The traditional North Island fence was more heavily built and more expensive than those in the South Island. North Island hill soils, prone to slipping after heavy rainfall, pulled a fence off line and slackened the tension of the wires, making the fence less stock-proof. Also, stocking rates were generally higher and farms carried a higher proportion of cattle, which are much harder on fences than sheep.
Fences consisted of five plain wires and two runs of barbed wire, with five posts and 25 wooden battens every 20 metres. Fixing wooden battens closely together between the posts helped make a fence rigid and stock-proof even after it had moved during a slip.
No. 1 for ingenuity
Through the first half of the 20th century No. 8 wire (named for its gauge, equivalent to 4 mm) was the most widely used fencing wire. It is also used for a huge range of tasks and fix-it jobs, leading to the notion of New Zealanders’ ‘No. 8 wire mentality’– where anything can be made or repaired with basic materials.
A traditional fence in the South Island consisted of six plain wires and a barbed top wire, with posts every 20 metres and 10 light metal battens or three Y-standards set between them. Timber was less readily available, so farmers used concrete or iron posts, and wooden battens were not common. In the drier and colder climate of the eastern coast the stocking rate was lower than in the North Island, so that there was less pressure on the fences.
Hundreds of kilometres of rabbit-proof fences were built in response to a rabbit plague in some areas in the 1870s and 1880s. One fence ran between Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa, two were constructed in North Canterbury, and another in South Canterbury. Commonly, these fences consisted of four wires running between iron posts and standards. Rabbit netting was clipped to the wires and the lower section buried in the ground to prevent rabbits burrowing underneath. However, none managed to halt the rabbit invasion.