July 2014
Farm & Field

A Not Fancy Fix for Cross Creek Fences

Completed view of the creek fence from above and downstream.  

A creek fence constructed of heavy-gauge tin may not be pretty, but it IS effective, practical and durable.

It’s July and the creek may be low around your farm. If so, this makes an ideal situation when repairing fencing and containment across the creeks of your property. There are about as many methods of fixing fences that cross creeks as there are farmers fixing them.

I’ve seen people tie plastic 55-gallon drums together, string barbed wire across the creek and allow fence posts to sit suspended by a wire in the creek. Some methods work fairly well and some not at all. After years of trial and error, we found out a method that works fairly well and has withstood some raging flash floods over the previous months.

This fix is not fancy, but it will prevent cattle from escaping the pasture through the creek crossing. First, you need enough cable to go across the length of the creek and attach it to a nearby tree on each side. If no trees are present, large, corner posts and bracing will be needed to handle the weight of the cable and other creek-containment materials. Next, you will need enough sheets of heavy-duty tin to cross the creek. Finally, you’ll need slick, galvanized wire to attach the tin to the suspension cable. Grab a cordless drill and you’re ready to head for the creek.

It’s great having creeks and water sources running through your farm, but these areas are also vulnerable spots where cattle can escape, especially when the creeks run low during drought times. The system I am covering for this article makes use of used, heavy-duty tin wired to a cable crossing the creek.

The tin provides a barrier even when the creek gets up. The current of the creek simply causes the tin to rise and fall in the water, and as long as the top of the tin is out of the water, debris such as limbs, leaves and trash are less likely to collect. The snagging and catching of limbs and larger debris are what cause the creek-crossing fences to tear down. Once a large limb hangs on traditional strands of barbed wire going across the creek, larger and larger debris builds up and the fence wire stretches and breaks. This method makes use of a heavy-duty cable that can handle the weight better than fence wire.

Placement of the Creek Cable

Ideally, a creek-crossing, livestock-containment system (I should get that term copyrighted as CCLCS) works better when there are two, larger-size trees to connect the cable to. If not, you’ll have to install the braced posts on each side of the creek. The cable should be at a height allowing the sheets of tin to be suspended just above water level.

For each piece of tin, use a cordless drill to create two to three holes in the top of each piece. Using smooth pieces of galvanized wire, run the wire through the holes in the tin and attach the tin to the cable. It is important to use a heavy, thick gauge of tin to withstand the wear and tear when the water level rises and rushes against the panels during heavy rains.

How it Works

During a heavy rain, the water level of the creek can rise rapidly, and limbs and other debris will be carried down the creek. Since the tin is attached to the cable on the top side, the flow of water rushes under the tin. If the water level rises higher, the tin will act as flaps allowing the higher water and debris the ability to continue flowing without trapping the debris in the way that simple barbed wire crossing the creek would.

Once the water level goes back down, the flaps or pieces of tin will also go back down into place. You can adjust the height of the cable by loosening the cable clamps and tightening or loosening the cable. Typically, you want the tin to rest just above water level when the creek is running at regular flow.

Routine Maintenance

In areas where creeks and streams enter your fenced pastures or wooded areas, it is critical to make regular, routine visits to these spots. In larger creeks, larger logs can wash in and should be removed by chainsaw or a chain hooked to your tractor. If the occasional large objects wash in and aren’t removed, these areas build up debris and can tear out the livestock-containment areas of the creek.

It’s a frustrating experience to sit in the house through a heavy rain and wonder if the cows are going to get out of the pasture through the creeks the next morning. By keeping heavy debris cleaned out of the creek regularly, your CCLCS should stay in good shape for years. Use this homemade CCLCS so you can enjoy the sound of rain on the tin roof without the worries of cows getting out of the fence.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.