It was called the invention that tamed the Wild West. The use of barbed wire transformed livestock production from an open range to that of western farms and ranches. Without barbed wire, the west may look very different today.
Prior to the Civil War, raising cattle on the frontier was a matter of letting livestock graze wherever there was grass and performing a cattle drive to take them to market. With few cattlemen and abundant space, it was a workable arrangement. But as the west became populated through homesteading and growth of the intercontinental railroad, a means was necessary to confine cattle. It was needed to keep them from overrunning cropland and from lingering on railroad tracks and new roads.
Most fencing at the time was expensive and labor intensive to install. Wood and stone walls took many workers to install, especially on land exceeding 1000 acres or more. The invention of barbed wire changed that. Using fence posts spaced at intervals and three or more strands of barbed wire tightly secured to the posts, livestock could be contained for the landowner. The risk of cattle breaking through well maintained fencing is minimal.
Today, with the US producing nearly 20 percent of the world’s beef, barbed wire continues to be the fencing of choice for livestock containment. The modern barbed wire machine is an improvement over its predecessors.
Because of the quantities of wire needed, machines must operate at a fast rate of speed to keep costs low. As with any manufacturing venture, an increase in speed runs the risk of fouling during production. This is why a quality machine will contain preventive measures. Wire feeders will contain safety switches to prevent snagging or snarling of wire during the process. The better quality machines will have electronic sensors to detect a break in the line. Machine settings can customize the distance between barbs, the pitch and the size of each barb, depending on the customer’s needs.
Wire material has also seen improvements. Modern barbed wire is often manufactured from galvanized steel wire for corrosion resistance and tensile strength. Higher quality wire is powder coated to further inhibit rust and provide a longer lasting fence. The bright colors available through powder coating provide an additional advantage. The brighter colored wire is more visible, especially from a distance. Increased visibility makes for a safer fence and makes fence inspecting an easier task.