in the process, I annoyed it enough that it displayed its red osmeterium.  The osmeterium is a defensive mechanism designed to discourage predators not put off the bird poop appearance.

I also found several clumps of Indian Pipe just beginning to emerge.  Indian Pipe is a saprophytic plant that lacks chlorophyll and harvests its energy from decomposing organic matter.

I had my own fan club of Hackberry Butterflies.  These butterflies love to lap up sweat and I sweat enough to support legions of these guys.  Most of the butterflies were going for my back and shoulders, but a few found that I had imparted enough sweat to my tools to make them a convenient place for a drink.  Though they seemed to have abundant energy, none of the butterflies helped with the fence building in any way. 


  1. loved the caterpillar. Any idea what makes the rock/soil in one of your pictures pink?

  2. Ever consider just leaving in the posts and taking down the wire? That way large mammals would still be able to cross boundaries without hindrance and you and your neighbor would have an understanding regarding your borders.

  3. One of the things I enjoy most about your blog is your demonstrations of practicality and simplicity in resolving land management problems.

  4. Hi, Sara. The soil in this area is very well drained, which allows increased air movement through the soil profile. This causes iron in the soil to oxidize, aka rust, and gives the soil a reddish color. In the pink photo, the camera is confused by the contrast between sunlight and shadow and interprets the sunlit area of red soil and rock to be pink.

    Hi, Jake. My neighbor and I would probably get along fine with just a few visual markers identifying the property line. However, there are other factors that make maintaining the fence desirable. The fence may not hold up to heavy livestock pressure, but livestock escaping from other nearby properties typically turn away from the fence and are more easily found and returned to their proper pastures. Trespassing 4-wheelers will turn away from the fence rather than waste time trying to knock it down. Other than humans and livestock, Whitetail Deer are the only large mammals likely to encounter the fence and they have no trouble crossing. When I encounter trespassers or poachers, I don’t want to hear the excuse that they didn’t notice they were crossing a property line. Besides, the time it would take to clean up and properly dispose of all of that old wire would most likely be more than I now spend keeping it in place.

    Hi, Mel. I try to demonstrate how a property such as mine can be managed by someone who is working alone and has limited time and money available.