Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Fencing so a 12-Year-Old Can Run the Ranch

If you set up the day to day operations of your ranch so a 12-year-old can run things, your level of enjoyment will be greatly enhanced. You will have more time to think, plan, and recreate. Further, if a 12-year-old can look after the ranch, then so can an 80yr old. Getting to this point takes a shift in thinking.

It really comes down to asking yourself, ‘Can a 12-year-old do this?’ about everything you do, right down to what type of tools you buy. An example I use when explaining my philosophy deals with a pipe wrench. There are two types of wrenches, a steel pipe wrench and an aluminum pipe wrench. If your place is set up for a 12-year-old to run, you will buy the more expensive aluminum pipe wrench. Certainly a 12-year-old can use the heavier steel pipe wrench, however, it is more difficult to carry and use than an aluminum one. When things are awkward and difficult, there is less motivation to properly perform a task. It has been my experience that when jobs are simple and easy, they get done better and with less complaining.

Over the course of 20 years, this thinking has helped me to reduce labor in all aspects of my ranching life. A big part of that is the template I have developed for fencing. I know many people disagree with how I fence citing less expensive materials, that I’m over doing things, I have too many gates, etc.

Those concerns certainly have merit. In fact, we started out fencing very cheaply. Our first fencing was with rebar posts because they were half the price of step-in posts. We were building and taking down two-acre paddocks every two days, dragging the rebar around in a modified manual golf cart. We were in great shape, but we were exhausted! What we forgot to factor into our cost analysis was labor.

Labor costs more than just the time it takes to perform a task. The hourly rate can easily be tracked. The part that is hard to calculate is the mental and emotional cost of labor. Ranching should be fun and easy. When we are run off our feet and always exhausted, our thinking becomes impaired. When I am in an extended period of high labor, I get tunnel vision and my creativity is severely impaired. Plus, it’s not that much fun!

Once I realized the hidden cost of labor I became obsessed with reducing labor. I want everything to be simple and easy and the best way to accomplish that feat is to ask the question, ‘Can a 12-year-old do this?’

Now that I have shared the background of my fencing philosophy, here is my fencing template and my reasoning for why I do what I do and why I use what I use. This system can’t be built by a 12-year-old, but once it’s in, it makes your life easy, whether your 12 or 80.

Krawiec’s High Tensile Electric Fence Recipe


-12 gauge hi-tensile wire                    -claw insulators

-12 gauge double insulated wire       -Kencove or Stafix single throw cut-out switch

-Kencove electric bungee cord         -Kiwi or Daisy Inline tightener
for gates

• Paddock size

Ideally I like the paddocks long and narrow and about 20-acres in size so I can strip graze in the fall/winter. In my article, How to stockpile grass like a 12-year-old, I explain why I don’t strip graze during the growing season.

• Use 8’ X 5-6” pressure treated posts as end posts and gates pounded half way into the ground.

Larger end posts are used because they don’t break when moose or elk hit the fence at full speed. When they are pounded in half-way a brace is not required to keep the post from moving.

• Use 7’ X 4-5” pressure treated posts as line posts pounded 3’ into the ground spaced 60’ apart.

Posts are 60’ (20 paces) apart to reduce sag. We started out at 90’ because of what we learned in Holistic Resource Management training, but found there were too many issues with animals getting into the next paddock.

• Install two high tensile wires placed at 45” and 28”.

Two wires keep jumpers from jumping and sneakers from popping under into the next paddock. The height of the lower wire is important because it allows calves to creep under the wire to ‘creep graze’ and allows newborns to come back to the mom when they get on the wrong side of the fence. Young calves can crawl through a five strand barbed wire fence, but have a heck of a time getting back so this reduces the hassle of going and fetching young calves.

If running sheep, one more hot wire and a bottom non-charged wire seems to work quite well, with hair sheep at least. If running feeder hogs, a third hot wire is all that is required.

Cut or break off all wire ‘tails’. This will help prevent shorts.

• Tie the two wires together using a short piece of high tensile on the side where the flow of power begins.

Many years ago the Gallagher rep told me to do this so the two wires act as one and allow more electrons to travel down the wire with less resistance.

Here’s a diagram showing the fence set up and the high tensile wire tying the two wires together.

