I couldn’t raise pastured pork without electric fence. At least I couldn’t move pigs so frequently to fresh paddocks, which is healthier for the land and the pigs. I get the environmental benefit letting my animals graze and forage in rapid rotations without the overwhelming expense and labor of building permanent fence.
A New Zealand inventor developed the first electric fence for livestock in the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until almost the 1970’s when more reliable energizers and adjustable post insulators came along that American farmers started using electric fences with any frequency. My earliest truck driving experience came thanks to electric fencing. When I was about eight, dad had me drive the truck as wire spooled off the back while he and a hired man walked along pulling posts off the bed and pounding them into the ground.
For my own hogs, I started out using polywire—twisted nylon line with strands of stainless steel wire wrapped in it. Polywire’s light weight—6 lbs for 1/4 mile— makes it idea for subdividing paddocks for rotational grazing since the operator can easily roll up and pay out several hundred feet on small spools in a few minutes. Easy fence moving makes for easier pasture rotations, reducing the likelihood and negative effects of leaving pigs in one place too long. Good polywire (the cheap stuff barely works) costs about four times as much as 14 gauge steel wire per foot. When I realized that I needed more acres inside one perimeter—4 acres of pasture and 3 acres of woods—I switched to steel wire. Steel wire gives several more years of service life than poly wire and it’s recyclable in the end. It’ s just not as easy to handle.
Setting up the fence itself wasn’t that hard, especially with another person helping. A simple wooden carrier made it fairly easy to string the wire. (Go Here for a picture of the carrier). I’m glad I put it up, but I didn’t look forward to taking it down.
All the handling systems I’d seen for steel wire were vehicle-mounted and powered: gas-engine rigs on trailers behind 4-wheelers, power-take-off or hydraulic rollers mounted on tractors. I briefly toyed with the idea of making a powered wire roller for the BCS, but that would be far more effort and construction cost than the problem required. I needed to be able to roll wire back on to the plastic spools in 45lb, half-mile lengths. Spools any larger are a pain to carry in one hand. I Googled “wire roller,” “hand crank wire roller,” and “manual wire roller” for ideas. Most of the contraptions that came up were powered rollers or flimsy hand cranked rollers for polywire. And this packable, hand-cranked, barbed-wire roller for a mere $2,750.
So I built my own. I have a lot more woodworking tools and wood on hand than I have metal fabrication tools and steel, so wood seemed like the better material choice. Before I got into hand-tool woodworking and interested in the devices people used before the internal combustion engine ruled agriculture, I viewed wooden mechanical contraptions as quaint and primitive. My roller is quaint and primitive, and that's just fine.
The base needed to be wide enough to float over mud and snow. It’s a pine 2 x 12 offcut. The the rest of the parts came from one billet of oak. I do have some machines. I turned the shaft and handle on a 100 year old Oliver lathe that belonged to my wife’s grandfather. Making a wooden shaft meant that I could match the hole in the spools exactly. A steel rod threaded through the shaft and then bent parallel to it, fits though holes in the spool, making the spool turn with the shaft.
I cut the crank arm out on a bandsaw. All the splitting, squaring, and cutting on the oak uprights was done with hand tools. The uprights join the base with a wedged mortise and tenon. No nails, no screws, no angle bracing needed.
I finished rolling up wire yesterday. Before the ground was frozen, I pulled all my posts up a few inches so I’d be able to get them out later. For me, working on the snow is an advantage. I can haul a couple hundred pounds of posts, wire, and tools in an ice-fishing sled across smooth snow much more easily than I can move that same load over rough ground with a cart.
The roller can pull 1/2 mile of wire around two corners. I don’t have to pull straight lines form post to post. I unhook the wire from the end post, pull it off all the insulators along the way, and make sure the wire passes around the outsides of corner posts so it stays in the path and doesn’t get hung up coming across the field or in the woods. I tie an 18” length of heavy chain to the far end of the wire so it stays tensioned instead of curling up and kinking while I pull it. The drag of the chain keeps the resistance even in the cranking but doesn’t get snagged on things. I pulled a mile of wire around the pastures and 3/4 of a mile through the woods. Good tool. Easy to make.
I texted a picture of it to another hog farmer. “That’s awesome. You should patent that thing.”
“You can’t patent Roman technology,” I sent back.
But it still works pretty well.
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
Odyssey Farm, LLC.
The Odyssey Farm Journal
Odyssey Farm, LLC
Dane County 2022 Climate Champion
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