9 March 2001

FENCINGS AN EXCLUSIVE JOB

You put fences up to keep stock in, you put fences up to

keep rabbits out, and you put fences up to make a living.

Peter Hill reports on the activities of one fencing contractor

IF it were not for rabbits and horses, Andrew Liddiard could be scratching around for work to keep his four-man contract fencing team occupied.

Farm livestock have become scarce on the Berkshire Downs where he is based on the family farm. But rabbits are a perpetual grazing menace on arable crops and horses have become the new stock animal, populating the many studs, racing stables and country estates in the area.

"When I started the enterprise 12 years ago as a means of doing my own thing on the farm, I did a lot of work for farmers in the area," Mr Liddiard recalls. "But with far fewer dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep, things have certainly changed."

Valley Fencing operates from East Shefford Farm, Great Shefford, where Andrew Liddiard learned his craft. These days, it provides a covered storage area for his tractor – a newly purchased New Holland TS90 – and Parmiter Contractor post driver, and space for materials held in readiness for upcoming contracts.

Mr Liddiard employs three staff full-time to create a pair of two-man fencing teams that sometimes work together on larger contracts but mostly operate separately.

"When youve a big job on with some long runs, its nice to have a second team putting up the wire or rails behind you as the posts go in," he says. "But most of the time, a two-man team is just right for this job," he says.

Rabbits main task

Among farming customers, fencing to keep rabbits from grazing cereal crops to the ground, is the main task. And the fact that it constitutes some 20% of Valley Fencings total work load illustrates the size of the problem.

"Its difficult to control the rabbit population and they can devastate crops," confirms Mr Liddiard. "But a properly erected rabbit fence will certainly keep them off for a time."

Properly erected means burying the wire netting a good foot down and turning it towards the rabbits habitat so that, when they dig down to get underneath, they come across another barrier. A modified cultivator frame carrying a single plough mouldboard opens a channel for this purpose, with the soil then returned by hand once the netting is in place.

General stock fencing mostly employs standard mild steel netting topped with barbed wire. This is the lowest cost option, and acceptable in an area where fences do not have to stand up to especially harsh conditions.

All the same, Mr Liddiard tends to go for wire produced in the UK to the British Standard for a guarantee of quality.

"Some of the imported material Ive seen has not been very impressive," he says. "Fencing wire has to be properly galvanised if it is to last any length of time."

High tensile wire

The alternative – high tensile wire – is being used on one or two more difficult sites, where the wider post spacing allowed by using the tougher material reduces the workload and the quantity of posts that have to be transported to the site.

"We have one big job of about 6000m coming up on some steep ground where high tensile fencing will probably be used," he explains. "In places, it is almost impossible to stand up, let alone get a vehicle there. Its going to be hand driving for much of the fence so the fewer posts we have the better!"

This is one of several contracts arising from land being put into the Countryside Stewardship scheme for grazing rough downland that can not be cropped or managed in any other sensible way. It is also one of the few opportunities to get some of the cost of fencing covered by grant.

Mr Liddiards other customers are mostly concerned with quality and appearance.

Post and rail

"We put up a lot of post and rail fencing on rural estates, sometimes for horses and perhaps a few sheep, but often for cosmetic reasons," he says. "On these jobs, we get to handle some top quality materials, Tanalised timber posts and rails to good thick dimensions, and we get a lot of satisfaction from making good use of them."

Winter is the busiest period which, as with arable farming, can bring its frustrations. Apart from being unpleasant to work in, prolonged wet weather as experienced over the past few months leaves the ground too wet even for fencing.

"We cannot make a decent job of it – if the vehicles are sliding around and churning up the ground," insists Mr Liddiard. "Customers want to see a neat fence when weve finished, not a mess." &#42

Andrew Liddiards trusty Parmiter post driver can be adjusted in different directions to posts in upright and in a straight line.

Andrew Liddiard: "You have to keep up with orders for materials; its really frustrating if you find yourself running short or orders dont get delivered in time."