Fencing and moving sheep

The new Rock Farm was set up originally to spell race horses.  As such its paddocks were all made with plain wire.  Later cattle were run on the property, and an electric wire or hot wire was installed.  Sadly running sheep wasn’t a concern, and we found very quickly that we would need to work on improving the fences quickly in order to rotate the sheep through the paddocks on the farm.

I have decided that the best thing I can do it work on a paddock at a time, and concentrate on making it stock proof.  I chose a 5.6 hectare paddock, that despite its small size has over 1 kilometre of fencing around its perimeter.   The first thing to do was remove the branches that had fallen on or were about to fall on the wires.

Ideally I will install a stock mesh on the fences, but for now the cheapest and easiest solution was to fix up the existing plain wire fences.

On some sections of fence I had to install a bottom wire through the bottom hole of the star picket.  This wire in most fences would  be at ground level, however these pickets are barely in the ground.  Every fourth post is a concrete post that has been dug into the ground, providing most of the stability required.  The wire spinner is invaluable when it comes to running out wire on your own.  We found this old one behind the shed and after replacing the timbers and a few days soaking in WD40 it was restored to normal operation.

In other sections of the fence, the bottom wire was broken.  This required me to join wires and strain the sections.  One of the best knots for joining wire is called the ‘Figure of 8’, for obvious reasons.  For some reason, I found it difficult to make, having to really think through it every time I made it.  It is a great knot as it doesn’t reduce the wire’s strength.  Thankfully I got better as the day went on.

Image result for figure of 8 fencing knot

Edit – The image above shows the correct figure 8 knot… it seems I didn’t get it right after all….

Source:   https://www.kencove.com/fence/100_Fence+Construction_resource.php

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To strain the wire tight I used an old set of Hayes wire strainers.  The design of these strainers hasn’t changed in over 100 years.  They are simple, reliable and need very little maintenance.  The amount of purchase you can achieve with these strainers is immense, and once you have the technique, they are incredibly versatile.  I went around the paddock, straining the bottom two wires, which are the ones the sheep will put the most pressure on.

And then it was a simple case of bringing the sheep in.  A nice bucket of fresh oats, and a few loud “C’m’on” they came running… well almost.

Seventeen of Nineteen sheep followed me excitedly to the new paddock.

One ewe and her lamb eyed the open gate with suspicion and disappeared back into the paddock.  I have had a run in with this ewe before – she was particularly difficult to muster when we moved here.  In case of such an eventuality I had the boys ready on their four stroke steeds, and I thought they would have her rounded up in no time.

I was wrong.  For the next hour and a half all the whole family was pressed into service to try and push her out of her paddock.  And she refused.  Just as I was on the point of finding a very permanent solution for her lack of motivation, she must have read my thoughts.  She trotted through the gate calmly as you like, and continued up the lane and into the new paddock.

By then it was already well past 30 degrees, and the forecast for the following day was going to be just shy of 40 degrees.  We decided that the Rock Farm could do without us for a day, and decided to take the next day off and make a dash to the coast.

As much fun as swimming in the dam on the Rock Farm is, it doesn’t beat the salt water waves of the coast.  Sometimes you just gotta take a road trip!

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Fencing

Fencing on any rural block is a challenge. The old story of the grass is always greener on the other side holds true for some of my sheep – despite my best efforts. And to make matters worse, kangaroos and wombats hold modern fencing in scant regard. It seems the native animals hold onto ancient paths, and fences are mere obstacles that must be pushed under or through.  

Boundary fencing adds another challenge to the mix… The of inclusion another person into the mix. With around 4km of boundary fencing and 4 neighbours on our hundred acre block, it is no small concern.

The basic principle of boundary fencing is that both parties have an equal responsibility to maintain the fence.  This means you both pay for the fence, you both maintain it, and when the time comes, you have to agree to replace it. 

And fencing is bloody expensive.


We had a stretch of about 150 metres of our boundary fence that had long passed its usefulness. My neighbour had been hinting for years we needed to do something about it, and finally we got our act together.

It also helped that we had some cheap labour come and visit… So with agreement reached, materials sourced and labour on hand, it was time to crack on.

The first job was to replace the rotten strainer post. We gave the new post a few days to settle before we pulled out the old fence.  The old fence was all timber. We split the wire out of the old red box timber posts, but left the lighter stringybark spreaders in place. 

The old wire was rolled into two bundles, and then it was time to bang in the new star pickets.  We got our line by stringing a line of barbed wire first. This wire ended up being moved and tied to the top of the pickets.

It was all hands on deck…for a while at least. Unfortunatly our neighbour was ill, and unable to assist (provide adult supervision).  So we did our best.

