A history of fencing in the West

history of ranch fencing in the West

For you history buffs, please enjoy this guest post by Andrew Swenson of Gallagher Fence.

Fencing has come a long way over the years and has a fascinating history. Long gone are the days that farmers would collect sticks, strap them together and hope for the best.
How Did Barbed Wire Fencing Come To Be?
With advances in technology, better fencing was inevitable. Farmers needed a solution to issues surrounding containing and protecting their livestock. While sticks may contain small animals such as goats, sheep, and other smaller animals, large animals such as cows, horses, and the like require much sturdier fencing.
In the late 1800s, barbed wire was invented. It provided a solution to large animals knocking over fencing, predators simply walking through or under fencing. All of this in a readily available format that was both low maintenance and low cost.
Barbed Wire Made the Standard of Fencing
Once the barbed wire was introduced to the market, it offered farmers an option that they could not ignore. As the West was being colonized, it allowed the farmers to contain their livestock quickly and safely without wasting valuable space. Without barbed wire, many farmers would have been unable to protect their livestock and mark their lands.
This was particularly important with vast areas of government land being given away and free for anyone to use for their animals grazing. This led to an argument between farmers who kept their livestock on their land or had their fields fenced to keep out wildlife and other animals and the farmers who let their animals out to graze. This led to the Fence Cutting War in Texas.
The Fence Cutting War in Texas
Due to a widespread drought in 1883, farmers were finding it harder to find water and food for their cattle. This led to desperation and for some farmers to seek desperate measures. Migrating herds would be blocked by the fences that had been set up and wander around trying to find a way through. Ranchers began cutting down these fences to help their cattle get through to somewhere they could get water. The owners of the land would also try to increase their borders by cutting the fences to neighboring properties or government land and rebuild them past their original lines. This eventually got out of hand, fences started appearing across roads, some fields were burnt, and there was over $20 million worth of damage done in the summer and fall alone. While fence cutting still continued on and off over the years, it was not permitted to get as out of hand as it did in 1883.
Why to Look For Alternatives
Farmers have always cared for their livestock. After all, it is their livelihood and abused, or starved animals are of no use to anyone. This is why farmers wanted to find a viable solution that would keep their livestock safe and contained.
As other methods of containment merely hold the animals inside their paddocks but offer no protection from predators, barbed wire was a necessary evil and was therefore left as a standard.
Early Electric Fencing
The first electric fencing was not used for animals. Rather it was designed to keep people out of places. These wire fences could carry currents that ranged from a light zap to lethal force. It was heavily used in areas such as prisons, government buildings, and, with the war, concentration camps, dugouts, and other military zones. These electric fences caused thousands of fatalities throughout World War 1; the most deadly was known as the “Wire of Death”.
Today’s Standard of Fencing
Although barbed wire fencing had become an industry standard, farmers were always on the lookout for a better alternative. One that did not cause their animals to end up with tangles, lacerations, or other injuries. That led to farmers to start looking towards electric fencing in the 1930s although it was not widely used at first. Certain areas would ban or limit its usage as much of the first electric fencing was unpredictable when it came to the strength of the shock that one sustained after touching it.
Despite these roadblocks, farmers knew this was the viable option they had been hoping for. It would keep their animals safely contained and would keep predators on the right side. Not only was it safe and more efficient than traditional methods, but it was also cheaper in the long run too. The wires (particularly high tensile wire) required very little maintenance, were quick and easy to set up, and did not need a lot of materials. This saved farmers a lot of money, time, and effort and for these reasons electric fencing will continue to be the new industry standard for livestock fencing.

This post was written for Vista Verde Ranch courtesy of www.gallagherfence.net