Barbed wire Removal

In early 2004 we purchased 1200 acres on the top of the great dividing range about 30km SW of Gatton in Queensland. This property was originally used for dairy cattle and mixed cropping but had been effectively abandoned since the mid 1960s. It is bounded by Ma Ma creek in the south and Dwyers Scrub Conservation park in the north. It is a mixture of rugged sandstone cliffs, ironbark scrub, dry vine scrub and open grassland. The majority of the cleared land and all the fencelines were overgrown with lantana.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Original fences

Approximately half of the 12km of boundary fences were well strained, 4 strand, low tensile barbed wire, with wooden split posts every 7m. The remaining 6km of boundary fences were loose, rusty barbed wire, again with split posts every 7m. Another 10km or so of internal fencing was mostly rusty, loose or broken barbed wire, overgrown with 2m high lantana. The remaining 2km of internal fences were new well strained low tensile barbed wire. Our long term plan was to remove all internal fences and to replace the boundary fences with plain wire. The first step was to remove the bottom strand of barbed wire from all fences to allow free passage for wallabies and kangaroos.

Between june 2004 and june 2007 we replaced all the accessible 4 strand barbed wire boundary fences with 3 strands of low tensile plain wire. As we have no stock other than horses, the bottom strand of wire was not required. The difficulty of using high tensile wire was avoided as horses do not tend to push on fences when there is adequate feed available. During this period we also removed all the internal fences and cleared the lantana from all the originally cleared land and along all the fencelines. The old wire was cut with wire cutters at every post and taken in many, many trailer loads to the local tip.
 
 
 
 

As far as the eye can see

Fences disappearing off into the distance look like a daunting task and the amount of effort involved combined with the expense is often used as an excuse for not undertaking the work.

A lot of fences in this district are in very bad repair. This is not helped by the practice of burning each year to attempt to control the lantana. Combined with years of drought, the failure of the dairy industry and the aging rural population the time and money to maintain the fences is not availabe. Poor fences will never restrain cattle regardless of the amount of barbed wire in them.
 
 
 
 

Poor quality fences

After we had replaced or repaired all our boundary fences we were faced with the problem of removing stray cattle that had come through from the neighbours while the fences were in such a bad state. This took some time and involved such measures as putting electric fences around all the dams. Groups of cattle were gradually driven into a lane way along the road reserve and forced into a loading yard we built at the end of the lane. This demonstrated quite clearly how little regard cattle have for barbed wire. The neighbours side of the lane way was well constructed 4 strand barbed wire through split posts. Rather than be driven into the loading yard, the cattle would frequently charge straight through these fences, somehow getting between the wires or jumping clear over them.Between june 2004 and june 2007 we replaced all the accessible 4 strand barbed wire boundary fences with 3 strands of low tensile plain wire. As we have no stock other than horses, the bottom strand of wire was not required. The difficulty of using high tensile wire was avoided as horses do not tend to push on fences when there is adequate feed available. During this period we also removed all the internal fences and cleared the lantana from all the originally cleared land and along all the fencelines. The old wire was cut with wire cutters at every post and taken in many, many trailer loads to the local tip.

The removal process
We tried several different approaches to remove the old wire, ranging from a wire coiler attached to the 3 point linkage of the tractor to cutting by hand. The tractor solution was OK where the wire was in good condition, and where there were no star pickets along the fence line. With old wire with many weak spots and with lots of joins where the fence had been repaired it was impossible to pull the wire through the posts. Star pickets also complicated the process as all the wire ties had to be cut and even then the wire frequently snagged on the pickets. Pulling by hand, or using the tow bar on the ute had similar problems, with the added disadvantage that the wire then had to be coiled by hand.

Wildlife traps
A common practice when clearing old fence lines is to bulldoze them into heaps and burn them or cover them with earth. This practice results in the sort of wildlife trap shown here with rusty barbed wire sticking up from the ground along wallaby trails. Who knows how many animals have died from tetanus after encountering these supposedly removed fences. In several places we found veritable mountains of barbed wire and old posts just pushed into heaps and grown over with grass and lantana.

Tools of the trade
The best solution we found was to cut each strand of wire at every post and fold or coil the resulting 7m lengths. These were thrown straight in the trailer ready to be dumped. Bundles of cheap work gloves at about $1 a pair and mini bolt cutters ($6 each at Bunnings) became the essential tools of the trade.
More expensive gloves were a waste of money as they had holes torn in them just as quickly as the cheap gloves, and more expensive wire cutters did the job no better than the cheap ones shown here. The low cost meant that we could have many pairs of cutters so one was always there when we found a new piece of previously hidden wire. Before taking the wire to the tip, any coiled lengths were cut at every coil to ensure that they werent picked up by someone else and reused for new fences.

Building new fences
Where-ever possible we reused the existing fence posts and simply replaced the wire. In some cases this wasnt possible, but the removal of the internal fences provided a reasonable stockpile of reusable split posts and corner posts. Where new fences were constructed, and so that they would not look out of place, we used the same split post construction but with the posts spaced at 20m intervals. These fences were not intended to be cattle proof so we put a single star picket in between. To make them as cattle proof as a 4 strand barbed wire fence is simply a matter of having 3 star pickets between each wooden post and running the fourth strand of wire below the other three.
 
 

Use of twitchers
I have been building and maintaining fences for years using the old style wire strainers. To speed the process of replacing the wire and to make it easier to keep them tight we tried out Twitchers for the first time. Now I wouldnt use anything else. They significantly reduce the time taken to replace the wire and make it so easy to keep the wire well strained, and on top of that they are very cheap.
 

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