By John Williamson, QEII regional representative for Manawatu and Kapiti
When I’m out monitoring covenants I sometimes come across fences that are in need of repair and stock are getting in as a result. Fencing off a covenant to exclude stock is a standard requirement in most QEII open space covenant agreements, but it doesn’t end there. There is also an ongoing obligation to maintain the fences.
Covenant fences often run close to a forest edge or right through patches of bush, so they can be easily damaged by branch or tree fall. These events can slacken wires or even knock down sections of the fence. No fence will last forever, but without maintenance the life of a fence is certainly shortened. Carrying out fence maintenance in a timely manner will help protect the initial investment put in to constructing it, extend its life, keep the browsers out, and save a lot of work and expense further down the track.
Nothing beats a well-built conventional fence - 8 wires, 4 battens, posts 4 m apart. That design was effective when two barbs to hold the battens in place were commonly used, but that method isn’t used much anymore. Cattle are destroyers, and they will destroy a fence too, whether it is 8 or 9 wire, unless the fence is protected by barb or electricity. Many of the fences I see have no barbs, and the battens have been pushed along to the posts. They are still keeping cattle out at this point, but the wires have become separated and loose and are allowing through sheep.
Most sheep and goats tend to burrow rather than jump, and it is the loose wires they find while stretching underneath that will generally let them through. Keeping wires tight and running a barbed wire along the bottom of the fence are the best ways to discourage this behaviour.
My preference for a fence now is 9 wires with 3 m post spacings without battens. As long as the wires are tight, the sheep won't get through, and cattle don't like sticking their heads through either. I have also seen 5 wire fences at thigh height (700 mm) that sheep have never broached, with a higher electric wire for cattle. The absence of battens makes repair jobs easier after branch or tree-fall and the wires are also easier to keep tight. It’s a good idea to think about where you put your tensioners when you build the fence, as handy access makes the job of tightening wires quick and easy.