I am rich in alders. In my ignorance, I use to curse them but no more. Not only are they a sustainable, quick growing, firewood but alders are strong and flexible enough to build a woven, wattle, fence. I also find natural wood fences very pleasing aesthetically as compared to wire fencing. Wattle fences have been used, at least since medieval times, as a popular, easy-to-construct, low-cost alternative to stone, timber or metal wire. Wattle material consists of readily available, fast growing plants like willow and alder that produce long straight branches. Historically, these fences enclosed animals, orchards, and gardens.
Fencing is always an issue if you share your farm with animals. I can’t abide the idea of keeping my animals confined in a small area. I don’t like to be on a short chain and I can’t imagine that any living creature does. I free range my small flock of chickens but I have a neighbor with a very suburban mindset even though we live rurally. I was told in no uncertain terms that there is to be none of that chicken shit gold gracing their lawn despite the fact that their primitive sewage system discharge on our land.! Last year I spent a good deal of time fencing between the neighbors and the feathered fiends. Not only did fencing take time but it gets expensive. The stuff actually sold as chicken wire is so thin that it ‘s basically biodegradable. We found old chicken wire buried some places on our land and if wasn’t so tangled, crumpled and hard to dig out, could still be used after all these years. So, after we spent a portion of the winter cutting alders to clear a pasture, I decided to see if I could reinforce the fence line using the alders as fencing.
First, I gathered about thirty thick alders and cut them five feet long to make the uprights for the fence. I easily pointed them with my Japanese axe which is lightweight and very sharp. Of course these stakes will biodegrade (rot) over time but I am trying to get over the idea that everything I make has to last forever, nothing last forever. Besides, eternal life in the material world is a bad idea that is causing all sorts of environmental degradation and mountains of garbage. Planned obsolesce is another thing, but I won’t go into that here……
Next, I pounded the stakes into the ground spaced no farther apart than two feet. This is an optimal spacing for both strength and ease of weaving.
I worked the fence as a whole starting from the bottom and weaving the alders between the stakes just as you would weave on a loom. This is the result of my first fence. The chickens could fly over this fence but I find that chickens, like water, take the path of least resistance and they do not go over the fence as long as it is about three to four feet high. I have observed that as they are foraging, the chickens flow along the fence line not trying to break through but will rather wandering along and if there is a break in the fence they will go through it.
I started a second section of fence. I was looking to improve my technique and here are some of the things I came up with. I am in no way a wattle fence expert but the more you wattle the better you get.
1. Start low and work the entire fence all at once
2. When you finish one length of alder start the next length one or two stakes where you left behind
3. Press down or even step on the alders you are weaving to get the weave tight
4. Go back and weave short pieces in or force down small verticals to fill in the space