Wattle Fence

Wattle Fence

horse high pig tight bull strong

It all started one day when we bought pigs. It was all very innocent, we like ham, bacon, sausages and so why not grow it ourselves. We quickly learned that pigs are like nothing else we've ever had on our farm. We're used to animals going over fences, pigs....well pigs go through or under fences. They can lift incredible weight with their snout and when they decide to leave their enclosure, they just do it. And don't even try to catch them. When their done routing through an old rotting hay piles, the manure pile and had a drink at the creek they will return to their pen. They'll even wait patiently while you open the gate for them.

I realized that my current suite of fencing options would not be sufficent and I would need to rethink fencing if I was going to win this fight. After some trial and error. One type of fence proved impassable to these brutes, that was the wattle fence. It's amazing the amount of strength that twigs can provide when wattled together, it vastly surpased any page wire, electric fence and cedar fence I could make. Unfortunately, it was a slow process and I could not wattle the entire pen that quickly. The pigs were moved into the barn, after they routed up the floor boards of the stall and pushed the stall wall over we decided to trade the pigs for a bull....what a treat it was to fence a bull, when compared to a pig :)

I continued to work on wattling after the pigs left, in preparation for that day when my wife wakes up one morning and decides that organic farm raised bacon would be better than the store bought.....

Wattle fencing can be done in many ways. I am aware that traditional techniques used wattled panels that could be moved and were not permanently affixed. They also split the twigs down the middle using a sharp knife. The green twig can be turned around anything as shown in the picture. Maybe you had an older brother as a kid and remember the sting of the indian rug burn. The same principle applies, a green twig twisted turns into a sort of rope and can bend around corners. I will be experimenting with this further but for my fencing purposes I wanted to go more simple than this.

I first started out with relatively short and small understory species such as willow and haze. You get a sense pretty quicly what will work. For example, alder just snaps when bent, which is unfortunate because they are abundant, long and skinny and would have been perfect for wattling.

I then moved on to tree species. I expected trembling aspen to be my champion however it too proved to be prone to snapping just like the alder. I had better success with aspen in the spring of the year when the sap was flowing. If you look at my wattle fence you will see some aspen contained it in. Overall the best species for me proved to be Balsam Poplar. A useless tree from a forestry perspective, this tree worked perfectly for wattling. If you cut it in the spring or early summer it is also amusing to see it will continue to grow leaves even after it's been wattled into a fence. You essentially have a living fence until it finally realizes it is dead.

Moving the wood material is easy on a hay wagon but can be labour intensive by hand. So try to cut the material close to where you need to use it.

I started out by finding thin tamarack and hammering them into the ground with a maul and/or the bucket of the tractor. I found this method made for firmly rooted posts to work from, but I didn't have enough of this type of material to carry on for long.

I then moved on to using tamarack posts and metal drill cores. The thicker the post the more of a bend the log needs and it will increase the difficulty of construction. My biggest problem with posts is that the force of the wattle can cause them to be pushed over and lean in an alternating way. Left, right, left, right. t's important to the put the posts in the ground as far and firmly tamp as you go. It's probably also best to let them sit a bit before wattling. To ensure the ground settles fully.

Just for fun I experimented with using brown t-rails. Using t-rails worked to a degree. However they have sharp edges and can grove the wood, causing them to break. As well t-rails will bend with too much force.

Distance between posts depends on the length of wood you are using. You need to wattle the wood through at least 3 posts. 4 is ideal. I could not create discernable patterns from my wattling. Wattling at such an industrial level required less precision in length and size of wood. To create weaving patterns would require similar log dimensions.

Concluding thought, there is great satisfaction in clearing the edges of your pasture of brush and ingress and using that material to create fences. While a labour intensive fence, it is quite beautiful and is nearly indestructable. I expect the bottom log that touches the ground can rot one day. If that happens it is possible to repair the fence by fitting in new wood.

So there is a use for Balsam Poplar after all!