Monday, March 3, 2014

Reinforcing Combo Panels

As part of out big plans for 2014, I bought sixteen 16'-long by 52"-inch tall combo panels. They are a very thick gauge wire, and the horizontal wires are spaced progressively closer as you go toward the ground. The reason for these specific panels will become clear in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

But in the meantime, the cows have been hanging out in here while we wait for the grass to start growing so we can tether them out. Despite the wire gauge thickness, the panels are very flexible. After a few days, they all started bowing outward as the cows gently nudged them to bite off a few more lingering blades of grass. With the expectation of progressively more and more, uh, wear and tear, I had to upgrade them. So we made a Saturday family project out of it.

Finished product from the weekend's labor. Chicken coop in the distance.
This picture shows the reinforced edge of the corral at the moment. I only got halfway done on Saturday (8 out of 16 panels). I'll have to finish another weekend. But, let's step through how I made the combo panels stronger.


First, I bought and drove home the wood. Kinda goes without saying, but since I got 16' long lengths of 2x4, and transported them home in a minivan, it ended up being quite the harrowing journey. I also bought some 8' lengths that I cut down to 41". Those are the vertical stays.

I cut eight 8' 2x4's to 2 sections of 41". I got 16 of those sections for the vertical support stays.
I really need to build myself a sawhorse.
A pile of thirty-two 16' 2x4's plus 16 41" 2x4's.
Brisket looking on in the distance, knowing something is up.
I started by tethering up the cows, Bridget nearby so she would be more comfortable with everyone. She was loving the extra attention.

Bridget thoroughly enjoyed having the kiddos pet her and pay attention to her.
I started by aligning the lower 2x4 to the very bottom wire of the panel. I added a nail at every vertical stay (I actually will need another 5 lb. box of nails to finish), and hammered the nails over to secure the wood to the panel. I also alternated top/bottom, and the direction of the nail bend, for added stability.

Nailing the wood to the combo panel will help make it loads stronger.
Since there were an even 25 vertical bars, counting off 12 to find the middle one was easy. I nailed on the middle one, and then aligned the top 2x4. The reason the vertical bar is 41" is so that the center of the top 2x4 lines up exactly along the second highest horizontal wire on the panel. This allowed me to nail the top 2x4 very securely.

I stacked the panels by the hand milking station for ease, since I was working right there anyway. You can see below that the very top wire still sticks above the wood reinforcement. This will help if I ever need to add barbed wire to the top - I'll still have the wood to grab a hold of.

The first panel is done!
I then added a 1/4" eye hook to the end of each 2x4. I used 4 eye hooks per panel. I drilled the holes, and Thing #2 helped screw them in for me.

Helping Daddy screw in eye hooks. Good lad.
Thing #3 helped, too.

Thing #2 helped take the tags off the eye hooks and screw them in.
Thing #3 moved my pile of 41" 2x4s around a few times.
As I got more panels assembled, Thing #2 got more screws added. It was a nice, efficient little assembly line process.

The first eye hook on the prototype panel. Nice work, Thing #2!

Once we got in the rhythm of nailing, drilling, screwing, it went by very fast.
We met some friends for dinner that night, and dropped the kids off at open gym, so I did have to pace and control my timing. I got eight completed, leaving plenty of time to re-assemble the corral and get everyone settled back in ( and then take a shower).

I braced the corner first, since it's easier to get a 90-degree angle to
stand up than a straight line. Good thing I paid attention in geometry class!
Now, the importance of the eye hooks becomes evident. In addition to fastening the panels to the T-posts, I also link them together for another layer of strength. I got 5/16" eye hooks to "drop" into place.

The smaller size (1/4") goes in the wood, and the larger size (5/16") goes between the 1/4" hook holes.
The eye hooks fits like a pin and hold the panels together.

The 5/16" eye hook drops into two 1/4" eye hooks to hook two panels together.

I added the hooks to the top and bottom beams for increased durability and support.
I also tied the panels to the posts with 17-gauge wire.
I'm contemplating getting some 5/16" wing nuts to screw the eye hooks in. We'll see if they're necessary in the future. For now, using some 17-gauge wire to secure to the T-posts, plus securing the posts together, seems incredibly sturdy.

I spent the rest of the afternoon putting the corral back together.

Viewing the wood-reinforced combo panel corral from one side....

...and from the other side. It contours nicely with our rocky, hilly land.
The chickens, upper left, looking on in approval.

Again, I only constructed eight of these this weened, so I still have eight to go. But, it's already several times stronger and more durable, plus more visually appealing. I may need to adjust the screws so they are in the wood a bit farther, as there is a decent gap between panels at the moment. I'll have to gauge and adjust once they're all together, so we'll see. I don't have a measurement on those, though - I screwed them in as far as the threading, then gave it another half-turn so they lined up with the holes accessible from above for the pin.

These panels are also easy to move in spite of being pretty heavy. I can move them fine, but Wife and kids would need one person on each side to move them. I will be eventually moving them weekly to make a tractor of sort for Brisket, the chickens, and some other friends. I have chicken wire and barbed wire to add to the inside at a later time.

I should also point out the all of the wood is on the outside of panels. This prevents chewing, rubbing, and other activities frowned upon in most wooden livestock enclosures. It also helps me get a better grip on the panels.

So I'm still not 100% sure what to call these reinforced movable fencing combo panels. I thought of movable pens, portable paddocks, port-a-pens, and several other even worse ideas. So I'm open to suggestion on naming them. I'll even add it as a tag!

As I near completion of these panels, there will be more details up on them. They will be an integral part of the 2014 homestead. Stay tuned to see the whole thing done, and to see the chickens moved in!

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