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Fencing – get your head around its potential benefit

June 2020

Gavin Mathews, Bachelors in
Environmental Management. Send
an email to gavmat@gmail.com

Fencing has been used for centuries for various purposes and in various forms. In the early years before wire was available people would erect rock walls, hedges, and wooden fences and even dig trenches. Castles would have moats dug around the entire property and filled with water to keep out any unwanted guests. 

As far back as we go in history, there has always been the need for some form of fencing to establish boundaries, to protect crops and properties from trespassing and theft as well as control the grazing of livestock. This is still the case today and for good reason. Our methods and materials have changed, but we still have the same motivation for erecting these divisions.

In modern times we make use of wire and steel as it is quick and easy to erect, and the materials are readily available. Most farms erect a strong boundary perimeter with five or six strands of barbed wire fence and steel standards and droppers as supports. 

For corners wooden or steel box structures are erected to provide an anchored support on which to strain the wire. Farms also then divide portions internally with four or five strands for livestock and crop land. Some intensive grazing farms make use of electric fencing to control pasture grazing; this is done with a single steel wire strand or a polly wire strand that is connected to an energiser. Farms which run sheep and other small stock will often make use of bonnox or mesh fencing rather than barbed wire in an attempt to keep out predators.

Internal barbed wire divisions are erected primarily to control livestock grazing and to keep livestock out of crops. Over grazing is a big problem in South Africa and by controlling the intensity of grazing patterns the farmer can allow certain portions of the farm to rest at different times. By creating these partitions or ‘camps’ farmers can also manage their grazing in order to save grass for the winter months.

From a cropping point of view farmers usually make considerable efforts to prevent livestock from breaking into their fields. Cattle especially can cause huge amounts of damage if they get into a maize field by trampling and breaking stalks as they move through the land. This causes significant losses when it comes to harvest time. It is extremely important to assess the condition of these fences at the start of the season and to make sure that they are well maintained to prevent these kinds of damages.

In the rural areas of South Africa this can be one of the hardest things to control as there are little if any fenced areas. Many times, when a fence is erected it will be vandalised or stolen strand at a time. This can be demoralising and remains one of the biggest challenges for small scale cropping farmers in these areas.

Farmers make a big effort to plant a good crop but when it comes to harvest time then the cattle start coming into the fields and cause big damage. What I found when I was working as a mentor in rural KwaZulu-Natal was that farmers started to harvest their maize early before it was properly dry to try and avoid damage by cattle. This created a new problem of rotting and moulding grain as well as significant weight loss in the grain. This is a big challenge, but it can be overcome, and I found that the committed farmers who made the effort and investment yielded the results at harvest time.

As a farmer one must weigh up the cost of fencing with the potential benefit you may receive. To make a new fence can cost a lot of money. For 1 000 m or 1 km of new barbed wire fencing you can expect to pay more than R10 000. This can be daunting as this investment now sits unprotected out in the field. There are however ways to cut these costs and still protect your crops. You can source second-hand fencing; you can cut your own droppers and posts. It doesn’t need to be beautiful; it needs to do the job.

If you make the effort and erect some sort of boundary around your crops, then you will definitely reap the benefits at harvest time. If your maize is properly matured it will weigh more, your risk of rotting and moulding grain is reduced, and you will be able to make use of your own stalks for your own animals after you have harvested.

No fence is 100% effective all of the time. We have come a long way in the advancement of materials available, however everything still requires attention and maintenance. Anything that is maintained will last longer. Make the effort and spend the time in your field, mend the fences and reap the benefits at harvest time. One small investment can protect your big investment which is the grain in the ground.

Publication: June 2020

Section: Pula/Imvula