Building and Maintaining Fences in the High Country
By: John Miles, local rancher and retired professor of Agriculture Engineering at UC Davis
When I used to “work” I was a professor of Agricultural Engineering at the University of California, Davis. As a part of that job I was co-director of the Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center where we developed new tools to reduce the hazards related to agricultural jobs. My other long term “job” which continues today is management of a cattle ranch near Ione. As part of this operation, we have a U.S. Forest Service grazing permit on the El Dorado National Forest and the allotment is between 4000 to 5000 ft. elevation. There are miles of fence which need to be maintained or reconstructed each year. To assist in this operation, we have developed several tools which may be useful to others. These are generally simple tools which could be made in most home shops. A summary and discussion of these tools follows:
Another helpful trick for mountain fencing is to paint tools a contrasting color so that they can be easily found when dropped in the duff. We have found that a bright blue color provides the contrast to allow us to find dropped tools.
Another tool that we have adopted is a battery powered chain saw. Trees and limbs that fall over the fence each winter make it necessary to carry a saw along each section of fence. We build over large trees but cut off anything smaller than about 14 inches. Saw weight becomes important, and small gas-powered saws tend to be quite sensitive to changes in altitude and are frequently hard to start. One can waste more energy trying to start a saw than it would take to cut the limb by hand. With the relatively new lithium batteries, a number of manufacturers have now made battery powered chain saws. These start every time you pull the trigger and are no heavier than the gas-powered ones. We carry an extra battery in the truck, but seldom needs it for several hours of fence repair.
One other item that I use in the woods is corked boots. They are somewhat expensive and a bit heavy but they do not slip on the slick forest floor. A young man might think they are a waste of time, but the older I get, the sooner I go looking for these boots. An online search will find that there are some boots which are lighter than the conventional loggers models.
I would like to thank Professor Miles for taking the time to write this guest article sharing his expertise, ingenuity and experience building and maintaining fences in the high country. If you would like to submit an article for an upcoming newsletter, please contact Scott Oneto at email@example.com.