Once the posts were all in, we moved the barbed wire to the top of the pickets, and then strung the plain wire.  This was only the second time I had used a wire spinner, and this tool was fantastic at ensuring the wire spun tangle free through the posts. 

Finally the hinge lock mesh was rolled out, strained. The end result was a fantastic new stretch of fence… that makes the other sections look decidedly shabby.

We were able to salvage the old wire. Jo thought it would be perfect to reinforce the base of the orchard/vegetable garden. Our chooks live here, and occasionally rabbits and foxes do visit. So the old netting was cleared of its wire and repurposed.  The old plain and barbed wire was respun using the same wire spinner (doubly brilliant), and will be turned into garden art – or sold.

We used the opportunity to clean up some other netting that had been left lying in another paddock. This hadn’t been neatly rolled, but a handy set of hay forks soon helped move it from its resting place and to the steel recycling area at the local tip.

And so, we ended up with a great new section of fence.  And a skilled up labour force ready to start working on dividing our paddocks up into smaller cells. I just need t o find some time…

Special thanks to the willing labourers, and best wishes to our poorly neighbour.

How to turn cattle yards into sheep yards on a budget

If you are going to run stock on your hobby farm, sooner or later you will need a set of yards.  Yards are essential to safely work stock, allowing you to perform regular health checks on your animals.

On hobby farms, it is often difficult to justify a large sum of money for a shiny new set of cattle or sheep yards, that will only get used a handful of times a year.  If you’re really lucky, you may have inherited  a set of yards on your block that you may be able to repair and modify to suit your needs.  After all the best set of yards is a free set of yards!

The old adage, they don’t make them like they used to certainly rings true when it comes to yards.  Modern yards are usually made out of steel, and you purchase a number of panel sections to construct your yards. Some yards are designed to be portable, meaning you can reconfigure your layout, or even relocate your yards.  Older yards were usually made with locally milled timber and fencing wire.  Posts were set into the ground and the layout is fixed.

On our block was a tired set of timber cattle yards in need of some maintenance.  I also wanted to modify them to allow me to work sheep.  The first step was to replace a couple of rotten panels.

  

Panels can be replaced with anything that provides a solid visual barrier to the stock.  With an abundance of stringy-bark saplings, I decided to try using some timber from the block to repair a couple of lower panels.

In the race, a more solid barrier was required.  I found a piece of milled hardwood in my shed that was long enough to be cut to size.

Timber yards are rarely held together with bolts or screws.  Instead fencing wire is used to tie the panels to the posts.  A very simple knot is used that anyone can tie with a pair of pliers.  The knot tensions the joint, providing a secure fixture.

I know the knot as the Cobb and Co Hitch, however it is also called the Cocky’s Hitch.  Don’t use high tensile fencing wire for this knot, you should use a soft or low tensile wire to allow you to twist the wire.    I have written up instructions on how to tie the Cobb and Co Hitch here: https://rockfarming.com/2016/04/07/how-to-tie-a-cobb-and-co-hitch/

Once all the panels were repaired, the next step was to put some chicken wire over the panels to stop the sheep stepping through the panels.  This was achieved by rolling out some short lengths of old chicken wire and nailing it to the panels.

It sounds easier than it was.  The timber was so hard, I needed to pre-drill the holes for the nails!  Finally it was all done – and our yards are now multi-purpose!

Of course not all yards will be as easy to convert as ours were.  In some cases, you might be better off starting from scratch.  It all depends what condition your yards are in, and whether the layout will work for you.  Good luck – and I hope you have as much fun repairing your yards as I did.

 

How to tie a Cobb and Co Hitch

This knot is called a Cobb and Co Hitch or Cocky’s Hitch. It is used to tie timber together, however has a multitude of uses.  It needs little more than a length of wire and a pair of pliers to twist the knot.  It is particularly useful when constructing or repairing timber cattle or sheep yards.

When working with wire under tension, you should wear appropriate safety clothing such as eye protection and gloves.

Step One: Cut a length of wire a little over twice the length required to go around the joint.  Fold it in half.

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Step Two: Pass the wire around the joint.  In this case a hole was drilled in one part of the post, and a notch cut on the other side.  Pass the loop or bight over the other end of the wire.

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Step Three: Pass your pliers handle through the bight to act as your lever.  If you have rubber grips on your handles, use an old bolt of piece of rod steel.

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Step Four: Using the handle as a lever, twist the loop or bight over the other end of the wire.  Keep twisting until you have enough tension on the joint.  If you go too far, you will break the wire and have to start again.

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Step Five:  Tidy up loose ends, cut off the long tails and admire your work.

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Step six: Repeat as often as required.

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If a more structural hitch is required, the wire can be passed diagonally around the joint, across the grains.  If you do two of these knots, forming an X shape, you will have a very strong hitch indeed.