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Suspension fences can handle abuse

Early suspension fences used wooden posts and stays, which were labor-intensive and costly. Then ranchers tried metal twist stays, but these were also labor-intensive and easily bent by wildlife hitting the fence or going over or under, compromising height or positioning of wires. Bent stays are difficult to remove and replace.

California farmer Chris Hanniken says his family developed their first suspension fence products during the 1970s to create better fences on their own ranches. Later, they created Southwest Fence Systems and Southwest Fence and Supply Co. to market their unique braces and lightweight stays, which are used by farmers and ranchers throughout the country, including the Parker Ranch in Hawaii, along with park districts and highway departments.

Key Points

• New materials for suspension fences cut maintenance costs, increase longevity.

• Fewer posts are needed, which is helpful in rocky terrain.

• Fences have more resilience when struck by animals or vehicles.

Hanniken says their polyethylene stays are more durable than anything else they’ve tried. “We’ve had poly stays in 40-foot wire gates that have been run over by trucks thousands of times when gates were laid down, and they’re still functional.”

“These stays only come to the bottom wire, so the fence is always floating free between posts,” says Hanniken. This allows more give if an animal or car hits it. Traditional fences along a road usually don’t remain standing after a vehicle crashes through — taking out posts and breaking wires. But when cars hit a good suspension fence, it usually remains in place to contain livestock.

“The bracing system is the key to our fence,” he says. Freezing and thawing often disrupt stability of traditional posts and braces; frost heaves posts upward. “Our braces utilize a diagonal rod similar to the anchor system on modular homes. The metal brace posts are driven into the ground to the depth of a guide tube [on each post at a 45-degree angle]. You put the anchor rod through this tube, drive the rod into the ground and bolt it in place.”

The fence is engineered for a brace every quarter-mile, with line posts every 30 to 50 feet between them. It’s much cheaper to use poly stays instead of metal T-posts, and the stays are quicker to put in. Braces are strong enough to hold the newer types of wire that have higher tensile strength and durability.

Believer in suspension fencing

Terry Andrade, a cattle rancher and fence contractor at Council, Idaho, believes in suspension fencing for his 10,000-acre ranch.

“Wildlife is hard on traditional fences,” he says. “Cattle don’t do near the damage that elk, moose or Mother Nature can do. This is why we use green-coated wire on our suspension fences. It’s 30% stronger and lasts a long time.

“We have areas on our ranch where we use lay-down fences to keep them from being damaged by heavy snow or wildlife in winter. We use strong tie-off posts and make a loop on the fence, so we can drive along on a four-wheeler and take the top loop off, slide the stay out of the bottom loop and lay the fence down. Stays remain attached to the fence and are not damaged by ground moisture,” he explains.

“In mid-May my wife and I put a lay-down fence back up, setting up 3½ miles in about 3 hours. We stretch it from the corners and in-line braces. It would normally take two men about three days to put a traditional fence back up again,” says Andrade.

He says they built 17 miles of new suspension fence at their ranch at Preston after a 55,000-acre fire burned the entire ranch. “Heat destroys wood posts, and the old type wire becomes brittle and can’t be re-used. I put in suspension fence because if our ranch ever burns again, the metal braces will still be there, and the new wire withstands heat better,” he says. “Poly stays will burn, but can be replaced with minimal cost and labor.”

Smith Thomas is from Salmon, Idaho.


PICKUP TEST: Slamming a pickup truck into a suspension fence may not be the best idea, but this test shows that the fence stands up to some substantial hits without being destroyed.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.