To tie off at the end post, use three insulators positioned so the wire does not contact the post.

It is easiest if only one screw is installed in the side insulators so they can be turned when threading the wire.

This is a high strain insulator. Photo is courtesy of the Gallagher catalog.

I don’t use high strain insulators because they are relatively expensive and it is another two ties which takes more labor. Also, I like to have a ‘hot’ wire going around the post because it keeps animals from rubbing on the post and if there is a rush for the gate, it slows movement through the gate because animals that contact the gate post get shocked and back off.

When making the final tie, do it as close to the post as possible and make 15-18 wraps. This will hold when a moose or elk hit the wire at full speed. Here’s an example of thing wire around a post, though it doesn’t show the insulators that I use. One more difference is that instead of making the “handle” demonstrated in the video, I use a traditional fencing pliers as a lever. It requires much less strength and precision to make a nice tie.


I do not recommend what I call the Kiwi tie, shown in this video, because in both instances the tie either breaks or unravels when moose and elk hit the wire.

• Place a tensioner on each wire 15’ from the end post where the electricity begins.

Daisy tensioner and ratchet handle. Photo courtesy of the Valley Farm Supply online catalog.

Always place tighteners in the same place on the wires. It saves time looking for a tightener when adjusting tension.

Below is an example of the kiwi wire strainer. At right is the Daisy tightener with a ratchet handle from Gallagher I use to make it easy for a 12-year-old to make repairs.

When installing a cutout switch, place the switch on the first post of the ‘fence leg,’ not on the main line fence.

Use double insulated wire for the tie in’s. Use actual cutout switches so anyone can turn off a section of fence. I use single throw cut out switches, the second one shown in the video below:

For a long time I just used alligator clips or only had one or two cutouts. Alligator clips get pulled off by calves or chewed which lead to inadvertent shocks. It is not fun! Before I installed multiple cutouts, fences would get repaired while there was still power on the fence. The repair was only a temporary fix that became a long term fix. Not good!

• Use double insulated wire and L-clamps when joining two sections of fence.

This connects two perpendicular fences when they come together at a 90 degree angle.

• Build gates and handles

Lets start with gates are good. Gates allow for easy flow of animals and fewer headaches moving animals from paddock to paddock. If there is an issue with animals not flowing freely, cut the fence and build a gate. When braces are not required, building gates is quick and inexpensive.

Gates should be 21 feet or seven paces wide. This is wide enough for large groups of animals and most equipment to drive through.

To build handles, cut 18” of double insulated wire, tie a bow in the middle, strip 1.5” at each end, bend one end into a hook, the other into a circle. Cut the bungee cord one-third of the gate width and use turbo wire for the other two-thirds.

I like these home made gate handles because they are cheap and reusable. If an animal goes through the gate, the hook gets straightened and the handle is not broken. To repair the handle, you just bend the hook again and presto, your gate is perfectly functional.

A few years ago, I started using a short piece of electric bungee (I really like the Stafix bungee) tied to turbo wire for the gates. There tends to be sag if the whole gate is bungee. With a short piece, you get plenty of flex without the sag. As a final touch, I like putting several strips of red tuck tape on the gate wire. It seems to keep both domestic and wild animals from going through gates. Further, you can easily see if the gate is open from a distance.

I know lots of people swear by poly tape or rope. It has been my experience, though, that the tiny wires break over time and the gate loses its ability to conduct electricity.

Dig in underground gates & put the wire through polyethylene pipe for added protection.

I like underground gates vs overhead because invariably one day someone will want to drive tall equipment through the gate and take out the overhead wire.


In my experience, when this type of fence is built, there is very little maintenance because of the sturdy materials used. It may not seem like much, but every broken post takes at least an hour to replace not including the mental capacity used for the repair.

When you have this type of fencing in conjunction with a robust water system, ranching becomes pretty simple. A rancher I know, who runs ~350 cows, has four children under 13yrs old, and a husband who works off-farm told me how easy it was to run her herd with this type of fencing and an extensive water pipeline system. I think that is pretty cool. Again, ranching should be easy, simple, and fun!

