A few months ago, I saw a photo of an old barbed-wire fence with each wire held in place by duct tape. I’ve never resorted to duct tape, but I’ve used other unusual methods to patch a fence.

Our ranch is strung out for 5 miles along a creek. When my dad bought the upper ranch (when I was a kid) the fences were in sad shape, and one 320-acre mountain pasture wasn’t fenced at all. My younger brother and I helped build 3 miles of fence around that half-section. We ran cattle on BLM range and there were many miles of fences to maintain on those big pastures. Later, my husband and I bought one of the other ranches on the creek, along with my dad’s place, and leased the ranch in between. Altogether we had more than 25 miles of private fence to build and maintain (boundary fences and cross-fences), plus all the range fences.

As a kid growing up, and later (often with a kid or grandkid with me) I spent many hours riding to check cattle and checking fences — doing emergency repairs when needed. If a fence was down or damaged, cattle might get into the wrong pasture, or the neighbor’s cattle might come into our pasture or range allotment. We always made some kind of temporary repair in case it might be a day or two before the “guys” could get there with new posts or whatever else might be required.

Seeing the photo of a duct tape “fix” reminded me of some of the first repairs I made when wires were pulled off by wildlife. Sometimes I could find the old staples, but if the wildlife hit the fence hard, those staples might have sprung off the wire several feet. There were times I didn’t have any staples with me, or anything I could use to tie the wires back to the posts. I always had a pocketknife, however, and my horses had long tails. I borrowed a few long horse hairs and used those to tie the wires to the posts. Horsehair is strong and durable and some of those fixes were still holding wires in place several years later!

Eventually I invested in saddle pouches to carry a few staples — and can almost always find a rock to pound them in. I also have some baling twine in a coat pocket or saddle pouch. Twine is useful to tie a wire to a post but is also handy for tying a falling-down post to a nearby tree to hold it up, or to tie and weave branches together to make a temporary fence if a tree blows down and smashes the fence.

Another way to shore up a fence where the wires have been stretched by wildlife going through it is to weave a bunch of long sticks or small branches into the wires. You just alternate which side of the wire the next stick goes on, and if you put in enough sticks it takes the slack out of loose wires. Weaving willows can be a great way to stiffen up and secure a saggy section of fence.

Over the years, we’ve extended the life of many fences by putting metal stays between the posts, making it harder for livestock or wildlife to crawl through and stretch the wires. One summer, my two kids and I spent several days packing stays to put into three sides of our half-section mountain pasture (2.5 miles of fence) to keep out fence-crawling range cows that thought the grass was greener on our side.

We recently rebuilt half a mile of old fence between a field and the old road that went past our ranch. That fence was built about 100 years ago with cedar posts. In those days, before the advent of post-treat chemicals, people liked to use cedar posts because they didn’t rot. The old fence we replaced was falling down, but some of it was held up by tall sagebrush that had grown alongside the fence. In recent years, I’d kept it upright by tying it with baling twine to those sagebrush “trees,” but more of the old posts were tipping over (from wildlife going over and through it) so it was time to rebuild.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email hsmiththomas@centurytel.net.