1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Varieties of Fences

(Part 15)

V. FENCES (cont.)

Varieties of Fences

When the soil and climate are favourable to the growth of the common white thorn, hedges formed of it combine efficiency, economy, and ornament, in a greater degree than any other fence. But to have a really efficient thorn hedge, much attention must be paid to its planting , rearing and after management. In proceeding to run a new line of thorn hedge, care must be taken that the soil is clean and in good heart, and that the subsoil is porous and dry. When these conditions do not obtain, they must be secured by fallowing, manuring, draining, and trenching. The young quicks should be stout and well- rooted; not taken indiscriminately as they stand in the nurserymen’s beds, but of uniform stoutness. Such selected plants are always to be had for a small additional price, which will be found to be well repaid in the superior progress of such plants, when contrasted with that of others taken as they chance to come to hand. The embryo fence mush be kept free of weeds, and secured from the encroachments of cattle by a line of rails on both sides. Some persons advise that the young the pruning-hook after each year’s growth. It is certainly better not to touch it with the knife, or, at least, only to restrain an occasional shoot that unduly overtops its neighbours, until the centre stems are at least a couple of inches in diameter. If the plants are then headed over fence-high, and the lateral shoots pruned to a straight line, a close fence with a substantial backbone in it is secured; whereas by pruning annually from the first, a fence is obtained that pleases the eye, but which, consisting only of a mass of spray, presents no effectual barrier to cattle. When a thorn hedge has reached the stage just referred to, the protecting rails may be removed, and the hedge kept in a neat and efficient state by annual pruning. On good, deep soil, thorns will stand this constant removal of the annual growth of spray for many years without injury, especially if the pruning is delayed until the leaf has fallen. In less favourable circumstances, it is found necessary from time to time to withhold the pruning-knife for a few years together. When the hedge has been reinvigorated by such periods of unrestrained growth, it can again be cut back to the centre stems., and subjected anew to a course of annual pruning. To insure a close fence, the bottom of the hedge must at all times be kept clear to tall weeds. The constant use of the weeding-iron is, however, objectionable; for, besides being expensive, it injures the bark of the thorns and thereby impairs their health. It is quite sufficient to cut the weeds close to the surface twice a year by means of a reaping-hook or short scythe.

In arable lands, by thus plan of keeping hedges about four feet high, and cutting down the weeds as required, an efficient and ornamental fence is maintained at comparatively small cost, and little injury to the adjoining crops from shading or the harbouring weeds and vermin.

Although the white thorn forms a better hedge than any shrub yet tried for the purpose in this country, there are many upland situations where the beech and hornbeam grow more freely, and are to be preferred wither alone of in mixture with it. These plants, and also crab or sloe, are sometimes useful in filling a gap occasional by the removal of a hedgerow tree of the death or a portion of thorn hedge.

In exposed situations, where thorns do not thrive, drystone walls are the most usual substitute. When carefully constructed, of stones suitable for the purpose, they last a long time, and form an excellent fence. Their durability is much enhanced by having the cope-stones set in lime-mortar. A layer along the centre of the wall, and an external pointing, of lime-mortar will also repay the additional first cost thus incurred. A wall of this kind four feet high, exclusive of the cope, while quite sufficient to retrain cattle and the heavier kinds of sheep, is no barrier to the mountain breeds, which can easily clear a six-foot wall.

A simple and very effective fence has, however, come much into use of late years. It is composed of iron wire (No. 8 being the size most commonly used), which is attached by small staples to common stakes, such as are used for wooden railings, driven firmly into the ground about five feet apart. The wire is drawn out of the coil, and the ends of the various lengths or threads are neatly joined by first heating them, and then twisting the one into the other, until the quantity required for the stretch of fence is run out. It is then attached to every third or fourth stake by a staple, which must not be driven home. The other lines of wire are then treated in the same manner, each being attached to the stakes at such width apart as has been determined upon, and marked upon the stakes. A ready way of doing this is by stretching along the stakes a common gardener’s line which has been previously rubbed with chalk, or a charred stick, and striking it against the stakes at the required heights, in the way that sawyers mark a plank. When the requisite number of wires has thus been loosely attached, they are pulled as tight as possible by the hands of the workmen, after which a screw or lever is applied to each in turn until it is made perfectly tight. As the efficiency of this kind of fence is wholly dependent on perfect tightness being obtained, a stout straining-post must be fixed securely in the ground at the end of each line of fence. This serves the double purpose of furnishing a fulcrum for the stretching instrument, and a secure attachment for the ends of the wires. When the straining is accomplished, each wire is stapled to each stake. The gates are usually hung upon these straining-post. Although wooden straining-post are commonly used, some persons prefer iron ones, fixed into large blocks of stone. Five wires thus stretched, at an average width of six inches, from an effectual fence for the widest sheep. They could, indeed, easily clear it so far as height is concerned, but they are afraid to leap at an object which they cannot see until they are close upon it. They may be seen at first walking along the line anxiously looking for an opening, and if one more bold than the others makes a run at it, he is sure to catch such fall as effectually deters him from repeating the attempt. With these cheap and portable materials, which any laborer of ordinary intelligence can easily put together, a fence admirably adopted for enclosing or subdividing mountain pastures is now quite attainable by every sheep-farmer, and will well repay its cost. It is equally available for protecting young thorn hedges, and generally for all purposes for which wooden railing is used. As a fence for cattle or horses, it is advisable to add a single rail of wood nailed flat along the top of the stakes, which must be sawn off evenly for this purpose. As compared with wooden railing, wire is much cheaper and more durable, and more easily kept in repair. It is cheaper also than a stone walls, available in many situations where they are not and a more certain barrier to agile sheep; but it is less durable, and affords no shelter.

The latter defect can in some situations be remedied by raising a low mound of turf, running the wire-fence along the top of this mound, and sowing on it the seeds of the common whin.

We have already noticed that the fence of a farm are usually erected by the landlord and kept in repair by the tenant. The latter is at least usually taken bound in his lease to keep and leave them in good order; but as this obligation is often very indifferently performed, and much damage and vexation occasioned in consequence, it is always expedient that a person should be appointed by the land lord to attend to the fences, and the half of his wages charged against the tenant. By such a course, dilapidation and disputes are effectually guarded against, and the eyesore of defective, ill-kept fences is wholly removed.

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