This template is not the cheapest to build and is not in everyone’s budget. If it’s not in your budget, then use it as a target. Really, though, when you calculate labor costs, it is actually quite economical.

Tom is building a fence for a pretty large scale operation. What can you see here that you could adapt to your own size operation? Share your ideas in the comments below!

P.S. When the weather warms up in Alberta, Canada, Tom will be making a video to share with us all. Thanks Tom!

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Tom Krawiec
Tom Krawiec
Tom, along with his wife Jan, started raising & direct marketing hogs, sheep, cattle, turkeys, & chickens in 1999, the same year they completed a Holistic Management course. Their operation slowly morphed into custom grazing cattle on rented land and Tom’s passion for managing grass grew in the process. Tom & Jan completed the Ranching for Profit school in 2003 and found the ‘missing piece’. Since then, Jan has fulfilled her dream of being a nurse & Tom is currently the Production Manager of a ranch in north east British Columbia.


  1. Great article, next article I’d like to see here discussed is loading and sorting of cattle for a 12 year old and an 80 year old, I am 53 and hope to keep working my small cattle operation till death.

    • Great attitude Michael. Our kids would help sort when they were 9-10yrs old using poly wire. At that age they were big enough to lift the poly wire over the animals we wanted left in the pen or paddock. It is still the main way I sort when doing corral work. Of course my cowboy friends won’t even attempt it because ‘It’s not the cowboy way!’lol I will make a point of getting a video next time we sort so you can see exactly how it works.
      Ranching for a 12/80yr old is really a state of mind. A neighbour who is turning 77 this year is running 150 cows by himself with much less hassle than when he was 40 and running 80 cows. Now he only does what he wants. He likes to travel in the winter so he started bale grazing intensively 10 yrs ago. His grandkids just open gates to a new paddock once a week while he is gone. He hates removing twines or netwrap so he buys sisel twine for the people who make his hay and leaves it on the bales. If he requires day help because he pissed off his kids & grandkids, he just hires it.
      Jim is not an unusual specimen. He’s a grumpy old farmer just like lots of people around here. What he discovered is that when you make things simple, ranching can be easy.
      (Disclaimer: we did rent his land for three years about 13yrs ago and set up the initial fencing, so he had a template to start out with.)

  2. Great tips, Tom.

    One little trick I’ve started using is to place the Daisy strainer about 6 feet from the gate post, on the “cold” side of the gate. (Almost all of my spring gates are cold when open). This puts the Daisy in a perfect position to hang the gate handle onto, with the spring slightly stressed and suspended, keeping the spring from getting tangled in tall grass and easy to find.

  3. “• Use 8’ X 5-6” pressure treated posts as end posts and gates pounded half way into the ground.
    Larger end posts are used because they don’t break when moose or elk hit the fence at full speed. When they are pounded in half-way a brace is not required to keep the post from moving.”

    This may be true where the author has built fence, but it’s not true where the climate and soils lend themselves to a lot of frost action. Folks in New England, most of New York, and probably some large swaths of the norther tier of Pennsylvania will find that single end posts, no matter how stout or deeply driven, will pull out of the ground in five to 10 years. Of course by then the 12 year old will be 17 to 22 and be full of vim and vigor and ready to fix it.

    • Thx for the comment Bill. I am located in northern Alberta and started fencing like this 15-18yrs ago. We have a lot of frost as you can imagine and so far the end posts are still holding tension on the wires. Of course the soil must have some integrity, so peat moss or swamp won’t work, but I also don’t put corner posts in that type of soil.

    • Hey guys,
      I am in Minnesota and we get really bitter cold winters and my posts are only 3 feet deep. Posts have been in the ground for over 10 years without any issues. End posts are 5×8 and in between 4×8. I go like 10 feet between posts, they seem to work fine with the frost and all. I keep Texas longhorns and Scottish highland and big horn sheep in the fenced area. I have a hot wire running all along to keep the bulls in line. Man they are always testing the strength of the fence. I have woven wire in all my paddocks except one and sometimes they try to get underneath it for some reason. Grass is always greener on the other side.

      • Cool beans Kais! I like that the animals graze under the fence because it keeps the brush down and the fence clear. I have seen cows on their knees grazing 2-3′ on the other side of the fence. I don’t know why

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