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Evolution of the Step-in Post

by Jim Gerrish, American GrazingLands Services LLC

Strip grazing is not a new idea, but the tools we have available to implement it have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. When I first went to work at the U of MO Forage Systems Research Center (FSRC) in 1981, stockpiled winter pastures were already being grazed off using 'temporary' electric fences. I use the term temporary loosely compared to what we do today. The fences were only moved every three to four weeks rather than every day, but the concept was there.

What were we using in those days? The conductor was 17 gauge soft steel wire and the posts were 3/8" steel rebar-type posts. While the light wire was easier to roll up than 12.5 ga barbwire, it certainly wasn't convenient. Carrying 10-15 rebar posts was a pretty good load and every time you wanted to put one in the ground, it required pounding either with a hammer or a little pipesleeve driver. Deer running through the pastures would pop the insulators off the posts and then we had a dead short as the wire came in contact with the rebar. Part of the reason the strip grazing was no more intensive than every 3-4 weeks were the tools we had available to use were not very convenient.

Within a year or two of my arrival, we had switched to polywire for the conductor and 3/8" fiberrod posts. Just the ease of handling polywire compared to steel wire was enough to motivate workers to be willing to move fences every week. Polywire was one of the fence components that completely revolutionized grazing management in the US and all around the world. Fiberglass posts were much lighter than steel and easier to haul around, but they still had a few downfalls. The problem most recognized by MiG pioneers were the horrible splinters that came off those early posts that did not have a protective coating. That problem was largely resolved with the introduction of the Sunguard® FibeRod Post. The 3/8" FiberRod was one of the first Kencove products that we began using on a regular basis, both at FSRC and on our personal farm in Missouri. Initially we used them for movable fences, but eventually they went more into semipermanent and permanent installation. We have seen 20+ years use out of these Sunguard protected posts.

Another problem with the fiberrods was they still required either a hammer or a sleeve driver in anything but the softest of soils. Where we were doing most of our strip grazing during the winter months on frequently frozen ground, the need to pound each post added to the labor time required for making a paddock shift and added to the equipment you needed to take to the pasture each time you went out.

By the mid to late 1980s, plastic step-in posts were beginning to appear on the market. By that time FSRC was getting the reputation of being the grazing research facility in the US so almost all the fence companies wanted us to evaluate their products. I had the rare privilege of sometime being able to set up fences with ten different posts in them. It was a great learning experience because those posts ranged from pure junk to great. We began to quickly learn what made a plastic step-in post a great one. Here is what we learned. A post needs to go in the ground easily, hold the conductor to the post in face of animal pressure and the weather, have durability and flexibility even in winter conditions, and be convenient to handle. One post out of all those we evaluated elevated itself fairly quickly to the status of our preferred step-in post for quick and easy temporary fence. That was the O'Brien Treadaline and it still ranks at the very top of our list after 25 years of steady use. Here are five characteristics that make the Treadaline a truly outstanding post.

  1. The spike is a 3/16" diameter hi-tensile rod so it is easier to put in the ground in a wide range of soil conditions. Many step-in posts have 3/8" spikes. Borrowing a simple concept from water pipe flow, if you double the diameter of a pipe, you quadruple the flow rate. When you are trying to step a post spike into the ground, the same principle applies. The 3/8" spike has 4X the resistance of the 3/16" spike. This simple principle of physics is what makes the Treadaline a much easier post to use in dry, rocky ground as well as frozen soil in the winter.
  2. The foot rest on the Treadaline is a full 3" width. Many posts have only an inch or little more space for your foot. If you're wearing your winter boots and have snow or ice on them, those little bitty foot pieces just don't get the job done. A word of caution, don't expect to be able to just press the post into the ground in hard dry or frozen conditions. I use a gentle rocking motion while applying steady pressure to the post to get it in the ground in those tough conditions.
  3. The primary clips for holding the conductor to the post are on the opposite side of the posts from the step on a Treadaline. This is very important to me because I usually move my fences with the polywire or tape energized. When the clips are on the same side of the post as the step, you're far more likely to get shocked from time to time. Always having the post itself between the hot wire and my leg is a comfort.
  4. If you're building anything other than a single wire fence, you need multiple clips on the post. The Treadaline has 8 primary clips on the side opposite the foot rest and four tape clips on the back side. In our particular application of grazing center pivots, we need the multiple clips so that we can set the polywire at a lower height where the pivot towers have cut deeper tracks. If you're grazing sheep or goats and need two or three conductors, the multiple clips are a necessity.
  5. Flexibility and durability are the final traits of a good step-in posts. These posts are not cheap so we want to get many years of reliable use out of them. I have some original O'Brien Treadalines that are 20 years old that I still use on an ongoing basis. I will be the first to admit I handle them a little more gently than I do my newer posts, but they are still out there getting the job done after all these years. Those are the components of an outstanding step-in post. In my experience over the last 30 years of working with movable electric fences, the O'Brien Treadaline Step-In is the only post that meets all of these criteria. They truly are the work horse of our grazing operation.