SUNDRE — The back-breaking prospect of replacing 60 km of barbed wire fencing destroyed by a wildfire provided an imaginative spark for Lloyd Quantz.
Looking at the exhausted and beat-up fence crews as they came back to the ranch near Bassano after another day of pounding fence posts and stringing clothes-shredding bales of barbed wire, Quantz figured there had to be a better way.
“The people who were doing that looked like they were going to war every day,” said the farmer and entrepreneur, who was manager of the cattle ranch east of Calgary at the time of the fire.
That was 1983. For the next 20 years, raising a family, his agriculture consulting work and life’s other demands kept him busy. Health problems also crept up and eventually Quantz had to have an artificial diaphragm placed in his chest to replace his own faulty one.
Despite the detours, he never forgot about his fencing idea.
In 2004, he took his piles of designs, engineering drawings and specifications and set to work in his shop near Didsbury to build a machine that could pound posts, drill holes and string wire in one smooth operation.
“Pretty soon we had a working model that kind of did a lot of things we were hoping for.”
Greenedge Precision Fencing Inc. is now run from his quarter section about 15 km southeast of Sundre, where he moved four years ago.
Quantz chuckles at the suggestion that he is an inventor. Trial and error had more to do with the One-Pass Fencemaker than bolts of ingenuity. More elbow grease than eureka.
The ingenious device he came up with allows its operator to string up to 360 metres of wire for use as electrified fencing in an hour, although he typically runs it at half that speed. By comparison, a four-person crew that knows what it’s doing could pull off about 120 metres an hour.
The system, which can be attached to a tracked skid steer, includes a vibrating post pounder that essentially uses 38,500 kg of dynamic pressure to jiggle the post into the earth in three to five seconds. A set of drills then bores five or seven holes into the post and wire is pulled from a spool through the post.
Repeat a few hundred times and you’ve got a fence that can be electrified to keep in cows, goats or horses, and keep out unwelcome critters like moose, bears, dogs, coyotes and wolves. Twenty kinds of wire can be used, almost everything except barbed wire.
Sounds simple enough, but there were plenty of challenges. Finding a way to accurately thread the wire every time took some work.
“That took us, probably, the better part of 18 months,” he said.
Finding a skid steer with a frame sturdy enough to attach the fence maker was another hurdle, and he is already working on a version of the machine that propels itself on its own tracks.
“The refinements are unending.”
There were some issues to figure out with the wire as well. Alberta’s temperature extremes play havoc with wire.
In the summer, when the fence is most needed because of grazing cattle, the heat causes the wire to expand — almost a metre’s worth of slack per kilometre of fencing is not unusual. In the winter, the reverse occurs.
To get around this, Quantz devised a spring brace that maintains the tension while the wire expands and contracts. It also takes pressure off the end post, the anchor point for traditional fences.
“That’s probably one of our signatures we’re going to be known for rather than putting fencing in quickly,” he said of the brace system.
When completed, the fence can be electrified with a 6,500-volt, low-amp system that gives livestock a little jolt without harming them. The power can be reduced to as little as a quarter intensity as a safety feature for families with inquisitive young children.
A simple handheld remote control allows a landowner to turn off the current at the press of a button to do maintenance.
The system has also been designed not to lose the strength of the current, a problem with some older styles of electrified fencing.
Quantz is also looking at using global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system technology to line up the fence machine more easily. A $50,000 innovation voucher from the provincial government will go to Olds College to work with him on using land-mapping technology to help design enclosures and place fences.
By using GPS to line up the machine and a laser to provide a guide, Quantz hopes to dramatically cut the time it takes to line up straight fence lines.
Quantz believes his system provides a much-needed update to fencing technology largely unchanged for a century and traditionally dangerous work.
“You’ve got to be pretty brave to stand next to (a post pounder). There are hundreds of people who have lost fingers and hands in post pounders.”
Quicker fence-making technology could also prove helpful to a beef industry struggling to get back on its feet. By managing grazing more closely, some cattle ranchers have doubled the capacity of the land. And moving cattle about to avoid over-grazing means more fences.
“So we’re seeing a lot more (grazing) management-specific fencing rather than just marking the legal boundaries.
“It’s pretty exciting because with a little bit of fencing, you can save a huge land purchase cost. One of the secrets of getting this beef industry back to health is to make better use of grazing resources.”
Since the prototype was built, Greenedge has been testing its technology out each year and doing about 160 km of fencing. Quantz hopes to have five machines running this summer and to add five to 10 more next year. His fencing is priced at the industry average for traditional barbed wire fencing.
The business plan is to carve out territories and license out machines to other entrepreneurs. Greenedge will provide support, training, marketing and help finding customers. Eventually, he wants to take the system to the U.S. markets.
Quantz also sees plenty of potential in his own backyard.
“There is $100 million of fencing a year in Western Canada.”