There is an old saying, ‘good fences make good neighbours’. The implication is that without good boundary fences, disputes arise. However, the ideal of creating discrete, independent properties is only one reason for building fences. Even in earlier communal societies, fencing was important for protecting crops and managing animals. Today the varied reasons for fencing on farms include the following:
Fences prevent stock from straying from one farm to another, and help to manage stock breeding. They make moving stock easy with little labour, and create laneways, yards and races for handling stock.
Land and pasture management
With more and smaller paddocks created by fencing, stocking can be more intensive. Paddocks can also be spelled to build up a feed supply.
Fencing forces stock to graze a wider range of plants, and allows the plants to recover after grazing. This uses the pastures better and prevents them from becoming overgrazed or too rank.
Crop, stock and land protection
Fences protect crops from pests such as rabbits. They keep stock off snow-prone country in winter and isolate unhealthy or diseased animals. Areas that are dangerous for stock are separated off. Plantations, native bush, shelter belts and waterways are also protected.
Boundary fencing requirements must be met and stock prevented from wandering.
- Strainer post: Fences are built in sections called strains. A fencer marks out the line for the fence, then puts strainer posts at each end of the section. Strainers are heavier and longer than the other posts and have to stay in place when the wire is tightened or ‘strained’.
- Stay: A stay is part of a strainer assembly. It leans on an angle against the strainer post on the side of the strain to stop it from being pulled over when the fence is tightened.
- Intermediate posts. These are smaller than strainer posts, and hold the fence upright and the wire in place.
- Staples: U-shaped nails sharpened at each end are placed over a wire to fix it to a post or batten.
- Battens: Four or five wooden battens are placed between intermediate posts to hold the wires the correct distance apart so stock cannot push through. They are not inserted into the soil.
- Waratah: These are metal posts with a Y-shaped cross-section that are driven into the ground and may be used instead of intermediate posts. They have holes drilled through one of the arms to hold the wires.
- Standard: Flat iron standards were common in old South Island fences. They are driven into the ground and have holes drilled through them to hold the fence wires in place.
- Dropper: These are used between intermediate posts, waratahs or standards instead of battens, to hold the wires in place. They may be made of galvanised light metal or heavy wire.
Laws controlling fencing and the trespass of livestock were passed as early as 1842. In 1847 an ordinance stipulated that the costs of erecting and maintaining boundary fencing should be shared between neighbours. Settlers soon resorted to the courts to settle trespass and fencing disputes. Within a year of the first Canterbury colonists arriving in December 1850, a dispute over fencing was brought before the resident magistrate.
The Fencing Act 1978 sets out regulations for the erection and repair of boundary fences (including farm fencing) with guidelines for acceptable types of fencing for the purpose. The act also sets out the rights and responsibilities of adjoining landowners in terms of the building, maintenance and costs of the fence.