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Aussie farmers appreciate a good fence

The slogan “A good fence makes a good neighbour” applies as much to an Australian farmer as it does in Canada. Looking a little closer you will see Australian fence is built differently and also very well. Aussies must appreciate neighbourly relations but also believe a fence should be built properly from the onset and built to last.

Building a good fence is one thing but some of the pioneer fences in Australia went beyond staying on good terms with the neighbour. As a country that is home to an ecosystem unique in flora and fauna and vulnerable to the impact of non-native plants and pest animals, some fences were designed purposely to keep pest animals out of the pasture as well as to keep livestock in.

The famous dingo fence that was built over a few years and finished in 1885 spans 5,614 kms from the southern coast west of Adelaide to north of Brisbane on the east coast. It was built following an aggressive and effective dingo depopulation campaign to prevent further livestock predation on the fertile sheep-grazing country of south east Australia.

It is the longest fence in the world and still does its job today with ongoing patrols and maintenance along its entirety. I crossed the dingo fence on the Sturt highway to the central Australia back in 2008 just north of Coober Pedy, South Australia where the picture (bottom right) is from.

This national initiative is truly impressive with every foot of the fence made of chicken wire dug part way into the soil. It is built into the outback and through desert country. The grass is hardly greener on the other side and only the most perseverant dingo would take on the challenge to go through it.

Some did make it across before the fence was built and have crossbred with domestic dogs. These hybrid dingos or wild dogs cause much grief in many parts of Victoria, mainly in the hard-to-access “high country” where they prey on sheep and young cattle.

BUNNY INVASION

Another introduced pest animal that have brought much grief is the European rabbit, which began with a small release of just 24 rabbits in 1859 not far from where we live in Dunkeld, Victoria. The rabbit population exploded and in just 15 years, feral populations had reached the border to New South Wales well over 500 kms to the north, and made another 1,000 kms to Queensland in the next six years.

The rabbits were truly let out before the hutch was closed and a desperate attempt to build an 1,800-km rabbit fence in Western Australia in 1907 failed as the little bunnies were already well established in the areas to be excluded. The development of rabbit diseases and the release of two viruses from 1950 and onward have kept the rabbit population manageable although resistance has now built up in the current population calling for new agent developments.

Efforts to minimize the rabbit borrows and feed losses from the pest saw farmers build rabbit fences not unlike the dingo fence, with chicken wire forming the bottom part of the fence and these are still seen on many farms.

Kangaroo fences do pop up as well to fence out one of the native pests that also have reached epidemic levels in many places including here in Dunkeld. Multiple lines of high-tensile wire leaning out from the pasture with several of them electrified have successfully excluded the hopping roos as they fear the height and the shock of the fence.

AN AUSSIE FENCE

Switching to something a little more applicable to a Canadian farmer, the typical Australian livestock fence is very well built. I had an opportunity to work with my brother in-law on a few fencing jobs. Simon Mooney farms in the Otways in the southern part of Victoria and runs a fencing contractor business on the side.

A multi-species fence will often have seven strands of high-tensile wire with one or two hot lines, most often the top wire and the fourth. Simon’s new post pounder is an Australian Munro model using a small-diameter hydraulic auger followed by a vibrating pad driving the non-sharpened posts down.

An end assembly consists of two heavier eight-foot posts with an eight-foot top rail and two loops of high-tensile diagonal tighteners. The high-tensile wire is blue in colour and comes in a three-foot diametre roll that sits nicely in the spinning jennys for easy unwinding. The blue wire is very nice to work with as it resists the recoiling — a poor feature of Canadian high-tensile wire.

All fences on 4-Clover ranch up in Rocky Mountain House are made from that type of Canadian high-tensile wire and I have, as many others, swore and cussed at the mess of tangled wires from the recoiling. I have seen the blue wire promoted in Canada a couple of years ago and hope it will gain popularity. Often the negative experience from the recoiling has turned people off of using high-tensile wire in favour of barbed wire.

The Australian insulators and wire tighteners are not much different from Canadian brands but New Zealand Gallagher materials are obviously common here. Simon uses Gallagher exclusively, keeps the customer happy as the alternative products are often inferior. The fence posts are commonly seven feet long and spaced around 30 feet using three poly droppers between the posts to keep the wires spaced evenly and avoid hot wires from shorting out.

Internal fences are often built with fewer wires and with the dry ground conditions during the summer it is common to have one of the tensile wires acting as a negative earth wire with the other one or two wires hot.

I spent part of the past summer repairing fence on 4-Clover Ranch over the past grazing season. My fences are nowhere near the quality of a good Australian fence, but some aspects are rubbing off after my fencing stint with Simon. Tips and designs have been noticed — memorizing a proper figure-eight knot for splicing wires, memorizing the wire wrapping around the end post from the front of the fence post (not the back) and then the wire going “down the rabbit hole, back up and over” making the end knot resistant to animal hits.

Gate crossing using insulated underground hot wire should be laid in 1/2-inch poly hose for increased shorting prevention with the hose bent once out of the ground to prevent water from entering it. The 3-2-1 rule should be used for fence energizer grounding; three ground rods, two metres in the ground, one metre apart. Needless to say a few updates were made 4-Clover Ranch fences. †

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