Fences and Machines: Ways to Trim Expenses

Tips on maintaining fences and machinery to extend their usefulness; but keep in mind sometimes it's cheaper to buy than to repair.

Fences and machinery are some of the higher-ticket items on a farm, and in this iffy economic climate, it might be overwhelming to even consider replacing these everyday necessities with new products. Having an organized, planned maintenance program can keep these items serviceable, and it can be much cheaper than replacing them with something new.


To extend the life and reduce maintenance or replacement cost, you can help many fences by keeping horses from chewing, rubbing, or leaning on them. A hot wire inside the fence can serve this purpose. Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, associate director for Undergraduate Education in Equine Science and Management and equine extension professor at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, says, "I've been to some farms that have gone to PVC fencing, and the owners put hot wires along them to keep the horses off the fence."

Sometimes it's not feasible to protect all of your fencing with hot wire, especially in large pastures or in pastures far from a power source. Solar-powered or battery-operated electric fence is an option, but that's still a lot of hot wire to check. Bill Tracy, manager of Oak Tree Ranch near Bandera, Texas, says that servicing this much fence can be frustrating.

"If there's a place where horses are chewing on the fence, my recommendation is to keep it painted/treated with a chew-stop type of product," he says. "We use a commercial black paint that's supposed to keep horses from chewing. On areas where horses congregate, we also use one of the red-hot pepper sprays for leg wraps or blankets (to keep horses from chewing fences)."

Horses always seem to chew posts or rails if they are confined in small paddocks or dry lots and bored, or they chew pasture fences in the areas where they spend a lot of time. "If you get negligent and they've been chewing awhile, the board or post may be nearly chewed through before you realize it and must be replaced," says Tracy. "If you've set the post in concrete and horses have ruined it, now it's an all-day job to replace it."

One way to protect posts, poles, or boards in areas of heavy horse use is to cover them with chicken wire. "In our paddocks with diamond mesh (fence) we have a top board to hold up the mesh," says Tracy. "The board is set into a notch, flush with the post, so the diamond mesh covers the board. This helps protect the board and horses can't hook their teeth into the top of it. Wrapping the board or top pole with chicken wire is an even more foolproof way to deter chewing because they can't get to the wood; the wire is abrasive on their teeth and they quit trying."

Fence maintenance is no different than changing the oil in vehicles or machinery. It needs to be done regularly and on time. If you see a post with a problem, fix it right then, before a horse gets out or hurt or a longer section of fence is compromised--adding to your repair expense. If a wire becomes loose or a post is leaning, repair it promptly. This is where many people fall short, waiting until something is a big problem before it gets attention.

"If you go around the paddocks and pound in all the nails that came loose over winter, or tighten any sagging wires or mesh, this will keep your fence safer and lasting longer, and may save a vet bill," says Coleman. "It also pays to monitor fences that go through trees in case limbs or trees fall on it. It's great to have trees for shade, but this means pruning limbs or taking out a dead tree before it falls over and takes the fence with it."

Take advantage when fencing materials, motor oil, etc. are on sale. Buy the things you know you will eventually need when the price is lowest. "Buy a few extra posts if the price is reasonable," says Coleman.

If you have extra posts and planks on hand, you are more apt to fix the fence in a timely manner, rather than putting it off until you can get supplies. Store the extra materials in a handy, weatherproof place so they won't deteriorate.

If you have to replace an old fence, install something that will last a long time with minimal maintenance. "When I came to this ranch they had board fences and net wire fences--the large rectangular mesh we call King Ranch wire," Tracy said. "It was fine for keeping animals in one pasture or another, but not safe for foals," says Tracy. "We kept setting aside a little money until we could afford to replace the netting and switched to RAMM fence, which is similar to Centaur fence--utilizing three heavy wires encased in vinyl that looks like a board."

It's expensive initially, but it soon pays for itself in less maintenance cost. "We've been replacing perimeter and pasture fences with RAMM fence and the maintenance is relatively easy and inexpensive, except for painting the wood posts," he adds. "Before we installed this, we were constantly fixing fences and replacing boards."


Tracy describes, "On our place we have some pieces of equipment that qualify as antiques, but we keep them maintained so we don't have to replace them. I am fanatic about keeping the oil changed. As a young person, I wasn't as concerned about that, but after you blow up a motor, you pay more attention."

Just as with fence, "you have to look at things to see what might need attention, and when you see something that needs done, do it right then," he continues. "Don't put it off. Also, we keep a logbook with all the hours (how many hours the machine has been in work) written down, and when that equipment needs to be maintained--oil changed, greased, etc. If you are stranded in the middle of the night hauling horses through Wyoming and trying to figure out how to put a new motor in your truck, that's not fun! Oil changes on farm trucks and tractors is a big deal, and we try to make sure it gets done regularly."

Coleman agrees, saying oil changes are less expensive than a new motor. For people who are not mechanically inclined, it pays to find someone dependable to service your vehicles and machinery.

It's also good to have a warranty on new equipment, he says, and it might be reasonable to purchase an extended warranty.

Some horse owners might want to take a course to learn how to do the regular machinery/vehicle maintenance themselves. This could entail some upfront cost for the course and the proper tools, but it could save money in the long term.

It is crucial to keep farm equipment greased properly. Know where all the grease zerks are on every piece of machinery. "The nice thing about buying a tractor is they give you a manual, but don't just put it in a file and never look at it," says Tracy. By the time you open it, wondering where to change the oil or grease it, you may have damaged it through neglect." Also keep track of transmission fluid, hydraulic oil, PTO (power take-off), etc.

"Even a garden tractor or lawn mower needs to be regularly maintained," says Tracy. "Keep track of all equipment upkeep, including chain saws. Another thing we use on our ranch a lot is golf carts. The big thing there is to check the water level in the batteries and make sure all the connections are okay and not corroded."

Tire pressure is important on any vehicle or equipment. It's easy to run over something in the mud or field and end up with a slow leak. "In our part of the country we are always running over deer antlers," says Tracy.

Sometimes it's cheaper to buy than repair. "It pays to shop around for new or used," says Coleman. "Some dealers with large inventories may be willing to make you a good deal. When you go looking, take someone along who knows as much or more than you do about machinery. Sometimes a second pair of eyes might see something you missed."

Take-Home Message

In these days of shrinking budgets and rising costs, repairing rather than replacing might be the key to stretching your dollars. Maintain fences before they need major repairs, and plan for fencing projects that will help you avoid repairs in the future. In some cases you can purchase a new (or gently used) piece of equipment or vehicle that will save you money in the long run, rather than continually fixing an old or problematic piece of equipment.

About the Author

Heather Smith Thomas

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey's Guide to Raising Horses and Storey's Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at http://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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