Protech post-knocker and JCB Fastrac 2135 prove key to East Sussex fencing operation

For fencing contractor Simon Davey, the work just keeps coming in. “Modern farms tend not to have the surplus labour available to carry out their own fencing operations,” he says. “And we have the right machinery and expertise to do the job quickly and well.”

Based at Battle, East Sussex, Mr Davey specialises in agricultural fencing.

Today he’s putting up some deer fencing around 80ha (200 acres) of grassland that the owner plans to plough up and put into cereals.

Ten foot posts are to be knocked in to a height of 1.8m (6ft) at 3m (10ft) intervals with strainers on every bend.

“The only way of ensuring wire keeps tight is to have it in straight lines – and that means putting in strainers every time there is a change of direction,” he points out.

Right kit

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A Protech P300S post knocker front mounted to a JCB Fastrac 2135 is key to the operation. A brute of a machine which looks as if it doesn’t have any immediate plans to make any friends, the “heavy” end comprises a 350kg weight which descends from a great height.

“It can work to the left and right of the tractor and can be telescoped out to tap in posts in awkward positions,” says Mr Davey.

When working on rock-hard chalk or flint soils it is sometimes necessary to make a pilot hole using a solid steel pole that can be swung into position beneath the weight.

A smaller Protech post-knocker is used attached to the jib of a mini-digger which, apart from making the digger rock alarmingly with every raise and lower of the weight, knocks in the tall posts.

“It’s not a machine to operate after having eaten a big lunch,” comments Mr Davey.

For wire joining, Gripple connectors are used – modern high tension wire does not take to being joined by bending back and twisting.

“The Gripple connector also means we can re-tension the wire should it be needed at a later date,” he says.

In terms of work rate, a distance of 300m a day is considered to be acceptable for the team of three although this can be significantly less in hard ground conditions.

“At the end of the day, you can’t beat seeing a fence with arrow straight posts and freshly tensioned wire that glints in the sunlight,” he says. “And that is only achieved with a skilled fencing team.”

Making the posts

At Tregothnan Estates, Mereworth, east Kent, 320ha (800 acres) of chestnut trees are grown for processing into posts, rails and other fencing materials.

“The trees were planted in the 1920s,” explains David Keeler who looks after the woodlands. “They were grown originally to supply the poles required by the hop growing industry but there is no demand for them now.”

The chestnut is coppiced every 14-20 years to provide timber of the required size.

“With a yield of about 50t/acre we cut a total of about 2500t of timber each year from the 800 acres,” says Mr Keeler. “Which, in this day and age is far too much for the fencing market.”

Instead, the estate has had to devise other ways of marketing the wood.

“Chestnut makes excellent posts that do not need treating and will last for years – and we sell as many as we can – but that still leaves a large surplus of timber,” he says.

The estate has, for a number of years, been producing charcoal for the barbecue trade – a trade which can be very seasonal with demands that, in one week can exceed production and a week later plummet to virtually zero.

The other main use for the timber is to cut it and sell it as kindling and firewood for which there is a steady demand through various supermarkets and other outlets.

“We need to keep coppicing the trees or they will just grow wild and be no use to man nor beast,” he says. “And that would be bad news for those who do purchase our fencing posts and recognise the advantages they offer compared with imported softwood.”

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