Colin Kennard is Operations Manager for Wellscroft Fence Systems, LLC, New England’s agricultural fence provider specializing in the containment and protection of livestock and crops.
He grew up with the business which has experimented and tested the products it sells on his family’s New Hampshire farm. If a product fails the quality test on the farm, Wellscroft does not sell it. It is this methodology which has crafted a line of high quality products, many of which are made in the USA.
Kennard gives lectures and webinars on fencing and livestock at agricultural events around New England when he’s not busy with the many hats he wears at Wellscroft Fence Systems. He feels fortunate to be part of an experienced and creative team that has helped thousands of farmers, gardeners, educational institutions, and homeowners throughout New England.
In terms of technology and materials, has fencing come a long way in the past few decades and in what ways has Wellscroft kept up with those advancements?
In recent decades, there have been numerous advancements in both electric and non-electric agricultural fencing. Perhaps one of the most notable improvements was the development of the Low Impedance, High Voltage energizer. Decades ago, energizers were designed to emit a high impedance, high voltage pulse which effectively “burned” anything that came into contact with the fence line. These units used a lot of electricity and were expensive to run. With the advent of the Low Impedance, High Voltage energizer, utility consumption dropped considerably while maintaining an effective unit for psychologically deterring livestock and wildlife.
With these low impedance energizers also came new polymer conductors. Instead of running a solid gauge wire for an electric fence, multiple strands of polypropylene, and more recently polyethylene, were spun or woven together with thin filaments of stainless steel, tinned copper, and other metals, creating a lightweight alternative that was easy to use and economical for farmers. This same material was produced in a mesh configuration which we call electric netting and is now used by farmers all over the world. With built-in posts, electric netting is lightweight and extremely portable and has revolutionized the ability to rotationally graze livestock.
In the non-electric branch of agricultural fencing, woven wire has seen many improvements over the past few decades. Most notably is the invention of the Fixed-Knot woven wire, a 12 to 14 gauge steel mesh created by joining horizontal line wires with a solid, one-piece vertical wire, by tying a special, non-slip knot using a third piece of wire. This product greatly enhanced the safety and security of perimeter fences and now comes in numerous configurations with regard to height, length, wire spacing, wire gauge, and molecular coating. When constructed properly, owners can expect to get over 40 years of life out of some of these fences, a far cry from the days of lesser quality field fence.
In addition to running a fencing company, Wellscroft has operated a working farm. When new products are developed, Wellscroft puts them to the test using their own sheep, goats, pigs, horses, laying hens, ducks, llamas and dogs. Our philosophy has always been that if products don’t work or stand the test of time for us, then we are not going to sell them to our customers.
If a new farmer is in the market for a fence for their livestock, how would you help guide him or her?
Navigating the choices can be challenging for even an experienced farmer and this is one of the most common questions we get. There are many variables to consider when choosing a fencing system, but here are some of the most important factors.
First and foremost, start by drawing a map of the perimeter you would like to fence. Note details such as the placement and length of gates needed and identify corners and other obstacles that may need to be included or avoided. A map will be a valuable tool for determining the layout and flow of your fence. Then, indicate what type of animal (or in many cases, animals) will need to be protected or excluded? Some livestock are more challenging to contain than others. Also, if the farmer plans to raise multiple species within the same area, they must be compatible from a fencing standpoint.
The next important decision for the farmer is whether the fence should be psychological (electric), physical (non-electric), or a combination of both. This decision is dependent on questions like what livestock or wildlife are being protected or excluded? Does the farmer own the land or is it rented? How long does the fence need to last, and what is the budget for the project? A permanent perimeter of Fixed-Knot woven wire with electric offsets is a great fence for a farmer who owns their land and plans to farm for many years, but doesn’t make sense for the farmer who is renting land just to graze a few animals. It is also important to know if the farmer plans to raise livestock all year long, or only seasonally. Running electric fences in the winter requires additional considerations since snow and frozen ground can insulate livestock and predators. Also, new farmers should consider any plans for additional fencing that may be added to the overall system in the near future. Buying a slightly larger energizer initially or building braces in the right locations are foresights that will save time and expense a year or two down the road.
Once all these questions and a few others are carefully answered, it will help narrow the farmer’s choice towards the most appropriate fence for their needs. If you need assistance determining which type of fence is best for you, call Wellscroft or attend one of the free upcoming fencing clinics at its facility on May 7 and 8, 2016.
How have costs fluctuated in the past five, 10 years? How has the company kept up with it?
As in many other industries, two of the biggest factors that fluctuate costs in fencing are the cost and availability of raw materials and the costs associated with transporting those materials – and finally the finished products – to their final destination. Fencing such as the aforementioned woven wire fluctuates with the price of steel while similarly polyethylene products like the electric conductors and the insulators that support them are affected by the price of oil.
Many of these costs have actually gone down with the improvement in technology due to more efficient manufacturing methods. Wellscroft prides itself in trying to carry as many American made products as possible; an ever increasing challenge due to the pressures of competing products made overseas. Despite this, our customers return to us because they are willing to seek out quality materials even if it means they cost slightly more.
What are some of the biggest issues Wellscroft faces in the fencing industry?
Three things come to mind. The first which was touched on in the previous question is the increase in inferior, low cost, imported products. Nobody wants to overpay for a product, but I think it is even more frustrating when they have to buy the product twice because the first one broke on the first day of use. Farming can be tough on equipment and users want a product that is going to hold up.
While Wellscroft is encouraged by the increased awareness of locally grown food and ethical livestock raising practices, there is still much work to do in educating new and experienced farmers about managing their livestock and wildlife with regard to fencing.
Lastly, the increase in wildlife that infiltrates crops and threatens production on both large and small farms continues as natural habitats are destroyed and wildlife corridors are disrupted. Deer are the number one predator for commercial growing farms and fencing them out for good requires tall, physical fences. While the initial investment of erecting a deer fence is high, many operations earn the payback in just a few years from the increase in productivity.
In five to 10 years, do you see the materials being used for fencing being the same or new, stronger materials?
Overall, I see the same basic materials remaining the same but there could be some enhancements in longevity and in how products are constructed. I think we will continue to see the same materials configured in different ways to create products that are more specific for raising particular types of livestock and controlling wildlife. I imagine we will also see small improvements in energizers which help farmers manage and monitor their electric fences. Wellscroft will continue to offer the tried and true while any new products that cross our workbench will be put through the paces.
Five Questions is a FarmingMagazine.com monthly series that discusses industry-related topics with the people who influence the industry.